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August/September 2015

by Amanda Mills

Astro Children: Trick Of The Knife

by Amanda Mills

Astro Children: Trick Of The Knife

When Millie Lovelock and Isaac Hickey formed Astro Children, back in 2010, they were still at school. In 2012 they released an EP titled ‘Lick My Spaceship’, with a debut album ‘Proteus’ following in 2013. In early August 2015 they released new EP ‘Plain and Fancy Killings’, a collection of songs informed by literature and the challenge of being free of any pre-conceived musical or social constraints. Amanda Mills caught up with the Dunedin pair to enquire after the source of the galactic EP’s sense of anger.

Named after the Misfits’ song Astro Zombies, Astro Children’s style has veered over their diverse lo-fi recordings. Punk leanings tempered with melodic alt-pop almost deviates into shoegaze-y introspection, most notably on the gorgeous Gaze, from ‘Proteus’ (also on Fishrider Records’ ‘Temporary’ compilation).

Astro Children began in 2010 when guitarist/singer Millie Lovelock and childhood friend Isaac Hickey were still at school. Neither had been making music for long.

“When I was 13 I decided I wanted to play guitar. My dad taught me a little bit,”” recalls Lovelock.

“I started playing drums when I was 12,”” says Hickey. “I had percussion lessons at school for a while and then drumming lessons.””

Initially a trio, with bassist Steph Patchett, Astro Children subsequently shrunk to a duo.

“When we first started… I kind of wanted us to be a punk band, but we weren’t,”” Lovelock admits.

Five years, one EP (2012’s ‘Lick My Spaceship’), and one album later (‘Proteus’ – 2013), they are promoting a new EP –– this one out on Muzai Records. ‘Plain and Fancy Killings’ is a collection of songs informed by literature, frustration, and a desire to be free of any pre-conceived musical or social constraints.

‘Plain and Fancy Killings’ propels the duo forward. Written before and after Lovelock’s six-month trip to Montreal in 2014 (and her sideways sojourn as part of Dunedin alt-popsters Trick Mammoth), the EP is musically more consistent than ‘Proteus’.

“Writing [and recording] ‘Proteus’ was quite spread out. These songs… were written on a continuum,”” she explains.

The EPs underlying sense of anger is just down to the everyday frustrations of life.

“Playing in Astro Children is like a release of general tension that just builds up in our lives,”” Lovelock says, Hickey agreeing.

“There’s always… something to get worked up about. I don’t know what inspires the anger.””

‘Plain and Fancy Killings’ has literary inspirations, and the title track relates back to Ernest Hemmingway’s article about American snipers working for the IRA in Ireland.

“There’s a lot of book context on the EP,”” Lovelock explains. “I kind of feel that people identify more with the delivery of the song than being able to find some direct association with the lyrics.””

Both think the EP is a better example of their aesthetic than the lo-fi ‘Proteus’, saying it is the most hi-fi recording they’ve yet had. While ‘Proteus’ was recorded at The Attic, and sounded more experimental than it perhaps was, ‘Plain and Fancy Killings’ was recorded with Nick Graham at Chicks Hotel, between December 2014 and February this year.

The PJ Harvey-esque alt-rock song Play As It Lays precedes the tile track. Influenced by Joan Didion’s 1970 novel of the same name, this song’s lyrical content mirrors the structure of the novel.

“I really enjoyed that novel, because of its pervasive sense of paranoia, which really isn’t paranoia at all,”” says Lovelock . “I sort of feel that way a lot of the time anyway. In Dunedin, when you’re playing music, as a woman… you’re on edge all the time because of that feeling …[of] underlying tension.”

“I’ve had some interesting times,”” she continues. “Someone told me… you should get better at guitar, ’cause you can’t play. I’ve been angry about that for months.””

Her guitar style is raw, rhythmic but often melodic, and reminiscent of riot grrrl groups like early Sleater Kinney.

“I just want to play guitar the way I want to play guitar,”” she sighs. “And, I want other women to play guitar the way they want to play guitar.””

Hand in hand with this is the impact of feminism on their music.

“The kind of music I really liked growing up…… I didn’t know women could play,”” she continues. “I think aggression coming from women is more interesting…… I’m consistently quite aggressive because I’m trying to cement myself into a position where people can’t call me nice, or sweet.”

Astro Children’s aural point of difference is their lack of space or silence, Hickey terming their sound “a big racket”.” Both consider their influences an interesting, diverse mix of local bands (like close friends Opposite Sex and Thundercub), plus broader sounds.

“I’m obsessed with One Direction,”” laughs Lovelock.

Is that ironic I ask?

“No! I think it is genuinely really good music, but it doesn’t really [reflect] the kind of music that I play! I fluctuate between listening to One Direction, and Speedy Ortiz. Anything with really dissonant guitars.””

Hickey’s tastes are just as left field.

“I’ve always listened to noise music a bit, and lately I’ve been listening to dance music.””

‘Plain and Fancy Killings’ will be released in August, the duo playing Wellington and Auckland later in the year, with discussion about a possible UK tour. Will there be a new album too?

“We’ve been writing quite a lot lately, so hopefully,”” Lovelock answers, Hickey adding that the new songs have them sounding heavier.

“Like a doom metal band,”” Lovelock laughs.