Cam Baines of Bodyjar: “We thought we had a good album, but we ended up scrapping about half of it”

(Image credit: Farley Webb)

Across almost three decades, Bodyjar have cultivated a dedicated fanbase both at home and overseas, utilising a tight regimen of blistering touring and unadulterated live shows. The Melbourne legends’ brand of no‑holds-barred punk has cemented them as one of Australia’s gold standards in the genre, notable not just in their live performances, but in their eight studio albums – a catalogue set to expand with a ninth album next month.

Though it’s been dubbed New Rituals, the release isn’t exactly new Bodyjar. The band, as they tell Australian Guitar, actually made a return to the energetic tones and upbeat rhythms on which they cut their teeth all those years ago. It’s a touch of the old mixed with the new, produced by the band alongside Sam Johnson, whose production resume boasts name like Northlane, Luca Brasi and Camp Cope, among others. Throw in mixing duties by Steve Evetts (New Found Glory, Architects), and you’ve got yourself a whopping serve of tasty Bodyjar delights. 

So it’s been nine years between drinks for Bodyjar – what took you guys so long to get back into album mode? 
We started working on it probably two and a half years ago, so we had the intention to put it out around two years ago. But because of the pandemic and everything, we weren’t allowed to record, and the whole plan got shaken up. But it ended up being good for the album, I reckon, because we had an opportunity to work on things a bit more. We thought we had a good album, but we ended up scrapping about half of it and writing new songs, and it ended up being way better for it. If you put a bit more time and effort into editing yourself and throwing away all the bullshit, you end up with a better record. So, in the end, it was cool. 

How much did the record change between the first draft and what we hear now? 
A little bit! We’ve got Nick [Manuell] on bass – he joined the band after we started working on it, and he had this idea that [the record] should be a bit noisier and a bit more harsh sounding, so we started writing a few more songs in that vein. But it actually ended up being a bit more produced than I thought it would. We ended up getting Steve Evetts to mix it in the states – he’s done everyone from The Dillinger Escape Plan to The Cure, and tonnes of pop-punk bands. 

He’s got the best mixing skills – when you give him a song, it always comes back with this sheen on it, y’know? That American radio-rock sheen. [The record has] still got a lot of noise and feedback on it, though – probably more than any other Bodyjar record. It’s definitely an abrasive album.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about that Dragon cover. Where did the idea come from to put the Bodyjar twist on ‘Rain’? 
We’d always f***ed with it at jams and stuff. I remember a few years ago, we were going to try and [record] it, but we just never got around to doing it. We’d always had ‘A Hazy Shade Of Winter’ as our cover in the live set, and maybe a Descendents song here and there – but we thought “Well, ‘A Hazy Shade Of Winter’ always goes down well, let’s try to do another song from that era.” And then we were thinking about what song to do; we tried a couple of Midnight Oil songs, but then I was reading Marc Hunter’s book, Chasing The Dragon, and the story of Dragon was just so interesting.

They were originally from New Zealand, and they were like a prog-rock sort of band, but then they moved to Sydney and sort of became… Almost like a pop band. But they always wrote really good songs, I thought – they were all really, really strong songwriters. They even had Tommy Emmanuel on guitar for a little while! They were one of those bands where on a bad night, they were totally f***ing shit – but then any other night, they’d just be absolutely brilliant. I always thought they were a cool band.

There’s also this f***ing incredible collab track, ‘Little Pieces’. My copy didn’t have a name in the tracklist, but whoever it is, she totally steals the show.
Nat Foster! Yeah, so she’s f***ing great. She killed it. We just wanted someone to come in and give a bit of spontaneity, y’know? And she’s just got this really good scream on her. She did it in about three takes, I think, and she f***ing nailed it. She’s got that... I don’t know – she screams, but kind of in tune, if that makes sense? It’s melodic, but she still sounds angry. I just love that she sound f***ing furious on it, because it’s a very kind of formulated song – it’s got parts and a very rigid structure – but she made it a bit more “out there” and a bit more wild.

What guitars were you jamming out on in the studio for New Rituals? 
Well, the first song we recorded was ‘Big Shot’, and we were trying to get a bit more of a classic sound – like AC/DC, Midnight Oil – something not as quite as distorted as we tend to be. I’m not a massive fan of that clean tone, but Tom, he’s got tonnes of vintage gear and he’s really into vintage Telecasters, and he wanted that classic sound. I always give him shit and tell him he’s trying to sound like Keith Urban or something – but once you layer it, it sounds pretty thick and good. 

And then we gave it to Steve to mix, and he made it sound like a f***ing metal song. So we were like, “Well, what the f*** are we doing!?” We were trying to do this clean thing, but that’s just not us – I think our tone is just a strong, kind of more distorted and overdriven punk-rock tone. I think there’s parts where you can strip it back a little bit and go a bit cleaner, but the majority of it, it’s chords, it’s got to sound heavy and thick, and all the muting’s got to sound chunky and a bit metallic. That’s just our sound, y’know? 

We all use old guitars and old amps and stuff, but I think they’re pretty distorted. Not as much as they used to be – we used to play with Dual Rectifiers and shit, and that was just crazy – but we’ve got a solid arsenal these days, too.

Did you have a go-to guitar? 
I’ve got a 1980s SG, but it’s been played so much that it’s a little bit twisted. I’ve just had it re-fretted, but it’s almost so old and bashed that it doesn’t stay in tune properly. You need to tune G string a specific way for certain chords and stuff like that. So I just bought another SG off our old guitar tech, and that’s perfect. It’s got jumbo frets, so it suits my big f***ing sausage fingers. I’ve got that, and I’ve also got a cream white Explorer – like a James Hetfield-style ‘89 model – and that’s killer, that stays in tune real good

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