“I actually think parents and school guidance counselors do us a disservice telling us we can be anything we want to be. That’s not true. I definitely couldn’t be a nuclear engineer, I’m a shitty mathematician. I think it is important to know your limitations, and recognize what you’re good at as a kid and try to hone that focus and make it into something that could literally be something that doesn’t feel like work which I think is the most important thing.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
Members of Sydney Ducks throw out life lessons from experience with sacrificing personal interests. Five men kept sane through years of collaboration is a display of patience and valor not typically executed well. As adults they are torn between choosing their ambitions, and traditions. This is not a group of unruly youth avoiding adulthood as if it were a penance to their past, they simply embrace their artistic passions. Well versed in history and human behavior the members of Sydney Ducks hold no illusions to reality and accept that they may not make music full-time forever. But until then they plan on using their youthful interests to keep them in a place of reflection as they make more advanced and energetic music to keep them excited for the approaching future whether it is filled with music or the responsibility of a family. Change is the only constant and Sydney Ducks want to grasp the lessons of history, have compassion for the underdog, and extend positivity all at once.
Based on the history of the Sydney Ducks, the Australian immigrants and eventual gang, is your connection between Sydney Ducks and punk a reference to lifestyle choices? Or do you connect the two themes on a strictly musical level? To be more clear, do you carry this name as a soldier for underdogs, or as a supporter of chaos? Were their criminal actions justified to you, and why? Do you feel they were forced into such a manic lifestyle against their will then got marginalized leading to severe discrimination toward them and violent deaths? Or is the attachment of the name less sympathetic, and more to support the disruption of societal norms in which you connect the music’s rowdiness to their criminal disturbances? How are the Sydney Ducks of the past a physical definition of punk rock that can resonate through modern times?
Carl: This probably pertains to the first option where I think it’s more of an association with the underground, the outsiders. The thing is, I don’t know where you looked up the Sydney Ducks, but the Wikipedia entry gets changed often and I don’t know who is changing it. It’s probably two California historians battling each other, constantly updating each other’s footnotes in the Wikipedia entry. Sydney Ducks, while they became an organized gang and there was an outlaw element to them, was also a disparaging term that was used by native Californians. There was a strong ‘locals only’ vibe in San Francisco when the gold rush hit and you have these English and Irish people coming over trying to make money mining for gold. At that time Australia was a penal colony and there was a criminal element coming from Australia to San Francisco during the gold rush, but there were also people coming from England and Ireland because at that time there was a huge wave of immigration. Anybody that was working class and Irish or English was also called a Sydney Duck. Native Californians, people who were probably only there 20 years before them, looked down on these people, they were outsiders. Anybody with an accent, they assumed they were from Australia whether they were or not. On our Facebook we posted an old clipping from the Perth Gazette, it’s from the 1800’s probably, and it talks about how the problem with California is that it still has this prejudice towards Australians because they thought it was still a penal colony when at that time it wasn’t. That’s what we identify with, being an outsider. There is that kind of chaos that’s associated with the Sydney Ducks because they were a gang. It’s like anything where a subculture is misunderstood. You have these people that embrace that, and are like, ‘you think I’m a criminal? Fuck yea I’m going to light shit on fire because that’s what you think I am.’ There is that element too, they were an organized gang, but we picked the name because it was homage to the city, but it’s a label for outsiders. It’s a funny name, it could be a sports team too. We get a lot of shit for that.
Grant: Yeah, when people hear it they think it’s a corny name because it sounds like the hockey team, but we have a lot of Australian rock and roll influences too. To some degree, I think we thought about that.
Carl: I would say we were definitely influenced by Australian rock and roll bands.
Grant: That’s one of many reasons behind it but we still …
Carl: We’ve embraced it, we have some Australian people who hit us up to see if we are fans of Australian punk music. Of course we are. It was mainly based in the idea that we’re from San Francisco and they were the first technically organized gang there.
Grant: It’s one of those names where it’s lame if you don’t know where it comes from. But if you know how it’s linked into history it’s pretty significant.
We were talking about Ian MacKaye and some of his philosophies earlier. In the song “Minor Threat” it says, “We’re not the first, I hope we’re not the last ’cause I know we’re all heading for that adult crash. The time is so little, the time belongs to us why is everybody in such a fucking rush?” Now looking back at things, and being involved in music currently, have you reached that adult crash being older and do you still feel in a rush? Is there more of a sense of urgency now that you are adults with your music, and how you create in your 30’s and 40′s? When Minor Threat came out they were still teenagers, that perspective completely changes, I’m curious to hear how that lyric applies to your life and your music.
Grant: Since we’re older, we have higher standards for ourselves than we did when we were younger. When we were younger, we’ll all say there was a lot of stuff we liked then that we don’t like nearly as much now, but there was less variety. We were probably listening to not quite the variety of music.
More specifically, like my adult crash came at 25. I’m working corporate and my time is just fleeting me. I wasn’t doing anything productive with my life. You guys are grown men, you go full on with Sydney Ducks and create this beautiful thing that people can relate to and that’s kind of more what I’m asking.
Grant: We all realize now is our last chance to a certain degree, we are getting older. We are on the tail end of youth. We’re not kids anymore, but in this day and age adolescence lasts a lot longer than it has historically. I think we all see ourselves as being normal responsible adults with families and all that some day. In any other era that would have already happened, but in this era we’ve got a little bit of time left to make this happen. That is what we’re trying to do I guess.
Carl: It’s funny you brought this up, there is a song that we have on our demo called “Few Years Left,” and it’s about everyone telling you that you need to grow up, think about the future. It’s a protest song in the sense that I’ve got a few years to explore my dreams and stay idealistic. Minor Threat is one of my favorite bands of all time, and as a kid, like any young punk kid, I was a 100% idealist. The good thing about punk rock, and the good thing about having a creative outlet is that it allows you to stay young. That’s where people go wrong. Some people don’t have to make that compromise because they have the ability, they’re given that opportunity maybe through financial means. They’re given a lifeline that allows them to dedicate themselves 100% to their art and not worry about how to pay the bills. We don’t have that luxury. I feel fortunate. I’ve been in a lot of bands and this is the first band where I have to seriously consider how it will affect my job when I leave for a couple weeks. Luckily my boss is a guy who has hand and neck tattoos. I’m blessed in the sense that when I got hired he immediately said, ‘ I know you’re in a band and if you ever have to take off for music, or you’ve got a tattoo appointment or something, I understand.’ Whose boss is going to say that to you? He didn’t say like, ‘if you have some obligation with your family or if you get sick I understand if you need to take some time off,’ his priorities are tattoo appointments and going on tour with bands, those are the examples that he used. It’s like anything. As you realize you’re getting older and your priorities shift and you start to worry about how to make ends meet, there’s got to be a balance. As long as you use that foundation, the punk foundation that was built when you were a youth, as long as you remember that, you can split the difference. You can use that to influence your life, to help you grow as an adult. You’re going to get old unless you die young and you have to face that reality. It’s whether or not you stick with what motivated and inspired you when you were a kid.
There is this quote that I found from Richard Hell, “You realize there are certain things that you’ll never do that you always thought would be part of your future. It’s a big relief to discover what you are best suited for, and it’s a real advantage to be able then to focus. You can just jettison all this useless floundering around and doing stuff that’s not really in your range and focus.” I think about this all the time, this sharpening of focus and it should happen so much more in people’s lives. I can be the jack-of-all-trades or I can just sharpen this focus to this one thing whether it’s Sydney Ducks, or Paradigm. When I look back it was so open ended because I was still doing the corporate grind then I just went full go with this one thing. It becomes so much more refined, and it’s more beautiful for other people to take part of. Not only that quote, but what are you guys suited for now with the music and everything you’re doing? You guys come from different backgrounds and it seems the focus now is Sydney Ducks. When I spoke to you last night I just heard a song, and as a listener I was like this is fucking dope, I hadn’t been to a punk show in ten years.
Carl: Let’s talk specifically about the band, and kind of knowing our focus as a band. Then we can talk about it on a grander scheme. We know what our limitations are, we know what we want to focus on and how does that affect us as a band or a creative outlet.
You’re saying …
Carl: Like Richard Hell basically said it’s a relief that there are some limitations in a creative outlet. I can’t be Mozart if I don’t know how to play piano, but I can be an awesome punk front man.
Grant: We have our own limitations, it is all relative what’s limiting. There are more limited punk musicians than we are, we’re decent musicians for punk, but we’d be shitty musicians in a lot of other genres. For one the bar is pretty low, we’re lucky in that sense. As we’ve gotten older and explored the genre a lot we have a little bit of a sense of what’s been overdone and what’s needed. We are able to focus in on filling something there is a demand for that’s not really being supplied right now in the punk scene and that we’re doing stuff that’s probably truer to the origins and influenced by things prior to punk oftentimes and less on trying to sound like other punk bands. A lot of people like that because that’s how it all started, and that’s what made it interesting in the beginning and what’s made it become cliché and boring in a lot of cases since the beginning.
Carl: I don’t have any grand illusions of being a good singer. I come from a hardcore background, I’ve screamed in bands all of my life. This is the first band where I’ve tried to carry a tune and I haven’t been very successful, but I do what I know. Like I said, like Ian MacKaye, like DC hardcore in general, New York hardcore, all that stuff is some of my favorite music. Luckily people appreciate our band for the different influences that we bring. We are five different individuals with different tastes, and we kind of throw it all into a pot and see what comes out. In a broader scope, not just in the band, I think that’s an important lesson to learn. I actually think parents and school guidance counselors do us a disservice telling us we can be anything we want to be. That’s not true. I definitely couldn’t be a nuclear engineer, I’m a shitty mathematician. I think it is important to know your limitations, and recognize what you’re good at as a kid and try to hone that focus and make it into something that could literally be something that doesn’t feel like work which I think is the most important thing.
That’s what I was trying to get at, that specific thing. A lot of people just spread it so far and say you can do anything you want to do then people waste their time doing a lot of things semi-good instead of just saying I’ll be really good at screaming or whatever it is, like I know that I can do this well. That’s what I’m going to do because that’s what I’m good at.
This question came from my intern Adria: I think for many to see adult men in punk rock or hardcore bands, or making any music other than something Cat Stevens would write (don’t get me wrong, I love Cat Stevens) is laughed upon. Even the other day when Theo spoke at a middle school and was listing potential lifestyle choices and said becoming a skateboarder, a girl who just said life is about doing what you want to do snickered in the sidelines insinuating that to be a skateboarder is not an accomplishment through her following remarks. With absolutely no judgment toward your life choices personally, because I would love to travel as a musician especially playing music that is so energetic, but do you feel that you get to be more like a kid in such an occupation? Are you having fun all of the time, and where are the elements of work, struggle, and pain for you? As children were you always into being hard, fast paced, and in-your-face about things? Is this venture a matured version of something that has been boiling for at least five years whether as a band or individually?
Carl: I can say personally that the Ducks are definitely a reflection of who I’ve been as a person. I definitely like to wear my emotions on my sleeves.
Carl: I think any interview you read with someone who plays music whether they do it for a living or whether they do it as a side project, or something that they do when they’re not working their full-time job, definitely it allows you to remain young. If you’re the Rolling Stones, like Keith Richards has probably never grown up past 21 years old. Any musician that is lucky to make a living from playing music, they’re in a sustained adolescence for the rest of their life. I don’t know if that’s a healthy thing, but that doesn’t reflect us because we’re lucky if we break even on this mini tour. The pros outweigh the cons as far as doing this tour, but like anything it’s five guys existing together so there are some struggles. It’s like being in a relationship with four girlfriends, you have to appease everybody. There’s not drama, but you have to make sure everyone’s happy which is really fucking hard with five people. It’s hard to do it with one person.
Grant: I would say if we were younger it would maybe be a bit easier because there is less of a chance we would have these varied opinions, if we were in a punk band we’d all be listening to punk so we all have the same idea about what we want to be. Now we’re older and we have all of these different ideas of what’s good now even though we come from a punk background. That also makes you mature in a certain way because you have to put your ego aside sometimes, and be open to other ideas, but being in a band there is a lot about that that keeps you young. Particularly if you’re in a band that’s full time touring you’re just hanging out a lot, what do you do when you’re hanging around, you’re drinking, what any 21 year old would love to be doing.
Carl: I think being in a band, or doing anything that’s a collaboration with another person, or various people is rewarding in a lot of ways because you’re making art together with someone but at the same time there’s a compromise that has to be made. If you’re doing a magazine, I know you’re not doing everything. You’ve got someone who needs to program that website, take the photos, do the proof reading, do the transcribing. There’s just not enough time for one person. I think that’s the biggest struggle but at the same time it’s the best reward once you’ve finally created something, art.
How would you define maturity, and its necessity in your life now as opposed to five, ten, fifteen years ago?
Carl: Obviously as you get older you start taking more responsibility for your actions. I guess how I would define maturity is how my decisions affect other people’s lives because you’re a selfish person when you’re young. There’s always going to be an element about self-preservation. You want to take care of yourself first, but as you get older, and I’m not talking about just kids, or a wife, or a girlfriend, but being able to kind of empathize and understand what’s going on in other people’s lives and how your decisions affect them. Especially in punk rock, when you’re a young punk rock kid you’re not thinking about other people. That’s how I would define maturity, and I think it’s an important aspect. It comes from being in a band with five guys and kind of compromising to make sure everyone is happy, or at least satisfied with the project and what they’re creating.