In the space of a year, fresh faced Australians Pagan have managed to transform themselves from underground locals with a few Bandcamp tracks to international touring punk faves, and it’s all thanks to their debut full-length, ‘Black Wash’.
Released almost a year ago, ‘Black Wash’ is an album that vocalist Nikki Brumen used as a channel of catharsis lyrically, following the idea of creating something positive out of something negative by detailing her experience in a toxic relationship through the metaphors of a cult, and in doing so Pagan have managed to recruit quite the following of their own.
On their second trip over to the UK in the space of just a few months, we sat down and spoke with Nikki to discuss the record, how its bolstered the band into reputable names in their genre, her fascination with cults, her love for red wine, and how a follow-up to ‘Black Wash’ is coming along.
DP!: Welcome back to the UK! How do you guys find it over here?
N: Thanks! It’s our second time here in the space of six months, so there’s been a lot of travelling. We love it over here. It’s amazing to be able to come all the way from the other side of the world to play shows, and the first time that we came over here was just surreal – that people actually turned up and sing the lyrics back to you. It’s amazing.
DP!: You’ve been lucky enough to catch some rare British sunshine too. Especially here in Manchester. This place has the nickname ‘rainy city’.
N: Really? That sounds like Melbourne where we’re from too. It can be like four seasons in one day over there. It’s so beautiful here today, though. It actually feels like Australian weather.
DP!: Of course, today is the first date of your headline UK and European run, but you’ve already done a few shows here and there, like The Great Escape Festival and an intimate last minute show in London. How did they go for you?
N: Yeah, they were really good. The day after we landed here in the UK we played at Blondies in London, which is like a tiny venue. It’s like 50 capacity, and that was packed out. It was for the K! Pit, and I think about ten seconds into our set there were already people jumping off of the bar and crowd surfing too. It was really nuts and cool. Then on Friday and Saturday we were at The Great Escape in Brighton, and that city is beautiful – we’ve never been there before. Then on Sunday we did The Aussie BBQ in London, so it was a nice little pack of shows. It’s really cool to play shows like that over here, because the last time we were in the UK we just did our own headliner, so it’s good to be on festivals and bills with other bands this time around.
DP!: Nice. So, you’ve named this run ‘The Evil Eye Tour’, which comes from the names of the opening and closing tracks on your album ‘Black Wash’, translated from Italian to ‘The Evil Eye Opens’ and ‘The Evil Eye Closes’ respectively. What made you land with that name for this tour, and what is ‘The Evil Eye’ exactly?
N: Well, it really was just a name for the two songs that bookended the album as you said, and I guess that with this tour we thought that, you know, this might be the last proper run of shows that we do before the finishing of this album cycle and we move on to new things. That’s pretty much why we landed on that name, but especially for the last song as well. Personally, the last song of the album is probably my favourite and lots of people do receive it very well too, and we thought it was a good name too. It’s very Pagan with the imagery, and generally just a good tour name.
Other than conceptually with the album being the bookend songs, there’s no real concept of what ‘The Evil Eye’ is per say, other than it just beginning an opening and closing eye, metaphorically being the opening and closing of the album.
DP!: Speaking of the record, ‘Black Wash’, that came out almost a year ago now. How’ve you found that the reaction has been from both your fans and the critics too?
N: Oh, amazing. I mean, we wouldn’t be over here right now unless it was for that happening, and it has just been received so well. We’re overwhelmed by the response. Obviously at the start we didn’t really have any expectations as to how it would go because we were just writing an album for ourselves, and just doing something that we were happy with. It’s not that we didn’t care about how people would receive it, but we just didn’t have any expectations of how it could be received because it’s our first one.
It’s gone so incredibly well though that it has definitely exceeded my expectations, that’s for sure, and because of doing that we’ve got these opportunities to be able to keep touring and potentially do another album, and that kind of stuff that you never really think of when you’re writing and recording your first album.
DP!: That’s cool. What is the meaning behind the title ‘Black Wash’? Were any other titles considered, and if so what made you land on that one?
N: That whole concept, it’s kind of like- it’s very metaphoric. For me, it was because I was in this very toxic relationship, and then from that relationship and with the album I wanted to write about it, but I’ve got a lot of interest in stuff like true crime and cults and things like that. I was researching a lot about that side of things, and at the time I was looking a lot into the Jonestown massacre, the Manson family, and those kinds of cults, and I thought, “What if we make a make-believe church, and there’s a leader who’s very controlling and toxic and they pray on their victims?” ’cause that’s the thing with cults – people who are in a very vulnerable position, I find that they join a cult to find something, and the leader can easily manipulate them.
I mean, those cults are the ones that I’ve read a lot about. I’m not saying that that’s what happens every time, but it was a running theme with them, so I drew those parallels to my relationship and then used this make-believe church as a way of describing what I was trapped in. So, yeah, the album draws in on a lot of metaphors, but a lot of deep meaning as well.
DP!: There are a lot religious metaphors in there, for sure, and not just from the content of the songs but elsewhere too, such as your logo of the inverted crucifix that’s also a candle, some of the song titles, and even your band name too.
N: Exactly, and that’s all leaning towards the cult idea that courses through the record. Even on the last song of the album, I do use a bit of metaphors from the Jonestown massacre cult that I mentioned earlier. If you’ve read the lyrics then you might pick up on it, but it is pretty ambiguous. But, yeah, it’s all definitely held on the idea of someone pretty vulnerable being convinced by somebody who is in a position where they can be manipulative to control that person. That’s very much where the meaning of the album and its ideas come from.
DP!: Prior to the release of ‘Black Wash’, you did put out a few other songs here and there. Two of them, ‘Imitate Me’ and ‘Wine And Lace’, were then revamped for the record, but you also had some other songs like ‘Surfers Paradise’ and ‘Good Grief’, which you put a video out for too. What was the decision process to have some songs re-appear on ‘Black Wash’ and others not?
N: Well, yeah, you’re exactly right. We recorded all of those songs and we originally had this idea to do thirteen singles to fire out here and there and then make them all into an LP, but when we got offered the opportunity to record an album, which we weren’t even thinking of and we didn’t think that we would ever do as a band, we definitely chose the songs that we worked on more recently.
I think at the start of Pagan we had a certain sound that was much more like a sort of standard hardcore band. Then when we got to the point where we’re recording an album we thought, “We’ve got these songs where we’ve developed this particular sound”, so it was only fitting that those songs went on the album because they very much had the Pagan sound; the blast beats, the disco beats, the hooky choruses. We knew that they belonged on the album, and they were all songs that lyrically tied in with the ‘Black Wash’ theme, too.
DP!: Fair enough. I’ve noticed that at a few of your shows you like to have a bottle of red wine onstage with you, and a lot of the time it’s drenched over your shirt and clothes as the set goes on. Do you have to stockpile shirts that are ready to face their red wine demise?
N: [laughs] I do often like a bit of wine onstage. When I’m in Australia I frequently wear the same shirt over and over again, and then I’ll just- I’m really good at washing the stains out, but when I’m on tour I have to try and be a little more selective about the shows that I do that, because otherwise I would run out of shirts. I’ve got a few back ups that I got a week or so ago, but I don’t do it at every show. It’s kind of like a special thing. You’ll usually get to catch a bit of alcohol spillage though, that’s for sure. [laughs] But, no, there’s no stockpile for me to do that every time. I would never be that wasteful, which is good. I always rewash the ones that I do that with too.
DP!: It must be a pain getting out red wine from some of those white shirts though, right?
N: Yeah, yeah. Well, it can be, but there’s this product in Australia that’s called Napisan, and if you just dump it in a bucket of that then it actually tends to come out right away more often than not.
DP!: Well, that definitely helps save some cash and saves you throwing t-shirts out. Is there any particular brand of red wine that you favour more than others? Would you consider yourself a bit of a connoisseur?
N: Well, yeah, I’ve got to admit that I do love red wine a lot. The ones that I take onstage with me are probably not really a very nice choice and are fairly cheap. However, if you were going to ask me what my favourite kind of red wine is then it would definitely be Nebbiolo.
DP!: Thanks for the tip. Well, what do you guys have planned after you wrap up this tour in a few weeks?
N: We’re going to have a bit of time out to be writing our second album. We actually already started writing for that at the start of the year, but we’ve taken time off to focus on touring, and now we’re going to go back and focus on writing again. Then we’ll be touring with The Amity Affliction in Australia on their national tour, and then hopefully back here at some stage maybe. There’s a lot on the cards, we’re just not really sure how it’ll all pan out on our timeline, but it’s going to be a busy end of the year with writing in general.
DP!: That does sound pretty busy. How’s the new material for album number two looking so far?
N: It’s really a step above ‘Black Wash’ in my opinion. It’s like honing in more on our sound, but also taking a few more risks as well, and adding a lot of dynamic.
The band’s debut full-length album, ‘Black Wash’, is out now via Hassle Records/EVP Recordings.
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