Interview by Sarah Williams. Cover photo by Nick Manuel.
At El Topo Goes Loco in Belgium last year, I had the opportunity to chat with Anty Horgan and Nick Williams of Australian party-wizards The Bennies. They’re one of the most fun and uplifting bands you’ll have the joy of seeing, churning up punk, rock, reggae, dub and dance music in a cocktail of danceable anthems.
As the party was already in full-swing, and we were all a few beverages in, we took up position on the quiet grass patch outside the festival site. As the mosquitoes descended on us, we shared a couple of Jupilers and a joint, and Anty stretched out on the grass to do some pre-show yoga stretches.
You guys are current rounding off a long European tour. How’s it feeling?
- Nick: This our longest tour. It’s been about 30 dates.
- Anty: It’s the most we’ve ever done. Easily the most in a row. It’s been good! We’re sort of on the knife’s edge at the moment… where everyone’s good, but pretty fragile? It doesn’t take too much to rock the boat, if you know what I mean.
What are you doing to try and stay sane and survive?
- Nick: I bought a skateboard and I am very stoked about that. That was a total game-changer for me. I got it in Germany. We were playing at the Sonic Ballroom in Cologne.
Do you skate much back home?
- Nick: Not really. I used to a lot. The danger element in our band increased ten-fold in one day. I bought a skateboard in the morning and that was awesome. Then we arrived at Steinhagen and there was a tightrope there that we all suddenly decided we wanted to start mastering.
How far off the ground are we talking?
- Anty: Aw, you know, a solid thirty centimetres.
- Nick: Yeah, a seat belt kind of thing.
- Anty: The day before we saw people doing it in a park in Cologne and thought, “Aw that looks so fucking lame.” But there was one at this thing, so we all started having a go. It’s really fun!
- Nick: It’s definitely a victory when you get it.
- Anty: I don’t think any of us really got it.
- Nick: We developed a technique which was like the crab walk – just go as fast as you can sideways.
I hate to ask the obvious questions, but it seems a shame not to. What’s been the strangest thing that’s happened so far on the tour?
- Nick: I had one of my mum’s friends rock up to a gig. That happened in Steinhagen – the tightrope gig. We’d finally just gotten into a drink and we were relaxing and setting up, everyone was starting to get, “Okay cool, we’ve got our bearings.” Then this lady comes out and says, “Which one of you is Nick?” I’m new in the band as well, so I haven’t toured Europe before and I don’t have any connections over here. So that sentence in itself was weird. Who the hell cares who Nick is over here?
- Nick: Then she follows it up with, “Do you remember me?” Which is a bit of a flaw there, because she’s already asked which one of us is Nick, and she’s expecting me to remember her. So we joined the dots and she’s one of Mum’s friends from back home. It was really nice and pleasant, because we were smoking joints and we’d started drinking
Do you feel like you needed to sober up and bit and, maybe, put a tie on?
- Nick: It was a little bit instantly sobering, yeah. Not really though. Mum knows what band I’ve joined. We have public outlets like Facebook where we’re pretty open about our behaviour.
Shout Louder recently did a punk fest booze bingo, where you drink whenever you hear a classic festival like like ‘I’m getting too old for this’ or ‘I think I might shit myself’. If you had a Bennies’ equivalent, what would it be? What happens at every show?
- Anty: Someone yelling in my ear.
- Nick: It happens all the time.
- Anty: Every night. I think I’m sensitive to it. Because we get fucked and party there are little things we can do to give us a bit more length in terms of looking after ourselves. So, going to see a band is sick but then people start trying to talk to you and, if you’re yelling over the top back at them, it’s loud. It’s bad for your voice and it’s damaging on your ears. Then, because it’s loud, drunk people love coming up and chatting. They just get right in your ear and it actually hurts.
Party Machine is one of your most popular songs. If you had to create an actual party machine, what components would you include?
- Anty: Whoa.
- Nick: Well, the obvious one is whiskey taps.
- Anty: T-shirt gun as well, to add a bit of danger. Like, something that could cause problems definitely needs to be involved in the party. Maybe, if it’s a robot, it’s only got one wheel? So it’s got good balance but, as the night progresses it gets a bit wonky and starts knocking over drinks and accidentally bumps into people. That would be a characteristic of the party machine. Anything that can shoot out liquids or pingers.
- Nick: Or lasers. A mirror that falls down.
- Anty: Or an adult Pez. Like a thing pops up and a pinger falls out.
- Nick: It has to have a little compartment with bouncy balls, or random toys. There’s no timing to it, it just opens occasionally.
- SL: An inflatable ball pool.
- Anty: This is a pretty sweet robot.
- Nick: A slide. Those ones that you have off the side of aeroplanes.
- Anty: Deflam. For everyone’s throats?
- SL: Maybe some kind of hangover cure. It’s a machine, so it can keep going while you’re not. It’s gotta be there with a bloody mary prepared in the morning.
- Anty: The party machine sounds awesome, but it sounds like it’d be really tiring to have it kicking around all the time.
- Nick: I wonder if you could program it to be annoying and to give off unnecessary advice, like how to look after your voice and where you should play next time.
- Anty: It doesn’t let you talk? It just makes noises over the top of you.
- SL: And then it just repeats itself.
- Nick: Exactly!
At this stage we took a brief pause to observe a young lady throwing up off a bridge into the creek next to the El Topo Goes Loco festival site, being comforted by Thijs, of Jera On Air fame.
- Nick: That’s Belgian beer for you.
- Anty: We got done by Belgian beer last night.
You guys must be quite familiar with hangovers. What would be your hangover cure recommendation?
- Anty: Well, today I discovered that I don’t get hangovers anymore… and as soon as I said that, I got the biggest hangover I’ve ever had. So
- Nick: Huge hangover karma going on there. It was funny.
- Anty: Payback! I’ve been tired but I’ve been doing okay, considering how late we’ve been up. But then we’d had an hour in the van…. I was really hot and dehydrated without easy access to water and yeah… I don’t have any approaches to hangovers. I’m just real bad at them.
- Nick: It has been interesting though. We went drinking every night and it hasn’t come up that much. You develop a stamina.
At this stage, we’re all swatting off mosquitoes every few seconds. The clamour of El Topo Goes Loco is in full swing in the background, we can hear glasses clashing, voices laughing and general merriment. I decide to move things to more serious topics.
You get lost in the wilderness and you have to resort to cannibalism. Which member of the band do you eat first?
- Nick: Definitely not me. I’m just skin and bones so it’s pointless.
- Anty: I reckon you’d probably end up eating me.
- Nick: We’d probably eat Summers.
- Anty: Nah, he’s be disgusting. He’s so gross and stuff.
- Nick: Yeah, you’d be high on caffeine for days if you ate Summers.
- Anty: You’d get a pretty good meal out of Ollie. Ollie’s a big dude.
- Nick: Yeah, see if you’re stuck out in the wilderness you’d need someone like Ollie though. He would start fires. He’d knock down trees and build houses and shit. He’d get pretty resourceful so we probably wouldn’t have to even resort to cannibalism. He’d really come into his own there.
Your sound is a real mash up of different styles. I don’t want to get into influences, but what artists do you admire?
- Anty: I think the thing that creates the mash up is a collaboration of all of us listening to fairly different stuff – just diversity in our lives. But in terms of attitude, I think it’s not caring about [having a specific style]… I get a lot of inspiration from The Clash because I feel like they really didn’t give a fuck about that stuff.
What are your ambitions for The Bennies?
- Anty: That’s something we really need to think about together as a band. Two years ago, we had very clear ideas about what we wanted to do and – without wanting to sound arrogant – we’ve achieved a lot of that. We need now realign what our aim is. I think that’s something really important for us to do together.
- Anty: I’d love to make a TV show. I want to do a Bennies Saturday Night Live-type talk show. Jools is just the funniest guy in the world, he loves talking and he loves being on camera.
- Nick: He’s such a lively character.
- Anty: I think that capitalising on that would be great. I think people would watch it, it’d be fucking hilarious.
What’s been your proudest moment with The Bennies so far?
- Anty: There’s a million milestones and some of them are so hard to explain. Even the other night when we played in Steinhagen; it was a weird venue, we didn’t know where we were and it felt very strange. We had a really fun show and everyone just had a great night… those nights are some of the biggest achievements, where you’re chilling with a group of people that are able to put their ego aside and embrace something.
- Nick: It’s great being surrounded by people that appreciate it too. Being in this band, everyone is so excited. And even though these guys have been going strong for a few years now, they still get really excited when the room starts to fill up.
Many of my friends asked me to find out… Anty, where do you get your leggings from?
- Anty: It’s a company called Black Milk, run out of Brisbane. It’s all ethical, all made in-house. A lot of tights are made in sweatshops, so these are a great alternative. I wear them all the time. The first time we ever played in Europe was in Germany, and we had to go on this TV show. It was really weird. I rocked in wearing these tights and the host, this really attractive babe, was wearing them as well – the same brand! She recognised them, I told her I was sponsored by them, and she lost her shit, it was awesome.
One final question for you: what’s your philosophy for life? I feel like you guys would have one.
- Nick: Jump in the deep end. Say yes. There are so many reasons that I could have said ‘no’ to joining the band, but now I don’t have an experience that could top what I’m experiencing right now travelling with this band. I guess I’ll adopt that philosophy from here on in: keep saying yes.
- Anty: There’s so much wrong with the world, and so much anger, and big powers at play that control a lot of really hectic bad decisions. For ages, I wondered what I could do to change that. Every little interaction, conversation every time we play, if you can make someone a little bit happier that’s going to have a ripple effect. If someone’s happy they’re going to be nice to someone else, whereas if they’re angry they’re going to be shitty to someone else.
- Nick: Bring happiness to the party.
Interview by Sarah Williams.