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New Energy: In Conversation with Twine’s Thomas Katsaras

We talk to the leader of the up and coming Adelaide collective.

We’re outside the Barcelona venue, Sidecar, which is playing host to various shows in-between the two weekends of this year’s Primavera festival. Dubbed Primavera A La Ciutat, on this particular evening, punters are queuing excitedly for Boston veterans, Pile. Ahead of me are a couple from London who can barely contain their excitement, while two other young gentlemen quietly queue behind them. Naturally we get talking, and as pleasantries are exchanged, it’s soon evident that we’re all from Australia.

With beer tasting as it should on a warm summer evening, conversation ensues and sooner or later Thomas Katsaras and Ricky Albeck confirm they are in a band called Twine. “I’ll check it out,” I say. Details exchanged, all sorted.

The next day, following the aural pummelling Pile gave their audience, I decided to give Twine a listen: the rest is history.

“That’s the thing I’ve found. The community of just meeting through being in a band,” says Katsaras over Zoom earlier this week. Since our initial meeting in Barcelona, Katsaras and I have kept in contact, and after a few false starts, we finally managed to arrange a time to talk.

“You just meet other bands from the country through the internet, people who have similar influences,” he continues. “For ages I thought the Australian scene was really boring, and I was always looking at America and the UK. I don’t know if it’s a timing thing, people writing music now were born at a certain time, but I think there’s a lot more stuff [where] people are not just trying pop.”

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Three singles deep, with each bettering its predecessor, this is a band on the ascent, and while Australia has boasted a fine array of talent over the past 12 months (some of which has featured throughout these pages) we can now add Twine to list.

Alongside vocalist/guitarist Katsaras and guitarist Albeck (who also plies his trade in a solo capacity, spearheading The Belair Line Band), the pair are joined by bassist Alicia Salvanos, drummer Jackson Pagett and violinist Thea Martin. Last year, the Adelaide collective arrived with their debut single, Cleaner.

A dead-eyed Unwound-inspired blast of post-hardcore enmeshed with the finest aspects of indie-rock, the band followed it up earlier this year with Seachange and Same Old Problems. Songs that are more nuanced thanks to the addition of Martin’s violin, which sees Twine moving things forward, adding subtle textures to their beautiful snarling mess.

To these ears at least, there hasn’t been a young band from Australia that has evoked the same excitement as Twine. Suffice to say, we wait with bated breath as to what they serve up next.

For now, though, we do some digging with the Twine leader, Katsaras, talking about the journey so far and what the future holds.

Twine

Sun 13: Firstly, can you tell us about the history of Twine?

Thomas Katsaras: “I’d never been in a band before this. I’d always wanted to be in a band, so it just started as my project. I thought, ‘I’m writing this stuff, and I would like to get people to do it with me’. It took a couple of years. I had different line-ups with a bunch of different people, and it was never called Twine, but it was the same idea. But they just sort of never really worked. It was always the wrong sort of person, and it would just be people that didn’t really understand the genre. So it was then working out how I wanted it to… I could never be confident enough to actually start it.

“But then the band actually started with a different line-up. The two other members and I, they left for various reasons, and then I got Ricky and Alicia in. That’s sort of how we have this line-up we have now. I’d always be talking to the two of them and saying, ‘Oh, we should totally like do a band together, because we have the exact same tastes, and we know what we’re doing’. But we’d never actually do it.

“Luckily it worked out. Then with Thea joining, that came about because I was obsessed with Dirty Three and just violin in general. I had been thinking about for a while, and I’d always put it off because I thought she was too good of a violinist to want to do this noisy band thing. But then when we had those last two songs we put out, they sort of fit the violin, then I said, ‘Do you want to come try playing through some of that stuff?’. I think it was originally just going to be for those two songs, but it’s worked out so well that now it’s a constant and she’s fully a part of the line-up.”

S13: I was going to talk about the songs. Same Old Problems starts with a Dirty Three Horse Stories type of vibe.

TK: “Yeah, yeah. It’s such a good record. It was definitely Dirty Three on that song. There’s also… do you know much of Michael Hurley?

S13: Heard the name, but not familiar with his work.

TK: “He’s this older guy that’s been making country records since the ’60s. But he writes like, almost cute songs. He’s really great. But the start of that song is – I wouldn’t say it’s a rip-off – a homage or whatever. So there’s this Michael Hurley song called WildeGeeses, and it starts off with the violin harmonics. So that’s where that came from.”

S13: Cleaner really feels like a statement both sonically and lyrically. The song itself could be taken as a twofold, literal or metaphor. Do you leave it up to the listen to interpret it whichever way they see fit?

TK: “Yeah. People don’t normally ask… I don’t know how to actually explain (laughs). I think people think that it’s about me. It kind of is, but it’s just like the metaphor of the cleaner, fitting in well with, like, a relationship in a weird way. There’s a lot of Alex G songs where he writes from a different perspective. He’s got this song Crime, and it’s about killing someone, committing a crime. I know he didn’t actually do that, but it’s a good vessel for the song.”

S13: Seachange really melds together pure indie-rock and folk. So many bands have tried to do this over the years and it just doesn’t work. Then I heard Seachange and thought,  ‘finally someone’s done this right’. Can you tell us about this song?

TK: “The thing with that song, it’s funny, because that was supposed to be a B-side for Same Old Problems. We had extra time in the studio and thought, ‘Oh, we might as well just record it’. Yeah, some people really like it, which is nice.”

S13: The line, “Pushing things down feels like a fresh start” really resonated with me, and you could say that these three songs are linked in some way, thematically. Would that be a fair assessment?

TK: “Yeah. I guess it’s thematically me. (laughs) With the recent stuff I’ve been writing, I’ve tried to be a bit more vague. Like with Pile lyrics. The emotion is in the song, the lyrics aren’t so emotionally heavy. I don’t like the emo connotation. I’ve had that a couple of times, and kind of want to avoid it.” (laughs)

S13: That’s weird, I wouldn’t have associated you guys with that. I’d have associated you in more of the world of Unwound.

TK: “Yeah. I think with lyrics, my main thing is, as far as inspiration, I love Jason Molina’s stuff. Maybe not every song but, even Seachange and Cleaner, I love having reference lyrics to something else. And in Cleaner, there’s a lot of working, just keep working. And that’s in Just Be Simple or Almost Was Good Enough. One of the Songs:Ohio songs and in Seachange, the last chorus is a reference to the Alex G song, Change. I personally get a kick when you’re listening to a song and there’s a reference line. It’s a cool thing, because then you’re like, ‘Ah, I like band, it’s cool that they like that stuff, because I like it”. I would be writing a song, and then you finish it and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, no, this is just so close to this line in this song’. For a while I would have thought,  ‘Oh, I can’t keep that in’. But now I’m very much pro to references in songs things. It’s great.”

S13: Speaking of Unwound, what do you make of the announcement of their re-form?

TK: “I was surprised. I never thought it was going to happen. With them reforming, I hope it’s like a Pavement thing. Sometimes when bands get back together and releases new music, I feel like most of the time it’s never as good, it’s a bit of a let-down. They are the sort of band that’s got a very solid catalogue. In saying that, I feel like they are the sort of band that if they put out new music, it wouldn’t counter to anything they’ve done before. I feel like they’re pretty artistically solid.”

S13: I agree. From the outside, Adelaide has always felt like a really tight-knit scene. It kind of kicks against the general psyche with a lot of Australian bands where there’s been a mindset of Melbourne being the endpoint. What can you tell us about it?

TK: “It definitely is smaller than other cities. There’s definitely scenes within the scene. I think the majority of the Adelaide scene does piggyback on the East Coast scene of more popular Triple J stuff. Then there’s like a drip down. There are a lot of bands trying to emulate that, and want to hit that stride. I really like the Adelaide scene, it’s very diverse. Most of the time, when a new band starts it’s generally not the same as another one.

“It’s also worked well. With Alicia and Ricky, I only knew them because they both played in a band with my brother, and I just knew them through the scene. Ricky’s got his own bands; Ricky Albeck & the Belair Line Band are really great. There’s a scene where I think Twine sort of sits as well. We’re, like, the ‘not pop’ part of the scene. We all play together. There are three main venues, the main one’s the Crown and Anchor. It’s a 200 capacity venue room where you have your first gigs. There’s not heaps of venues; if you wanted to see what gigs were on during a weekend, you can figure it out in five minutes by just like looking on Facebook.

“Because it’s small, people are more supportive, and I think it’s easier to do your own thing. Stand out sounds a bit wanky, but just because there aren’t heaps of bands, your own thing is your own thing.”

S13: Talking about Ricky’s band, is there much of a crossover in audience between his band and Twine?

TK: “Yeah, I think so. It wouldn’t be the exact same, but friends wise, there’s definitely crossover. We’ve played shows together before Ricky was in the band. The crossover is a good thing, because I’d love to play more country gigs. I don’t know if it’s going happen, but I’d love to find the in-between point of noisy sort of rock and country music. I normally spend a lot of time on riffs and song structure. I’d never used standard tuning and open chords. When I got back from Europe, I wanted to write very classic sort of chord progression, and have the focus on the lyrics, not so much the instrumentation. I still want to try and make them fit within the band sound, which I think it does work.”

S13: Do you write the lyrics before the music or vice versa?

TK: “With lyric writing, it takes me a long time. I have friends who can pump out songs in a month, like 10 new songs. It’s one or two months for me. I stew on guitar for a long while, and then I’ll put down random lyrics into my phone, and then after a while I have a general idea of how these two work together. But then I like to take bits of the song I have into band practice, and then get a solid structure, then write the lyrics.”

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S13: With Australia now being led by a Labor government, do you see a future of hope for the arts?

TK: “I hope so. I can’t imagine it being this huge change where it’s lots of funding, but I think comparatively to a Liberal government there definitely should be. I’m not sure. It’s a weird thing with governments.”

S13: Is South Australia still under Liberal state government?

TK: “It’s a Labour government now. The thing with states, they had this whole thing with COVID. In Adelaide, it’s still present, of course, but venues are still just operating now regardless. See It Live had all these grants to try and fuel money into the music scene, but all the grants were directed at venues, there was nothing for bands. You could get a grant of a couple thousand dollars if you’re a large venue, and you can put that forward to paying for bands. If you’re a band and you want to put your own show on, you can’t do that. You have to be the venue.”

Twine

S13: I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, but here I’m convinced the decision makers don’t listen to new music. It all seems based on semantics and how many plays bands have on Spotify.

TK: “Some of the questions on grants; I think I was looking at one, and it was like, ‘What’s your, highest amount of streams? ‘What’s your biggest show?’ Looking at the grant from that perspective is a bit counterintuitive, because I feel the grant should be there to help bands that are good, but they need the help to do the bigger stuff.”

S13: For sure.

TK: “I don’t know what it’s like over there, but I’ve noticed that in Australia at the moment, there’s a thing with Spotify playlists. If you’re a new band, and you’ve pitched a radio-friendly three-minute song to Spotify, they’ll put you on a local noise playlist. As soon as you get added to those playlists, your streams and monthly listens goes up. I think people look at that and see that as a judgement of the quality. It’s hard to rate. I don’t know if that’s just me being salty, because we’re not the sort of band that gets added to those sort of things. But I think when grants are looking at that, you can get added to a playlist by someone who just thought people would like it, then you’ve got a foot ahead of other bands.”

S13: Are Twine working on an album at the moment?

TK: “Yeah. We recorded a couple weeks ago. Because we do live tracks, it takes a while to [get] the right take. So we did three songs. It’s been hard at the moment, because people have been interstate or not available and we’ve got to find time when we all can record. We all had a day free where we did one day of recording, rather than four in a row, [which] would have been ideally better.

“But I think the plan is to go back when we’re all available and do another day of recording, and then just try and record all the songs we’ve got. I was unsure about the whole album idea, but I was thinking about it, and I think we all understand what the sort of Twine sound is. So rather than just doing an EP, just put all the songs we’ve recorded out there, and then you can start writing new ones.

“I also love bands that have a big discography, and then, you know, it might not be their blow up album on the first one, but it’s cool to see the trajectory and the change and how they developed. I would like that.”

For more, visit Twine’s Bandcamp page.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

2 replies on “New Energy: In Conversation with Twine’s Thomas Katsaras”

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