Rioting onto the scene with an angsty confidence, Cry Club were one band that quickly made their impression through a rapidly building fanbase and a growing discography that candidly explored self-discovery. Creating a safe space within their music and their accompanying live shows, they’ve been able to give a queer and multi-angled representation in pop-punk music that hasn’t always been so blatantly there.
Their debut album ‘God I’m Such A Mess’ is the final embodiment of their introductory and conceptualises the steps into adulthood and all the self realisations and mental health issues that accompany the every day motions of life. Tied into the variety of topics and emotions covered, this album also explores a genre-defying approach with the heavier rock focused ‘Robert Smith’, to the pop centric ‘Obvious’, to the dreamy ‘Wish’, and then acoustic meets electronic fusion of ‘Lighters’. But while it may sound like it jumps between these sounds, there is a very grounded cohesion that makes the record a fully conceptualised collection of tracks.
I recently chatted to Heather Riley and Jonathon Tooke from Cry Club about conceptualising ‘God I’m Such A Mess’ into the punchy and vulnerable affair that you hear now, as well as discussing the creative processes behind songs like ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Dissolve’ and ‘One Step. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘God I’m Such A Mess’ is a colourful, honest, vulnerable and joyous collection of tracks that feels like such a bold and definitive representation of who you are. What was the most surprising thing you learnt about yourselves throughout the creative process?
JONATHON TOOKE: For me personally a lot of the experience with making this record was learning what my place was going to be in it. I had this thing right at the start of it where I was like I wanted to be the artist and not press a lot of buttons and do all those things, but as we got closer towards the end I just started doing more and more because it made sense for me to be more hands on with the production. So I would say I learnt more about song craft, production and all that technical stuff.
HEATHER RILEY: This is my first proper band. I mean, I was in a high school rock band where we did Led Zeppelin covers, and I just sang, and I was like “I’m Robert Plant” *laughs*. But through Cry Club I’ve learnt that while it helps if you love music intensely and you study it, you actually don’t necessarily have to. I’ve always been told that I couldn’t write songs as I didn’t have a great understanding of music theory, but I do have a lot to say and I have a lot of energy in me which ignited my own take on songwriting. And from there I learnt how to work in-between limitations in music, which is something I did also learn in my acting degree.
I think it’s interesting that we have ‘Don’t Go’ on the album which is like the first song we ever wrote as our proof of concept, and then we have ‘Lighters’ which was the last song we wrote for the album, and it followed a different creative structure. Most of the songs were instrumentals that Jono created first, and then we wrote lyrics over them. But with this song Jono has the Apollo New and we created it from scratch.
JT: I think that’s the fastest song we’ve ever written. The acoustic guitar that is on the finished recording is the guitar that was recorded with Heather holding the vocal mic at the guitar.
HR: Well, you did re-record the final strum *laughs*
JT: *Laughs*, yes I did re-record the last strum because in Heather’s demo vocal take they just yelled at the end and you could hear it on the final strum.
TB: Most Australian artists will release a couple of EP’s before tackling an album, so why did these songs to you feel like they best belong on a body of work like a debut album?
HR: We hate EP’s for ourselves. It’s ultimately a part of our listening habits as we want to create things that we want to hear. And for me EP’s are things that I normally ignore as I like to hear full conceptualised albums, and maybe that’s a bad habit of mine that needs to change. I just feel like EP’s aren’t taken as seriously, even on Spotify you have albums grouped together and then EP’s are filtered through with singles.
I wish it was different as it would be cool to release smaller concept works. Like, we’ve joked about releasing a metal EP and then releasing a hyper-pop EP.
JT: Really super different genre stuff! Like that would be really exciting, but I think from how much we were writing and from performing live, if we were to put out a record that didn’t contain the songs that people have connected to live there would be a lot of people that would be upset. And we couldn’t have done that if we just released an EP.
Some of our audiences favourite songs might not exist in the world of being a single, like ‘Don’t Go’, but if we don’t put those songs out then that is a massive slap in the face to the people who have become invested in the material.
HR: And the people who have been there since day 1 singing along at shows. Ultimately we wanted to put out all the best stuff, and after playing our first shows and seeing that we work so well together we were like “fuck it, let’s have big plans, fuck EP’s and let’s do an album”. Obviously funding an album is heinous, but after doing this record we are like “…alright, album number 2?” *laughs*. We write too many songs, you don’t want an EP every four months *laughs*.
TB: ’Dissolve’ is not only a song that is a clear highlight on the record, but it’s also been a standout in your live set for a while now. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
JT: Okay this one has a very interesting story! Instrumentally I come from a position where I play with people in bands, and working with a drummer and jamming. So when a lot of instrumental ideas come from just me I have to kickstart the engine a little bit and have a concept to chase. And I remember sitting down one day and thinking, “what would The Presets sound like as a punk band?” But I didn’t allow myself to listen to The Presets in that session as I would steal too many ideas. So from memory I did a punk version of what I thought a Presets song would be, and that’s what kicked everything off. Instrumentally it actually came together very quickly.
HR: And then Jono sent it to me, and because he lived to Wollongong at the time I would always get a lot of work done on the drive out to see him. I’d always put on the instrumentals he sent me and try come up with some ideas. So I was listening to that particular instrumental and my initial idea came in which was inspired by me listening to a lot of TV Rock at the time. But then I stopped myself and referred to a drama mantra; “go with your initial impulse and then do the exact opposite”.
The melody and the lyrics came out really easily. It was a time where Uni had kinda ended, I was really close to everyone in my year, and I noticed that when I moved away from my friends I got really sad about it. And I think we harnessed that because I was really sick with making effort for friends who wouldn’t come to visit me but would always make me come visit them.
TB: ’One Step’ caters to the synth pop and the rock sides of your artistry quite evenly. Throughout this album process, who were the main inspirations you were drawing from sonically?
JT: In terms of the songwriting, I think most of the songs were written with the rule that every song had to exist as a functional song with a bass guitar, one guitar part, drums and vocals. And once it clears that we are allowed to push it into the stage of where can produce it up and put more stuff on it. But it has to exist in the simplest form.
HR: It has to be able to exist with a drum machine, bass on track and nothing more initially because the more elements we added when we were just starting out, the more that techs would roll their eyes at us at live shows *laughs*.
JT: It would just create more complications. Before Cry Club I was in a twelve piece band. It was just complicated. There were so many things to get a handle on. So a lot of the early inspirations were things that existed quite sonically simple. A lot of post-punky stuff.
HR: ‘One Step’ was also one of the first songs we properly wrote on acoustic guitar together. And at first I didn’t think it was anything special, and then once Jono produced it up and added drums, bass and proper guitar it actually blowed my mind.
JT: Lyrically ‘One Step’ was about seeing friends go through hardships and being supportive, but also making sure they knew that they had to take the steps. You gotta want to be better.
HR: The combo of ‘One Step’ and ‘Don’t Go’ reminds me of My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Black Parade’ album with the combo of ‘This Is How I Disappear’ and ‘The Sharpest Lives’. They are these two melodramatic pop-punk songs early on in the record that were pairs that weren’t singles. It’s this moment of directness.
JT: It’s a great statement piece of who Cry Club are.
TB: ‘Don’t Go’ is another special moment on the record, and it hit me straight in the feels with the lyric “don’t go fall in love without me”. Can you tell me the story behind this lyric, because ooft, it’s very real.
JT: I was playing in the twelve person band at the time, and I remember after a rehearsal one night I was talking to everyone and I was like “I wanna do this pop-punk thing, and it would sound like this…” and what came out in that moment was the chorus of that song. When I was thinking about that song, it could’ve been romantic love but for me it was more about seeing friends that I was no longer apart of their life starting to hit a point in their life where they were getting married, having kids and entering serious long-term relationships.
Like I don’t need to be a person that you fall in love with, but I just want to be apart of your life while you do that because it is such a beautiful part of your life.
HR: When Cry Club started I was in a really scary part of my life because it was the first time that I didn’t have a show or an audition lined up. I was really scared because I did all of these things I was really proud of, and I was like “what’s next?”. So I think the album is a really great summary of the angst of your 20’s post-uni, as you have to deal with the fact that people you’ve known for a really long time might no longer be in your lives anymore. It’s not because you’ve had a fight with them, it’s just because life happens.
TB: With moments like that, and then songs like ‘Lighters’ and then ‘DFTM’, I feel like you cover a distinct contrast and varying different levels of vulnerability throughout this record. So what would you say is the most vulnerable moment on the album for you as songwriters?
JT: It’s hard to know because all of our songs are born out of being incredibly honest and vulnerable. Even a song like ‘Obvious’ might not seem as emotionally vulnerable as ‘Lighters’, but creating ‘Obvious’ was an absolute ordeal.
HR: I was a pest. I sometimes find problems where there are actually no problems. I’m super anxious, unhappy, and have undiagnosed ADHD, so it got to a point where we re-wrote it THAT many times that Jono was like “that’s it, the song is this”.
JT: We are SO proud with where it is now, but it took so long with figuring out how to frame it with the honesty. Looking at the songs, I see them all as stories that landed us at that place.
HR: I would say that personally the most vulnerable song for me would be ‘Nine Of Swords’. I’m super open about mental illness and mental health. I’m not embarrassed to be like “whats up, I’m anxious, super cooked in the head, and irrational. I’m aware of it, and I’m going to therapy”.
There are moments as a support band where we play ‘Nine Of Swords’ to an audience that don’t know us, and it’s really nerve wracking to sing “all I want is to get better”. It’s very vulnerable for me to stand there to a room of people that don’t know me and sing that. It’s something that songwriters sometimes forget. Like, you’ll write something super honest, and you’ll forget that you might need to sing it live night after night on tour.
TB: You’ve been performing some of these album tracks live over the past couple of years, so did any of the studio versions of the songs change/alter drastically after testing them on the road and seeing how audiences reacted to them?
JT: When I think about that, the one that jumps out to me the most as the one that changed heavily was ‘Wish’. Purely because that’s a very early song we wrote and played at some of our very early sets. We then pulled it because we were playing half an hour support slots, and in those moments you want to have a sprint, and play the attention grabbing punchy songs.
HR: People don’t want to stick around and watch your self-indulgent moments.
JT: And the tad emo ones too! But when we actually played that song a lot of people would come up to us and be like “that’s my favourite song”. So when it came to album time we acknowledged that it could never be a single as it’s just too..
HR: It’s like an emo country ballad *laughs*
JT: Yes! We were like if it exists purely as the moment to catch your breath to on the album then we could have an intro and give it space and go even dreamier with it. Most of the songs up to that point were very high energy, and because ‘Wish’ exists in a full album concept, we could lean into that dreaminess more and make it a moment.
HR: Also ‘Don’t Go’ was one that changed quite drastically because when we first played it, it actually had different verses. We then completely re-wrote it to what they are now.
‘God I’m Such A Mess’ is out now!