Strawberry Spotlight with T.K. Bollinger
Strawberry Spotlight is a weekly feature on Strawberry Tongue Radio hosted by Lady Audio. She chats with the bands you hear on Strawberry Tongue. In this edition, Lady Audio chats with Australian Doom-Blues artist T.K. Bollinger.
This is a transcription of that interview which airs January 11, 2017, 1:00 EST, only on Strawberry Tongue Radio. You can also catch the re-broadcast of this show on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00pm EST. Be sure to tune in!
Lady Audio: Hi everyone and welcome to the Strawberry Spotlight radio show. My name is Lady Audio, and I will be your host. My guest this week is T.K. Bollinger. T.K., welcome to the show, how are you today?
T.K.: I’m great thank you, Thanks for having me.
Lady Audio: Sure! My first question is, what attracted you to the realm of music?
T.K.: Gosh, think I was always there. Nothing attracted me, I’ve always “existed here.” I’ve always loved singing. My Mum always sang and it was just something that was always there in the house. As far as making music I suppose it’s just a slow process of trying other things and eventually I just kind of found the drums and really gravitated towards them and that was the first instrument that really – just – you know – that I understood. From there I learnt guitar and other instruments. It’s just something that was innate – always bubbling in me.
Lady Audio: How did it come to pass that you began to write doom-blues music?
T.K.: [laughs] Look, I’ve always liked sad songs. I’ve always liked minor keys. That’s just always the kind of music that attracted me. My mother listened to a lot of golden oldies – the old Perry Como – so I really love to melody and I love those old sentimental love songs about broken hearts and I can’t stop loving you and all that kind of stuff. Then, I’ve gone through a lot of styles of music that I’ve made and just eventually came to the conclusion that I liked stripped back and slow, because I wanted to hear the voice rise above everything. That was kind of the idea behind the “doom” – the slow beats and the “blues” was just the sadness, the tragedy of life and coming to terms with that. That’s how it kind of came together.
ave you ever played any other genres of music?
T.K.: Yes, I started out playing indie rock, that’s when I started drumming. Then I joined a band that was more kind of – what would you say, folk – acid folk. It was beautiful harmonies. The bass guitarist and the guitarist we’re always having these lovely harmonies going, and these nice intricate styles of music. I was the drummer – the percussionist in that group. The Stinking Badger of Java – and then kind of at the end of the last century – I started composing electronic music. So I started making dance, and acid, and techno, and trance, and things like that, but, then then I had an epiphany, which is probably where the doom comes in. You know if society does fail and we don’t have electricity anymore – how are we going to have music? So I thought I better pick up my guitar again and that’s when I started gravitating towards folky stuff, the kind of more Americana, that really kind of oldie-time kind of stuff. Then it kind of went electric again when I thought, “okay the world hasn’t come to an end yet so hopefully I can still plug my amp in for a little while.” [laughs]
Lady Audio: So, which other musicians have been influential to your unique style that you have now?
T.K.: I think the turning point for me, as far as “doom blues” goes was a band – and English doom metal band called Warning. My drummer – he played an album of theirs called ‘Watching from a Distance’ and that had the Doom metal in it, which I really loved as a teenager but I never played. It was really personal lyrics and I thought you really this is what I want to do. I want to create music with power that isn’t scathing. It’s internal, it’s introverted. It’s looking at yourself and trying to come with terms with tragedy, and loss, and sadness, probably because, you know, I wrestle with that in myself. That was a real turning point for me. But at the same time I wasn’t really metal musician, but, I just love that the aesthetic that you getting that kind of slow, riffy, bluesy, metal. Going back from there I suppose people like Nick Cave we’re always big to me – especially when I was growing up. Being an Australian you kind of pick up on these people that illuminate within your own culture. There’s been a myriad of artists that I have discovered in between 16 Horsepower, oh, gosh, it’s hard for me to try to get them to come to my head. That’s kind of the dark sound that I’ve always liked.
Lady Audio: So, how many guitars do you have?
T.K. [laughs] Not enough. Well, I have two six-string steel acoustics. I have a 12 string acoustic. I have a Music Man Stingray, which is the main instrument I always play and I have a bass guitar. I’ve gotten to the point where I create most of what I do by myself so it’s good to have a selection of instruments to work with.
Lady Audio: Yeah, in regards to the drums, on your latest album, I don’t really hear very much drums – it’s more like percussion. So, what are you using?
T.K. Well, that’s really interesting because I wanted to strip it back. What I did, is that I just started tapping on things around the house. So, I would go to a cabinet and I would knock on it and go, oh, yeah, I really like the resonance in that. So, I would record that sound and what I would do is make beats out of that. So, I would pitch down two octaves, to get a big kick drum sound, and then I kind of go up, many – seven semi-turns or something and get that kind of sound and often I would use vocal sounds as well, so you might hear some (example of sound) like that, that would be my voice. I would try to make it as organic as I could. That was the main – I don’t think I used an sample beats at all on that album. So, on my next album, I handed over the percussion duty to my drummer Vees, and he’s programming beats on that. So, it’s gonna sound more like a real kit, but, with the flair he brings to it.
Lady Audio: So, the album we’re talking about now is ‘Shy Ghosts” and I wanted to ask you what was the inspiration for it? Oh, and my other questions is, who are these ‘shy ghosts?’
T.K. [laughs] These shy ghosts are feelings. I thought of so much of our culture is celebrating people that do amazing things or who put themselves out there who want to be heard. But, there are millions of people who live their life and may not have the courage to get up and speak their truth. Those were the shy ghosts that I was trying to summon. So, I imagined these people who had died, but, wanted their story told. But, these stories weren’t about how “I made this” or “I was the best” and things like that, but, more about how I lived my life and then I died and I was sad or – other people who are ignored – like people with dementia and things like that, because we can’t really understand them because they are in their own little world. Those were the stories that I was trying to tell in those songs. So, I forgot your first question. [laughs]
Lady Audio: What the inspiration was for it – this is kind of intermingled – both of those questions together.
T.K. Yeah, I wanted to look at stories that aren’t told so much. That was what the shy ghosts.
Lady Audio: I really like the song “The Limits of What We can Love.” Will you please talk a bit about it?
T.K. Sure, you hear a lot of people talk about how love will conquer all and part of me agrees with that, that we need to have compassion for other people. There are also circumstances where we need to step back. I think that at some level only you can own your own problems and you need to have the will to change yourself in order to overcome things that trap you or habits that you have. So, that’s kind of what I mean by the limits of what we can love. I suppose it’s tough love, which is kind of an ugly little phrase that people say about raising their children, “gonna show them some tough love.” It’s important for us to take responsibility. That’s really where the limits of love are.
[Play The Limits of What We Can Love]
Lady Audio: Another song I really like is “Til Exhaustion or Collapse.” What is that one about?
T.K. Well, I was thinking about myself in that song. It’s about the tenacity to continue doing what you want to do. Hence, exhaustion or collapse – you keep doing it, you keep doing it, even if you are flawed. The first line in that is “I should have died” you know – if not in the womb – then by my parents bedside. I was always an unhealthy child – I have asthma and I had a lot of issues, but, you know, I still continued on. That’s the idea of just keeping going, keeping going that, yeah, you don’t know where you are headed and who knows if you are headed anywhere. But, you have to keep putting the effort into to extract those things inside you – particularly if you are an artist – these things will always bubble up and if you ignore them, who knows what will happen, so it’s best to just listen to those voices and create and give the things inside you a voice.
[Play Til Exhaustion or Collapse]
Lady Audio: I’ve experimented with not being with music before and I’ve always had a guitar by my side since I was 12. There was a point in life I got rid of my guitar – so for several months there, I was not creative at all. And my life pretty much went to sh*t [laughs] so, yeah, I agree. I really felt a connection with that song because I kind of had an idea that was what it was about.
Lady Audio: I should say, being without music or being without creativity really left me stranded on a tropical island. It really did.
T.K. It’s a great irony that somewhere so beautiful and yet, what’s really beautiful is that thing inside you that wants to be heard. There’s a movie called Buckaroo Bonzai Across The Seventh or Eighth Dimension or something like that and there’s a really beautiful line that which is “wherever you go, there you are.” For me, that’s the truth – no matter where you go – it could be the most beautiful place, but if you are not happy inside or you aren’t content or understanding yourself – then you still can be miserable. That’s a great story. I’m glad that you picked up on that and it came across in the song.
Lady Audio: It does have a happy ending and as soon as I did get a guitar, my entire life changed.
T.K. [laughs] Well, and now you know what you need to do. That’s awesome.
Lady Audio: Okay, now for a scenario. Are you ready? Is your coffee ready?
T.K. Oh, no, my coffee’s over. Been chatting with you. It’s been enough stimulation so maybe I should wait until after the…[laughs]
Lady Audio: Okay, so if you are ready for the scenario, we are going to get started.
Lady Audio: It’s in the midle of the afternoon and you are standing in a desert with the sun burning your skin. The wind is hot against your face and your lips are dry. As you look into the distance you see the waves of heat creating a mirage. What do you see in the mirage?
T.K. [laughs] I would say a cold pool of water and lush greenery and gosh, I think I would be so parched and desperate to drink so it would be a huge pool of water. I hope that’s kind of [laughs]
Lady Audio: That’s good, that’s good. And last but not least, what is your favorite flower?
T.K. My favorite flower. I should choose an Australian one, because I have a few. There’s a beautiful flower we have here called a Banksia, a famous English botanist. What I love about them is that they are like a lot of Australian flowers and they are kind of “frond-y” and when the flower disappears, there are these little cones that are left behind that look like little mouths. They call them Banksia men. They look like this gorgeous choir of people or group of people talking or something like that. You could put little eyeballs on them – jiggly eyes – and you’d have an interesting conversation piece. In fact, I’m sure some people might do this for the tourist, so yeah, I would have to say the Banksia.
Lady Audio: Ahh, that sounds really cool. I’ll have to look it up because I don’t think I’ve ever seen that flower before.
T.K. Okay, yeah, do that. It’s an Australian thing – I’m sure there is plenty of pictures. Just look up Banksia men. There was a character in a children’s story.
Lady Audio: Cool. So, where can people go to listen to and buy your music?
T.K. It’s pretty much everywhere. Spotify, bandcamp, but, in particular you can find most of my material on TK Bollinger’s bandcamp page, otherwise you can hear it on iTunes as well. Whatever your preferred medium and I would love to hear what people think of it.
Lady Audio: Thank you for joining me today, T.K. It’s been a real pleasure.
T.K. Thank you Lady Audio, it’s been a lot of fun.
Lady Audio: For everyone else out there you can find TK Bollinger’s music on tkbollinger.bandcamp.com. Blessed be and talk to you next week.
To learn more about the work of T.K., please visit his official website: T.K. Bollinger