The title of this article would more than likely suggest some elaborate and exquisite possibilities for NSW mathcore favourites Totally Unicorn. As their name proposes, the realms of plausibility are questionable, but not entirely unbelievable. If one was to witness the amazing absurdity that is incorporated in the quartet’s live show, it could be then reasonable to believe that the band had made it onto a program similar to The Tonight Show; don’t forget The Dillinger Escape Plan played on Late Night With Conan O’Brien – but alas this is not the case.
What would be arguably more outlandish would be that the four-piece had created their own successful sitcom; this isn’t entirely impossible – the four gentlemen who make up the outfit are charismatic characters in their own sense (there was an online series TU created entitled Wine About It which can be found here).
In this scenario though, the title actually refers to the film clip the party punks released for their single ‘Trust Fund Glee’ from their new album High Spirits//Low Life (review here) and as the lyricist and delightful Drew Gardner explains, the filming process was one the ‘Unicorn had never experienced:
“That was during peak lockdown so we all had to do it all separately in front of green screen. From memory, it was two of us at a time and we just switched as necessary, it was a different experience for doing a film clip FOR SURE!” He enthuses with exhilaration before continuing.
“We had everything planned and then lockdown happened and we had to have it released by a certain time so we were clueless on what we were going to do. We were lucky enough to have Carl Whitbread (guitarist, LO!) come in to help; he is an amazing graphics guru and we literally filmed it all to green screen and he worked his magic, it came out SO GOOD! It probably came out better than what the original idea was.”
The video, which has a hysterical portrayal of Mr Gardner atop of boats, in a pool of cash similar to Scrooge McDuck and dressed as with a Hugh Hefner motif is a rarity and remarkable. Not the type of band to ever shy away from the ridiculous or the rousing when it comes to their music videos (one such feature was banned from YouTube), it was a wonder if Drew had become at all uncomfortable during the filming process as it was in all likelihood, a somewhat awkward situation in front of just a “green screen”?
“It was fine, I don’t embarrass easily. We had the song sped up and slowed down so it had a little more jolt to it, I have never done that before.”
Drew, guitarist Aaron Streatfeild, bassist Dean Podmore and drummer Adam Myers faced quite a few situations of “never done that before” in the creation and release of their third LP High Spirits//Low Life. The initial stages of the full-length’s composition actually occurred just before COVID-19 altered what was known as reality for the human race; when the pandemic occurred, the impact went beyond hindering the four gentlemen of Totally Unicorn, it affected their lives as whole, even personally. New South Wales like Victoria and many other locations were put into strict lockdowns and on numerous occasions and TU had to cease functioning as did the world’s livelihood.
“It was a hard time; a pretty hard time in my life too as a lot of other things happened personally, family orientated stuff.” Drew recalls – “Seeing friends suffer was just devastating; when reflecting, I would say this whole album is about that time in life and how full on it was. It’s not over, we are still dealing with that stuff, as I am sure many people are. It is getting better, I guess we will see.”
With the topic of the record being reflective on the ravaging effects of the virus, the front-man discovered new inspirations lyrically. This included the conspiracy element that infested social media in the track ‘Tip Your Tinfoil Hat’.
“During lockdown, social media was rampant with just garbage. So I was inspired by reading all that and what family members had posted and what family members had told me; it was pretty wild.” Drew informs WoS – “These were people who never gave a shit about the government or vaccines or anything remotely close to that. All of a sudden they had a wild opinion about it all and it was always the stupidest voices that were the loudest. It was weird.”
“When it is your family doing it too, it makes you really think, you know?” He admits, but not bitterly.
Although a heavier track on this third full-length and with a different lyrical inspiration, it is far from unrecognisable from the ‘Unicorn. A manic mathcore number landing somewhere between The Bled and Botch – it encouraged this writer to describe the cut under the genre of “boogiecore”.
“It was definitely one of the songs that was more ‘Old Unicorn’, certainly heavier. Writing it though was totally different; Lachlan (Mitchell, Producer – The Jezabels, The Hard-Ons), he helped us arrange by cutting out some bits and adding some bits, I think that brought more of the ‘boppiness’ to it. It’s a rad song; I’m maybe a little, not scared, but nervous to see what the reaction will be to that song. But yeah, fuck it, whatever, we are all allowed to have our opinions.”
The more than credible highlight of the release is the title track, a seven-minute opus broaching musical experimentation the quartet had yet to embrace in their formula. A more progressive outing, not quite approaching Between The Buried & Me with the Rock Opera notion, however, perhaps a more Totally Unicopera? As Mr Gardner expresses, consistent with the entire album’s creation, the ultimate plan changed for the song.
“Well it was written in two parts; we started writing it at the end of 2019 so it was a very long period of writing the song – truthfully it wasn’t too hard to lyrically contribute to it in that respect. But singing at the end of it was pretty wild, when we recorded it I had laid down the vocals for it already, all lyrics complete. Then when it came to that end part, some big stuff happened with two of the guys and they were pretty upset. So I thought I will rewrite the whole thing just for them, to let them know it was going to be ok.”
Drew then explains: “I went into the studio and ad-libbed the whole thing and what you guys hear is what came out from that session.”
So it was improvised?
“Especially the song ‘High Spirits//Low Life‘ – that was literally one take, or maybe two. It was good (Laughing).”
A final note which fits in rather well with the theme of improvisation, a concept that near explains the whole experience of High Spirits//Low Life‘s creation regardless; the other is Totally Unicorn‘s live abilities and the prospect of touring again. A TU live performance is a charismatic chaotic cinema of compelling confusion and cheerfulness – it simply has to be witnessed. However, after the devastating effect the pandemic had on live music (and the music and arts industry in general), it plagued this writer to ask Drew Gardner how he felt about the upcoming Australian journey?
“I am ready, whether my body is, I don’t know. It’s been a long time, I don’t think I’m up to match fitness. Literally did NO pre-season training either so I don’t know (laughs).”
What does the training involve?
“Rolling around in the streets and doing cartwheels and jumping off stuff? I don’t know. Drinking 50 beers; wait I’m already doing that so that is fine.”
“Sack the life coach,” this team has won.
High Spirits//Low Life is out now. Get it here
Totally Unicorn hit the road from March 18th – tickets here
Totally Unicorn – High Spirits/Low Life Tour
March 18th – The Curtain – Melbourne
19th – Barwon Club – Geelong
25th- The Zoo – Brisbane
26th- 11 Dive Bar – Sunshine Coast
27th – Vinnies Dive Bar – Gold Coast
April 1st – Crown & Anchor – Adelaide
7th – Cambridge – Newcastle
8th – Great Club – Sydney
9th – Diceys – Wollongong