Words by Keane Fletcher

It seems like we’ve been waiting a lot in 2020. Waiting for borders to reopen. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for it all to be over. With so much patience required of us this year, it only makes sense that some of us would want to take to the recording studio and sing about it, which is exactly what Townsville-based band Poison Oak have done with their latest single ‘Waiting’, a piece of thumping, punk-rock goodness, that’s perfect for blowing off a little late-2020 steam.

‘It came about really quickly,’ says band member James Balthes. ‘I was trying to work on another song, and got distracted by playing the chord progression...after the label had a listen, it was pretty much a unanimous decision for it to be the first single [from the upcoming EP].’

In fact, despite the anxiety-ridden catastrophe that was 2020, Poison Oak have managed to maintain an enviable output of material, culminating in the June release of their debut EP The Living Room Sessions, which featured previously released singles ‘Start Again’ and ‘Feeling Numb On Sundays’.

Now, with 2021 just around the corner, they’re getting ready to release their sophomore EP, the aptly titled 1996, which features ‘Waiting’ as well as new track ‘Sarah’ a driving, melancholic rock-ballad that recalls the mid-90's hey-day of Australian punk-rock. And with the release date set for early-2021, at least this is one thing we won't be waiting around too long for.

We recently caught up with Poison Oak band member James Balthes to talk all things music and inspo. Check it out below!

1- Where in the world are you based at the moment?

We are based in Townsville, North Queensland Australia. I personally believe it’s a great place for music. There’s a lot cool stuff happening here in regard to music, and it seems to be expanding. 

2- How would you describe Poison Oak’s sound? What are your musical influences?

I guess I would call it indie rock, punk. However, we also have blues mixed in there as well, as we also have quite a few songs that I would call piano sort of ballads. So, it would be a combination of all those things. Some influences for myself would be Paul Kelly, The National, Bernard Fanning/Powderfinger and The Cure. While Ray listens to a lot of punk and 90’s stuff including Violent Soho and Silversun Pickups. Russ is into a whole broad spectrum of music including Frank Zappa to symphony orchestras. Lachie, is into country, (he just bought tickets to Kieth Urban), as well as a range of artists including Marroon Five to ZZ top. While Chris recently has been listening to Green Day. But for our sound, I guess we take heavy influence from Smashing Pumpkins, Violent Soho and Gang of Youths.      

3- How does the writing process work for the band? Do you have a routine when it comes to writing and recording, or does inspiration usually take you by surprise?

No routine at all. It has to be based on inspiration. I come to the band with ideas, or the whole structure of the song. While Ray will do the same with ideas and structures. Usually if I get an idea, I’ll try and record the melody or lyrical theme straight away so I don’t forget. But for all the ideas I think are the better ones, I always remember them. When we record songs, we will record them first, then come back weeks/months later and add some more little touches, that always benefit after listening. 

4- Your new single ‘Waiting’ is a piece of punk-rock perfectly suited to 2020’s brand of restless ennui. Can you tell us a little about the story behind it?

I guess we have quite a few songs that have a similar vibe to this one. It came about really quickly, I was trying to work on another song, and got distracted by playing the chord progression for Waiting, that is based over an A chord with different bass note inversions. Then I got the melody straight away and pretty much had to put the other song on hold, while I went with 'Waiting'. When I was going to uni in Brisbane, I used to have a lot of friends that were involved in the punk scene and I also played with quite a few them. I guess it rubbed off on me, through my song writing. Because now, when I write songs, there is always a touch of punk rock that I can’t really explain how it got there.

We originally were not going to release it, as we were working out what songs we were going to put on our upcoming EP 1996.  Then we decided to put on their last minute. We also, weren’t going to release it as a single, however, after the label had a listen, it was pretty much a unanimous decision for it to be the first single. 

5- A lot of artists are really suffering at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications. How has it affected you and your creativity? How has the band been forced to adapt?

We’ve just kept doing what we have been doing, working and writing songs. Obviously, there was a time period there, where we could not meet up. However, it has not really stopped us writing and recording. If anything, it has given us more time to consolidate our live performance and to continue to work on new material without the pressure of playing a show. 

6- Who would be your dream collaboration?

Hmmm, yeah that’s a hard one. I guess that would change on a weekly basis. Right now, for myself, I would have to say Paul Kelly, I wouldn’t mind writing a straight acoustic song brandishing the unquestionable metaphors of life, that he can paint quite perfectly.  

7- If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?

It used to be that the only form of purchase for music would be vinyls and CD's, physical forms rather than digital. However, the digital world does have some benefits, giving musicians greater ease to release their music, and making music more readily available to the buyer. However, there is a certain amount of class to a physical record or CD, it’s a bit more than just the music, you have the artwork, you have the notes inside etc. It’s something that makes you value it more than just a digital purchase, it gives you a little bit more connection to the artist.    

8- What's next for you?

We are releasing our next single 'Sarah' in February and second EP 1996 in March of next year. We have some gigs lined up as well, so we’re all pretty excited about it. So, at the moment we’re busily putting the final touches to this release together.  

Thanks for stopping by Hipland!