Competition is insanely intense, but I’ll just go ahead and say it – Total Control are
the greatest band in Australia right now. From the menacing punk rock of their first 7″
to their full-length masterpiece Henge Beat, Total Control have only given us the
best. They shift from “frozen in a box” synth-wave stylings to full-barrel garage-punk and
completely nail both, perhaps the only group that can achieve such a perfect balance between
the raw and the synthetic. Live, they’ve become a fantastic powerhouse, evolved from a
thrown-together lineup to a well-oiled road-machine. Really if any modern take on punk rock
or new-wave interests you, Total Control need to be on your docket. I talked to vocalist Dan
Stewart about the band, and while he cautioned me that he had spent the entire day listening
to the Factorymen LP (he did not clarify which one, although it probably doesn’t matter),
he was still quite friendly and open to discussing the group’s hopes and dreams.

Total Control started as a bedroom project between you and Mikey, right? At
what point did it become a real band?

Al and I often talk about how our midnight at the crossroads experience was doing
Straightjacket Nation with Dave and Emily – two very disciplined, hard-working people.
That band practised six hours a week, every week, for years, and toured Australia several
times a year. Our first tour overseas was in the USA for two months – two months! – and we
also toured Southeast Asia (some of the best punk shows I’ve been to in my life) and Europe.
The experience of doing a hardcore band that was based on principles of discipline, hard
work and self-sufficiency made The UV Race possible, and in turn, made Total Control possible.
We became a real band, in the Grand Funk sense, from touring the USA with UV in 2010. Before
that, it was definitely a “project”, but because everyone in the band had done a lot of time
in other bands, it didn’t take very long to lock it in.

What made you decide to do that tour? Was it sort of a “these songs are too good
to remain a home project” thing, or did someone goad you into it, or what?

Mikey was going to tour with UV on keys because Alex wasn’t able to do it, and that made
three fifths of the band on tour, so it made sense for the others to come along. The people
get two bands for the price of one, and we see what we could do with Total Control songs live
without a lot of pressure.
Alex ended up coming, and Mikey ended up playing second guitar with UV, and the van was
inadequately sized for the amount of people so we got to suffer for it (three people had
to lay in the boot the whole time – it was Summer).

I think the most obvious and unique thing about Total Control is how you go
between these synth-based, robotic tracks, and full-on rock-band songs. Was this an
intentional combination, or something that just kind of happened? What makes a song
a “Total Control” song?

There’s something about the kinetic energy of a band that made a song structure melt into
a shape that nobody but that band could play in that particular way, if they are a good
band and they are playing good hardcore. When we started writing Total Control songs, there
was something about not having a band that made it feel really profane and obscene when
singing, and I love how unsettling those recordings sound for that reason, because I really
was very nervous and anxious about the whole process. It was very, very strange.
But, taking some of these songs and feeding them into the band and seeing the way they are
treated, it just made sense that there would be songs that would sound better when played
by the band, and some songs will sound better removed from physicality and locked into that
awkward ether of magnetic tape and 101001011011001s.
The last part of your question is too difficult to answer, I’ll leave it out. That seems
like the kind of thing that a critic or listener would identify easier.

How did you first meet Mikey, and when did Total Control first come about?
When Straightjacket started there weren’t any hardcore bands around that we were interested
in playing with, so we were excited about the opportunities to play shows to audiences who
didn’t give a fuck about 1980’s Boston hardcore (ie. crust shows, garage shows, metal hardcore
shows). Mikey and I met through a misunderstanding regarding his old place of employment (a
record pressing plant). We heard that the guy from the plant was in this new garage band called
Eddy Current Suppression Ring and they were playing a place our friend booked, so we went down
to give the cunt a hard time and get our dough. We ended up liking his band a lot, and he
ended up not being the person we needed to chisel, so we hung out and talked shit and ended up
playing some really incredible shows together, did a record together.
Total Control came about shortly after this. It was just a weekly ritual of hanging at his
house listening to records and watching the football and putting songs together.

Medications and drugs seem to get mentioned more than a little bit in your songs,
but seem to be carefully considered, kind of discussing drugs as a perilous venture
rather than a fun way to get messed up. Am I making this up, or is this something you’ve
tried to approach in your lyrics?

You would have got a different answer from me a month ago, but recently a friend died from
the perilous venture, and everything becomes more loaded in the shadow of that.
I was militantly against drug use for most of my life, until I was about 26. After that,
I enjoyed the perilous venture and the messing up, and I guess Total Control started
around this time, so a lot of what I was thinking and experiencing was going into the songs
and a lot of writing I was doing in other areas of my life (Distort, my philosophy
degree, and some short stories that I’ve since scrapped, some UV and Straightjacket Nation
tunes too).
The Total Control songs specifically about drugs are both called “Meds”. “Meds” from the LP
is written about experiences someone close to me had with mental illness and general
physiological suffering, and the tendency of doctors to offer careless prognoses that endangered
her life more than once. One thing that struck me about her experience was that she kept
saying that doctors wouldn’t listen to her, dismissing her anxiety as the bane of her sex,
rather than a genuine area of medical concern, and just threw a cocktail of pills at her that
put her into emergency more than once. “Meds” from the first single is also about drugs, but
it’s from the perspective of an asshole laughing at the suffering of someone who is crazy and
thinks that the television has stolen their meds. Indignance at the cruel humour of other
people is not my strong point, so it’s not an apology, just an observation that people like
to see people hurt sometimes, and sometimes they really love it.

Are you still writing songs the same way now as you were when Total Control
first got started?

Not at all.

How has the process changed? Is the full band involved? Do you even have a
concrete lineup at this point?

There is absolutely no consistency with how the band write songs – the last few songs have
been written by Mikey or Al alone, Mikey or Al and then the band gets involved, James and David…
The lineup has been reasonably consistent, but as Al couldn’t do the USA tour, David joined.
This is another one of those questions that is weird to answer because we don’t really have
a plan.

There seems to be a bit of a buzz going, particularly after Henge
… what do you make of that? Would you want to reach a point where you’re
playing to crowds of 500 or more, if you could?

It is gratifying to hear that people are listening to our record and are interested in what
we are doing. I’m generally inclined to ignore “buzz” in anything I’m working on, it is an
unnecessary distraction, and it is 2012, “buzz” flashes and fades into contempt very quickly,
so no point hanging your esteem on it.
I will always prefer a pub or house party, it’s familiar ground and allows for a more direct
experience of playing music. You can learn a lot about yourself and your songs playing on a
huge stage with a gulf between yourself and the audience, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.
You learn a lot about volume.

Is there anything that you see a lot of current punk bands doing particularly
wrong? Any specific peeve that you wish other bands would cut out?

No, I don’t think about this kind of thing. I thought about it very critically for a long time
with Distort, but the more busy I got with making music, the more I channeled any kind
of critical impulse into just trying to get it right with my own bands, and the less I even
listened to current punk bands. Right now I’m coming off tour and back into full time work, and
this is the first day I’ve had to sit in my room and listen to new records, but I started it
off with Antidote and Cro Mags. That might tell you something.
I have listened to new records from Sangraal, Avon Ladies, Perdition and Pink Reason that
have all sounded good. So I guess if I could answer I’d point at these bands and say they are
doing something right.