Drawing comparisons with the likes of No Comment, Siege and early DRI, Aussie hardcore act Extortion were right up my alley and I snapped up everything I could. This, to be frank, a lot, because for five or six years it felt like you couldn’t move for their records: a fresh blast of hyperspeed hate seemed to hit you in the gut every few months, from superb standalone releases for Deep Six to splits with the likes of Agents Of Abhorrence and Cold World.
Then… radio silence. The deluge suddenly stopped, and bar a comp CD on RSR and a live tape, there was nothing to be heard.
Fast-forward to late 2022 and a new 7″ appeared unexpectedly and vanished almost immediately, like the sighting of some ferocious cryptid. Now the band are out and playing shows once more, and said EP, ‘Seething’, has since been reissued by RSR. As such, it seemed like a decent time to ask the band some questions. So here we are.
All responses are by Rohan Harrison, who sings and creates all of the band’s startling, violent artwork.
So it’s been a while since we heard anything from Extortion – ten years or so since the Cold World split, I think? What happened between now and then? Did you guys break up, or was it a Fugazi-esque ‘indefinite hiatus’?
I guess it would fall into the “Indefinite hiatus” basket. We definitely never broke up and there was always the intention to get back up and running again. We were quite active up til 2015 or so, in regards to playing gigs, but after our bassist, Louis left the band to move back to Perth in the west (we’ve been based in Melbourne on the east coast for the last 13 years) we had a few years where it was just me and Jay (guitarist) meeting up once a week to write new stuff. We got a new Bassist (Aaron Osborne) and started practising as a full band in 2018, recorded in 2019, set to tour in 2020. tour cancelled 2020 due to World Events. In 2022 World Events calmed down somewhat, so the record was finally released and we’re playing live again.
What brought the band back together again, and what would you say has changed for you in the intervening years? How is the band different in terms of line-up, outlook, approach etc?
As stated in the previous answer, the band never reeeally broke up, so getting back together was just a case of booking a rehearsal space and getting us all in the same room at the same time. There are a few small changes to the band, though. As mentioned we have a new bassist, Aaron, whose been a mate for many years. I’ve actually been in another band, a sludge project called Burn The Hostages, with him for nigh on a decade now. Not only is he a great musician, but his organisational skills have been a great help to the band, seeing as the rest of us are something of a mess.
We’ve also tried to change our approach to how we function, trying to keep enough time free of playing live (at the moment it’s something like three months on, three months off) so we can focus on writing and recording. The reason this has become necessary became clear a couple of years after we relocated to Melbourne from Perth. You may have noticed that after 2010 (when we relocated/ Milky joined the band on drums) we only put out one record, the split LP with the great Cold World from Austria. The reason our output dropped way back was due to the fact we started getting so many gig and tour offers that all our practice sessions inevitably ended up focussing on getting a set nailed down and tight, which left little room for working on new stuff. Not that we weren’t trying (I recently heard a live recording of us from 2011 that has one of the songs from seething in the set!) but we never had the time to get anything properly finished off.
The (not-so) new record rips. To me it seems heavier and thicker sounding – was this any sort of conscious shift, or just how things came out?
A lot of that heavier and thicker sound comes from Arthur Rizk, who mixed and mastered the record, he does great work with a gnarly heavy sound. The un-mixed material doesn’t sound too different to our previous recordings. That said, the songs we chose to put on this record (most of the time we go into the studio with more material than we need so we can choose the best of the lot and cut stuff that doesn’t really come out as planned) were definitely those with the heavier kinda riffs, like something a caveman would write if they somehow had access to a guitar. And amp. And electricity along with the know-how to use said guitar, amp and electricity.
I think the songs were recorded a couple of years ago, so how come it’s taken a while for them to come out? Have you got new material in the offing?
We recorded Seething in 2019 and the final mix and master was ready by early 2020. we had launch shows and a US tour lined up for half-way through the year, but then Covid came around and fucked everything up for everyone ever, hence the wait til 2022. Technically we could have released the record regardless, but the band didn’t want to release the record without being able to do launch shows to coincide with the release seeing as it had already been five years since we’d played.
The recording session ended up with about 28 songs or so? There were plans to release the remainder as an EP, but as it is we’ve decided to scrap a number of them and re-record the rest of the songs when we get into the studio next. We’ve recently been working on a whole stack of new stuff too, so new records shouldn’t be too far away.
In terms of delivery and content there’s clearly been no mellowing out over the years. I was wondering, though, are you still fucked off about the same things, or has the focus of your rage changed?
I guess it’s the same? It’s just whatever gripes or annoyances that come to mind when it comes time to write the lyrics. To be honest the lyrical content isn’t that high on a list of importance when it comes to creating music for the band. I generally spend more time on the delivery and pacing of the lyrics than the words themselves (I’m aware this probably isn’t a great mindset for a vocalist to have). That said, the tone of the lyrical content is chosen to suit the music. Which, considering the sound of the band, usually just boils down General Negativity.
Is it hard to maintain or deal with this level of anger and negativity? Do you worry about burning out?
Not really. Whilst the content is pretty negative on the whole, they’re subjects chosen specifically because they suit the sound of the music. I wouldn’t bother writing about positive subjects as it’d feel kinda dissonant when paired up with the music if you know what I mean? Though I can see how it would make me seem excessively negative and hateful if your only insight into my thoughts was from reading the lyrics to Extortion songs haha
What do you do beyond the band in order to stay sane?
I could mention my job, but that certainly doesn’t help to stay sane outside of keeping me fed and housed. I obviously spend a lot of time on music projects: outside of Extortion I’m also vocalist for Burn the Hostages (sludge band with Aaron) as well as having recently have joined Headless Death (grind) and I’ve recently been working on a recording project with Bob and Kevin of Lack Of Interest.
Illustration has always been something I enjoy in my free time and all the Extortion artwork is by yours truly.
Also have a bunch of other hobbies I’ll waste my time on whenever I get the chance, video games, Warhammer 40k, books, comic, movies etc. You know, whatever dumb shit I can do without having to leave the house.
How has it been playing out again? What sort of reaction did you get when you returned to the stage?
Better than expected! All the shows have been great. Whilst RSR released Seething outside of Australia, we opted to do our own pressing over here so we could accurately time its release to our launch shows which helped keep things exciting and feel like we had good reason to kick things off with a bang. Or at the very least a rather unexpected thud.
The Australian punk scene seems to be in a state of rude health at the moment, with loads of great bands ranging from garage punk through to ugly, violent hardcore. Given that you’ve been around for a while, I was wondering what your take on things was – has anything in particular changed to give Australian punk a shot in the arm, or is the rest of the world only just catching up?
Nah, there’s been heaps of awesome local bands for as long as I can remember. So I guess its just, as you say, the rest of the world catching up.
What’s better now, and what’s worse?
What’s better? Well live shows/gigs have been getting really good attendance over the last few years.
I think the lockdowns we had over here really made people appreciate being able to get out to stuff.
And as for what’s worse? Live shows have been getting really good attendance over the last few
years. Too many shows are fucking packed and I’m no fan of being crammed into these overpacked venues, spending the whole time only able to see the back of some tall cunt’s head for the entirety of the set of the band I paid to see.
For all the new blood, though, I find it reassuring that there are some old heads continuing to make great new music, whether it’s Iron Lung, Bastard Noise, Intensive Care or whoever. What is it that keeps you sticking to this subgenre as peers, friends and the people you habitually say ‘hi’ to at gigs start fading away? What keeps you interested and connected to it all?
Whilst my taste in music has broadened over the years, I’m still a massive fan of fast and furious music and making music in this style is super fun and satisfying, so there’s never been a reason to stop. The bandmates I have in all the bands I’m in are great friends, so band practice has always been a great way to meet up and hang out with friends whilst doing some cool shit. As for those friends you’d see at gigs fading out? Some fade away, some stick around and you make new friends along the way anyways. It never really bummed me out and the ones you get along with best you just make the effort to keep in contact with in some way or another.
This is entirely unrelated to Extortion, but I was recently thinking how overlooked a lot of the 80s Aussie bands are (GASH, Depression etc.) in the grand scheme of things. I guess a lot of that would have been down to geographical isolation (especially pre-internet), but I was wondering (a) whether you thought the Aussie punk scene got a raw deal compared to other parts of the world and (b) whether you thought it had any weird benefits?
Yeah I’d agree it was very much due to geographical isolation. You saw the same thing happen to Japanese hardcore in the 80s. Not many people had a chance to even hear those bands and it wasn’t until the full music/record collector nerds got a chance to tout international bands in zines/MRR etc in the 90s that the popularity of those band really kicked off internationally.
That didn’t really happen too much with the 80s Australian bands though, maybe as there just weren’t as many bands and those that did exist didn’t stick around as long. I know the bands in the Perth hardcore scene in the late 80s and early 90s (bands like Rupture, Nailed Down and Heist) made a point of getting records released on labels outside of Australia in an attempt to get their stuff heard. For the most part because distribution, when you’re based on the other side of the globe was (and to a certain extent, still is) expensive and complicated. Especially when you didn’t have the ease of communication that comes with the internet.
So as for a raw deal, I guess so, but it’s not really anyone’s fault, just geography fucking everyone. And as for benefits, bands here had less competition locally, so people are more likely to pay attention and give a band a chance. The isolation and lack of access to other music (due to lack of distribution to Australia back then) probably meant bands were more prone to developing something a little more unique? Like local bands influencing each other or something. I’m not old enough to give an educated answer on this one though, haha!
What’s next for Extortion in the short, medium and long term? Is there anything left that you particularly want to do or achieve at this point?
More of everything. More records. More gigs. More cool shit.