Interview: The Hard Aches’ Mess is more than a rock album, it’s a conversation starter

This weekend, The Hard Aches embark on what is quite the highly anticipated album tour – the first presentation of their sophomore record Mess. As has become an intergral part of his songwriting, Ben David delves into personal territory and tread an emotional terrain that, particularly in the Australian rock scene, has long been considered murky and off-brand.

Exploring mental health, self-belief and bringing issues normally shrouded in darkness and oftentimes shame to light in a more positive way, Mess is a career-defining effort from The Hard Aches. An album Ben is eagerly anticipating entering this new tour run with. Hitting Melbourne and Adelaide in the opening weekend, The Hard Aches bring Mess to both towns they call home.

“It’s always a bit nerve-wracking having the biggest show of the tour as the first show of the tour,” he says of the band’s upcoming show at The Corner Hotel. “We’re excited. We’ve played there a bunch of times and we’re really stoked on the record, really stoked that we finally get to share it with everyone. What a better way to start, than with a party at the Corner Hotel?”

Joining The Hard Aches on the road, Antonia & The Lazy Susans and Sincerely, Grizzly – two bands that David is particularly excited to have alongside for this run around the country.

“We’re lucky that we get to tour so much and see so many really cool bands that a lot of people may not be exposed to or may not get a chance to listen to.” Ben explains. “To have the platform to have a great band like Antonia & The Lazy Susans out who are very new to touring, but they’re such an important band…they’re one of my favourite bands. They happen to be good friends of ours, but they also happen to be my most listened to band on Spotify! I want other people to feel that and experience that. Having such a cool local band like Face Face on the show; they were a band that I just randomly ended up mixing at Old Bar six months ago. I just fell in love instantly. I can’t wait for people who come and see our band to get to experience what I got experience. Same goes for Antonia and Sincerely, Grizzly.”

“They’re people who have always been around us,” he says of the Adelaide trio. “They’re so positive and they’re really great. We want bands and people working on our shows that are going to add to the whole experience in such a positive way. We can’t fault that band at all in that regard; they’re beautiful humans and their music is fucking rad. Usually, us, Antonia and Sincerely, Grizzly would probably be on completely different line ups, which is another thing that is really cool. Being able to bring a mixed line up that would maybe sometimes not work, but this works. We’re all coming from the same place and we all want to get to the same place; there’s no reason why we can have a band like Sincerely, Grizzly on the show with us.”

On the band’s journey from Pheremones to Mess, Ben reflects on The Hard Aches’ development as a band in studio, and a band on stage. Their connection with their fans has been of paramount importance since the beginning, but as their music has continued to permeate through the younger demographics of Aussie rock fans, The Hard Aches have begun to occupy a more influential space within the wider scene.

“We’ve had a lot of changes,” he admits. “They’ve all ended up being really positive. We’ve just been finding our feet and in the last two years, we’ve felt the most comfortable as a band. We were like, ‘This is it‘ – we felt really good about where were were, especially with our sound. Being a two piece, it’s something that you can do half-assed, or you can work on it and refine it – make it sound [a way] that people don’t even notice it’s a two piece band. I think we’re finally in that position where we feel really comfortable. It’s not just the way I’m doing my guitars, it’s the way that we piece the guitars and the drums, the melodies all come together and they complement each other in a way where they’re not just there to fill a beat or to fill space. They’re there to add to the dynamics. The dynamics are so crucial in a two piece band – otherwise it’s just a wall of noise all the time. You don’t have that option of having more than one member to change things up a bit.”

“Rock and roll is back!” he laughs, noting the resurgence of loud guitar in particular.  “There’s lots of kids learning guitar and starting guitar bands now; obviously it’s something we’ve always done and always wanted to do. Now, it’s rad to see a younger generation getting into guitars and getting into music that’s more in our world than say, metalcore or EDM, or whatever else has been the fad of the last decade. It’s cool that kids are going to guitar shops and buying guitars, that they just want to play loud rock and roll.”

“We love that for the very reason that kids are hyped on it and kids want to see guitar rock again. Festivals are featuring more guitars and more bands are coming out and saying, ‘Not only are we a band, but we also have something more to talk about,’ People are in a good position where they’re feeling comfortable in having those conversations that maybe they weren’t as comfortable talking about [before], us included.”

As we discuss the platform musicians today have and harness when it comes to important topics, whether they be politically or socially driven, Ben is open about the role he perceives The Hard Aches to hold when it comes to expression of message through music.

“It’s not rare for kids to come up to us at shows or reach out to us on social media and say, ‘Hey – your music really helped me through this tough situation. Thanks for doing what you do,'” he says. “That’s the kind of shit that makes you take a step back and be really stoked on doing something that maybe feels uncomfortable to you, but for someone else out there, they’ve managed to get through something easier. They’ve had whatever relationship with your music or the community that surrounds your music. It’s a really beautiful thing. It’s hard to explain how that makes you feel, but it’s a beautiful thing that you can make someone’s life easier or better in that time, through something that comes out naturally.”

“We’ve always talked about these things and sung about mental health especially,” he furthers. “This is the first record where we’ve put it out in a different light; we want to maybe use this as a platform for people to talk about it amongst themselves and start the conversation, start shredding the stigma that still exists around it. We wanted to do a record that not only talked about mental health, but talked about it in a more positive [light]. That things are going to get better, not in a, ‘You’ll be right – get over it,’ type of light.”

As a creative who has battled with his own moments of darkness too, Ben doesn’t shy away from talking about these periods of his life, though he admits he’s not 100% there when it comes to feeling comfortable about discussing them. Which, hey, that’s totally fine too. When it came to making Mess and alleviating pressures put on him by himself, he reflects on the process.

“It feels a lot scarier than it is.” he says. “I think people are maybe inspired to talk about their own things if they can see someone else talking about their own experiences and talking about the things that we all go through. For me, it took me a long time to be able to talk about my own mental health and to want to actually better myself and to want to use the platform that we have in music to spread that message, that it actually can get better for you.”

“I know, first hand, that it doesn’t always feel that way and it doesn’t always feel like you’ve got a support network. The beautiful thing about music and through having this community of people from just going to shows and listening to music, you have this amazing connection with people who you may not know. You may have never crossed paths with them, but you’ve got this big family that just exists through music and it’s just such an important part of my life and my own situations. Feeling a lot more comfortable with it knowing that you’re not alone in it. It’s still big and scary and I’m not fully comfortable talking about it and doing it yet, but it’s a hurdle I’ve wanted to get over for a long time and I think this is the record I’ve been trying to write for a while. I’ve been trying to always put it in this sort of light, but this is the first time that it felt right to do it.”

With the tour just days away now, Ben looks forward to not only introducing fans to Mess, but also to bringing newcomers to The Hard Aches fold into what’s become a strong community of music lovers – a community Ben considers a family.

“We’ve always made as much effort as we can in making our shows as much of a family as they can possibly be.” he says. “Making sure that everybody there has the right to feel safe and comfortable and like they deserve to be there and they deserve their space. They’re not going to go and feel uncomfortable for whatever reason; everybody deserves to feel like they belong at the show. We work really hard on making sure that stays the reality.”

“It’s been really beautiful to see that change in the scene just in the last few years, through people talking about it more. Not just with mental health, but obviously the equality issue and the diversity of shows too; wanting to really push forward and see these positive changes happening, and they’re happening. It’s beautiful to be part of something that is still, for a lot of people, they’re threatened and frightened by it.”

“There were a few media outlets that cancelled a bunch of interviews because I called out another band the other week on Twitter for a bullshit interview they did. The only way these things are going to change, how people are going to learn, is if they get pulled up on it. Not in a, ‘You’re wrong,’ way but in a, ‘Hey – maybe you should stop and think about this,’ way. Let’s talk about it.”

He’s not advocating knee jerk aggression or unnecessary outbursts, however. What seems to be missing is proper informative dialogue and discussion around issues that have become such a part of the music industry, and our social climate as a whole. For Ben, he hopes The Hard Aches can continue to prompt constructive conversation through music.

“We’re not fighting each other but for some reason, it turns out that sometimes we end up fighting each other.” he says. “Everyone wants to see the best of this world and the best of our direct environments; everyone wants to see everyone around us happy and feeling like they deserve to be here and in this space, doing what they want. A lot of these issues that have come up is simply from people maybe never being exposed to it.”

“I know for me, it took a long time to really fully understand that there were these walls that existed, even in our own little community that I thought was this all-inclusive environment. The reality was, that it wasn’t. There were people who didn’t come to shows because they didn’t feel safe and for whatever other reason. That was heartbreaking. It took me wanting to learn about it and being pulled up on it like, ‘Hey this is all well and good, but have you thought about this?’ – that’s the conversation we’re trying to have.”

THE HARD ACHES TOUR DATES
Tickets available via www.thehardaches.com

April 13th | The Corner Hotel, MELBOURNE
w/ Face Face

April 14th | The Gov, ADELAIDE
w/ Stabbitha & The Knifey Wifeys

April 18th | Transit Bar, CANBERRA
w/ Azim Zain & His Lonely Bones

April 19th | The Cambridge, NEWCASTLE
w/ Hey Lady!

April 20th | Oxford Art Factory, SYDNEY
w/ Nothing Rhymes With David

April 21st | The Zoo, BRISBANE
w/ Emmy Hour

April 24th | Jack Rabbit Slim’s, PERTH
w/ JOYS