October 2017

It’s In The Bag

Bag RaidersBag RaidersText: Digby Woods Images: Bag Raiders

Don’t be fooled by the Bag Raiders. If you think they are a new band, just one of a slew of shiny-new electro-pop outfits that are being churned out every other day it seems, then you’d be wrong. The Bag Raiders have been at it for a while, making sweaty, horny, groovy dance beats since 2005, and even a bit before that. You might remember them when they were making mixtapes for that crazy party night of yesteryear, The Bang Gang? Then there was ‘Fun Punch’ and ‘Turbo Love’, and then all those remixes for Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts, Kid Sister, shit, who’s counting?

Now though, after a good deal of labour pain and one very strong epidural, Jack Glass and Chris Stracey have finally given birth to their love child, their first full-length album, self-titled of course. Digby Woods caught up with Jack while he was eating cake on a hot tin roof to talk Ninja Tunes, being a one-time juke-box band, the influence of Sudanese rap, and why they are definitely not the Australian David Guetta.


Digby Woods: So where am I finding you today?

Jack Glass: I’m on the roof of my apartment building actually, in Darlinghurst, just sitting up here eating cake.

DW: Nice. I remember the first time I heard of you was when you and Chris were doing mixes for Bang Gang along with Ajax and Gus (da Hoodrat) in 2005/6. In the last couple of years though you’ve moved toward becoming creators rather than mixers. How did this transition come about for you both?

JG: Back in the day we’d make little blends and bootlegs and stuff, which was around the time of the Bang Gang parties. We’d take them down to the club because we’d be going down there anyway and getting drunk, and give them to the DJs to play, who were our buddies. So from that we did a couple of remixes, just for friends or for people in that circle and then out of that we started making our own stuff. But when Chris and I first started making music we weren’t making club music at all, we both started listening to weird electronic stuff. I used to love all the Warp records and Ninja Tunes stuff, and Chris did too, so we found common ground on that after we finished school. The very first things we made were more along that path and I guess with the influence of the Bang Gang parties we were like, “Oh okay, this club music’s kind of fun, maybe we can try our hand at that.”

DW: So you were already making your own music before you ever started DJing in the Sydney club scene?

JG: Absolutely, even those mix CDs that we made, the ones you were talking about, we didn’t even know how to DJ back then, we’d just sort of put them together on the computer and did them with Gus from Bang Gang. So it wasn’t until a few years later that we started DJing. The very first thing we did in clubs was a kind of juke-box-band live-show kind of thing where we’d cover all these old songs, and Chris and I would turn up at the club with keyboards and guitars and just kind of sing along. We’d spend a week making club versions of old songs, pop songs, just stuff we liked. So that was the first thing we did and it was kind of hard and annoying and a lot of work because idiots at the club would spill drinks on all our keyboards and stuff like that, and we were just like, “Fuck this man, we have to start DJing, this is crazy.”

DW: What kind of songs were you covering?

JG: Tegan and Sara, Walking with the Ghost, that was one of our good ones. We did a whole range of stuff, we did “Gold Lion” for a while, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song. We had this weird kind of blend where we played “Phantom of the Opera” and we’d sing a Bloc Party song over the top of it but I can’t remember which one it was (laughs). Probably Banquet.

DW: It’s interesting to hear that even back then, your musical range wasn’t strictly confined to ‘electro-club’. I think some people might listen to your music who aren’t familiar with you and think, “Oh, this is really clubby music,” whereas in actual fact the album crosses quite a large musical range.

JG: Yeah, we definitely wanted to make an album with lots of variation on it. The thing that was most central in our minds was that we didn’t want to make a club music album, we wanted to make an album of songs rather than club tracks, for a few reasons: for one, club music albums are often pretty disappointing, I can’t think of too many good ones that stand out in my mind. Also club music moves so fast, we know that from DJing, the kind of stuff we’re playing now we won’t be playing at all in six months, so we thought that by writing an album full of songs, of pop music I guess, we’d have a much better chance of making something that people would still be listening to in a years time or two years time or whatever. I was saying to someone before, good songs don’t die they just go to 2WF (laughs). We both listen to old music more than anything else, so it would be a pretty beautiful and amazing thing to have this album that people are still listening to in 20 or 30 years time.

DW: Speaking of old music, I gather you’re fans of the French Touch scene, which has a pretty high tempo range, around 130 beats per minute and a 4/4 time signature. Is this the relative area your music sits in?

JG: We’re definitely into the Italo-disco stuff and Giorgio Moroder and all the French Touch stuff, I still love playing it in the club and it still works too. There’s kind of a big resurgence in house music at the moment, which for us is awesome. I’m loving playing all these old tracks that the kids are getting into now, it’s really fun.

DW: Is Sebastien Tellier a big influence on you?

JG: Yeah, I love that guy. Actually right at the beginning we looked at trying to get a vocal from him for the album which would’ve been pretty special.

DW: What happened?

JG: I’m not sure actually. We had a lot of weird things with trying to get collaborators overseas and it just got too hard, to much to-ing and fro-ing, too much time in between. With the first track of the album (Castles In The Air), which we did with Simon Jones from The Holidays, we gave him the track, he liked it, he recorded his thing and sent it back. We were like, “This is fucking sick, lets get in the studio,” and we were in the studio within a few days, recorded a whole track and it was done. So we realised that maybe we needed to do a few more collaborations like this, because with some vocalists, and I can see where they’re coming from, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world to just sing a track that’s been shoved in their face, we’d written all the tracks already and we’d cut demos already. There’s one track on the album which is a [lyrical] collaboration, the one with Dan Black, and that worked well, so maybe next album we’ll be more open to that. Not that I regret what we did, I’m pretty proud of the fact that the album is all us, which is what we wanted to do from the beginning. It’s not so common I think for dance music producers to have done everything on the album. It’s a nice thing.

DW: It’s more of a statement when the entire creative effort is yours alone.

JG: Totally, I mean we don’t want to be like David Guetta or something (laughs). I just did an interview before and this woman was like, “You guys have worked with so many vocalists, you’re kind of like the Australian David Guetta.” (laughs) And I was just thinking, “Oh jesus, that’s horrible, I’m about to have a heart attack. That’s not an analogy I would welcome.” (laughs)

DW: What is it that you believe music is able express that other art forms are unable to?

JG: I think you can get a feeling from music that’s like a totally physical feeling, that you feel in your chest or something. It can just provoke this instant emotional response. You know when you hear a song that you really like and as soon as it comes on you get this really great, happy vibe.

DW: Even more so if it’s a song you haven’t listened to in years, and then as soon as you hear it again, you’re instantly transported back to that space and time all those years ago.

JG: That’s right, that’s another weird thing about music, it can take you straight back to a place. I remember I went on a holiday to Bali when I was 19 and I was listening to this Roots Manuva album, I think it was the first album, and I was just listening to it over and over again, and now I can’t hear anything off that album without instantly being transported back there. I can smell the cloves cigarettes in the air and everything.

DW: In a sense, music and smell are very similar in that both are very transportive in terms of past experience and memory.

JG: That’s true, yeah. Smell is the most… there’s a word for it, I can’t remember what the word is, but yeah, smell is definitely the most transportive of the senses for sure.

DW: What’s the process for you when it comes to making music, where do you begin and how does it end?

JG: Well that’s the thing, it can never end. Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and go, “We can’t keep working on this track forever and ever,” because I think that would be easy to do. There were definitely some tracks on the album that we worked and worked and worked on, little tweaks here and there. It’s easy to fall into that trap when you have your own studio like we do and no real time restrictions like what a normal band would have, just a week in the studio or whatever. Having said that, there are some tracks on the album that we did right at the end, which I think is kind of cool because those tracks are a bit more raw and it’s sort of a nice balance to the album I think.

DW: What tracks were those?

JG: Gone Away was one we did right at the end, which is the one with Gisselle Rosselli singing on the chorus. We really wanted to get her on the album, she’s kind of a friend of ours, and obviously has an amazing voice. We tried a couple of different things and they weren’t quite right and we basically wrote that song right at the end. “Always” was another one we pushed through right at the end because it kind of existed for ages and ages. Actually one night we got really drunk in the studio, we drunk a few bottles of red wine and did a cover of that Sudanese rapper, Bangs, this internet sensation. He did this song “Take you to the movies”, and we did this stupid cover of it in the studio and that was actually the chorus of “Always”, it’s been around for a long time but we couldn’t really make the verse work, so we just flipped it around and wrote a whole new verse for it and pushed it through.

DW: Are all of the songs collaborative or just some?

JG: They’re all totally collaborative, even if one of us started out with the idea, which is the case on a few of the songs, but by the time it ends up as a finished product it has been through the ringers so many times with both of us sitting there in the studio, so yeah, it’s well and truly collaborative. And all the tracks on the album are [written by] both of us except the one with Dan Black (“Sunlight”), which he wrote some of the vocals for.

DW: And who sings the vocals for Shooting Star?

JG: Shooting Star is our friend Rhys from the Sydney band, Ted & Francis, and then a few were with us, like Chris sings on “So Demanding” and “Gone Away”, I’m singing on “Always”, so is Chris. It’s all a bit of a mix of us and a few friends.

DW: With certain bands it’ll be just one person, usually the lead singer, who writes the songs and there is deliberately no collaborative effort, which seems almost counter-productive.

JG: Yeah, I just feel bad for the other guys in the band, it’s like they’re hired session drummers or something. That would suck. It’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off or someone to tell you if that’s a good idea or a shit idea because sometimes you can never be sure and can spend hours on something and then wake up to it the next day and be like, “Argh shit, what was I thinking?” So it’s good to have that kind of feedback.

DW: Diving back into the philosophical for a moment, do you think a person has to be in love to write a love song, and by contrast, do you have to be depressed to write a sad song?

JG: I don’t think so, no. I guess it can’t hurt to have some experiences to draw off. When I’m writing lyrics, and Chris as well I think, this is kind of a new experience for both of us, writing lyrics, but I’m never really thinking about a particular person or a particular situation, I’m just trying to create a mood. I can’t speak for Chris but I think it’s the same for him as well. So we’re not the kind of songwriters where everything’s about lost love and stuff like that.

DW: So your songs have more of an indefinite meaning to them, they don’t ever relate to a particular event or circumstance?

JG: No, I don’t think any of the lyrics I wrote relate to anything. There’s a song on the album, So Demanding, and my girlfriend’s like, “That song’s about me isn’t it?” (laughs) It’s not, really.

DW: Sounds like she’s flattering herself.

JG: (laughs) She’d kill me if it was, but no, it’s not about her, I promise.

DW: Is it easier to write a song if it’s based on real experience? Does this make the song more meaningful?

JG: I find it kind of weird and a bit personal to write about something like that. I guess everyone’s a bit different but I really wouldn’t want to write about breaking up with a girl or something like that, it would feel a bit weird, a bit too revealing. For me, I feel more comfortable just trying to capture a vibe.

DW: What are some non-musical influences that influence your music?

JG: Definitely travelling and food, we’re both massive food lovers. We’re always eating and talking about food, we get into the studio and spend half the morning talking about where we’re going to go for lunch and stuff like that.

DW: Being DJs, you’re both obviously vinyl lovers, but is your album itself going to be released on vinyl?

JG: I’m not sure actually. Obviously all the singles will be, but I think we’re still trying to work out if the album will get a vinyl release. I hope so. I really want to see the album artwork on a big sleeve, blown up, I think that would look pretty sick.

DW: Do you have any rituals or compulsions on tour or even just in general, like you always bring the same lucky shirt every time you tour or you’ll do a 30-second handstand in the dressing room before going on stage?

JG: (laughs) No, nothing like that. I’ve totally got heaps of rituals though, like at the airport. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie “Up In The Air” with George Clooney? He’s got all these strategies at the airport, that’s totally me, and I’m also kind of obsessed with frequent flyer points as well, we both are, so I can totally sympathise with him. But as far as gigs go, we usually just turn up, sink a few beers and go for it. (laughs)

The Bag Raiders self titled debut album is out on October 1

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