L-R: Cam Rust, Jake Laderman, Hanny J, Stevie Williams, Jarrod Goon
Life is short and often unbearably so. Is it any wonder, then, that throughout the ages, humans have dreamed about living forever? Even when it feels like the world is falling apart—as it has for most people these past few years—there's still a yearning for immortality. That's something that Melbourne-based punks Clowns have channeled into their new record ENDLESS. The Australian band—now comprised of lead vocalist Stevie Williams, drummer Jake Laderman, guitarists Jarrod Goon and Cameron Rust, and bassist Hanny J—had released its predecessor, Nature/Nurture, in 2019. Not right before the pandemic ruined everything for everyone, but with only just enough time to finish their album cycle before the world took an unprecedented turn. The changing world profoundly affected the band, especially Williams, who was single and living alone during the lockdown and subject to a heavily enforced curfew between 9 pm and 5 am. Unsurprisingly, he struggled. But he also persevered, and now Clowns have emerged through the dark tunnel of the last few years, and turned them on their heads.
The result is an album whose central theme is immortality and whose songs represent a newfound sense of strength, empowerment, and overcoming adversity. That spirit of mental and physical renewal flows through the twelve tracks of ENDLESS as the notion of immortality manifests itself in various forms within them and which takes center stage right from the off. After the graceful, '80s metal-inspired intro of the title track, the first song, "FORMALDEHYDE," is a breathless rush of adrenaline and defiance. 'I used to think that I'd go out young and that I wouldn't live past twenty-five,' sings Williams over Tilbrook's scorching yelps, 'and now I'm pretty sure I'll never die ’cos I'm soaking in formaldehyde.' It's a surge of abrasive, visceral, and self-aware energy riddled with newly-found purpose and an unquenchable thirst for being alive and being in this band.
"We were thinking about writing new music," says Williams, "and then—bam!—pandemic. So in a weird way, it was almost a convenient time for it to happen for us. We were starting this new creative era right as the world was changing and flipping upside down in ways we couldn't imagine. We bought home recording gear and were doing the whole thing remote, which was definitely a big spanner in the works to what we usually do. It was very hard to adapt. Once we did a few demos, I realized the lyrics I was writing all seemed to have this running theme of immortality, and I wasn't sure why. Looking back, I think my attitude at the time was that the world was changing in these crazy directions, and I was determined to push through it all and not let the project die." That song is followed by the frazzled "SCARED TO DIE," which manages to capture the fraught nerves of Williams' experience of isolation while also paying homage to iconic bands like Motorhead, AC/DC, and Iron Maiden by infusing their elements into its frantic framework. "THANKS 4 NOTHING"—on which Hanny takes lead vocals—captures the restlessness and pent-up energy that came from being unable to leave the house (and also operates on a much more existential level).
At the same time, "BISEXUAL AWAKENING" tackles Williams' thoughts on his own sexual preferences through uncompromising, unashamedly provocative lyrics. "It delves into the pervasive nature of bisexuality," says Williams, "and sheds light on the presence of bisexual individuals in everyday life, even their orientation goes completely unnoticed. It emphasizes that bisexuals are like chameleons, adjusting to any situation, yet often feeling like they don't truly belong." Elsewhere, "I GOT A KNIFE 🔪🔪🔪," featuring Cecilia Boström from Swedish punks The Baboon Show, addresses the notion of self-defense with unfettered unrestraint, while "SARAH" was a song originally written and released in 2021 7", that has been reinvigorated, reimagined and recorded with a new energy. "SARAH" personifies the role of serotonin in the context of a toxic relationship. There's also "Z3r0s&0n3s" (pronounced 'zeros and ones'), which addresses the subject of immortality, but this time through AI technology and the potentially dystopian consequences that preserving human consciousness in machines might have. However, as primal and aggressive as these songs are, they offer plenty of incisive analysis about the human condition while pushing the boundaries of hardcore punk to the same extremes that Clowns have always done.
Just like the last three Clowns albums—2015's Bad Blood, 2017's Lucid Again, and the aforementioned Nature/Nurture—ENDLESS was recorded at Hot House Studios in Melbourne, though this time the album was mixed by Ocean Grove's Sam Bassal. The band worked with renowned producer, engineer, and songwriter Matt Squire (Underoath, Panic! At The Disco, Ariana Grande) on "THANKS 4 NOTHING" and "SARAH."
Like all Clowns albums before it, including 2013's debut I'm Not Right, this record ends with a wildly experimental track. This time, it's a song called "A WIDOW'S SON," which brashly flings open the saloon doors on the songwriting skill and prowess Clowns are capable of. Featuring the anonymous host of Australian true crime podcast Casefile (as well as the trumpet by Max Bobzin from German punks Feine Sahne Fischfilet), it retells one of Australian outlaw, gang leader, and convicted police-murderer Ned Kelly's adventures in the form of a spaghetti western movie soundtrack. "That also ties in with the overall theme of the record," says Williams, "because his legends, especially in Australia, are immortal. They never seem to die." It all makes for a thrilling, tense, and truly fascinating finale to a record that serves as a new beginning for Clowns. In more ways than one, Williams and the band have been reborn, and this is the invigorating and astonishing first stage of their next adventure. "It definitely feels like we're like walking through into a brand new chapter of the band," says Williams, "and having this new album is kind of symbolic of that, as is the artwork of this demon just rising from the ashes, playing the keytar, the cops trying to shoot him down but it's not working. But musically and creatively within the band, this feels more like we've written the record that we wanted to write."