Words by: Matt Steyn
Image credit: Mitchel Conti
It’s drizzling as I cross Oxford Street in Leederville to meet four guys huddling around, laughing occasionally at something one or the other has said.
I’ve never personally met any of the members of Shit Narnia, although I’ve seen their live performance; something that’s simultaneously engaging and brutally honest, shocking and intimate. I’ve been a big fan since I first heard a song by a band that has a large, sweaty, shirtless front man and members that look like hill people with brilliantly honed musical abilities.
We finally grab coffees and I realise they’re not as intimidating as they may seem. I jump right in with a question that so many people must have asked before; where did the name come from?
“It’s from a book, called John Dies At The End. It’s about travelling to another dimension, and it’s really bad, so it becomes known as Shit Narnia.”, says Hugh Manning, Shit Narnia’s vocalist.
“The name was a bit of a sticking point. There was a bit of a battle over it. I was strongly driving it and everyone wasn’t too keen. So I just held out…”, he admits as his bandmates laugh in response.
“He kinda claimed squatters rights there – he just stayed on it long enough that it became the name.”, says Sam, the band’s guitarist.
As we discuss the name, it becomes obvious that there are relationships in this band that go far deeper than just those of casual acquaintances.
“Well, we all grew up in Albany and went to school together.”, explains Albert. “We met in year 8, then ended up going to uni at the same time. At uni Hughie was doing some spoken word poetry and decided he wanted to start a band, so we though ‘yeah, we’ll do that’ and started a band”.
“Well…”, interjects Hugh, “me and Sam started with one of our friends playing keyboard and quiet guitar with spoken word, and it was terrible”.
“Terrible, real garbage!”, Sam adds.
“Then we got our friends Albert and Elliot on board, and they both wanted to play drums. So they were both switching over [roles] for a while. Then Wills joined”.
“So what happened to Elliot?”, I ask.
Everyone responds to this one, “He was outlasted by Albert!”
“He’s a member of Quit Narnia”, Albert laughs.
If you’ve ever seen Shit Narnia live (and if you haven’t, do yourself a favour), you would have wondered where their ‘sound’ came from. That cataclysmic sound of bone-crushing guitars that roll over hard hitting drumming and a guy screaming emotionally honest lyrics in a strong Australian accent isn’t something you hear everyday.
“I don’t think we’ve found our sound yet”, Hugh admits.
“I write lyrics and bring them to these guys and say, ‘this is what I’m going for’, and it might not be the vibe the song goes with, but it’s something to work to”, he says.
Sam smiles, “It’s kinda fun. We say, ‘okay, do you want it happy fast? Sad fast? Happy slow? Sad slow? Give me some key words. Hugh played a bit of bass, but he’s not that musical – but he’s weirdly musically articulate. [He’ll say] “more major chords, more minor chords”.
“Albert is a guitarist by trade. (everyone looks at him). He’s done his apprenticeship. So it means, while we’re a one guitarist band, we’ve got two guitarists who write guitar parts”, Hugh says.
“And then Wills makes it good. We had a jam the other day and he couldn’t make it, and we just went “this is baaad!”. Hugh actually said, ‘that was weird and bad’”, Albert laughs.
“I take orders from the top really”, says Wills. “I have four pedals and everyone seems to have a problem with that”.
With the kind of music they play and their general willingness to try new things, I assume they must have a few good ‘worst show ever’ stories in their collective experience, and they definitely do.
“There’s a place in Fremantle, a pretty clapped out old pub near the backpackers. They put a stage in it and they were like, “it’s a live venue now. There was a dude who goes into Sam’s work who was really enthusiastic about having us play and Sam just committed to it”, says Hugh.
“[The gig] was just a room full of old dudes, and we played after some sort of Celtic band. It was such a weird, uncomfortable night”, Wills adds.
“The stage was only a metre by a metre, I couldn’t even fit on it. Someone told me to put my shirt back on”, laughs Hugh.
When we move onto influences and local bands it becomes clear pretty quickly that these guys could spend hours talking about other peoples’ music. They genuinely love local music and they find more inspiration in the local scene than almost anyone else.
“That’s the cool thing about Perth, all the bands that you like are also your friends. There’s no-one competitive, everyone’s friends, everyone’s hanging out”, says Sam.
“I saw Sprawl last night, and they’re fucking incredible!”, adds Albert.
“The Government Yard. I’m really digging them. They’re a bunch of school teachers from Cockburn, but they’re all awesome guys, who make this music that’s half post-punk and half Australian pub-rock. But it’s all really centred in Australian history and environmentalism”, says Hugh.
“The Darling Rangers are killing it. One of the best bands I’ve seen in a while”, Wills adds, to the agreement of his bandmates.
As I sit across from Shit Narnia I realise that I desperately want them to be successful. Maybe it’s because they’re so down to earth and musically brilliant at the same time, I’m not sure. What I do know is that if you do nothing else with your time in 2015, go and see Shit Narnia play.