When Matthew Ford lived in Memphis as a kid, he once went on a school trip to see a "Masters of Florence" art exhibition at the Pyramid. He remembers works by Leonardo DaVinci being on display.
"Now," says Ford, leader of Australian guitar-pop group Thigh Master, "it's filled with huge bears and BB guns."
Time has a funny way of messing with — and informing — the trajectory of all things. Twelve years after leaving Memphis at 14 for his hometown of Brisbane, Australia, Ford is back this weekend leading an Australian pop invasion of Gonerfest 16.
Along with the Flying Nun Records-inspired Thigh Master are highly anticipated all-girl pop quartet Parsnip and Oakland transplant Michael Beach and the Artists. Though Thigh Master was originally Brisbane-based, all three groups now call Melbourne home.
- Thigh Master
"There's always so many Australian bands that play [at Gonerfest], so it's cool to be able to do it," Parsnip drummer Carolyn Hawkins says. "There just seems to be a nice Melbourne-Memphis connection."
You could hook Ford's history into that vein like an IV drip. The Toowoomba-born 26-year-old grew up in Germantown, thanks to his father's job, and received his early musical education through his older brother Daniel's passion for Goner Records.
This month, Goner, whose long-standing Flying Nun Records love is shared by Ford (Toy Love, The 3Ds, Bats, and The Clean are huge influences) — will be putting out Thigh Master's second album, Now For Example.
"When I was in high school [in Australia], I was listening to a lot of Jay Reatard stuff, King Louie, early Ty [Segall], and then the Flying Nun stuff, so Goner has played a huge role in influencing my musical tastes," Ford says.
Add them all up and you get what a 2016 article from Noisey Australia described as "emo music for those who drink XXXX Gold mid-morning at the Mansfield Tavern." For the many non-Queenslanders out there, a reasonable local translation of that might be: "emo music for those who drink Miller High Life mid-morning at Alex's."
The needle definitely hits the groove. Beach, who'll play bass with Thigh Master at Gonerfest in brother Daniel's absence, says the vibrancy of the current Melbourne scene comes from the fact that sustainable success in Australian music is a virtual oasis — and everyone knows it.
"In Australia, you understand before you set out that there's very little chance of being big or 'making it,'" says Beach, a Californian transplant whose earlier bands, Electric Jellyfish and Shovels, previously made waves in the Lucky Country.
"It frees you up to just do whatever the hell you want to do for the reasons you want to do them. In America, it exists a little less because there's always that feeling of 'if I just do this, this, and this, I might not have to work a job anymore.' It's a pretty special thing in Australia. You develop a bit more of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor."
That "pirate-smiling" Aussie mirth is there with Parsnip, whose poppy hooks will remind listeners of Flying Nun pillars Look Purple, Go Blue, but with a sharper dagger than Kiwis can ever muster. Paris Rebel Richens, the band's bassist and songwriter, is a rising star on the Aussie scene, having already impressed music fans with Melbourne's Hierophants.
While the rest of Parsnip are first-timers, this will be Hawkins' third excursion to Gonerfest, having previously attended as a regular punter in 2012 and played with Melbourne guitar pop trio Chook Race four years later.
"It doesn't feel, like, super industry," she says. "It feels independent and genuine — and actually exciting."
The Aussie acts will join an impressive overall bill at Gonerfest 16, some nights of which sold out a month prior to the first show on Thursday, September 26th.