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Record of the Week

Melbourne duo Cry Club take us inside their dazzling debut album God I’m Such A Mess

We take you inside our favourite new albums with the artists who made them. We're sitting down with Melbourne duo Cry Club to chat about their debut album 'God I'm Such A Mess'.

Just take one look at the vivid cover art for God I’m Such A Mess, the debut album from Melbourne duo Cry Club, and you know you’re in for a ride. But, for those unfamiliar, the direction that ride is going to take will have you guessing with every musical twist and turn.

After meeting on a university-organised flight in 2014, it would be a few years until Heather Riley and Jono Tooke finally started Cry Club. In the three years since the band’s beginnings, they’ve been dedicated to sharing their message and music with as many people as possible, making a name for themselves across as many stages as they could while playing 50-60 shows a year.

After building a community of dedicated fans and riding a surge of music industry buzz, 2020 looked to be the duo’s biggest year yet, when their big festival slots – Splendour in the Grass, Lost Paradise, Falls Festival – were all cancelled. They also had to delay the album’s release, originally slated for May, and pause their constant flow of live shows.

That wasn’t enough to stop Cry Club though, who powered into the release of their debut album ready to break the self-dubbed ‘Cry Club curse’.

Stretching back to their very beginnings with the first song Cry Club ever wrote together – ‘Don’t Go’ – all the way to ‘Lighters’, written during Melbourne’s first lockdown, at its core, God I’m Such A Mess is a documentary of Cry Club’s history.

Throughout its 12 tracks, the duo will take you through a kaleidoscope of emotions and sounds. Bringing together the best bits of Riley’s musical theatre background and Tooke’s heavy music roots, you’ll discover a brilliant mix of guitar-led pop, earwormy hooks, and bucketloads of dramatic flair.

You have everything from grungier, guitar-driven tracks like ‘Robert Smith’ or ‘Don’t Go’, to sparkling pop-centric ‘Obvious’, the tender, floating ‘Lighters’, dreamy-pop of ‘Wish’, and searing, pop-rocker ‘Nine of Swords’ – each diving into everything from relationships, to connection, to mental health, jealousy, selfishness, glee, love, self-empowerment. It’s a punchy, honest, and vulnerable look into life’s ups and downs, and Cry Club aren’t holding anything back.

At its heart though, God I’m Such A Mess carries a sense of authenticity – of embracing your complete self with all your contradictions and comparisons, all your feelings and emotions. Because it’s okay to express yourself in whatever wonderful way works for you.

Cry Club are the sort of band you remember, not just because their aesthetic is so hard to ignore, and not just because of the completely unshakable way they approach every part of their music, but because of the way they make you feel – like you belong, within their community, on their dancefloor, but also in your own skin.

And with the release of their debut album God I’m Such A Mess, it is clear – Cry Club are truly unstoppable.

We sat down with Cry Club’s Heather Riley and Jono Tooke to learn more about their debut album and the journey to get to its release.

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Image credit: Giulia McGauran
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The Cry Club Story

From the beginning

Heather: “I guess Cry Club is the first “real” music I’ve made. I’m a cringy musical theatre kid at heart, I was in acting programs from about 5 years old, and started singing lessons when I was 8 or 9. I was dead set on having a career in musical theatre because programs like the Talent Development Project had convinced me I wasn’t cut out for writing my own music, but the Talent Advancement Program really helped me flourish as a more contemporary performer.

“I’ve always existed in this kind of in-between world – too weird for straight-up pop music, but too unpolished for musical theatre. It’s sheer luck that I met Jono in the middle of my acting degree, and we clicked well enough as friends for it to carry over into music. One of the songs on the album, ‘Don’t Go’, is the very first song we wrote together, so I think it’s cool as hecc to include the first proper thing I’ve ever written alongside a song we wrote in lockdown this year.”

Jono: “I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to music – it wasn’t a big part of growing up for me. Soon after I got into high school though, I caught the music bug in a major way – I probably got my first guitar soon after. I think I joined my first band when I was 15 and music has been my whole life since, whether it’s playing in bands or making records with people. It’s fun because it feels like Cry Club is the culmination of all the experiences from all those projects, all the lessons from each have come in handy.”

What you’ll hear

Heather: “GOD we struggle with this so much. My favourite descriptor is ‘bubblegum punk’ because while our music has elements of pop and punk, the genre of ‘pop-punk’ isn’t quite right. It’s more like if pop music drank a whole lot of Monster energy drinks, glitter, and Pepto Bismol, then barfed on a Cure album. Big, sparkly, emotional melodies with very frank, open, and honest lyrics, all wrapped up in a sick and twisted riff.”

Jono: “The genre discussion is such a struggle point for us, but if I was to have a go at it, I’d say we combine post-punk and pop elements together. For me personally, I don’t think we align with what I imagine pop-punk to sound like – I associate it with skater-punk which was never a big thing for me.

“Combining them the way we do comes from a lot of the 2000s dance-punk I was into as a teenager combined with an appreciation of pop songcraft – like I was the painful teenager who hated whatever was popular because it wasn’t ‘real’ but growing out of that cringy stage was a big part of me wanting to do something like where Cry Club has ended up.”

Influences & inspiration

Heather: “As Big Queer Nerds™, we draw huge inspiration from drag artists like Sasha Velour and Divine, while also looking to anime series’ like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Hunter x Hunter. They share this thread of being so outlandish and camp but grounded in this very real and tangible emotional basis. So in making the album, we wanted something that was both disconnected from reality but still deeply honest and relatable, using that melodramatic blowout to give a new context to everyday anxieties.”

Jono: “I think the combination of anime and drag definitely informs a lot of our visuals. Making sure we have this sense of drama in everything we do is a big driving force. I think we always assume we have to earn people’s attention at all times, so in both the music and how we perform, there’s always this sense of needing to earn any of the reactions we get – which ends up pushing us into some ridiculous and fun places.

Inside the creative process

Heather: “I can safely say, we have never worked so hard on something in our entire lives. It’s basically a greatest hits of the first two years of us as a band and the way we’ve grown and changed over this period of time.

“We settled on the album title in mid-2019, so it’s been a constant process of arranging and editing the songs around this theme, making sure things we wrote early on actually fit with the way our sound has developed over time. Writing and rewriting songs, taking them to Gab and developing them even further once he works his magic, and then tying them all together with this cover art. Even that photo was something we wanted to be a summary of every cover art we’ve released so far. It’s basically taken over our lives at this point.”

Jono: “It’s so bizarre to think about how long we’ve been working on this thing that’s about to just be done? The first song would have been written in late 2017 and the last one would have been written in roughly April – so it feels like it’s a full statement of who we have been in that time, which has been more of a rollercoaster than we could have ever expected. So much of it was made gradually because of the amount of touring us and our producer, Gab would do separately, so syncing up our schedules meant that our process changed a lot over the course of making the record – feels like a proper journey that is wrapping up.”

Heather: “I think we’ve streamlined our creative process quite a bit, especially in lockdown. Right now, we’re in the middle of what we’re calling #SongSprint2020, trying to write a new song every day or two, it’s actually been great to turn songwriting into a habit or a routine. I’ve learned to really appreciate that songwriting isn’t about waiting for inspiration to strike; that will never happen. It’s about building a muscle and learning how to flex it in different ways – Don’t drag me for that metaphor, I know nothing about building muscles or working out OKAY!! There’s still a lot to work on, like building a cohesive narrative visually around the songs, but I have a sneaking suspicion that also requires lots of practice, learning, and failing.

Jono: “I think if I was to chart a consistent change in our writing style over our career so far it would be us widening our palette stylistically. At the start of the band, it felt like there was a defined understanding of what a Cry Club song was supposed to be, but now it feels like we’re allowing ourselves to do whatever it is that’s holding our attention. As long as we’re being honest with ourselves, I feel like that energy carries over the different genre expectations our audience might have from us. I also think we’re becoming a bit sharper in our intentions, like at this point we really just wanna write bangers. Maybe a couple of records deep we’ll wanna slow down and ‘mature’ but for the moment, fuck that – let’s write some stupid big songs and fun with it haha.”

Tell us the story

Heather: “The common theme, as with all our stuff, is that it’s okay to be emotional. I’ve always been a sensitive kid and got bullied a lot for being a crybaby, all I really wanted was for someone to tell me that there wasn’t something wrong with me, I’m not broken. It’s not really cool to be the kind of person whose emotions spill out of them like big Studio Ghibli-style tears, but I just can’t help it. It’s also about connecting extremes – dirty post-punk with stadium pop, laughing with crying, lush melodies with blaring sirens, fairytale romance with the cruel anxiety of being hurt by someone.”

Jono: “Heather hit it on the head with the connecting extremes thing, I think a lot of our best material comes from when we look at each other and say ‘are we allowed to do this???’. Heather’s previous point on it being essentially our ‘greatest hits so far’ record is a good call too, the tracklisting is essentially a collection of songs that connected the most in our live shows. When people sing back lyrics to a song that hasn’t been released yet, that feels like a good sign – and a lot of this record are songs built on that connection with our audience.”

Down memory lane

Heather: “It’s a tie! Working with Gab in the studio, and having those moments where my one brain cell syncs up with him and we make the same joke or have the same idea, it’s such a joy every time. The other is when we were writing ‘Quit’ with Zach (Hamilton-Reeves), and we spent a heap of time goofing off and bouncing off each other, trying to make each other laugh with increasingly ridiculous scatting riffs. Songwriting can be a big source of anxiety for me and can be really draining, but the fact that we laughed so much and still left with something I’m so proud of? Astronomically validating.

Jono: “God, there’s been so many great moments in making all these songs; I think writing ‘Don’t Go’ will have a special place in my heart as the first Cry Club song, ‘Lighters’ was such a specific moment in time that I feel like we captured so well and like Heather said, ‘Quit’ was just such a fun day. When it comes to the production, I feel like getting ‘Obvious’ to where it did was a slog but really earned its place – and ‘Dissolve’ just rockets off in a way that I still get so excited about when listening back to it.”

All about the Artwork

Heather: “GIULIAAAAAAAA!!! She’s our rock when it comes to really locking down that visual identity for our music. Her visual language is so hyper compatible with our music, and she’s not afraid to really push things to the extreme and isn’t bound by what certain genres ‘should’ look like.

“We had a few references, like Dorian Electra’s Flamboyant album cover and Lady Gaga’s work, and from there, workshopped different ideas until we settled on this bizarre 18th century ‘Let them eat cake’ couture. I’m so satisfied with the cover, it immediately tells you what to expect: high camp, maximalist attitude that’s in-ya-face, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still accurately reflects who we are as people.”

Jono: “I always think about the meeting we had planning the shoot for the album and landing on the sentence, ‘I want it to feel like the logical conclusion to what we’ve done so far’ – continuing to ramp up the camp factor, the absurdity of it all, just the abrasiveness of us both into one big statement. It feels like we’ve got this symbiotic relationship with Giulia at this point as well, a level of mutual excitement and respect for everyone’s thoughts that just feels so natural.”

Audience Takeaway

Heather: “I hope they feel seen. I hope us being honest, open, and vulnerable can make people feel more okay to be emotional themselves. You don’t have to put yourself into neat categories; you can grow, shift, change, and embody as many seemingly-opposite categories as you want. Being an undefinable mess is human as fuck.”

Jono: “I think there are two things I hope people get from the album, one being a surface level ‘hell yeah these songs slap’ reaction, but the next stage down is just how much of ourselves we put into this thing. I don’t think I will ever be able to wrap my head around how much time and effort was put into making it.”

Say it in a sentence

Heather: “As much gay noise as we could fit into a record and have it still make sense.”

Jono: “Two idiots almost ruin their lives trying to make 12 good songs.”

For the love of music

Heather: “I love performing live and watching words we wrote connect to people in real-time. I really love that each song is a time-capsule of where we were at when we wrote it, and how they continue to evolve long after they’ve been released.”

Jono: “There are so many exciting yet tense stages to the process, from the catching lightning in a bottle that is getting the start of a song going, then hitting the relief ‘oh this is actually good”, then getting the production and mix right to make everything sound as big as it feels to us. It’s such a brutal yet rewarding process that I’m obsessed with.”

Kicking goals

Heather: “Getting booked for Splendour. Even though COVID took that from us this year, it was always one of our Big Goals to play Splendour, and it was ridiculously emotional to see our name on the poster. Also, getting to release this album tbh! A huge relief that all our hard work is paying off <3.”

Jono: “The Splendour booking was such a great moment, and I think the album release will become another mark for sure – but when I think about highlights I’m always brought to the moments where I realise someone’s come to see us again. Seeing us once says one thing, but starting to recognise people in the crowd from previous shows demonstrates to me that we did something that connected with them.”

Overcoming struggle town

Heather: “Having stadium-band ideas on a tiny budget. It’s been so valuable to learn how to manage my expectations and be prepared to go back to the drawing board if there’s something we wanted to do that’s not feasible for us at this point. It sucks not being able to make things exactly perfect to how you imagined, but I think the process of working out how you can still make something as good as possible with as few resources is really really important to learn.”

Jono: “We talk a lot about behaving above our pay grade, we’re always stretching everything we can to make as big a statement as possible. In having the ambitions we do, there’s no time or space for us to half-ass anything, so even if a huge amount of effort will only improve something 1% – you’ll find us both putting in that huge amount of effort. It’s not about us having one big challenge, instead, there’s this sense of us both throwing ourselves full force at every difficult moment that comes up because each challenge is treated like the biggest one yet.”

Essential Listening

Cry Club – Dissolve

“Recording an audience favourite is such an interesting place to be because you wanna stay faithful to the live version but also push it as far as you can. It’s definitely one of the most ‘out-there’ songs on the record sonically so we’re just so excited for it to be out in the wild.”

Cry Club – Two Hearts

This song has always been our baby, every time we play it live it has that feeling of ‘we’re meant to be doing this’ – so to have it be the final track on the record like how it’s our set-ending song live feels like a great full-circle moment.”

Cry Club – Quit

“This song was probably one of the most fun to put together on the record – from writing with Zach to then producing it with Gab, and having Eilish Gilligan and Alex Lahey sing harmonies and having Graham Ritchie play the bass part – it was a great ‘it takes a village’ kind of moment. A lot of the other tracking we’ve done have been the two of us almost exclusively so it was nice to open things up for that song.”

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