After the resounding success of their 2018 debut album Skinny Dipping, Sydney quartet Stand Atlantic have been relentless on the path to world-domination. With numerous international tours under their belt and their very own sold-out shows across Australia, the four-piece show no sign of slowing with the impending release of their sophomore LP Pink Elephant due out on Friday. We sat down with the band’s vocalist and guitarist Bonnie Fraser to discuss all things eyebrows, toenails, and Pink Elephant.
Apologetic upon answering the phone after having to delay the interview slightly, Bonnie was quick to justify her delay – “Sorry I’m a little late, we had to do a livestream for our Only Bands and I uh, dyed my eyebrows.” She continued regretfully, “I look really cooked right now. I dyed them pink but it’s the worst colour, because you know when you dye stuff the colour just goes on your skin? Now it just looks like I have a massive rash around my whole eyebrows.”
While the aim was to match the band’s bassist Miki (Rich) who had just dyed his hair pink in celebration of the album’s forthcoming release, she continued to lament the loss of her naturally coloured eyebrows. “The point was to match Miki. It’s so funny and it looks so bad, I can’t even sugar-coat it. I can’t wait to dye them back to brown but sometimes you just gotta do things you know?” We traded hair dyeing stories, leading to Bonnie offering to bring my own teenage dreams of dyeing my hair black and red to life. After remarking it would make me look like Shadow The Hedgehog she continued on, “Just fucking do it, I can come do it for you if you want? Me and Miki will do it for you, we’re the dream team.”
The conversation quickly turned to the reasoning behind the change in hair colour – the imminent release of the band’s second album. On the release of Pink Elephant, she remarked, “It’s so exciting, and I’m so excited that my eyebrows are pink. We also found out it comes out at the end of International Clown Week which is probably the best and most amazing thing ever.” After highlighting that that surely couldn’t just be a coincidence she continued, “I didn’t even know clown week was a fucking thing but of course our album comes out on the same day.”
Seeming fitting, we continued to discuss the bands unconventional approach to social media, often switching between constant mockery, heartfelt appreciation, and an overwhelming approach to taking the piss out of everything they possibly can. “Yeah, we just don’t give a fuck,” says Fraser. “I just think part of it is just because we all just hate the internet which means we’re just like… fuck it, you know what I mean? We want to make fun of it in every way possible so that’s probably why we’re one of the most annoying bands out there I would say. It’s just to get everyone offline.”
It’s important to note just how effective Stand Atlantic’s approach to social media seems to be, with the interactions and moments shared between the band and their listeners a large part of the band’s passionate following. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, or the internet too seriously, but the only thing we do take seriously is music, so that’s where we try to balance it out. We’re not always full of shit, just most of the time.” Sharing her distaste for artists placed onto pedestals she continued, “At the end of the day, even the biggest pop stars and rock stars in the world are literally just human beings, but because of marketing and all that crap you don’t think that. I think it’s just a big bunch of bullshit.”
With bands unable to tour because of the global COVID pandemic, the conversation turned to the importance of community and how integral it is to the band’s continued success through these tough times. “When I was growing up, I looked up to bands, but I didn’t want to just be their fan, I wanted to be their friend. I think having a relationship with fans is important and makes them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than just liking a band. We want them to feel like they’re part of a community, which is what we try to do and hopefully it works.”
And work it does, with followers of the band on socials constantly flooded with fans rallying behind the four-piece as they await the release of Pink Elephant. An eclectic and exciting album, it sees the band move outside the pop-punk realm that they so tremendously conquered on the release of their debut Skinny Dipping. Discussing their intentions on the album, Fraser states, “We definitely went in with the intention to leave people feeling open-ended with this album. We don’t want to be put in a box, I just hate the whole concept of ‘Oh, they’re a pop band! Oh, they’re a pop-punk band! Oh, they’re a rock band!’ I just want people to think ‘Oh, this band is cool and I don’t know where to put them’.”
As we move towards the release of Pink Elephant it seems clear just how many new fans are beginning to flock to the Stand Atlantic army. Attributing the adventurous exploits of the new album with the band’s continually diversified fanbase, Fraser continued, “I don’t want to be put in a box because then people have these expectations of us that we might not want to fill and we might want to do something else.”
If nothing else, Pink Elephant spits in the face of genre, with the confidence and defiance that define the album similarly expressed by Fraser. “We just want people to know that we’re going to do what we want, but still stay true to ourselves and play music that we want to play, and music that’s real and about something.” Continuing she says, “At the end of the day, stylistically, nothing matters anymore and as long as a song is good it’s going to sound good on a guitar with one string and a vocal melody. Our goal is to have songs that are good at their core, and then everything else is just… fun. It’s all for the fun of it really.”
Typified by its boldness, Pink Elephant teeters the genre tightrope expertly – never staying in one spot for very long at all with a constant focus on moving forward without even hesitating slightly. Citing the emo-trap song “Silk & Satin”, it’s clear that the band’s influences have shifted just as their sound has too. “What’s popular changes so quickly now,” she remarked. “Especially with Spotify and things like that, the possibilities are endless in terms of what is influencing what you listen to. You can listen to the whole discography of some local band from fucking Brazil! You just don’t know where you’re going to end up. What we listen to will influence the music we’re writing, but also what we want to be able to play in a few years,” she says.
Yet despite how enormous the change in sound on Pink Elephant is at times, it still sounds like a natural and comfortable release for the group. While recording and releasing is undoubtedly a daunting experience, Fraser shared her own experience on how she felt through the recording process. “It was really refreshing but so equally scary. With every song we finished we were just like ‘Oh shit!’ and with every song the album was just getting more and more diverse. We just hoped that people would continue to relate to the songs, take it for what it is and not go in with any preconceived notions about what it is or what this band is.”
Despite the conviction the band held in the execution of the album, Fraser continued to express that fan expectation continues to be difficult to judge, but noted that despite hoping to appease their fans, it means little in the grand scheme of things. “I know it’s so hard when you follow a band for X amount of years and you’re used to certain styles and what they’re doing. We just had to make sure we were confident in the actual songwriting and do what we wanted.” Although fearful, she continued to talk about how energising it felt to be doing something new saying “It just felt so good to be able to experiment with different things.”
Looping back to “Silk & Satin”, Fraser recounted the changes the song underwent after initially finding itself scrapped when the band recorded Skinny Dipping. “Originally the song was meant to go on Skinny Dipping but didn’t make it,” she remarked. “It was a full-on rock song, but we thought that wouldn’t really fit on Pink Elephant. We really liked it though so we thought we’d strip it back and change it completely which is something we’d never done before or never even thought about.” Continuing to remember, Fraser recollected, “It was just a super fun experience to feel like we could do what we wanted, and to have the trust of our team and everyone involved was helpful, even though they were shit scared as well.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pink Elephant (except maybe just how good it is), is how much personality is contained within the album’s eleven songs. Fraser commented that the intention was to just get weird with it, saying “It’s hard to avoid when you’re writing about your life, the lyrics are coming from my head so they’re going to be a bit weird every now and then because that’s just who I am.”
Along with the weirdness that characterises the band so well, Fraser expressed that it was integral that Pink Elephant also felt like a Stand Atlantic album at heart, despite how much the band changed. “As much as I say we wanted to change and we wanted to try these new things, we were still very aware of our roots and I think we wanted to make sure that we still had that foundation and starting point to bounce off.” Summing it up quaintly, she simply stated “I think that’s good and I think it’s part of the reason we were able to still have it so far away from home and still have it somehow hit home.”
Every song on Pink Elephant defines Fraser’s confrontation with her own ‘pink elephants’ – with just some examples on the album being those in the form of mental illness, personal relationships or the pressure of being in a band. The song “Jurassic Park” talks about the impact of mental illness on family and partners, while the effervescent “DWYW” talks about the claustrophobic pressure of the band having to follow up their first album.
It’s this cathartic release that Fraser says remains her only really way of dealing with these issues outside of her own head. “It’s literally the only way,” she says, continuing by saying, “90% of the time after I write a song about how I’m feeling, I then understand how I was feeling which is super weird because music is such a permanent outlet for your feelings.” Whether or not she believes it’s a good release remains unknown, explaining “At the time of writing I’m still trying to figure out what I’m saying and how I’m feeling, but then once I’m done I realise I have this summation of how I’m feeling and I understand why. Maybe that’s immature emotionally but fuck it, I just know that’s the way I process my feelings.”
With her it comes with the medium, while others confide in those around them she doesn’t find the same comfort in discussing these issues with others. Describing what music means to her she continued, “At this point it’s kind of like a crutch. Having said that, I’ve definitely opened up a lot more in terms of sharing my feelings and all that kind of shit in real life. Songwriting, even since I was a little kid, has just always been the only way that I’ve properly had an outlet.”
While the formation of the lyrics of Pink Elephant followed a similar process to the releases before it, certain aspects of the songwriting process changed drastically. “Things didn’t really change in terms of the core of how we were writing songs, but in terms of location, who was involved and the time it took us to write it all – that was all very different,” she explained.
Recalling the differences between the writing process of Pink Elephant and Skinny Dipping she fleshed out the biggest changes. “With Skinny Dipping we were kinda just in and out of the studio, in three weeks we wrote a whole album and recorded it in four more, but with Pink Elephant it happened over the course of 18 months,” she says. It wasn’t just the time the album took that changed, with Fraser continuing “Some of them I did in LA. Some of them were written on a cliff at Bondi. It was just really random and all over the place, which kinda sums up the album stylistically as well which is weird!”
With the release inbound very soon, the conversation turned to the silver linings of COVID in that it had given the band the opportunity to let songs that weren’t intended to be singles be released and shine by themselves. With five singles released so far, and a sixth arriving the day before the album releases, Fraser justified the release of such a large chunk of the album as a way to let people get the best preview of what Pink Elephant might be like.
Discussing the band’s initial release plans, she acknowledges “We had only initially planned to release two or three singles, but because of COVID we just decided to give people a song every month and that way we were able to pick songs that we wanted to be singles but didn’t quite make the cut to be singles for whatever reason.”
Using the example of the album’s fourth single “Wavelength”, she continued on the silver linings of the situation we all find ourselves facing right now, ““Wavelength” was a single that we really wanted to release to show people a different side of us and I just think that helped in a way. “Shh” was also a left of field thing that we released although that was always a part of the original plan, but it might just be the one good thing COVID did.”
As for the songs that remained unreleased, Fraser had this to say when quizzed about what she was most excited for people to hear: “Initially I was really excited for everyone to hear “Shh” and “Wavelength” but they’re both out now. I really want people to listen to “Silk & Satin” because it’s the last thing you’d expect a band like us to do, but I’m just so excited for everyone to hear everything. I love all the songs and they’re just so different.” Marvelling over what inspired the emo-trap heights of the song, Fraser recounted that it was the band’s guitarist David Potter who came up with the idea for the reworked song. “Potter just came along and asked ‘Can we just make it an emo rap song and jog on?’ So we said yes, yes we can.”
Along with their gargantuan album, Stand Atlantic also recently shared the news of their biggest headline shows across the world, with their first Australian headline dates since early 2019 slated for early 2021. Sharing her excitement for the tour Fraser exclaimed “At this point I’m hoping that COVID sorts itself out, but announcing those shows just felt good. Every band right now is saying the same thing, which is that they’re hungry to play shows again, but it’s so true. This is what we do, but we can’t because of Coronavirus.” As for being back in Australia for the first time in a long time she said she had no idea how it was going to pan out. “It’s been so long since we played Australia but I don’t even know what to expect anymore, it’s crazy, but we are really excited.”
Although the COVID situation inevitably forced the band to push back the tour until 2021 and alter their release plans, Fraser considers it a blessing in disguise in some ways. “It forced us to think outside the box of what to do and how to adapt to the situation which I think is an important exercise for everyone to do anyway. It’s given us the ability to take a step back and look at all the cool things we’ve done, but in turn makes us really mad that we can’t keep doing it.”
And while she can see the upside to the situation the band has been forced into, undoubtedly she wishes things could go back to normal saying, “I just wanna go back and play shows. I’m just excited to go to a show I don’t even care if we’re playing it. I hope when they come back people go even harder than they normally would. I’m so keen for the rowdiness.”
Not frightened of the reception the band will get when they finally get to play shows again, Fraser was quick in her praise of the band’s fans who continue to surprise with their continued support amidst tough times. “During June and some of July too, we were supposed to start our US tour and I kept getting tweets every day telling me what cities we were supposed to be playing that day and I kept thinking ‘Fuck please stop, but thank you!’,” she says. But it’s all love on Fraser’s end, “It’s just so nice that they always have our back, and it’s the nicest thing ever seen if we fuck up, I don’t know what we’ve done to fuck up, but I just feel like they’d have our back and it’s cute.”
With admiration for the band’s fans in spades, for a long time the conversation continued about what they have done and continue to do for Stand Atlantic. Maybe the most significant action from a fan was one who got a thigh tattoo of Bonnie’s face. “I was so scared to tweet about it because I don’t want to be mean or anything because obviously I am flattered, but at the same time… what the fuck? Holy shit!” she exclaimed. She continued, “They’ve just committed so hard, my mum wouldn’t even get that! You can call me Marilyn Bonroe.”
While the most extreme thing she said she’s ever experienced, she led us through potentially one of the most incredible fan stories ever. Recalling the scene she says, “Once I sold my toenails at merch and someone bought them for like $50, which is also insane. It all happened because our tour manager in the US brought it up. We would always joke about these hypothetical things we could do but one day he just said ‘I bet you I could sell your toenails at merch’. I told him he was on, so that night I cut off my toenails, gave them to him in a cup and he went off on his merry way.”
Pressing for more details, she admitted it was more than likely a one of a time deal for the lucky fan. “I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again because I felt so bad that they bought them for $50. That’s just not fair is it? It’s almost criminal. But the other thing is if you paid that much for toenails, you can’t just go and throw them away straight away. Like if you’re going to have to have to keep them for at least a day to get your use out of them, whatever that may be. It’s the most expensive trash of all time,” she said.
Just as their fans constantly turn up for the band, Stand Atlantic have recently tried to give back by announcing the introduction of their ‘Pink Elephant Club’, entitling fans to exclusive perks and much more. Dishing on how it had developed for the band so far Fraser explained that the focus of the club was building up the sense of the community the band were always trying so hard to develop.
“It’s really cool, our livestreams work in our favour because we can just chat to people that want to be there and aren’t just on Instagram Live for the sake of it,” she says. “We get to have proper conversations with them and it’s so cool to interact on another level. We even had someone show us their pet snake today!” Laughing, she tried her best to sell it, reasoning that “If I was a fan, I would just join because you get discounts on merch and tickets, but I think people can feel like they’re a part of something and that they know us in a way.”
Yet the plan to establish the club wasn’t always something Fraser was in full support of explaining, “When we first started talking about it, I was against it because I didn’t want to be ripping people off. But we said if we’re going to do this, it’s for a bigger reason which is to talk to people and get to know the people who are supporting us in every way.” To Fraser it was important that what they were providing to their fans went beyond basic and vague content for a quick cash grab with minimal effort, continuing, “Some people just do Veeps and all they do is play a song and people donate money to it, so I wanted to make sure that we made it actually something worthwhile that people will see the value in. It was important to load it with a bunch of stuff to make it worthwhile.”
While it wasn’t something she found herself excited for, she continued to explain how COVID had forced the band’s hand in creating new content to maintain the support of their ever growing fanbase. “It really came out of fear,” she explained. “If we can’t tour then we’re going to need to do something and still give people something back.” As the club has grown and continues to, she explained her new found excitement to watch it grow, saying “We keep wanting to come up with heaps of ways that we can interact with people and because of that, I think it’s going to be a really cool long term thing.”
Though they’re keeping their fans occupied for the time being, the band still have their eyes focused on the future and now look to prepare for the shows they have coming up next year. “In some ways tour prep has started,” Fraser remarked. Laughing, she continued, “We haven’t built a set yet because it’s a long way off and we still need to learn how to play the songs.” As for where they’ve begun planning? “We’ve definitely talked about the vibe we want on stage in terms of lighting and that kind of thing, and we’ve been making motions to get it all sorted and begin the process.”
But it truly wouldn’t feel right if there wasn’t one last tongue-in-cheek comment from Fraser. “We’re probably just going to YOLO it,” she joked before continuing, “We definitely want to craft something special because people are going to be spending their money to be there. With every release and everything we do, we want to step it up every time, we want to make sure the bar is set higher in every aspect of what we do.” What that might mean for those in attendance though, well I guess we’ll have to just wait and find out.
You can celebrate Clown Week, along with the release of Pink Elephant this Friday 7th August. Pre-order here: http://smarturl.it/PinkElephant