Dune Rats: “Everyone was writing songs about isolation… we wrote an album that’s the opposite of that”

With their fourth album Real Rare Whale bucking the reflective lockdown album norms, Dune Rats still just want to have fun.

Dune Rats: “Everyone was writing songs about isolation… we wrote an album that’s the opposite of that”
Paul Travers

At the start of 2020, Dune Rats released their second album bearing the seemingly prescient title of Hurry Up And Wait. Like their previous outing – 2017’s The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit – it went straight in at Number One in their native Australia. The band had time for a domestic tour, culminating in a sold-out show on March 7 in front of 4,000 sweat-soaked punks at the Festival Hall in Melbourne. A week later, Australia went into lockdown. “Maybe it was our fault for naming the album that,” laughs guitarist/vocalist Danny Beus. “I feel like we put a hoodoo on the whole fucking world after that.”

Prior to those historic events, Dune Rats – also known as the Dunies to their friends – had spent the biggest part of the last decade almost constantly on the road. According to Danny, they were starting to feel a touch burned out (or “buggered from it all”, as he puts it) and thought that lockdown could even provide a welcome break. That didn’t last long, though, as the situation wore on and stir craziness started to set in. “We realised pretty quickly that we’re pretty shit dudes outside of the band,” he says. “We don’t have jobs, we don’t do anything else, we were just annoying our families and partners.”

And so the three members of Dune Rats – Danny, drummer and fellow co-founder BC Michaels and bassist Brett Jansch – reconvened to the small and remote former whaling town of Eden in New South Wales, where they could isolate together and work on a follow-up to Hurry Up And Wait. In the process they came up with an album in Real Rare Whale that is vastly different in both sound and tone to the majority of ‘lockdown albums’ that have emerged since.

“That’s where the Real Rare Whale concept came from,” he nods. “We thought it was a rare album at the time because everyone was writing songs about isolation and the world in its current state and everything that was getting people down. And we were writing an album that was opposite to that. We were writing an album like, ‘Let’s go out and have a fucking good time.’ It’s a heart attack of an album. Our producer, Scott Horscroft, didn’t do that producer thing where they’re like, ‘Where’s the [Green Day’s Good Riddance] Time Of Your Life on the album? Where’s the bit that slows down and takes them on this journey?’ We went, ‘Fuck it!’ We wanted an album you put on at a party and press play, and half an hour later everyone’s still going off.”

So given they were writing a live-vibe party album in the midst of an ongoing lockdown and global pandemic, did they have to project themselves into a sort of fun future mindset?

“Definitely on the recording side, but not while we were writing it,” Danny smiles. “We’ll have some beers and get in the flow of trying to make each other laugh. We have those songs that reflect a lot of that fun because that’s the vibe we have when we’re together. And on this album in particular, we were all together pretty much from the start of every song. We all contribute to the writing and that gives us thick skins as well. We’re not afraid to say, ‘Mate, that’s shit!’ I mean, BC wrote a song about a dog humping his leg once and that quickly found its way to the pile that will never see the light of day…”

The writing sessions resulted in around 60 songs, many of which were indeed shit, according to the singer. These were gradually whittled down to 10, none of which are in the least bit shit. And no, there’s no space in this frenetic collection for the Dunies’ equivalent of a Green Day ballad, or evidence of a self-titled era blink-182-style maturation. Real Rare Whale is chock-full of energy and good times, buzzsaw riffs and glorious hooks. That doesn’t mean that it’s dumb, though, or a one-trick pony. The likes of What A Memorable Night, Skate Or Don’t and Drink All Day will all be familiar to long-time fans, albeit with playing skills and songwriting chops that have consistently improved from one album to the next.

“There’s producers that say, ‘Do you want to take it into a new direction? Can it evolve and be this thing?’ But Dune Rats is our baby,” says Danny of the band’s somewhat limited evolution. “It will slowly do that because we’re dudes who are getting older. Even on this album there’s no swear words. We listened back to it and went, ‘There’s no fucking swear words on this album!’ And there’s only one drinking song on the album. We’ve taken longer on every album, and if there was a spectrum between where we started to play shows to make beer money and get wasted, and the other end is us recording Coldplay’s Yellow, we’re somewhere in-between.”

Have no fear, there are absolutely no Coldplay vibes on Real Rare Whale. But there are some departures, like the huge pop-rock anthem UP, complete with its hilarious dance move-packed video; or Melted Into Two, with its far sweeter one. A love song of sorts with a drug-laced Dunies twist, the latter features adorable real-life footage of Brett’s sister Kell (who also fronts the band TOTTY) and her partner Ellie.

“We love music videos, we’re from that generation that grew up on MTV,” Danny enthuses. “With UP we got this idea of doing this weird Dr Seuss TikTok thing where we’re tax posties giving everyone their fucking money. Our label kept saying we had to get a TikTok but we're like, ‘No-one wants to see three fucking stoner dudes try to dance.’ Then we thought, ‘Fucking yes they do, let’s do it!’

“Melted Into Two came from meeting a guy in Bali who told us, ‘Me and my partner love getting on acid and listening to you guys,’” the singer continues. “Then he said, ‘When we’re on acid, we love each other so much that we push our heads together and try to melt into one person.’ I thought that was fucking cool. We didn’t have an artsy video and Brett’s sister had just come out and started a relationship with Ellie. That video was super-special for us because it was her really opening up in a massive way. It was also awesome because it was a song we never thought we’d write: a Dunies love song. And it ended up on the album!”

Dune Rats have come a long way since they recreated their mates DZ Deathrays’ video for The Mess Up, replacing the shots of Jäger from the original with bong rips (check out the ‘green’ version of their vid for 2013 single Red Light, Green Light). Did they ever think Number One albums and sold-out theatres could have figured in their future?

“My partner and I have been saving and we’re finally getting a house. And BC said, ‘Do you reckon you’ll say this is the house that bongs built?’” Danny hoots. “We’ve worked fucking hard to make a career that started off as two dudes smoking bongs on a music video. The aim wasn’t to get rich and famous because we didn’t think there was any way we could do that, and we just loved playing shows. We still do and if we could play every weekend to a couple of hundred kids, we’d still be fucking fine.”

With Real Rare Whale under their belts and a reputation that keeps on growing outside their native land, it looks like Dune Rats are just going to have to put up with a lot more success than that.

Real Rare Whale is due out on July 29 Rat Bag Records / BMG

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