Live review: Slam Dunk Festival 2022
All the madness from Leeds and Hatfield as Slam Dunk 2022 revs festival season up to fifth gear…
Bonnie Fraser spent the majority of last year in a basement, the experience of which she describes as 'a tomb with windows', on Doomsday, the opening track to Stand Atlantic’s new album, f.e.a.r.
Except the vocalist exercised some artistic license, because it didn’t even have windows, just a sliding door under a veranda that kept the light out and the dinginess in. Every corner of the space was decorated with cobwebs, attached to “shitty” ensuite bathroom with a permanently leaky toilet. Too defeated by life to even tidy up, crockery adorned every surface, the contents of which would usually be “old dried noodles chilling from two weeks ago".
The space – situated in Bonnie’s mum’s house in Sydney – was her temporary home, having relocated back to Australia from the UK to tour and record an album. But the tours kept getting postponed, and home was starting to feel like a prison.
Ask Bonnie how many hours a day she spent down there and she’ll say “almost all of them”. Usually sat in her underwear and holey socks, either on her bed, or with her feet up on the desk, holding her guitar, frustrated at her situation, anxious about the future and unable to write anything.
“I was just in a fucking hole, man,” she remembers. “I didn’t want anyone to look at me or talk to me because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘How are you?’ Then be like, ‘I’m shit!’ My whole life felt like it was taken away from me; I couldn’t do the one thing I love to do. I felt like someone had just shot me in the back.”
“I was just left to die, basically…”
Acknowledging how dramatic that sounds, Bonnie says that’s genuinely how she felt. And the only distraction for the most part was her phone, on which she’d sit furiously scrolling through the band’s negative social media comments, often for hours at a time.
While perhaps not the healthiest pastime, it did blow the cobwebs out (figuratively speaking) and inspired two new songs: Van Gogh (because she felt like the only way to silence people’s opinions was to cut her ears off) and Dumb (because buying into people’s comments left her feeling just that).
“I was so sick of seeing all the fake crap,” she explains, “but then I also fell into the trap of believing it and thinking that’s what everyone wanted from me.”
And it wasn’t just fan opinions that troubled her, Bonnie wasn't even sure she could trust those of the band's inner circle.
“I didn’t know what to believe – people were telling me good things just because they want to make something from me? I was like, ‘I don’t even know if you’re being real right now because you make money off me…’” she says. “I just felt like I couldn’t really trust anyone. I hate [the industry]! It’s so stupidly competitive and I was just throwing a tantrum, basically. Like, ‘It’s so dumb! Why am I here?!’”
The competitiveness, Bonnie says, comes from people comparing the Aussie pop-punks to other bands, which “can make you feel like you have to be better than X, Y or Z”.
“You can read a comment that’s like, ‘Sounds like rah-rah-rah…’” Bonnie says, before adding: “You know exactly who I’m talking about.”
When we point out that we don’t, Bonnie seems pleased, because the band she’s referring to are Paramore. A lazy comparison that YouTube users still pipe up with regularly.
“People hear boobs and a guitar and they’re just like, ‘Paramore! Wahhh!’” she laughs. "I try and make it make sense in my head from their perspective – people will always make a comparison because they want to relate it to something they already know and Paramore is usually the go to. It doesn’t bother me, you just gotta deal with it, but also (puts on mock angry voice) fuck ’em!”
It’s a comparison that won’t be going away any time soon, since Hayley Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro are back in the studio – further strengthening the argument that we’re experiencing a pop-punk renaissance, buoyed by the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly who've dominated the charts this past year. Although the latter announced last week that he’s hanging up his Vans, and returning to whence he came: the rap scene.
Bonnie won’t be too sad about his departure, since when you’re a band making music for the right reasons, it can be irksome to look at the charts and see them clogged up with Hollywood nonsense.
“I’m really not a fan of old mate on a musical level,” she says when quizzed about MGK. “It is what it is, but I do think a lot of that Hollywood version of rock is very over-glamourised, and a bit fake. His music’s a bit fart in a box, but if it shines a light on alternative music and rock, I’m here for it.
“I do think that music will always have trends,” she adds of the resurgence in general. “Like, pop-punk was big 10 years ago and now it’s big again, and I feel like the only way that happens is by bigger artists doing it, but it just sucks that the smaller artists in the scene just never get to be there.”
While she hastens to add that she’s not bitter in any way, you get a sense that Bonnie feels a little more strongly about people play acting 'rock star’ than she makes out…
“Yeah, I really am tip-toeing around saying some annoying things,” she laughs when this is pointed out, “but I’m not gonna do it, I’m sorry. I’m a pussy! I just don’t want the backlash; I’m such a scared little peanut (laughs).”
She does offer up some advice, though, for fans to stop buying into it…
“Dig a little deeper than the top of the charts!” Bonnie urges. “You can’t tell people what to like, if they’re liking it, you can’t stop that. I would probably be listening to them as well right now if I was a kid, because I wouldn’t know how to research other bands. But then again, the internet was different back then… So no, there’s no excuse you little shits (laughs). Dig deeper!”
Bonnie Fraser is a walking contradiction. She's undoubtedly defiant and always has been. Forced by her mum to wear a dress on her first day of kindergarten, she came home and fibbed “it gives me a rash, I can’t wear it”. And that was the end of the dress – she rocked shorts and a T-shirt every day since. And she's confident in calling bullshit on anything she deems unjust, even though confidence is something she's never mastered the art of, especially when it comes to public speaking.
When Bonnie was just six years old, her Sydney primary school held a book parade, where students had to stand up and speak about their favourite piece of literature. As her turn rolled around, the young student reluctantly made her way onto the stage, stared at the mic, took one look at the 200 expectant faces staring back at her, and plonked herself straight down on the floor, forcing the principal to run on, announce the book for her, and drag her off.
“I was like, ‘Yeah… nah,’” she remembers all these years later. “I just get terrified – I don’t know why. It’s fine being onstage singing and playing, because there’s four of us up there, so I don’t feel like all the attention is on me, but as soon as I have to talk and everyone’s quiet, I crumble. It's taken a lot of time for me to be somewhat comfortable doing it, and I still get nervous every time.”
Her personality dial was set to ‘introvert’ pretty early on, born an only child to parents who are “just so loud and constantly talk”. As a kid, she couldn’t get a word in, "so I just shut the fuck up constantly,” she chuckles. “When I’m around them now I feel the same way; I barely say anything because I can’t!”
And being bullied for being a tomboy didn’t exactly pull Bonnie out of her shell. “There were a couple of instances in primary school, where I needed to use the bathroom and the girls wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t look like a girl, so I peed my pants,” she recalls. “And there was one time I was trying to buy garlic bread for 50 cents at the canteen and I got kicked in the back for no reason. I'm not traumatised by it, but it sucked for sure; it was shit.”
At risk of sounding “douchey” it wasn’t until she started a band (the name of which she says she’ll take to her grave) at the age of 12 with school friends Brayden and Julia that she finally felt like she belonged and could fully be herself.
Although, not completely, as she later found herself “coming to terms” with her sexuality (Bonnie identifies as gay) whilst navigating the unforgiving landscape that is high school. She even quit the band because it attracted more tomboy-based bullying, with the word “d*ke” being thrown around.
Her calling kept doing exactly that, though, and at 17 she felt compelled to take up singing, posting a mix of covers and self-penned tracks to YouTube, including the first song she ever wrote, which was about her parents’ divorce. The singer attracted a decent amount of subscribers, too, before deleting the whole account in embarrassment when friends discovered what she was up to. “Then I just kept doing it anyway,” she says. “I was like, ‘If I don’t have the balls to do this, how am I ever gonna be in a band if that’s what I want to do.’”
Eventually that band manifested, in the form of Stand Atlantic – completed by guitarist David Potter, bassist Miki Rich, and drummer Jonno Panichi. Their official birth date is hard to pinpoint due to various name and line-up changes, but Bonnie says the debut EP Sidewinder, released in 2017, is her preferred start point.
"When our manager was hitting up people in the local scene trying to get us shows, there were heaps of people writing back being like, ‘This band’s done! They’re dead! They’ve been kicking around for ages,’ and I was like, ‘You fuckin’ snakes! I’ll show you!’” says Bonnie of the early days, which only made her more hungry.
Two albums followed: 2018’s Skinny Dipping and 2020’s Pink Elephant (both produced by longtime collaborator Stevie Knight), as well as countless support slots, headline shows and festival appearances across the globe. And in 2018, they were announced as one of Kerrang!’s hottest bands of the year.
Their appeal is simple: good tunes from good people, who are making music for the right reasons, and seem like a whole lot of fun to be around. Not only do you want to listen to them, but you want to be their bezzie mates. There’s nothing about them that’s hard to like.
Especially when it comes to Bonnie, who is bubbly, quick-witted and a pleasure to speak to. Living her dream as a rock star, and being proudly and openly gay, means she’s also become an inspirational figure.
“I kinda hate it,” she says coyly of her role model status. “But it’s gratifying that people think that and see me that way. When I was growing up I loved looking at Avril Lavigne – she was a skater girl fake punk and that helped me feel like I had someone to relate to. But the pressure of it sucks! It comes with a lot of pressure I didn’t ask for. I try not to let it dictate the choices I make in my real life, because I’m going to make mistakes. So you better watch out (laughs).”
The job description for a musician should be pretty snappy: make music, play music, promote music. But in 2022, Bonnie points out, this is no longer the case.
“I feel like you’ve got seven other jobs now,” she says, her brow reorganising into a frown. “You can’t just make music and live your life – you have to make music, update TikTok, update Instagram, and worry about your brand. And that’s what I don’t like about music right now. I miss the old days when you didn’t know everything about the artist that you love and there was still that mystery and the internet wasn’t part of it.”
Do you feel jealous of bands who got to be bands before the internet?
"One hundred per cent. Yes,” Bonnie answers immediately. “It was just so much cooler, too – everyone’s lame now! Even before when you asked me [about MGK], I didn’t wanna say my actual opinion because I don’t wanna get fried. At the end of the day, I just want people to come to the shows and know that we’re good people and come and have a good time, and listen to our music.
“I’m not in it for the fucking fame, or the spotlight because I can’t speak in front of people,” she laughs at the irony. “I don’t want the fame and the spotlight.”
And who can blame her – with fame comes a whole lot of eyes, watching your every move, and reading every word you post (and have ever posted) online. Just waiting for you to slip up, so they can cancel you at the first opportunity.
“There’s constantly a witch hunt and everyone’s waiting with their pitchforks until you do something stupid,” she says. “There’s no room for mistakes. You can get your career ruined on a lie as well, for something that isn’t true… And because it’s spread so fast, it would be really hard to come back from that. There’s always gonna be a bunch of people that never saw the vindication of you being like, ‘No, this isn’t true and this is why.’
“Also, if your opinion doesn’t match what the internet wants, its void,” she adds. “I’m sure there are people that look up to bands or actors that have voted Trump, but you’ll never know… whereas if that was public knowledge they’d be condemned and cancelled. That doesn’t make someone a bad person; it might make their opinion shit (laughs), but it doesn’t make them a bad person."
This is why Bonnie chooses to keep her opinions strictly to herself. Quickly pointing out that it’s not because they’re bad, or on the wrong side of history, but she simply doesn’t feel educated enough on certain subjects to comment.
“I just read and see what I see and form an opinion on that,” she says. “But 20 years down the line we could find out Biden is a piece of shit! We don’t know, so I don’t want to bring politics into it ever. I’d rather people just listen to the music and fuck off…”
When they're not rushed off their feet with updating social media, and carefully considering their every move, musicians also have to find some time in their packed schedule for proving themselves. You know, for the days when you have constant criticism hurled in your direction.
“I always just feel like other people don’t like us or something,” chuckles Bonnie. “We are constantly trying to prove that we do belong here, and we wanna do this, and we are here for the right reasons. So everyone else, again, just kindly fuck off (laughs).”
It comes back to people’s unsolicited opinions, a theme also present on f.e.a.r. standout track, Hair Out, which was inspired by not knowing what people wanted from Bonnie, and became a “fuck you” to everyone who expected her to write a lockdown record but she had nothing new to say. It’s a track where – much like the rest of the album – she thought ‘fuck it’, and threw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what stuck, because she was past caring about what people would think of the end result.
“Stylistically, lyrically and conceptually it was almost a piss take,” she explains. “We didn’t even know if we could write another album after this, so we thought we may as well do something that we really want. We were like, ‘We actually don’t want anyone to know what to expect from it,’ and I think that’s the funnest part.”
And fun sums it up perfectly: pissed-off lyrics, but still dance party vibes, with a bunch of piss takey comments littered throughout (it features Bonnie and producer Stevie reading out some of the comments they get on YouTube e.g. “I fuckin’ sold out so hard mum, MILF Atlantic!").
“I just wanted people to realise, times can be fucking crap!” Bonnie says of the track’s quirky additions. “But if you have your mates around you and you’ve got people who love you, you can always have a laugh about something. And that’s who we are as well…”
Who Stand Atlantic are is a band who do not take themselves, or life, too seriously, and f.e.a.r showcases that perfectly. Hence why when Bonnie wanted the cover to look like Hell, she thought, “better put the Devil in his pyjamas, aye?”
“That’s the thing with this record,” she concludes. “It’s the one time I’ve come to the realisation that if you’re not being genuine to who you are and everything doesn’t reflect that, then it’s never going to work. Because how can you uphold that? How can you continue being something that you’re not?
"From the first interview we ever did I said I just want us to be real,” she adds. “That was in bold letters and at least that was the truth, and I can stick to it.”
F.E.A.R. is due out on May 6 via Hopeless Records. You can order yourself a signed copy of the album right here.
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