Words by Luke Buckler
Unbelievably Bad Contributor
Karina Utomo and her mates in High Tension have been packing a pretty hectic schedule of late. They just wound up a run of show with the polarising poster boys of blackened shoegaze, Deafheaven, they’re preparing to perform to the glampers in warbonnets at the upcoming Splendour in the Grass festival, and even with a couple of fresh faces in the band, each member is still busying themselves with various extra-curricular activities.
High Tension’s primary concerns orbit around reaching the extremities of potential brutality, but during the aforementioned Deafheaven tour they were forced to challenge some “established and backward attitudes” about pit behaviour. UB went in-depth with Karina about that, side projects, Henry Rollins and snacks.
You have some new mates in the band, who are they? Do you reckon their involvement will change the vibe for new High Tension stuff?
I have known Mike Deslandes since my previous band played a festival he organised in Adelaide (back in 2008). Mike was in a band called Realist Few, who were sick. He has also been in Coerce, and now YLVA too. Last year I had the honour of working together with him on a lot of of my additional vocals for Bully, as well as another side-project I am a part of. He’s an incredible producer/sound engineer – you should check all the bands he’s produced. He gets the best performance out of you and has a really efficient working method, but most of all he is a mate that I have the utmost respect for in terms of taste and perspective. Mike’s method of writing is very meticulous and every aspect of tone, structure and riff is considered. It’s a good contrast to my method, which is mainly informed by gut instinct, and sometimes just an idea of how something should feel or sound.
We had the honour of being graced with Lauren Hammel’s presence when we shot our Bully video. My first impression was ‘who is this person and can they please be around us all the time?’ Matt Weston (bass) agreed and affirmed: ‘You should see Hammel drum’. Then a lot of people said that very same thing, so I was intrigued. Before I had the chance to see Fear Like Us (Lauren’s other band) play, we needed to find a new drummer as Damian was about to relocate to Perth. We rehearsed with three different drummers, and not only did Hammel smash it and outshine the other candidates, she also managed to make our old songs feel more exciting and with a completely different energy. She inspires me all the time because she is so bloody good at what she does. There is magic in the way she executes her playing that not even the most seasoned drummer can emulate.
I am excited because we are focusing on writing the third album. We’ve been including a new song in our set list. I feel that we’ve toughened up the guts and core of our sound, and the execution is more nuanced. I am learning how to better my voice every time we rehearse/tour/record – right now I just want my voice to sound like Jeff Walker from Carcass.
High Tension has landed some sick gigs recently – Laneway, Splendour in the Grass, the support for that Deafheaven band that people either hate or froth on. You’ve been getting to do some pretty cool shit, what are you most psyched on?
I am amped on all of the upcoming shows. We are stoked to have these opportunities thrown our way. Being included on the line-up for popular festivals such as Laneway and Splendour is just another avenue for us to offer a new perspective and contribute to more diversity. I am most excited because these festivals are perhaps a ‘first time live show experience’ for younger members of the audience. Our main intent is to open the gateway to heavy/aggressive music to those that would perhaps not be exposed to it so easily.
We are honoured to support Deafheaven, their output is a testament to not conforming to the expectations of traditional metal. It’s a fresh perspective and it makes me feel hopeful. Prior to the tour I have been reflecting a lot on that division they have caused amongst the metal fans; I am constantly reflecting on why such a ‘tribal mentality’ still exists in what should be a diverse and progressive genre.
Can you give us the pros and cons of these well-organised and well-attended shows against playing to twenty people and a dog in a living room?
Pros: More participants.
Cons: Less control, no dogs, more anonymity within the participants, harder to see everyone’s beautiful faces because the stage is too high, more risk of injury when jumping off stage.
What are we going to do about this squadron of douchelords that seem to be taking to the pit for any Australian rock band that begin to experience any degree of exposure or success?
Immediate solution: Laws need to be implemented to protect any persons being violated in order to deter opportunistic violations from continuing to occur. All the brainstorming of implementation of protocol that should happen at venues, for punters and bands to know their rights, etc, on how to handle such incidents, thankfully Music Victoria has already drafted a policy covering all of this and the pilot program will be rolling out soon.
Long-term solution: Education and shifting attitudes will take time. My voice/language can be isolating to the very people whose perspective need to change. We have some stronger, more influential voices on board, like Winston from Parkway Drive. Having the right voices in the metal/heavy community can make a positive impact in eradicating this type of behaviour, and not taking incidents like this seriously perpetuates the very culture that ruins what our community is about, and goes against the grain of what we stand for.
It seems as though Weston is about to fire up The Nation Blue again. Is High Tension going to take a little break? Do you have some other creative endeavours to pursue while they tour with Midnight Oil or whatever?
Ha! How great is Matt Weston’s photoshop skills and sense of humour! Even a couple of music blogs bought the Midnight Oil/Nation Blue support hoax – but now we are joking it will take effect like ‘The Secret/the Law of Atrraction’ or whatever. How brilliant would that be if it actually manifests?! My husband Murray does an incredible Peter Garrett dance, at times he will do it upon request.
What you need to know about Matt Weston is he is very proactive – the opposite of ‘all talk’. Since we had our first rehearsal in October 2012, High Tension has never really taken a break, not even when Matt was making a bloody Cosmic Psychos documentary. High Tenno things are full bore in action.
Mike and Hammel also have their respective active bands outside of Tenno (YLVA and Fear Like Us). I’ve been collaborating with a composer/bassplayer in the deep desert in Siberia; his name is Peter Shallmin, he has been the mastermind of a couple of international collaborative projects. This one is a grind/death metal/lounge (yes, lounge music) project called Stench Price with different vocalists (Dan Lilker from Brutal Truth, Dave Ingram from Benediction, Bolt Thrower) and the next project I’ll be working on is a Black Metal project, but as he describes it is not trve black metal. I’ve been talking with Mark Jennings (Heads Kicked Off) and Ben Andrews (Agents Of Abhorrence, My Disco) about a grindcore project so we will see.
You’ve been doing some stuff with triple j, reckon you could see yourself taking a day job doing radio?
I think that the ABC/Triple J (as well as community radio) is an incredibly integral platform in Australia. Emerging bands need all the help they can get to reach a wider audience. Yes, of course I would be honoured to take a job if the opportunity came along. I would do my best to diversify the offering/programming and challenge new perspectives. I think Lochlan Watt is already doing a tremendous job of that; he’s a really great advocate for progress in the heavy sphere, bringing to light different genres and playing a mixed, unbiased programming. Very hopeful that one day soon we will have more metal/hardcore/heavy songs on rotation.
You seem like a very chilled and happy person, which is why it’s kind of terrifying when you shriek and growl like the demonic spawn of Kathleen Hanna and Phil Anselmo. Did you ever use your voice to get what you wanted around the house as a kid?
Phil Anselmo is nope to me. I will pretend that you said Barney. 🙂 My mum used to walk away and pretend I wasn’t her kid if I was having a sook in public. My parents also suspected that I was perhaps mute because I didn’t start saying words till much later than other kids. Perhaps I am hyper-correcting now that I am in my 30s.
Henry Rollins reckons High Tension is boss. Do you reckon Henry Rollins is being needlessly dickish to the kid in this video?
Even Henry Rollins isn’t perfect. I think he has redeemed himself in this interview on BBC Hard Talk.
What’s the best snack/cartoon combination to indulge in when you’re blazed?
In my mind I follow a ‘Snack Pyramid’ which is a balance of savoury, sweet and fresh. As long as those groups are covered I am not stressing out about what to eat next.
Savoury: Chilli Kettle Chips, Vege Chips – Natural, any type of kerupuk or Indonesian crackers, cheese flavoured morsels.
Sweet: Sweet group has its own pyramid.
Fresh: Cucumber with salt and a fresh birds eye chilli if there are some, or with Habanero extra picante hot sauce.
For cartoons it depends on mood. If I am feeling sad I like to watch Dogs 101 on Youtube which covers all the different dog breeds. Futurama and Regular Show are my favourites, too.