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Interview with Chris Debono (Under The Cut)

Under the Cut have just released a new 4 track EP, in one review of the record I read it says one of themes on the record relates to your experiences as a gay man in the punk scene. Is this the first time you’ve brought those themes into your music and was it a conscious decision to do so?

No, the first time I sang openly about my sexuality was in my first band Silpheed back in 1996.

I tend to get a bit antsy when bands define themselves as ‘post’ anything (what can I say, I’m a wanker), but in the case of Under the Cut, especially this most recent release, I really can’t argue with the label. The 80s vibes are definitely there, but I also feel strong 90s punk vibes, Precisely Calculated gives me some crazy nostalgia for songs like ‘Exerciser’ by Rhubarb and even some Nada Surf vibes here and there. Do you guys pull influence from this era as well?

Oh yeah there’s definitely 90’s vibes in the band. Our debut album has 90’s all over it. Were huge fans of the era. Particularly the greats – Nirvana – Smashing pumpkins and the like.

Have you been ‘out’ throughout your music career?

I’ve been out for the most part. When I first started playing in bands I had a girlfriend, but within the first ten days of dating this gorgeous woman, I told her that I think I may be Gay and it’s something I will need to visit at some point. 2 years later (now 21 at the time) she suggested I meet a man and try it. So we both got the Sun newspaper out and scoured through the ‘Seeks same” ads and I made the call. Met a guy, did our thing and then went home where she was waiting for me. I walked in, she asked “So?” ….. I then responded with a nod. She slapped me across the face and we both started crying. From then on I made it my mission to create as much awareness as possible on the subject. Being the vocalist of a band was a great tool to discuss such matters in the punk live circuit. At times it was rough as some people would reject my presence and on the other hand it was liberating with the amount of support I would receive. Especially at the Arthouse, it was mostly positive.

When you say people would “reject” your presence, how did people express that? Did they flat out say shit to your face or was it avoidance? Have you had people who rejected you back in the day “come around” (so to speak) and support you/your music now?

Well prior to coming out, a few of the scenesters were always happy to hang. After I came out and started advocating on stage, a few of them wouldn’t really talk to me as much as they used too. On the other hand I also made allot of nice friends. One in particular who became extremely close and still is to this day, is Rae Harvey who manages The Living End. There was a time where we played with BodyJar and The Porkers at some nightclub in Prahran back in the day and afterwards my bassist and drummer approached some girls to chat too, and the girls said to the both of them “We don’t talk to gay bands.” Funnily enough, the most flak I have gotten in terms of homophobic remarks have been more from women than men which a lot of people find surprising. In terms of people who have come around, loads have and they are so supportive. I guess we also need to thank bands like Camp Cope and Smith Street Band who have done an amazing job in spreading awareness. Seeing Smith Street Band on stage with Midnight Oil with all their amps covered in gay flags literally made me cry.

As a young man, who were your main musical influences and role models? Was there any LGBTQ punk (or just general music) icons that you were able to look up to?

Human League – Joy Division – Roy Orbison – Michael Jackson and Metallica were my main influences in the 80’s. I really look up to James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett from a musicians stand point. Kirk Hammett’s playing is the most cleanest and he chooses the most sweetest notes my ears have ever heard.

I often ask queer artists who play music in heavier genres is they believe there is a lack of diversity in heavy music and I tend to get two types of answers; people who say there is a good balance and the heavy scene just doesn’t make a big deal about it all, and others who definitely believe there is a lack of queer musicians playing heavy music. Do your thoughts fall into either of these categories or do you have an alternate perspective?

 It’s a hard one to say as there are queer musicians in the heavy scene but its really a question of are they out of the closet? I still remember back in the 90’s early 2000’s when I was fronting and playing in Identity theft, punk hardcore men would approach me after the shows and wanna chat about their sexuality. They would often ask me questions on how I figured out I was gay etc, but usually after such discussions they would then act like we never had the conversation. It was quite confusing at the time but now I totally understand the psychology behind their reasons. Generally when you open yourself up, discuss a skeleton you may have, I guess you then feel vulnerable and sometimes regret that you have ousted your feelings to someone. It all comes to down to fear. Which is sad.

It seems in recent times there is more queer visibility in punk, but primarily it seems to be queer women. Do you think it’s harder for a man to be queer in the punk scene than it might be for females? Do you think there is (still) some ‘stigma’ there?

Definitely 100%. The patriarchy finds ‘girl on girl’ action hot. It’s repulsed by gay men. Men should be MEN you know? (whatever caveman mind setting they think it should be). It sickens me that you have amazingly talented open gay men but when do you ever see them on festivals? Any open gay male known musician has had to keep their mouth shut until they achieve success, and then they come out. Kind of sucks that us gay men are forgotten about and it makes me question the authenticity of some people who preach “equal rights.”

But there are gay-male friendly people in the industry I know of, who are willing to give gay men a go, who are quite high up in the industry; Graham Nixon from resist records, Bosma and The Smith Street band (Pool House Records). The Bennies and Aaron Coping from Poison City who has been so supportive since day one. Andy from PCR gave us a show which was rad.

I’ve worked with all those guys at some point or other and agree they’re all great! I’ve noticed they’re all dudes, do you find you get different responses or have different experiences with industry men then you do from industry women?

Not really its pretty much the same – you’re either a person’s cup of tea or you ain’t!

You’ve been playing in bands for over 25 years now, can you tell us a bit about how the scene has changed from when you started out in comparison to now? Not only in terms of being a queer identity, but also just in a general sense.

In terms of being a gay man, it feels 100 times better and safe to be yourself. Unfortunately the community spirit we used to bond by feels as tho it has disappeared to a certain extent, like its fractured. That’s something I am trying really hard to bring back.

It seems more prevalent now that its a ‘who you know industry’ more so than ever to me.

Are there any fresh (local) LGBTQ-identifying punk acts that we should be checking out?

Jo Neugebauer.

Under The Cut play the Pool House Records Pool House Party on March 17th.