“I’m on smoko so leave me alone!” It’s the viral song that had millions laughing, chanting along and sharing online. Aussie three-piece The Chats caught a wave in 2017 when their song ‘Smoko’ united workers around the world who just wanted to be left alone on their fag break. Replacing Wayne and Waynetta’s catchphrase “I am having a fag!” from Harry Enfield and Chums which ran in the ‘90s, ‘Smoko’ was a long awaited update. Two years on The Chats are currently on the verge of a new album and European tour.
Frontman Eamon Sandwith plays bass and sings, Josh Pricey is on guitar and vocals and Matt Boggis plays drums. Swigging Victoria Bitter lager and ripping on guitar, I caught up with Pricey, who spoke about Iggy Pop’s interest in their slang, selling out Camden’s Electric Ballroom, and Josh Holme (QOTSA) lending him a book. Good onya, mate!
None of the band had ever left Australia before they went viral and gigs started pouring in from America, the UK and elsewhere. The Chats played the Electric Ballroom in October last year as their debut performance in England. “Yeah that was a pretty sick night. I didn’t think we’d ever sell out a venue, let alone the Electric Ballroom in London.” They returned in August to play Reading and Leeds. “It was awesome! We came over and played with a few mates, Aussie bands like Hockey Dad. We played good slots. Didn’t really catch any other bands because we were in and out with a lot of travelling to do.”
They’ll be returning to the UK in December for a 14 date tour including a headline show at London’s The Forum. “It’s going to be our third time in the UK!” Pricey said. “We’re going back to Germany and then doing the England shows. I’m looking forward to playing The Forum. Or trying to play! That’s gunna be sick. We’re doing more of our own shows this time, last time it was a bunch of festivals.” I asked, “How do you go down in Germany? Do people sing along?” Pricey: “Yeah! Haha, for some reason they know all the lyrics to our songs! And they’re all singing them back with their funny accents!”
Shed Rock Icons
The band have straight up irate lyrics about relatable problems like being broke, being hassled by the police and being hungover with some comedy thrown in. Their sound has elements of punk, garage rock and surf rock with mainly a pub rock influenced from ACDC, Ramones and Hard Ons. But rather than calling it pub rock, Australia’s new generation of bands have been dubbed ‘shed rockers’ because they rehearse and play gigs in sheds. It’s a real scene. Pricey recommend a few bands in the shed rock scene, “There’s a band called Miniskirt, Crocadylas, Pissed Idiots, The Unknowns – they’re really good you’ll really like them.”
Living on The Sunshine Coast, the three met in music class at St Theresa’s Catholic College in Noosaville and then progressed to jamming in their mate’s bong shed in Coolum, Queensland 2016. “Haha bong shed! We formed at school to do an assignment where we had to write a song. Then we graduated school and used our mates bong shed. We started jamming in there. The rest is history. We all played music in the same class together but we never really played music together until that assignment. That was the first time we started making music.”
Pricey told me how he got into guitar, “I played all my life. My dad sort of encouraged me. We always had heaps of guitars in my house so I always played.” His favourite guitar is, “My Fender Jazzmaster. It’s a nice one. I’ve got this other guitar a Takamine electric gx100. That’s probably my ultimate guitar but it’s on the wall at home. Too good for the road. I can’t take it out, I don’t want it to get hurt.”
We spoke about some of the bands he loves and his favourite albums. “‘Highway to Hell’ is one of my favourite albums. There’s so many. I like the Sex Pistols, anything hard rock. AC/DC and The Saints to Cosmic Psychos and The Hard Ons all come from Oz. I look up to them. Yeah we’re big fans of all those bands. The Ramones also.”
Their debut seven track EP ‘The Chats’ was released in 2016 with track titles like ‘Mum Stole Me Darts’ and ‘Yeah Nah’. 2017’s ‘Get This In Ya’ was another seven track EP kicking off with ‘Smoko’ which has now racked up over eight million views on YouTube.
In 2019, The Chats have now recorded a ripper album, chockers full of tracks for release in 2020. Pricey said, “We’ve got an album pretty much ready to go for next year. We’ve already released ‘Pub Feed’ and ‘Identity Theft’. There’s about 15 tracks on the album but we’re still undecided on a name.” I asked what his favourite pub feed was, “I’d go for a steak. With mushroom gravy, vegetables and mash. When we were in the UK we went to a Spoons! We don’t have them in Australia.” ‘Identity Theft’ was inspired by the band’s love of British TV show Black Mirror and it’s an undeniable singalong.
I asked for the meanings behind some of their songs. Pricey told me that ‘VB Anthem’ is an ode to their favourite lager Victoria Bitter which tastes like Fosters apparently.
‘Nambored’ is another of their songs I wasn’t sure of the mean. “Nambour is a place on the coast where we’re from. It’s about being bored in Nambour.” It’s also Australian slang for ‘fed up’ or pissed off. The song ‘Do What I Want’ is about getting stopped by the police. I asked Pricey who it happened to. “It’s just a song we wrote; it didn’t actually happen to anyone haha.” I said “Have you ever had a run in with the police?” Pricy paused. “Yeah we’ve had a few. Only minor things though. The police are pretty nice here. You only get hassled if you’ve done something wrong.” Their name meanwhile comes from the nearby suburb of Chatswood; in certain Sydney suburbs ‘chat’ also means shit i.e. “Your clothes are absolute chat, mate”.
He explained what he thought of his generation in Australia right now. “It’s pretty wild at the moment. The music is good and everyone’s getting together. There’s a lot of good bands forming and great Aussie bands reforming. There’s a good thing going at the moment.”
The Chats’ hype has led to a lot of attention from other groups. Idles played an Australian tour earlier this year and were heard covering ‘Smoko’. Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl loved the song so much he sent it to Josh Homme, who immediately booked the band to support Queens of the Stone Age in Australia. Iggy Pop did the same when he played Melbourne, and keenly quizzed the band on their lyrical content. “Yeah he was asking us “What’s a ‘smoko’?” And “What’s a VB?” Wondering all about the slang. We only got to see him for about 3 mins but it was pretty cool. He seems to know all about us. He did his research! Yeah it went around a circle of Iggy Pop, Josh Holme and Dave Grohl. That’s how we landed all those gigs supporting them.”
This year The Chats toured all over America to sold out crowds, including a stop in LA where Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and Alex Turner and Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys watched them play in front of 1000 people.
Pricey boasts of having never read a book in his entire life and Josh Homme was stunned and gave him one to read. “Yeah that’s true! I’ve never completed a full book. He gave me a Stephen King book. When I saw Josh I said I hadn’t read the book and he got all upset. But I said to him I changed it to a Bon Scott book that I’m reading. Then he was all good. He said “That’s alright, you swapped it!” I’m nearly finished it. He’s still checking in on me. I asked Pricey what makes a musical hero to him, “Someone who shreds onstage but is a real nice dude offstage too!”
The Chats also started their own label in 2019, Bargain Bin Records. Some of the bands they’ve released so far are Abjects, Crocadilius, C.OF.F.I.N and The Unknowns. “Yeah we have our own label and were pushing some Aussie bands and putting out our own records. It’s something we always thought about doing and then one day someone mentioned it and we said, “Yeah why not” We just did it and never looked back. I’m really stoked we have.” They also signed a publishing deal with Universal Records. Pricey said, “They approached us. It was pretty cool. We’re having a good run that’s for sure! Haha.”
We took the conversation back to the big moment when ‘Smoko’ broke the band into the consciousness of people around the world, “Yeah it got pretty big on the internet ay? It was pretty much an overnight success. But ‘Smoko’ was out for a good six months before it got any attention so it was pretty weird when it blew up.
We all had jobs. I was washing cars. Eamon was checkout chick at Coles Supermarket. Matt was doing drum lessons. Matt is a professional skater. I don’t know what he’s doing about that now, but what matters is he’s in the band and he loves it!” Drummer Matt was also expelled from school for joyriding a golf buggy. I asked what the defining point was, when they didn’t need to do their jobs anymore. “It wasn’t until we got really busy overseas and we didn’t have time to fit it in. Bosses and stuff they don’t want to keep giving you shifts if you’re not around.”
Lastly, he gave us the rundown of their plans for the rest of the year. “We’re on the Identity Theft tour in Australia at the moment and then we’ll finish off the year with the big tour in Europe. Then we’ll have Christmas and New Year at home with our friends and family and have a bit of time off.”
The Chats play London’s The Forum on 14th December 2019 and have a new album out in 2020.