Connor Brooker, musician and songwriter, BUGS
It’s nice to be going with the flow a bit more. No point fighting the tide when you’re in a washing machine ...
Not many people know that Brisbane garage-noise-pop outfit BUGS started off as a solo side project out of frontman Connor Brooker’s bedroom. Even fewer people would know that Connor cut his teeth on high-school music talent shows, was obsessed with the film Titanic when he was seven years old and used to drink about three litres of plain milk per day as a kid. I know these things because he’s my little brother. I’ve watched him go from a Sunshine Coast grommet to a bona fide rockstar, selling out shows at The Zoo and supporting the likes of Grinspoon on a national tour – pretty wild to think about considering I literally remember dressing him up as Scary Spice to complete our family Spice Girls tribute band. When promoters got in touch for us to interview Connor for BUGS’ appearance at Feedback Festival, our team at The Weekend Edition thought it would be fun for us to have a little family chat – these are the results.
Do you actually remember the words to any of the songs you used to write when you were a teenager/kid? I personally remember ‘My Friend Calls’ and was wondering if you could drop a remix?
I distinctly remember the first song I ever wrote at the Peregian Beach Surf Club on a napkin. The first verse was “Radioactive, we know our way around, don’t mess with us, we’ve got a lot of business and we’re looking for you” – very dark lyrics, not sure what I was trying to say on this one. Confused kid, apparently.
Did the music our parents had us listening to in the car on the way to school (shout out to 4KQ) have an influence on the sort of music that you write?
Yeah, I think it had a massive influence, I still remember screaming the chorus to Regurgitator’s ‘Polyester Girl’ at passers-by driving through Coolum after probably spending the day at First Bay watching you make sausage rolls out of sand.
What do you miss most about touring?
Just being with my friends – we’ve made a lot of really deep connections with people all over the country and it sucks being kept away from them. Also not spending as much downtime together as a band sucks. Those experiences grow your friendship and keep you close – it’s harder maintaining that consistency of hanging out without shows as an excuse. We’re all pretty busy these days.
I know how hard you work, especially as BUGS is very much a DIY operation without the backing of a label. What advice would you give to musicians looking to start a band?
Just trust your instincts – believe in yourself. Try not to take it all too seriously and remember to have some fun. They’re all pretty basic cliches but fundamentally true for me. It defeats the purpose if it’s making you miserable – it’s not easy, it’s a lot of sacrifice. So learn your boundaries, take care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help and just have a crack. If you don’t give it your all, you’ll regret it and if it doesn’t work out the worst that’s happened is you’ve tried.
BUGS had a wild show at The Valley Drive-In a month ago when dancing restrictions were still in place (where we both know people were itching to get up and boogie) – what was it like toeing the line between wanting to keep your fans happy but also making sure the venue wasn’t going to get in hot water for breaking the rules?
It obviously isn’t nice to instruct people to stop having fun, it was hard. I was really proud of how receptive everyone was to my instructions – our community isn’t stupid. They understand the bigger picture, we need venues to survive – it’s a symbiotic relationship. Mutual respect is necessarily important, it’s a difficult highway to navigate sometimes with so many moving parts but overall I was happy with how it all went.
What’s been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment of your career so far?
Probably playing Like a Version and watching the scale of feedback and reception. It was pretty surreal and overwhelming. Like, every person I had ever interacted with reached out to me. It was a very special feeling of content validation for such a long, challenging pursuit.
When you’re writing a song, how do you know that one is going to be your favourite?
It’s pretty simple to be honest – if I write it front to back in about five minutes it’s gold. If not, it’s a grower not a shower. I write a lot of songs I like in the shower just before I go to bed, it’s really weird. I think it’s the only place my brain fully switches off and goes into passive listening/white noise mode.
Talk me through your songwriting process from concept to completion.
It’s different every time! One of the songs off our new album I wrote in the shower before heading to the studio for the day – showed the acoustic idea to the guys and within an hour, they played the first thing that came to them. It worked, we recorded it, it was done. Probably four hours after I first thought of the song. Wild. Another song on the album is basically an amalgamation of four old voice memos stretching back to five years ago that I spent six months mashing together and painstaking over.
You’ve been very candid about the importance of discussing mental health, especially within the music industry. What sort of impact do you think COVID has had on these discussions?
I think it’s kind of shed a light on how many people are generally suffering at the moment. I think talking about it just in the music industry kind of minimises the overall issue and prevalence of suffering in modern society. The pandemic has opened up the discussion to a more broad audience. I think the music industry has done really well to contribute to gaining awareness for years, but it’s nice to see other industries promoting and normalising that conversation. I think it’s a generational thing too – young people are growing up with fewer prospects and more pressure. Social media is starting to do some very real damage.
For the most part, 2020 has been a hard slog for people – what positives have you taken from this year?
Heaps, most of all how lucky I am to have such a supportive and beautiful family. It’s made me reconsider how I prioritise my time. It’s made me seek happiness in more challenging yet fulfilling ways. This year has bought on a whole lot of necessary change and I’ve always struggled with that so it’s nice to be ~ going with the flow ~ a bit more. No point fighting the tide when you’re in a washing machine.
What was the last song you heard that knocked your socks off?
Easy by RAT!hammock – Jackson just doesn’t miss. The lyrics are so detailed and personal, delivered with such gentle angst. The instrumentation perfectly floats around the vocal as it ebbs and flows accordingly. Such a phenomenal writer, amazing band.