dust Never Settles
In the wake of their debut EP, Justin of Newcastle five-piece dust talks creative process, lyrical inspiration, live shows, and their explosive arrival as ones-to-watch.
Image credit: Charlie Hardy
It opens with tinkering synths and dense atmospherics, a disembodied voicemail floating by like a distant memory. “Hello, Jim and Anne are out jogging at the moment,” says the pre-recorded mailbox, “please leave your message after the beep and we’ll call you back later.” The fuzzy voices are mysterious and sometimes unintelligible, but when the powerhouse vocals arrive on the back of a serrated guitar riff, there’s no mistaking the words within.
dust — the five-piece Newcastle rock outfit comprising Gabriel Stove (vocals, guitar), Justin Teale (vocals, lead guitar), Kye Cherry (drums), Adam Ridgway (guitar/sax), and Liam Smith (bass) — have a message to impart, and on their debut EP, et cetera, etc., they waste no time. Insightful and inciteful in equal share, et cetera, etc. marks the fierce arrival of one of Australia’s most exciting bands, borne on the back of forthright lyrics, impassioned arrangements, and oases of soothing synths.
In recent months, they’ve been taking that electrifying post-punk to audiences the world over, embarking on a month-long ramble across the East Coast, a European odyssey alongside Hockey Dad, and a headline stint celebrating the release of et cetera, etc. In a brief moment of respite, we caught up with Justin to talk over the project, life on the road, and their eventful 2023.
Even in a break from that gauntlet, Justin is a difficult man to get ahold of. He’s working out in the garden when the call comes through. “Did me a favour,” he says with a laugh, “I was kind of keen to wrap it up with the yard. I've been struggling for a bit of cash because we've only just got back from Europe, so I've been doing some maintenance work,” he admits, forthright. Even now, his gardening shifts fall between far-flung tour dates. “We got back a couple of weeks ago now, and basically, we've just got straight back into it,” says Justin. “Last weekend we did Canberra and Melbourne, and then tomorrow we're playing Sydney.” It might be tiring and taxing, but it’s the band’s favourite part of the job. “We've always really cared about doing good shows and just playing as much as we can, because as a band, we're very interested in a good live performance.”
It’s not hard to imagine dust as a live powerhouse. Their explosive energy bursts through on wax, heavy riffs and propulsive drumbeats all but destined for a raucous stageshow. It’s at these shows that the band cut their teeth, driving hours up the coast for a chance to play, but in the wake of et cetera, etc., such trips have taken on a new importance. “That’s a very good question,” laughs Justin when asked about their rapid come-up. “We've only been a band for about three years now, and the songs on ‘et cetera, etc.’ are still quite new to us.”
Released in March and recorded nearly 12 months prior, the tracks land with the focused intent of a group making their first impression. There’s both fearlessness and reflection, a palpable feeling of ambition breaking through in their musical mission. Standout single The Gutter is the group at their most political, a biting socio-economic indictment served in a sneering shout. In the titular mantra, lead singer Gabriel invokes a quintessentially punk creed, decrying classism and skewering structural inequity. The stark black-and-white video frames the city as a pit of discontent, with dizzying Aronofsky-esque SnorriCam shots tracking the band about carparks, overpasses, and deserted back-alleys.
“We've been very lucky to have someone on board with us, Nathan Rathsam,” says Justin of their close collaborator. “He's been with us since the start… He's always down to film anything at any time, and so we were very lucky to have him on board to do a lot of that stuff.” The emphasis on a visual component comes from within the group itself, and a troupe of creative friends help realize these visions. “Kye is really into photography and videos and graphic design, and so he plays a big part in that. We're just very lucky that we have a lot of our close friends to help in this process.”
As Justin tells it, et cetera, etc. is a deeply collaborative effort — not just for the band, but within their greater social circles. “We got a lot of our friends involved that haven't had a career in that world,” explains Justin, crediting friend Todd Hodgson with the illustrations that adorned covers of The Gutter and Joy (Guilt). “They're all his drawings. He just gave us heaps and we just were able to fiddle with them. He doesn't do it as a career, he just does it for fun, so it was really cool to have our friends involved in that aspect of it as well. Obviously, we all had an image of how we wanted it to look… but we wouldn't have been able to do it without them.”
The farm-by-fineliner aesthetic that leaps from dust’s debut reflects the recording itself, conducted over a week in Wollombi, a modest town of 250 in New South Wales’ Hunter Region. The family property of guitarist Adam, christened ‘Edwardsville,’ proved an ideal artistic alcove, but the towering gums and dense thicket ultimately worked their way into the project itself. “Being at the farm, it reflected quite heavily on the EP,” says Justin of the band’s excursion. “The nature, the farm, and the scenery played a big part in that.”
The group eschewed a traditional studio setting, setting up a rural bandroom far from the electrified stages they’d come to love. “It was such an old style house, and it was quite a nice, cozy environment to be able to [record],” recalls Justin, conjuring wood panelling and striking ‘70s colourways. “It felt really comfortable, rather than doing it in a studio, which we've never really done before.” Producer Wade Keighran, formerly of The Scare, provided “all this really good quality gear,” delivering an uncompromising sound while “[making] it so there wasn’t much pressure around it.”
“That whole week we spent recording the EP was just so smooth and so nice… we could go for walks, and we were filming heaps of stuff, it just kind of all made sense.” If that serenity made for a smooth process, it did nothing to dull the edges of their fierce post-punk approach. On Alternator, the record’s most dizzying cut, a wailing saxophone channels a panic attack, with Justin spinning a story inspired by car issues into a wider exploration of drive and momentum.
“Usually the lyrics, me and Gabe will just do ourselves,” says Justin of their process. “Say for example like Ward , I spent a long time writing lyrics for that. I was working at my parents' cafe, and I was washing dishes, and every day when I was out the back, I would just sing Ward in my head, just constantly trying to add lyrics.” They came sporadically, with phrases slowly slotting into place. “With songs like Alternator or False Narrative, I used to just mumble words and say random words,” admits Justin with a laugh. “I still do it now with the new songs that we play!” A relative newcomer to penning lyrics, Justin found direction in pulling from novel experiences — on Alternator, it was a simple motor issue, but on Ward 52, he pulls from a far more personal trial.
“When I was younger, about 19, I became really sick with this autoimmune disease, and it was the first real-life shock that I had,” he explains, stoic. “I was sick for about six months, and then I spent a whole month in hospital because by the end of the six months, they were like, 'oh this is pretty bad.'” It would be easy to place the track as some sort of cathartic release, but Justin is already at peace with the ordeal. “I'm so fine with talking about it,” he says, crediting his full recovery with giving that part of his life a definitive and liberating close.
“The start of the song is almost like when I was there, and the end of the song is when that kind of kind of cleared up... like once it's all over, a kind of realisation to yourself.” As he elaborates, that realisation takes on a profoundly grateful tone. “I’m very, very fortunate that I'm actually well now,” he adds, earnestly. “I was taking medication for years, and now I don't have to do that anymore… I'm very lucky to be well now, so writing that in lyrics and doing that song, it's a real special thing to be able to do.”
Similarly, Gabe’s lyrics on Joy (Guilt), the EP’s most resonant single, reflect arriving at a kind of measured inner peace. “I think it was one of the last songs that we wrote for the EP,” explains Justin. “I just brought that riff and the guitar bits to the band one day, and it was coming along pretty strong, and then Gabe just started saying words over the top.” The stream-of-consciousness winds through self-belief, longing, experience, and the nature of happiness, a notes-app manifesto not too dissimilar to the scrawls on many an iPhone.
In March, a year on from the sessions that spawned et cetera, etc., dust returned to Edwardsville to record a live performance of the EP. “We went back to do that, and it was the complete opposite,” says Justin with a resigned laugh. “It was the worst fucking time we had, because we had heaps of cars get bogged, we didn't have enough gear to record it, and we had to do heaps of takes.”
Nightmarish production aside, the short film takes us into the rooms that birthed dust’s recent EP, the coziness of the setting juxtaposing against their raucous rendition of The Gutter. Interstitial flashes take us out to the farm, with Justin peacefully strolling through vibrant green fields, though it’s only for a moment — Alternator kicks in, the roaring guitar and shrieking saxophone throwing us back to the contained chaos of the set.
Live at Edwardsville, an anniversary celebration, offers more than just a raw performance of dust’s debut. It provides a greater context to the EP’s ebb-and-flow: meditative moments such as Intro, Outro, Interlude and Joy (Guilt) are reminiscent of the picturesque surrounds, while the serrated edge of The Gutter, Alternator and Ward 52 bristle with the energy of the frenetic living room performances.
The filming was a fiasco, but the performances were polished by weeks on the road — something Justin holds up as a mixed blessing. “We're so sick of playing the songs,” he quips, only half-joking. He credits that discontent with sending him right back to the drawing board. “As soon as I came home, I was very inspired to write again,” admits Justin, himself surprised by his enthusiasm. “As soon as we got home, we all took a week off work, and I was just at home… I tried to write heaps, and that was really cool.”
“I don't think any of us ever thought this would happen, so I think we're still in a bit of a shock,” he says of that whirlwind European tour. “We're still coming to terms with it, but we're so grateful for it, and we're still all on the come down.” That come down — a headline tour across the East Coast, a show with Trophy Eyes, and a slot at Pitchfork Festival in the UK later this year — doesn’t seem like a dip, but chasing the biggest tour of their lives, it counts as well-earned respite.
It all goes to show: in the wake of their terrific debut project, dust shows no sign of settling.