First entering the scene in 2018 with their debut EP Hymnbook Volume 1, Melbourne, Australia’s Catholic Guilt has made quite the impression. Sonically combining elements of alternative rock, punk, and even folk, their lyrics are nothing short of raw, honest, and hard-hitting. Speaking with vocalist Brenton Harris, he decided to give some further insight into the band’s music, goals, and story.
When did you first know that music was your calling? What inspired you to become musicians?
Obviously, I can only speak to my own experience here, but I connected with music on an instinctive level as a young child, largely as a result of the influence of my two elder siblings. I distinctly remember being about three years old, running around the living room, doing my best to yell the rather age-inappropriate lyrics of the metal, punk, grunge and alt bands of that time period, and smashing away to Nirvana records on a bunch of biscuit (cookie) tins I’d arranged as a makeshift drumkit, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Music has played a huge role in providing not only the soundtrack to my life and the force behind most of my most memorable and enjoyable moments, but it has also been the best friend I’ve ever had. So many times in my life when I’ve needed someone to understand or comfort me, music has been there for me.
So that’s where the love started, but it actually took me until my early teens to realise that making the types of music that I loved was something that I was able to pursue. So I tried my hand at drumming first, then a little bit of guitar, and then one day during a music class at school, I stumbled upon my voice, which ultimately started the journey to becoming a singer and songwriter. Ultimately, as a member of this band, I want to write songs that help and connect with others in the way that music has helped and connected with me.
What is it about music that makes you feel so passionate in regards to it?
For me, music is the most impactful communication tool available to us as human beings. Our connection to it feels as natural as drawing breath, yet it has the power to bridge gaps between generations, creeds, races, and political leanings, to reach beyond the numerous aspects of our cultural conditioning that divide us, and find commonality. Whether it inspires us to dance or mosh or it inspires conversations that lead to change, there is power in that and there is joy in it too. From my experiences, nothing comes close to the feeling of being at a sold-out show singing with your arms linked around friends and strangers alike or being the one on stage while that experience unfolds in front of you. That’s when I feel the most alive.
Are there any bands or musicians that you draw inspiration from? If so, what about them and/or their music inspires you?
As I touched on earlier, I’ve been obsessed with music since I was a toddler, so to list all of the acts that have had an influence on me, would be an impossible task. A few that stand out to me at this moment are Against Me!, Bad Religion, Frank Turner, Refused, Paul Kelly, Silverchair, Thrice and The Wonder Years. Each of those acts has inspired me in numerous ways, but one way that ties all of them together is their ability to tell stories and convey emotion with a level of great sincerity. Each of these acts is completely unafraid to be themselves and the result is continuously compelling. The fact that they’ve all evolved their sound as they’ve grown, also speaks to me as well, as does the fact that in most instances we are ethically and politically pretty closely aligned.
How did you end up coming together as a band?
We found each other through the great circle pit of life. That pit has spun around many times since our initial origins as a duo, ultimately landing on this current lineup featuring myself, Ben, Dean, Megs and the very recently sworn-in, Michael. One fun thing about this lineup is that we are originally from different regions across Australia and New Zealand and have surprisingly varied musical backgrounds. We connected in our chosen home Melbourne/Naarm’s punk scene and have bonded over our mutual love of storytelling through rock music.
What are your overall goals with your music and as a band?
To continue writing, recording and performing these songs for as long as we feel inspired to do so. If we can positively impact other people’s lives in that process, in the way that music has impacted us in our lives, then that would be a big bonus. We’d LOVE to tour outside of Australia as well, we came agonisingly close to fulfilling that goal recently, so getting overseas is definitely a big goal right now as well.
Your most recent single (“Talking Fake”) has a more pop-rock sound to it than most of your previous releases. What inspired you to move in that direction sonically?
Ultimately, it just felt right for the story of that song. We don’t typically write with ‘genre’ in mind, but rather storytelling and emotional conveyance. We tend to ask ourselves “What feels natural for this song? How are these lyrics making me feel? What is their intent? What do those feelings and intentions sound like?” and we build from there.
As with most of our songs, ‘Talking Fake’ started out life as a simple arrangement featuring voice and acoustic guitar. Then we workshopped it from there, putting together an arrangement that followed the emotional journey of the song. We actually went through about seventeen different variations of it, before ultimately landing on the arrangement you hear in the released recording.
The accompanying cinematic short that we made in collaboration with some local filmmakers really drives home the emotion of the song and we highly encourage people to watch it.
Do you feel it’s important to be able to explore different genres of music/areas of rock creatively? Why or why not?
I don’t know whether it is my place to say if it is ‘important’, but I will say that for us, as a collective, at this point in our creative lives, it definitely feels a very natural thing to do. It is also very rewarding, artistically speaking. So if it feels natural, rewarding and fulfilling to us, and it still remains sonically identifiable as Catholic Guilt, then why not explore where the song wants to go? It’ll always tell you. Ultimately it’s all rock music though.
While sonically different, the lyrics of “Talking Fake” are still raw and honest. How important are those aspects to your music lyrically?
Very. As with most acts in this genre space, since our inception, the lyrics to our songs have typically been heart-on-their-sleeve extensions of our lived emotional and social experiences. As the primary lyricist, I definitely have a tendency to use our songs as an avenue for catharsis or as an avenue for addressing issues that I feel are having a profound impact, positively or negatively on the world around me. That’s what all my favourite artists have always done and it is what feels most natural to me.
Sometimes the initial drafts probably read like you’ve sat in on a therapy session or a lecture, but we workshop it from there, maintaining the rawness and honesty in a way that cuts through best when set to music.
Our debut EP Hymnbook Volume 1 featured songs that focussed on regret, love, addiction, grief and the appalling way our society treats asylum seekers and the houseless, while our second EP This Is What Honesty Sounds Like presented five human experiences of isolation, frustration, love, anger and loss while also addressing issues of systemic abuse and wealth inequality. We continued the emotional journey with ‘Talking Fake’.
Speaking of lyrics, “The Awful Truth” has some powerful lines, especially considering your band’s name. What were you hoping to do or accomplish with the release of that song?
As a person who was raised Catholic, I felt personally compelled to write that song because the truth is awful: there is documented, widespread, institutionalised sexual abuse of children that has taken place within the ranks of the Catholic church, in Australia and abroad. The perpetrators need to be brought to account for the lifelong harm they’ve inflicted.
From taking lines from songs to just going with something that sounds good, there are hundreds of ways that bands decide on a name. “The Awful Truth” makes it seem like there may be some sort of story or message behind yours, is that so? And if so, would you like to share it?
Interestingly enough, the name of the song and the name of the band aren’t that intrinsically linked. As I mentioned in the previous question, I grew up Catholic and While I’m definitely not a practising Catholic now, the experience left me with a lot of cultural conditioning I can’t seem to shed. The omnipresent feeling of guilt, which we call “Catholic Guilt” is one of those conditionings. When I first started writing what would become the first batch of Catholic Guilt songs, I realized that a lot of the songs had ties to that feeling of being “guilty” or perhaps more accurately, feeling like I was not “enough” at all times. The fact that it also serves as a double entendre, for the Vatican’s sins, is a very fitting bonus, given what we went to address in some of those songs.
What is the story behind the infamous “Lucy Furr” shirt? Why is it banned from several schools, workplaces, and churches?
Oh! I had nearly forgotten about that! Essentially the story goes that a couple of young fans in South Australia wore their Lucy Furr shirts to a couple of Catholic high schools one day, and the little legends were both sent home to get changed! The shirts were then officially added to the list of banned band shirts. A few weeks later it happened again at a school in Victoria, and then we got word from friends at a couple of workplaces that they’d been asked not to wear those shirts to work again (one person even received an official warning for being offensive) and then someone got kicked out of mass for wearing one to communion! You couldn’t script this stuff!
How do you feel and/or what do you think about that shirt being banned from various places?
On one hand, I personally feel it’s fucking awesome! I remember kids coming to school wearing those Cradle of Filth ‘Jesus is a C*nt* shirts and those NOFX ‘Never Trust A Hippie’ shirts with Jesus on them, on casual clothes days and getting suspended essentially for blasphemy, and thinking that it was badass of the kids and ridiculously heavyhanded by the school. So being the cause of a similar response felt very punk rock, but on the other hand, it also seems completely absurd and out of step with modern society. They’re still our highest-selling shirts, ever, so maybe it helped sell some shirts?
Do you have any upcoming releases you’d like to talk about?
We sure do. We have a brand new single ‘Live For The Rush’ and an accompanying video set to drop on February 3. It is a nostalgia-tinged pop-punk/rock song about wanting to feel truly ‘alive’ again, after a prolonged period of emotional paralysis. It brings a different energy to ‘Talking Fake’ while continuing the emotive journey and is accompanied by a very fun video that we can’t wait to share with the world. If you’re looking for a reference track sonically from our catalogue, look to ‘A Boutique Affair’ for an idea of where this one sits.
What can the world expect from Catholic Guilt in the future? Do you have any specific goals for the band in 2023?
We’re currently writing what we hope will prove to be the remainder of our third EP and intend to record and release that by the end of the year. In the meantime, we’ll be playing as many Aussie shows as we can and looking to explore new touring circuits. We’re itching to hit the road! So those are our primary goals for the year.
Are there any specific bands or artists you’d like to collaborate and/or tour with? If so, why those bands or artists?
OMG! There are so many! Keeping it within the realms of plausible possibility (so the punk scene), let’s say we’d LOVE to tour with Against Me!, Spanish Love Songs, The Menzingers, Thrice and The Wonder Years. They’ve all influenced us in some way and their crowds some likely to be receptive to what we play, so they all feel like the potential for a really good time. I’d personally love to bring Spanish Love Songs and Teenage Wrist to Australia for the first time too. We’d love to collaborate with any of those acts, clearly, but we’d also be super interested in what we could conjure with Aussie icons Paul Kelly and Daniel Johns as well as Turnstile and the vocal powerhouse that is Hayley Williams.
What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment as a band?
This is a tricky one to answer because every song or record released and every show played, feels like a milestone in itself, but if you’re looking for ‘tentpole’ achievements, I’d say playing the ‘Full Tilt’ festival, selling out hometown shows on our ‘This Is What Honesty Sounds Like’ run, working with Wiretap Records, touring interstate and getting songs spun on the national radio station triple j. I remember thinking as a pimply teenager that if I could do one of those things, I’d be so happy. There are still a lot of things left on that teenage dream list though, so here’s to ticking off a few more in 2023.
What is your creative process like? How do you find inspiration or get in the proper mindset for songwriting? The writing process varies quite a lot for us, especially in the wake of the last couple of pandemic-impacted years, but typically I’ll have written some lyrics and have an idea of a melody and perhaps a few chords that I want to attach to it and I’ll bring that to Dean, who is a far superior musician to me and we’ll workshop an initial arrangement. We’ll then bring that into the room and build out the song as a group, doing pre-pro demos in Dean’s studio and testing the songs out live. We’ll then take them into the studio and work with our producers to refine them even more. As for what inspires those initial ideals, those initial lyrics or melodies, they tend to come to me as a wave of inspiration, usually at the tail end of some heightened state of emotional duress or excess, which ties into the cathartic nature of our songwriting. I wish I knew how to conjure it intentionally, without having to live those experiences, but at present, I don’t.
I can’t speak to what inspires the others to write, but I can say that the sheer volume of musical ideas that Dean can conjure is breathtaking to me and watching the way he, Megs, Ben and Michael play off each other in the writing room and live, always amazes me. They’ve got a bit of a special language, the rest of the band, sometimes at practice, I’ll just stop singing and watch and listen and be thankful for getting to create music with them.
Is there any advice another band or musician has given you that resonated with you? If so, would you like to share it? I feel bad that I can’t remember who this piece of advice came from specifically, but a while ago someone told me not to be afraid of the unknown when writing a song, the song will tell you where it wants to go, so follow it there. That’s pretty stellar advice.
I’m also quite fond of the Eddie Van Halen quote “There’s a reason it’s called music theory and not music fact”.
Do you have any advice or something you’d like to say to people just starting their music careers?
Dare to be yourself, and back your creative instincts. Don’t be afraid to do something different, the world is waiting for your art. Also remember to celebrate the wins and enjoy the journey, don’t get too caught up in streaming statistics, however many streams you have, tickets you’ve sold or shows you’ve played, every single one of them involves someone electing to spend some of the most finite resources on earth, their time, with your art. That is as big of a compliment as they could ever pay you. Appreciate it.