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An interview with Alice Gifford - Broadcaster/ Writer

December 10, 2018

Tell us about yourself in your own words. 

My name is Alice. I live in Sydney. I co-host a radio show on community radio FBI called Dead Air with my buddy Dean Patrick Crowe and we’re also in a band together called PURE MASS. I love current affairs and longform journalism and music and pop culture. I love reading and listening and talking. I love my friends and my partner and my dog Manny.  


Are you studying at the moment?

I am, several years into an undergrad. I like to pick up extra curricular courses and stop working towards my degree regularly since I moved back to Sydney from Albury. I’m still studying journalism and I started that when I was 16 through TAFE while I was still in high school. I’m still trying to find the educational structure that works right for me so I’m kind of searching for that alongside studying journalism, maybe forever.


Can you tell us more about your job?

I work in media intelligence – monitoring and analytics – for clients in the public sector, primarily the NSW Government. I used to work as a broadcast monitor in talk back radio specifically which could be daily hell but also super interesting. There are surprisingly often parallels between the complaints of older audiences of talk back radio and the younger folks in our communities. The hostility that they feel is directed towards them is often so mirrored. You’d get to hear talkback listeners basically laying out their fears and there were so many similarities, feeling or fearing being forced out of communities and public spaces, about not being able to afford what they need or that their anxieties or voices weren’t heard, that they weren’t relevant or losing social capital. It highlighted how everyone is scared and that doesn’t necessarily pass with age. Though working for the government or a corporation has always been an awkward contrast to my values or activities privately, and jamming myself into those workplaces has been challenging, it has always felt like a worthwhile challenge to find ways for them to coexist or inform each other. I think it is really valuable to know how things work at governmental levels. My work gives me an opportunity to see thousands of news stories each day, to see where money is going, statistics and research findings, laws being made or policies outlined. It keeps me from settling into one bubble or echo chamber.  I think the most interesting part of my job is that I get to see how people are talking, the words they use and how that impacts people. I get to see how people use semiotic associations in language to connect or alienate people. It’s a quantitative reminder that your language has an impact and is worth using with intention.


Can you tell us more about your involvement with FBI radio and Dead Air?

I met Dean going to shows at our favourite and now displaced record store called Black Wire Records and we became buddies there. Dean had been hosting Dead Air for about a year. Dean is the best - he has a fantastic ear, is great at finding new music but he also listens really well. We kind of bounced off each other really well in person and loved a lot of the same music and ideas. My journalistic background brought the sort of structural side to Dead Air for interviews and research which compliments against him I think. FBI is a primarily volunteer funded, organised and run radio station in Redfern. It’s an important part of Sydney local culture and they give us a lot of free reign with Dead Air. Dean was always great at locating new music but didn’t necessarily know his potential as an interviewer. Then when I got involved and was particularly interested in the cultural sides of scenes and in music, we started planning ahead and putting more time into research and archiving and the interviews took on that tone too. 

I get questioned on my credentials to be on Dead Air pretty often and they’re not really questions that equally get levelled at Dean. Considering how useless a microaggression like that generally is I think it’s a good example of why it’s important to moderate your language. Dean and I bear in mind when scripting for Dead Air that a lot of the default descriptors for loud or intense music have violent or masculine connotations and that we’re in a position to perpetuate them by using them on the show. We could potentially make a listener feel like something isn’t made for them by editorialising. I’m not saying we’re hardline or have perfected it but it’s a worthwhile practice. I loved our interview with Divide And Dissolve where they absolutely panned the metal scene for being an empty clique they had no interest in being included in.

Fortunately for me the way I was raised and the way I got into these spaces, the idea of a uniform or credentials only ever seems bizarre, but that also speaks to my privilege. Apart from a handful of geniuses telling me that I shouldn’t be at certain gigs alone or based on the way I looked it hasn’t been as explicit. I think the harder people insist on the non-essential parts of something like a genre, or a scene, or an aesthetic, the shallower or more fragile the thing itself or their relationship to it likely is.


Tell us about the touring and booking you’ve been involved in.

I first paused uni and moved to Sydney for a job with Blue Murder Touring doing mostly press writing and promotion. Blue Murder brought out mostly 90s US punk and metal bands and manages Sydney band Frenzal Rhomb. I think my favourite tours were with The Pogues and later when I started tour managing our comedy tours with Misspelt Youth were Beth Stelling and Harmontown. I love podcasts and longform anything. They were just a really hard working group of people working in a fairly new medium that were really curious about how people received what they were putting out. They recognised that they existed because of their audience and asked heaps of questions to work with them for the shows. Those tours taught me a lot. I think if you wanted to work in music or comedy touring the best place to start is by going to shows, following the industry and offering to help out organising at local levels. Enthusiasm and participation go a long way and the worst thing that could happen is you get to see a bunch of comedy and music. 


You recently started performing in a new band. Is that the first experience you’ve had performing live music?

The only one worth mentioning. It’s interesting, when you put yourself in an environment or structure that’s pre-existing like a band you find yourself projecting that ‘a band does these things - they play these shows, members are this confident and this capable.’  It’s interesting to insert yourself into that with a whole personality behind it or in my case 29 years of not having done it before but having spent all of that time watching it. It didn’t map on exactly how I thought it would. I generally have a habit of over analysing and over investigating the whys and hows of how things work. I have at times over analysed the band to points where I’m not entirely sure if it’s something I’d prefer to just be watching. I’ve got a very supportive bunch of band mates. Josh, Dean and Kaylene have been in a bunch of bands before and they’ve been very willing to help me discover the space and help me figure out how it works. 

I think I’ve experienced that it’s hard to try something for the first time when you’re a bit older, there is less room to try new things or to suck at them. There’s an expectation that once you’re doing something and performing it that it’s up for judgement or analysis which is mostly fair. Sometimes people film our shows or comment on them and that can combine with my own insecurities to discourage me. But it’s been interesting to put myself out there like that, to see what it looks like from a performance side. It makes me appreciate what musicians and organisers have been doing all this time I’ve been watching them and the energy they put in. 


How did you come to be in the band?

Dean and I spend a lot of time together and I often sing along to things loudly, that’s likely how. We have similar tastes in music as Josh and we wanted to make some weird, noisey, brash sounding The Body or Big Brave worship band. Then we asked Kaylene in on trumpet which brought it all together. 

Our second show was organised by One Brick Today and Black Wire records at Beatdisc Records with IDYLLS, Arafura and Passing which was such a dream lineup of bands and organisers. We’ve been very lucky to have their support as a new strange band with a handful songs.


What’s the creative process like in the band?

I personally find it challenging. But only conceptually. In practice it’s really interesting and incredibly generous on the other band member’s parts. It’s part of that constant judgement thing where you aren’t entirely sure if you actually have that many songs in you and then there’s a thing in your head that goes ‘well if you don’t have that many songs in you well you should stop playing in a band’ and you go ‘well what if I push through  this wall - what’s on the other side of that?’

I think a lot of my anxieties in it come from working in media and seeing the constant flow of boring but demoralising criticisms that are made, working to maintain white men as the neutral standard, and to project any variable from that as an alternative. Dominant culture is slippery and proliferated that it often seems insurmountable. But on the chance that this is the root of my insecurity I’m encouraged to keep working through it.


What sort of themes do you look at in your songwriting?

My favourite of our songs was about a recent realisation of how indiscriminate patriarchal oppression is, how harmful it is to all people and how exhausting and performative. We’re only a new band but I honestly can’t stop writing about the patriarchy. I really can’t it’s interesting. It just keeps showing new faces to me as I get older. I can’t stop learning about it and reading about it and realising it’s head rearing in spaces that I didn’t notice previously and wanting to tell people about it to save them some time. I tried to write a song about my dog recently but it’s morphed into something new now. As long as we have Tiny by Canine we don’t need a song about my dog. 


What do you want to say through the band?

PURE MASS is so distorted that you couldn’t really hear it anyway, but I appreciate there is still something bigger that comes across. I think I’d like to explore and try things out and show that there are spaces that are encouraging of those early stages. I’d like to use the band to express gratitude and recognition to the things that inform or support it. I would have liked to think that I could lean harder in to performing and I would still like to see that come out because the band is still quite young. I felt more competent in our second show then I did in our later 2 and that’s probably just getting purchase on yourself. Most people, especially at these shows, they just want to see you do stuff. The majority of people that come to our shows want to see us, they want to see people try some stuff out. That’s one of the great things about the DIY or local creative scenes, people are making stuff and other people want to see it and it’s just the most obvious match that there could possibly be. I’m still finding my voice in the band so I’ll let you know. But what we’d like to say through radio is maybe a bit more developed. 


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I’m really grateful for the effort that people put in to writing to explore ideas or document histories and theories, I want to read them all. I’ve found feminist theories can be really encouraging because it can be an explanation for a blurred line between my limitations and the limitations that are constructed or enforced on me. The state of discourse in Australia when it comes to parity or equality or equity  is often stuck around ‘does it even exist though?’ So you’re starting your conversations from that place as opposed to the more pressing ones or what you actually wanted to talk about. It’s tiring and challenging for me so I can only imagine the experience for marginalised folk just mucking around in this agenda set subset of ideas. So I think the biggest challenge for me is getting a clarity between my actual limitations. What do I actually want as opposed to what I am being refused access to? What am I actually good at versus what have I been trained out of thinking that I could do? Do I have anxiety to a point of issue or is anxiety the correct response in this environment? Is anxiety pushing me to do the work that I’m doing in a good way or is this unreasonable? I’m pretty sure that having a quavering voice on Dead Air wasn’t great radio for the first little while but once you push through that part you get to work on what you really want to talk about. You realise that the audience just wants to hear about some music and they don’t give a shit who you are which is a relief, they kind of shouldn’t. Neutrality is its own feat.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

I wish I had the clarity of phrase that should be cultivated by someone who loves journalism as much as I do. I think it’s two things. Just to work as though nothing is pushing against you and see what you come up with, and then to find a community of people that want to see it. Your audience almost definitely exists and hopefully they’re also a community you can support and invest in too. It comes up on radio a lot that the best way to get started in a scene is to muck in and support it. Find your audience, because they are there and I’m one of them. I’m totally one of them. If you make the thing you’re pretty sure is the thing you want to make and keep working on it and crafting it, when you put your first draft out there you’ll start to meet a community of people that are interested in it, it starts conversations and then you go from there. That’s how you get into books like this. That’s how you get into company and friendships like these. Figure out what you want to say and then absolutely scream it. And if it’s music, record it and we’ll play it on Dead Air. 


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