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There was once a small record store located in the Sunshine Coast’s run-down town of Nambour called The Time Machine. Old school vinyl lined the dingy, peeling walls and the carpet was covered in dirt. In the basement, bands would play, young, trendily-clad music fans (starved of live music venues in the area) congregating between concrete walls adorned with fading band posters. 

If you grew up as a kid with good music taste in the area, The Time Machine was your go-to. It welcomed the weirdos and the misfits and anyone who drifted from the clean girl aesthetic and blonde haired surfer crowd. It’s also where Eamon Sandwith and Josh Hardy of the ultra-Australian punk rock band, The Chats, used to frequent.

“That’s where me and Josh would just go record shopping really,” Eamon says, despite the majority of the band growing up in the Coolum/Noosaville area. “That’s where all the good record stores were close to us”. Apart from trawling for records, there wasn’t much else to do, apart from, maybe, pay a visit to the train station Macca’s that attracted the best and worst of Nambour.

“I walk over to Macca’s to get something to eat / Someone racked my go card and stole the shoes on my feet,” go the lyrics in “Nambored”, off The Chats’ 2017 second EP, Get This in Ya!!. “Nambored, I can’t take any more.”

That’s the talent of The Chats: they take seemingly banal Australian things – growing up in small towns, waiting for the train, or having a pub feed – and turn them into raucous and relatable two-minute punk anthems.

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When the band hit the big time with “Smoko” in 2017, they renewed an era of Australian punk that went arm in arm with quintessentially Aussie bogan humour (think “Ciggy Butt Brain”, The Big Lez Show, and Brown Cardigan. Very soon after, The Chats went from hangouts in the much-touted “bong shed” to playing parties in exchange for a carton of beers to tours with legacy rock bands like Guns N’ Roses.

“We never expected anyone outside of our immediate friend group to like us,” Eamon says in that unmistakeable Sunshine Coast drawl that’s somewhere between coastal and regional dialect (a symptom of a place that fits somewhere between a country town and a beachside tourist hub). “I take (it) a day at a time. I try not to think about it too much because then you get all spun out. I think it’s better to just try and be grounded and talk to your mates and stuff. Just try and write songs.”

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Six years after their “Smoko” success, a few things have changed for The Chats. None of the band members live in the same city anymore: Eamon is in Brisbane, Josh in Melbourne, and Matt (Boggis) on the Sunshine Coast. (“How does that work writing songs?” “We don’t really practice too much anyway,” Eamon replies.)

They’ve done three international tours and been taken under the wing of Cosmic Psychos (“They really taught us a lot,” says Eamon); they’ve met Iggy Pop and count Dave Grohl, Alex Turner, and Josh Homme as fans; their music has been covered by YUNGBLUD and they’ve even hung out with Queens of the Stone Age (“They’re awesome. They’ve always been really cool to us.”)

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Eamon’s also joined another band, The Unknowns, which houses two members of The Chats, but it’s a band that’s been around for a couple of years. While the frontman still prioritises The Chats, he lights up when talking about The Unknowns. Unlike the wry, larrikin observations seeping through the songs of the former, The Unknowns lean more towards 60’s rock and was created by the band’s guitarist, Josh.

“They were sort of the only band around the Sunny Coast area where we lived that was playing rock and roll and was that sort of age,” he says, adding that they’d played a few shows at The Time Machine. “(I) kind of watched the band grow throughout the years.”

Joining the band seems to be an obvious reprieve from frontman duties for Eamon as he takes on the role of bass guitarist (“It’s cool having a different sort of outlet. I get to play guitar in that band so there’s a little more freedom…you can do some solos and riffs,” he admits), but it’s also emblematic of the interconnectedness of genuine DIY musicians.

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In 2019, The Chats created their own label, Bargain Bin Records, so they could release their own music and help out music mates at the same time.

“I’ve had mates in bands (tell me) they’ve finished a record and then the label doesn’t want to put it out. So they’ve got to start again. And I just think that sounds ridiculous. I think that’s really stupid,” Eamon says. Hence the name Bargain Bin. “You know when you go to a record store, and they have like the bargain bin section, which is like all of the records that no one wants? It’s kind of a self deprecating, kind of funny thing.

“So yeah, I think it’s pretty important to not really have anyone in your ear telling you how to make stuff sound because nine times out of 10 it will be someone who doesn’t really get it in the first place.”

From the Bargain Bin comes music from bands like The Unknowns, Boondall Boys, and King Stingray. The first two will be on a smorgasbord lineup of bands touring the East Coast in February in celebration of the label’s fifth year.

“We’ve all worked with the label at some point or we’ve toured with them or we’re just mates with them,” Eamon says, “They’ve all released something on the label at some point.”

And as for a new album, Eamon’s been writing.

“I reckon we’ll probably make a record this year. I don’t know if it’ll come out this year, though,” he reveals. “It’s not too dissimilar from our other stuff. You know, rock and roll, fast and snotty, and stupid.”

The Chats’ Bargain Bin Tour heads to Maroochydore, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney, Castlemaine, Frankston, and Melbourne through February. Ticket information can be found here. 

From Rolling Stone AU/NZ

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