Interview: Chris Wallace of Southeast Desert Metal (NT) on breaking the isolation through touring

Southeast Desert Metal singer/guitarist Chris Wallace is introducing the basics of his Indigenous language, Arrernte. “In our language,” he says, “If I say ‘Werte’, it means ‘greetings to you’. You greet me back with ‘Mwere’. That means, ‘How you been?’”

The Arrernte people’s traditional land is located in the centre of Northern Territory, including Alice Springs and its surrounding towns. Wallace lives 80 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs in the small community of Santa Teresa, known in Arrernte as Lytentye Purte (pronounced Jinga Porta). “We’re about another 180 or maybe 240 km from the Simpson Desert,” Wallace adds. It’s no wonder why Southeast Desert Metal are called “The most isolated heavy metal band in the world”; an isolating they’ll break from for their upcoming tour

Wallace is a big fan of heavy metal; his ringtone is a shredding solo, and his guitar is modelled on the signature circle-patterned Epiphone Les Paul played by Zak Wylde. It was his uncles who first introduced him to the genre, with “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC particularly capturing his attention. It’s a love he passed down to his nephews and bandmates, guitarist Gavin Hayes, drummer Robert Wallace, and bassist Gary Bird.

“I used to teach them a bit of music at school and taught them guitar,” he says. “They started when they were small and wanted to create their own style to play. I used to be in a local band called Ltynetye Apurta Band. We split up, and then these young fellas came and asked me, ‘Can we start a band with ya?’ I asked them what music they were into, and they said, ‘We like metal’. So, we started jamming alone and played a couple of cover songs, but my singing was crap,” he laughs. “From there, we started getting a bit better, a bit more metal, and we started writing our own songs.”

The band began jamming outside of Wallace’s house; cables run from power points inside the house to their outdoor practice space. “We don’t have shade or nothing, we just play under the sun. The amplifiers get hot, and we get hot. I even get sunburnt because I’ve got fair skin,” he laughs. “That was where we hosted Rage. We set up an old lounge, had a bonfire, and were under the stars.” The noise attracts the attention of their neighbours and even the local police. “Even the cops come out and sit down and have a listen. They check us out and ask, ‘Are youse drinking?’”

Police harassment of the Indigenous population is one of the issues the band has tackled with their music. Across their two albums, their 2015 self-titled debut and last year’s Break The Silence, Wallace has howled lyrics addressing the Indigenous suicide and drug epidemic, racism, and colonisation, topics he admits are “difficult to write”. Their latest album’s title-track addresses the erasure of Indigenous history, opening with percussion from traditional clapping sticks. “”Break The Silence” is about indigenous history and the lack of information on it. It’s not really being taught in the schools,” he says. “I write about what’s happening now for the younger generation and about our stories. Share our beliefs and messages with the younger generation – don’t take drugs and find a better path.”

Southeast Desert Metal will spread their messages and riffs when they break their isolation to tour Australia. On their first tour, the band was introduced to new sights and temperatures. “On our first tour we went to Mount Buffalo [in Victoria], and that was fucking freezing, I can tell you that,” he chuckles. For their second tour, the band will make their Tasmanian debut, playing as part of the Mona Foma Festival. “I heard its cold down there all the time. I might have to take my big woolly jacket, I suppose. I’ll look a bit like an eskimo,” he laughs.

The biggest difference for the band is the crowd sizes will be much bigger than they’re used to. “We’ve played small festivals and bush bashes here with Indigenous bands from all over come and play. The crowd’s pretty big, but not really as big as what we’re going to play, I suppose. I told the fellas, keep calm, it might be different,” he laughs. “I might have to play with my eyes closed.”

Break The Silence is out now. Follow the band on Facebook here.

Southeast Desert Metal Australian Tour Dates 2019

January 12: Vinnie’s Dive Bar, Gold Coast, QLD (w/ Snakes and Hell Machine)
January 13: Frankie’s Pizza, Sydney, NSW (w/ Snakes and Hell Machine)
January 17: MONA Gallery, Hobart, TAS
January 18: Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS
January 19: Mona Foma Festival, Launceston, TAS
January 24: Bendigo Hotel, Collingwood, VIC
January 24: Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC (supporting Cosmic Psychos)
January 25: BLAZE Fest, Ballarat, VIC
January 27: The Espy, St Kilda, VIC (supporting Cosmic Psychos)
January 28: Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC (supporting Cosmic Psychos)

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