Dr Sure's Unusual Practice: Science Lab-Punk With a Hyper-Agitated Pulse
Obscure art-punks Dr Sure's Unusual Practice returned earlier this month with BUBBLE, an album bandleader Dougal Shaw recorded solely in solitude over the course of two weeks, delving further into electronic elements more than ever before and blending together fractured shards of synth-punk and krautrock. Ahead of the dual album launch with fellow post-punks Kosmetika, we caught up with Shaw to discuss everything related to Dr Sure's Unusual Practice from the new album to making use of both solo and full band line-ups, and to also opening for the Scientists back in February.
The brilliantly versatile Naarm/Melbourne punk outfit Dr Sure's Unusual Practice are back with their new album, BUBBLE, a seven-track effort constructed solely by bandleader Dougal Shaw while in solitude over the course of two weeks. If you're not familiar, the band makes use of both solo and full band lineups which includes Shaw on vocals, guitar, and synth while backed by guitarists Mathias Dowle and Tali Harding-Hone, bassist-saxophonist Jake Suriano, and drummer Miranda Holt. The new album shows Shaw delving further into electronic elements more than ever before, blending together fractured shards of mutated synth-punk, krautrock, and ambient music. Released on Shaw's DIY label Marthouse Records (Gut Health, Heir Traffic, It Thing), BUBBLE leans further into programmed drums and heavy synths while expanding upon the band's spiraling and surreal rush of absurdity that's packed with tongue-in-cheek, on-point observational commentary and motorik tension that moves from one realm to the next.
Ahead of the dual album launch with fellow post-punks Kosmetika, we caught up with Shaw to discuss everything related to Dr Sure's Unusual Practice from the new album to making use of both solo and full band line-ups and to also opening for the Scientists back in February.
Paperface Zine: I understand the seven tracks on BUBBLE were recorded solely by you in solitude over a two-week period. Can you give us a bit of insight on how that went and how this record came together?
Dougal Shaw: Yeah it was lockdown times. I've avoided calling it a lockdown album but that's the truth to it [laughs]. My partner spent five months in Queensland during the longest lockdown in Naarm/Melbourne. I was losing my marbles a bit, all my work was shut down, not doing much creative stuff, just surviving. My shed/studio flooded and the carpet started getting moldy and that kind of gave me a purpose. I ripped everything out of there and got some self levelling concrete and raised the floor a couple of inches and sealed it up. Once I set it back up and rigged everything up it was like, it'd never been so organized. I had about a two-week burst where I just spent every day in there. I made these seven tracks and another album of more like instrumental/krauty/ambient stuff. Then they sat on a hard drive for about two years before I finally got the cajones to chuck it out. Maybe in a couple more years, I'll put the other one out.
PZ: How has it been bringing the tracks you solely do by yourself to the band and then translating them live? Is anything done differently?
DS: Yeah! It's really fun. We got a fifth member now, basically just so we could try these tracks. We didn't have enough hands to pull it off, but yeah it's loose, there's a bit of reverence for the demos, but really just figuring out what works and running with it. Doing some synth bits as guitars or bass or whatever works. And no drum machines so obviously live drums gives it a much more lively feel. Yeah, I feel like it changes them heaps — faster, louder, etc. But they still end up having a different feel to the band albums, bit more groove based, bit less abrasive.
PZ: Talk to me about teaming up with fellow Naarm/Melbourne post-punks Bench Press last fall for A Split 7" Between Friends. Was that something you guys wanted to do a bit since touring together in 2019?
DS: Yeah we spoke about doing something together for a while and we'd lined up a show together that was going to be our Europe send-off. It was all fairly fortuitous, Jack Stavrakis (Bench Press singer) called me and was like we have these two songs ready to go, we're thinking of putting one out before the show and I had just made two tunes that week and by the end of the call we'd hatched up the plan to do a split. We had four weeks until docs went overseas and three-and-half until the show so it was tight. I'd just made three to four different records with our local plant Zenith, through my label Marthouse, so I was in the good books and managed to call in a favor. They smashed them out in three weeks and we were on. Record time!
PZ: How did the European tour go last fall?
DS: It was unreal, first run overseas and we didn't know what to expect, but we got a really warm welcome. I think it helped our cause having the last couple of records out on ETT (Germany) and Swish Swash (France). We were surprised how many people knew we existed. The tour was fairly relentless, but it's pretty amazing to do more shows in a month that you can do in a year in Australia. My voice was hanging on by a thread. It put into perspective how accessible touring and working in music can be over there. So rad to see these fully developed networks for touring. A group effort with bookers, venues, and promoters in each city, tour managers and drivers, people doing it for a living — there's a lot of jobs that are non-existent back home, especially in like "underground" music. If you're doing music here, you’re probably not doing it as a career choice, but over there you see that it's possible.
PZ: Back in February, you supported the Scientists for their show in Castlemaine during their Negativity tour. What was that like?
DS: It was pretty inspirational to be honest, they've been doing it for like half a century and they're still killing it. The show was rock solid. They've kind of existed on the fringes for that whole time as well, plugging away. We had some good laughs, there was this weird kind of wormhole moment where me and Miz, and Siz were chatting with Kim, Boris and Leanne and we realized we were all like doppelgangers. It's fuckin weird!
PZ: That is actually sort of creepy now seeing the photos! You're just as ambitious as they are too! What has it been like splitting duties fronting this band and managing Marthouse Records, which has grown tremendously since you first started it.
DS: I feel like the label is an extension of the music at this point. I started it to put out my own music and then my friends' music and through the process of doing the label totally DIY, I've learned so much. I don't do heaps of releases just because I don't have the capacity, It's just me. I like working with bands whose music I really dig and I'll only take it on when I know I have as much time and energy to put into someone's art as I would into my own. I don't want to half ass it. It feels like a good way to give back to the music community and to give people the guidance that I wish I had when I was first starting out. I never intended for it to be a money-making operation or anything, it's just a small way to contribute to music and culture and all the things I love.
PZ: Backtracking now, how exactly did Dr Sure's Unusual Practice come about and what was the initial vision when forming?
DS: It started as a solo project for me, it was kind of a place to put all my weirder music or more personal or political stuff that didn't really have a home, as well as my art and films. It was a no rules, no genres kind of space that I could just follow whatever trail I was on and chuck it under the same banner.
PZ: As individual musicians, what's something that's unique that you admire about this current lineup?
DS: Everyone's throwing down big energy, we're into it, and I think when you're putting out that energy, the people in the audience can switch off a bit, there's no feeling of trying to look cool or perform a certain way, it's just real. The band are all solid, but they're not holding back trying to play perfectly, everyone's kinda bringing their own bit of chaos.
PZ: Back in May '22, you reissued Scomo Goes To Hawaii / While Aus Burns which were both originally released on tape. Take me through what it was like recording these tracks back in 2019-2020 and why you decided it was time to reissue them?
DS: Both the tapes were recorded over 2-3 days, a couple of weeks apart. Half the continent was on fire and our prime minister, kind of like the president for you guys in the states at the time, went on holiday to Hawaii and tried to keep it a secret. A lot of the fire services outside major cities are run by volunteers, they weren't getting paid, and they were out fighting fires over Christmas. Initially I just made the Scomo one as a way to raise some quick funds. I was feeling fairly useless and thinking of what I could do to help with my totally non-firefighting related skills, so I made some dumb songs written from a first person perspective of a leader in Hawaii sipping piña coladas and sending thoughts and prayers. It was all made with one synthesizer, one drum machine, and a harmonica mic into a delay pedal. Just quick and simple. Chucked it on Bandcamp the next day for $5 and raised over $1500. The other tape While Aus Burns was written after Christmas, after driving 3000km's from my hometown in Darumbal country back to Naarm/Melbourne while the fires were still raging. I guess it's a bit heavier content-wise — it's me processing this hectic torched continent I had just witnessed. The reissue came about thanks to Swish Swash Records in France, they loved the songs and wanted to press it and I was like hell yeah, run it. It's nice that they got another life, I never intended it to be a proper release so it feels like a win to have documented that moment in history and to be able to slap a likeness of the sneaky sunburned coward on the cover. Never forget.
PZ: It was really great to see a live album come together for your previous full-length album Remember The Future last fall. What was it like curating that and polishing up the live recordings from the album's release show in December '21?
DS: Yeah stoked with how it came together. It was recorded at the album launch and it was also the last show with our original guitarist Jack McCullagh, who moved home to Queensland. I wanted to document the band in that form because we didn't really know what was next. There's actually a full concert film as well, I guess I'll chuck it up online soon? It looks sick, we had a dream team that night from the stage decoration to the sound and lighting to the crew filming. Should probably get that up.
PZ: When putting that record together during the various lockdowns in Naarm/Melbourne, was was there an essence to capture your blistering live sound in the studio?
DS: Definitely, that was the idea going into that record. It was the first time we had all recorded as a band. We'd been playing non-stop, touring, cramming in vans, and sleeping on floors. There's an intuitive thing that comes from spending all that time together that's hard to capture if you're layering shit up by your self. So we just got in a room and recorded it as it is.
PZ: What else is on the horizon for you and the Dr Sure gang later in the year? Also what can we expect from Marthouse this year?
DS: BUBBLE launch tonight at the Northcote Social Club! This is a double album launch with our pals Kosmetika who just dropped a banging LP. Working on a couple of albums at the moment with the band, hopefully get some more stuff out this year. Some touring coming up, AUS tour with Bad//Dreems and some overseas stuff on the horizon. Main priority is hugging my little baby at the moment, so just figuring out what I can fit in around that.
BUBBLE is out now on Marthouse Records.