Luke Skinner, guitarist and singer with local psychedelic-garage band Atolls, and guitarist with King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, isn’t worried about being lumped in with the broader garage rock revival that’s rolled out of Geelong over the last few years, which includes The Murlocs, The Living Eyes and King Gizzard.
“I like the association,” Skinner says. “I grew up there, and all those guys are good friends, and from about the age of 16 we’ve been playing in each other’s bands.” That said, the Geelong revival isn’t a narrow linear garage rock concept. “It does tend to get called a ‘garage revival’, which is true in some ways, but the music’s that’s coming out of Geelong is a lot more diverse than that description would suggest,” Skinner says.
Skinner formed Atolls last year when he realised he needed another outlet for his fledgling catalogue of songs. While Skinner enjoys his regular band job playing guitar with King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard – King Gizzard continues to build its reputation, both as a recording and live entity – Skinner realised he wanted his own band to explore his own songs. “I suppose Atolls started to form around mid-way through 2012,” he explains. “I just wanted an outlet for my songs – I wanted a side project, I guess. So I started jamming with the bass player, then we got a drummer, and we did a bit more rehearsing, and we played our first gig in October last year.”
While it’s definitely his band, Skinner confesses that the name of the band wasn’t his choice – though the name did turn out to have some subtle resonance with Skinner’s musical influences. “Actually, Ollie our bass player suggested it,” Skinner explains. “I’m really bad at coming up with names for bands, so when Ollie came up with Atolls, it just stuck with me. I really like one word names. And I guess that because of the association with bikinis, it’s got a bit of a surf connotation, so I liked that because I’m really into surf guitar,” he says.
Skinner says he didn’t have a particular influence in mind when he conceived of the group; with the opportunity to play and record, the band’s sound has grown from its nascent garage beginnings. “I didn’t have anything specifically in mind when we started out – there are lots of influences, but the sound has definitely honed since we’ve played more,” he says. In true garage style, Atolls put down its first recording in the lounge room of Skinner’s Geelong home. “It was just a home job,” Skinner says. “It was just in my lounge room with an 8-tracker. I was trying to capture everything naturally without needing to use any fancy equipment.”
Despite briefly sharing vocals in a now-defunct teenage band, Skinner had limited experience of being the front man in a band. “It was pretty daunting when we first started,” he says. “When you start playing, it’s a whole different thing, so it was a bit nerve-racking at first.” But with King Gizzard having the luxury of sporadic activity, Skinner has had the opportunity to develop Atolls into a ‘real’ band. “Now I always put as much into it as I have the time for,” he says. “King Gizzard only plays every three months or so, so I hope I can keep getting the time to work on Atolls.”
Consistent with its psychedelic overtures, Atolls is happy to explore the sonic shape and texture of its songs in a live environment. “I don’t consider myself a great guitar player, so I don’t get into doing heaps of guitar solos,” Skinner says. “But a few of the songs have extended break downs – though that’s more playing with rhythms and pedals. I feel that I can improvise in that way rather than with guitar solos,” he says.
This week Atolls will headline Dan Watt’s Watt’s On event at The Toff in Town. Joining Atolls on the bill will be Mesa Cosa, Grand Rapids and Clavians. “It’s an awesome lineup,” Skinner gushes. “I’ve been familiar with Mesa Cosa after seeing them play around for the last few years, and I’ve seen a couple of songs from Grand Rapids. I haven’t seen Clavians yet, but I’ve heard great things about them.”
In the modern world, with its indulgence of instantaneous communication, 24 hour news cycles and ridiculously ephemeral popular trends, it’s difficult to see past the end of the week, let alone consider where you’ll be in 10 years’ time. So when I ask Skinner what he thinks he’ll be doing in a decade, he’s understandably vague. “Geez, I don’t know!” Skinner laughs. “That’s a really long highway! I reckon I’ll definitely still be writing and recording music, maybe with my own home studio. Hopefully I’ll still be at it, and still doing stuff that people want to hear.”
BY PATRICK EMERY
ATOLLS headline Watt's On at the Toff In Town next Wednesday August 7, along with Mesa Cosa, Grand Rapids and Clavians.