Look, you've seen the video. It's been watched over a nine and a half million times on YouTube - everybody's seen it. If you haven't seen it directly then you've heard the song, blaring out of somebody else's phone speakers as they show it to their mate in the back corner of the smoking area at the pub, or while waiting for the bus. A few years ago, it was bloody everywhere. Suddenly, everyone was on smoko.
On the surface, The Chats' track was an odd contender for a viral hit. The 'Smoko' video was extremely low-budget and deeply, almost obnoxiously Australian, its lyrics assuming a familiarity with local slang and laid-back coastal behaviour. But 'Smoko' is catchy as hell. Anyone could tell you that. So it spread, kind of like an infection - a theme which, incidentally, the Chats have delved into a couple of times on their new album 'High Risk Behaviour'. We'll come back to that, though.
The standard career path for Australian bands in their infancy tends to go like this; write a couple of songs, move to Melbourne. The Chats have not followed that trend.
"We're on the Sunny Coast," says guitarist Josh Price. "Still at home."
The Sunny Coast, for the uninitiated, is Queensland's Sunshine Coast, the beachside setting for the 'Smoko' video and the source of much of the Chats' power. While the band's appeal has been broad, a lot of the themes that 'High Risk Behaviour' draws on are deeply regional. Though references like Ross River fever are widely applicable to Australia as a whole and the south pacific in general, there are also moments of hyper-specificity, like '4573' - a song in honour of the Chats' Peregian Beach postcode. For Queenslanders of a certain age, this local identification is fairly standard behaviour (Your fearless correspondent, for example, is a 4078). '4573' conjures an image of a day in the life on the Sunshine Coast, with lyrics about drinking longnecks (that's just a big beer bottle, to you Brits) in stifling humidity, backed by a clattering drumbeat and guitars that sound warped, wriggling like heat waves rising off bitumen.
The band also go deep on Queensland culture on 'Billy Backwash's Day', which takes aim at a particular kind of regional lad behaviour.
"They're different sorts of lads, y'know? [They're the] guys hanging out at the bus stop and beating up people for their money, just little rats about the town. They're little kids trying to be cool, and it's just not really cool," Josh says.
The character in 'Billy Backwash's Day' embodies a bullying masculinity, and a deliberate close-mindedness played off as bullish posturing with phrases like 'You can't call me a racist, 'cause I discriminate them all the same.' The Chats are good at this kind of casual evisceration. They layer things up with humour, and the subject doesn't notice the barb until it's in them.
There are a lot of characters on 'High Risk Behaviour'. It's an inarguably realist album, true to life in its descriptions and laissez-faire attitudes. Although, as Josh points out in relation to STI anthem 'The Clap', "60% of the album is written about actual things, and 40% of the album we've gone nuts with it."
Of course, you would say that, wouldn't you? Infections and illnesses seem to be a preoccupation here, though. Aside from 'The Clap' there's the snotty, tongue-in-cheek 'Ross River', about a friend of the band who was struck down by the titular mosquito-borne fever. Ross River is kind of like the flu, or glandular fever, in that it can come with chronic fatigue and sometimes requires you to lie down at home a lot. Leaving no man behind, The Chats decided that the best way to cheer up their house-bound mate would be to write a song about his affliction. While it didn't exactly solve his problems, it seems he did appreciate the attempt, at least.
"He liked the song," says Josh. "We actually get him up sometimes when he comes to a gig, and we tell everyone that he's got Ross River and it's highly contagious, and you're all fucked, you're all gonna get it."
He laughs. In some ways, this friend was the Chats' true patron. It turns out Ross River fever benefits us all.
"We used to jam out of his shed. When he got Ross River, he had to stay home from work, and we used to come over and jam because he was at home and we didn't have jobs," Josh says.
The Chats do a lot of work in unlikely places, it seems. 'High Risk Behaviour' was recorded in one, too.
"We recorded it in a little industrial estate in Geelong with a guy named Billy from Anti Fade Records," Josh explains. "We just live tracked everything, like three takes of the songs and pick the best one, sort of thing. It took us over a long period of time because we had lots of gigs and stuff in between."
He's underplaying it, in standard laid-back Chats fashion. Some of those gigs were supporting the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and Iggy Pop throughout Australia. The big question on everyone's mind, of course, is; did they get to meet Iggy Pop's pet cockatoo, Biggy Pop?
"No," Josh laughs. "We didn't get to meet Iggy Pop's pet cockatoo, unfortunately."
What a letdown. Still, we suppose there is something to be said for going from jamming in a backyard shed on the Sunshine Coast to opening up for the arguably less exciting member of the Pop family on tour. Although as Josh points out, once you acclimatise, everything seems less overwhelming. 'Normal' is subjective.
"You meet all these people like that, and you look up to them still, but you know, at the end of the day they're just people," he says.
Still, in some ways, the momentum they've picked up since 'Smoko' has turned into such a sweeping wave that The Chats haven't had much time to get to grips with it. It could still seem a little unreal until recently.
"It's been a wild ride," Josh says, "I guess we've come to the point now where we've realised that it's actually happening."
"You sort of get like 'all right, well, it's happening. Let's give it a go'."
With 'High Risk Behaviour', the Chats are taking a big swing. If the story so far is anything to go by, it's set to pay off.
Taken from the April issue of Dork. The Chats' debut album 'High Risk Behaviour' is out 27th March.
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