Interview: How Did The Bird Fly’s Brock Rasmussen + The Colourful Writer

Interview/Words by Shannon-Lee Sloane {The Colourful Writer}

Sunshine Coast’s How Did The Bird Fly is the musical art project from the creative mind and talent of Brock Rasmussen. After many moons of making music in various Brisbane based punk rock and arthouse bands, Brock found himself on this new solo venture. After asking his son what he should call his new music project, he responded with “How Did The Bird Fly?” and in that moment, this special new musical journey was given its name.

HDTBF brings electro alternative rock in a whole new light, drawing elements from a broad mix of multicultural music including eastern keys, Mongolian chant, sitar’s, middle eastern percussion and more. Paired with Brock’s poetically deep, transient vocal you’ll find yourself immersed in a post modern psychedelic state with every listen. 

For me, I hear elements of The Tea Party and Incubus mixed with electronica in Brock’s first single, Indiana. The song is currently exclusively available on YouTube and will be officially released as a double single, along with What Will You Do Hippie? on November 24 – The singles give a glimmer of what’s to come from HDTBF’s debut album ‘Filoplume’ set for release next year. Though Brock tells us the album is a whole new experience in itself.

I spoke to Brock recently about the upcoming releases, about the Brisbane music scene he grew up in, about his earlier bands, about the amazing musicians he has collaborated with for this album and how music and spiritualism can go hand in hand. Read on to find out more…

So we’re here to talk about your solo musical project ‘How Did The Bird Fly’ – When was this particular project born? When did you first start making music under this name?

“Under the name I think you can probably go back through the bio and pick the date, but the tracks themselves I was actually writing probably around 2005 through to last year. I’ve drawn the tracks for the album and the single from across probably ten years of writing and picked out the stuff that was most interesting to me.” 

And that segues into my next question perfectly, which is that you’ve been making music for many moons, having been in various punk rock and arthouse style bands in Brisbane. The one I recall well was Wisecrak. When was Wisecrak around?

“That was like a High School project that turned into a proper band. I was a lyricist songwriter in that band in partnership with the musician which kind of segued through into some other projects where I did mostly lyrical work, so my early musical career was mostly songwriting based. As in song structure, form, lyrics and kind of constructing the framework of songs. I was never really involved in the musical side of things. And then around 2000 or thereabouts, I started studying sonology and audio recording and then I treated myself to branch out. But being a musician back then never really interested me a lot, although now it’s probably one of my prime focuses where I am actually really delving into my music.” 

So over that time, as you say, you’ve moved from writing the lyrics and you were the vocalist for Wisecrak and now moving onto where you are now, where you are enveloping the whole process, you’re writing the music, and singing  and doing the whole thing?

“Yeah it’s a real holistic approach. So near on two decades, I spent 10 years looking at words and poetry and philosophy quite deeply. Then I started to study the study of sonology, audio and recording. Then when I started looking at being a musician, you know I played traditional, through all those bands in the early years, Wisecrak and the main one that followed Wisecrak was probably Intentional Misuse. Which was a inner city Brisbane outfit that were an extremely good group and they had a whole album written and I came in and wrote the lyrics to that album straight on top and it was quite a good little product. So I played drums and I played bass and I played guitar but I never really resonated with any of that and so when I started to look at the musical aspect, what grabbed me most was electronics and that was kind of where this project now came to fruit. I actually omit using guitars quite a bit except for one of the tracks with Paul George (Tajuana Cartel). Apart from that, it is very much electronics and fused with a rhythm section.” 

So your music taste and style perhaps has changed a bit over the years? I am sure you’ve still got a love and appreciation for punk and rock and everything else as well. I am sure you’re like me in that you’ve got a broad taste in music, but what you’re saying is now, you’ve moved into a new realm of appreciation for electronic music and for making it in addition to the other stuff?

“My early years were really driven by punk rock and kind of unique Avant Garde stylings. I strayed away from normality for decades and now I am looking at that and I think it has been a benefit because I don’t have to work at originality, I work more at conformity. So what I am trying to do is take the songs I pulled over the last 10 years where kind of the best outtakes of some extremely experimental concepts electronically and I drew upon those because they were specifically adventurous in the electronic field or unique in electronic texture or they just kind of stood out from what has been done or common kind of sounds. I pooled all of that in and then I started to kind of look at normalcy and trying to put it into a format that could be digested and consumed as a product. THAT has been the biggest challenge for me.”

So it’s kind of reining it all into what you’ve got now, which has got the elements of years gone by , with all your creativeness, inspirations, different genres, and wrapping it up into something you can then put out there to the people. So obviously you want something that people are going to listen to and enjoy but you still want to stay true to yourself and have that uniqueness in there?

“Yeah exactly, it has been a hard road. Because being extremely unique in style and sound makes it kind of a bit abstract or unrecognised. I have to shout out to the session players locally who have worked on the project with me. Brad Wenham was the first guy to come in and actually go hey man, I am happy to lend my skill set to this. Brad, if you’re not familiar with him, is a six string bassist who plays in some extremely good bands. He is the kind of guy who can just walk in without any preconception of what’s going on and just really fit to what is going on musically no matter what styling or genre. He came in and there were sections of experimentation in my songs that I hadn’t even fully worked out and he kind of chewed the fat and “well hang on Brock, this is out there, let me just count that, let me just see what you’re doing there.” He made sensibilities out of stuff that I was still conceiving and kind of scratching my head about. It really formed through those guys further and I mean the album that will follow the debut single release is going to blow it out of the water it’s next level. The debut release for this November is really a soft launch, it’s a baby step into the pool. The album will be quite wild.” 

I am so excited for the album and can’t wait to hear it and more about it. But I did want to go back to the beginnings of your musical journey again for a bit first, as it most definitely has shaped who you are musically now. One of the things I wanted to ask was, what was the Brisbane music scene like back when Wisecrack was around compared to what you are doing now? 

“Brisbane is gorgeous *laughs* I have a real love for Brisbane and I really think it has got some assimilations to Seattle and that grunge movement of the 90’s. That’s when I was growing up and that’s when my first band, Wisecrak was hitting off. Brisbane attracted all the sort of alternative culture sort of acts worldwide into its little hub and the localised bands there were kind of on the same wavelength anyway. Going to watch a localised show in Brisbane in the late 90’s was similar to going to watch a grunge show in Seattle or Mr Bungle. Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ is kind of the hard hitting primal, you know you look at Pangaea’s ‘Serpent Fire,’ and an essence and a core and you see how that sound changed and became much more commercial for that band and that’s just my opinion and similarly with Regurgitator, if you look at their ‘Hamburger’ EP release, it’s a lot more tribal, a lot more roots orientated. Then they moved towards a more marketable and commercial sound and to draw those core Brisbane elements from the 90’s. Which I think stemmed probably form the late 80’s with Dreamkillers and then that gave birth to Pangaea and Regurgitator and then there was this whole kind of the festival scene was a whole lot more active because there wasn’t much internet. It was just birthing then and it was still very on the field, really in the club, in the live scene, there was no phones, there was no one streaming the show. You go to a show now and you don’t have to go to the show, you can just watch it on the internet. Like, you had to be there back then.” 

It was such a good vibe back then wasn’t it? And you can’t compare it to now really, you can’t go back, you can try and recreate that in some way – but I don’t think it will ever be the same as it was back then.

“I think Brisbane has a little affinity to the punk scene from The Saints who made it quite big and are quite renowned for one of the first punk rock bands. You know that kind of historical attribute really saturated the local market and the bands who weren’t making it big but they were definitely known and the culture was alive. We, in that band, Wisecrak were young kids and we fleshed out from a school band and then Nirvana ‘Nevermind’ came out when we were just starting to write songs and that was pretty huge. Then you go into the inner city and you start seeing bands there and they are quite heavy and unique. Brisbane has its sound. I think it has traversed through from like The Saints, through to Dreamkillers and there is stuff I am missing out there, but then you get to early Pangaea, I am talking with Jim Sinclair and then you get through to Regurgitator and then there is early Zarathustra which became Butterfingers and then they got quite a good hit and a good run on. And there is just this evolution of sound which is definitely Brisbane. I identify with that and I guess that is where my kind of unique styling has its origin. Although I am doing it much differently, I wanted to separate my sounds so I struck out guitar straight off, to make sure my sound was completely separated. But the core driver for the unique kind of sound that I have is birthed in that Brisbane scene, it is completely saturated there.” 

And that is exactly why I wanted to touch on it. And I love hearing you talk about it because I can hear your knowledge, passion and appreciation of the scene and sound of Brisbane as it progressed over the years and that’s definitely going to influence and inspire the music you are creating now and who you are now. So let’s move into the now a bit more. So you’re about to release HDTBF’s debut double single, so tell me about that?

“The album was supposed to be getting released this year and then the pandemic 2020 hit. The musicians stopped coming to the studio as of March and so I was sitting here twiddling my thumbs. So this single and not to take away from it, but it is very much a soft release of what I am doing.” 

It’s a little glimmer into something bigger that’s coming maybe?

“Yes and it’s a whole different breed of release too. I am studying film at university and my minor is music so I have been saturating myself into some music study and film studies there. These two songs, so when I was sitting here in lock down, I was basically in the studio 24/7 just twiddling my thumbs and I was like my album is at a halt, what do I do? I was studying song form, historical accounts of song form and the birth of song form in uni. I had the studio at my fingertips and I was learning about the early contraction of song form through early rock n roll in the early 1950’s and stuff like that. So Indiana is quite a thing. I knew that if I was going to do a radio form style song, to take my original styling and really mold it to a radio form, then I really didn’t want to fuck that up. So I chose to do it in an Indian key. So I selected an Indian, Eastern key and then I used a Bangura beat and then I pretty much ignored that skeletal structure of the Eastern and slapped on a hard rock approach to it, so used the theory of Eastern and had a mind set of Western, 1950’s radio rock form and then shoved my whole originality into it as well with the electronics and the lyrical content and I really wanted to tribute that to my life. So I actually pitted that song in the 90’s, the first verse starts off in the 90’s, the second verse is 2020 for the present and the last verse is 2049 for the future – I just wanted to try and balance that across past present and future.” 

Yes, so it’s a very relevant first single to release? For that reason, that it kind of moves through the lyrics and the music, through the past, present and even through to the future?

“Yeah, it does. You’re right, it was purposeful. I really did, during that time in the lockdown, I thought ok, if I can’t put the album out this year, cos if I do that, it would be rough and I’m not going to be able to do it proper. So I want to get something out this year and I want to focus on the studies that I am doing. I want to synthesize my originality which I have always had up my sleeve and I want to process it into a marketable kind of radio form and I want to find out what that sounds like!”

So you’ve got Indiana, but it’s a double single, so the other song is What Will You Do Hippie? 

“Well that one ties in with what we’ve been talking about. I have chosen really 90’s Regurgitator/Spiderbait kind of sounds. It is a bit of a tribute to my roots, sonically with those sounds in there. It’s basically a split personality song that flips back and forwards between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. It is kind of, they are having a fight between materialism over hippie values and drug abuse over living healthy. And the crux of the chorus is kind of ‘what will you do?’ you know you are torn between these two worlds, the yin and yang, the negative and the positive. I feel a lot of people have this, no matter what style of life they are living, they have these battles and so the chorus asks, ‘What will you do?’ My parents were basically hippies, so that’s where the hippie line comes in, it’s a little bit of a reflection on my youth, a reflection on growing up in Brisbane with the sound choices and then it’s kind of just resonating with the public, cos you know, hey we all have these battles!” 

After the singles are unveiled, you’ve then got your debut album, which we’ve already touched on a little bit. So it’s called ‘Filoplume’ – so tell me about, first of all, the name of the album, because it has got a really good meaning as well?

“I have saturated the lyrical content of this album around sort of festival application, so the lyrics in many of the songs through there have content that is reflective of being in a marque, in a crowd, in a club, it’s very in the live venue space. And then while doing that, to keep that live element within the lyrical content I have also worked in a lot of bird references because of the band name. So there’s a lot of ‘spread your wings’ and ‘keep your nest up high’ and sort of these bird references throughout the album, not particularly each song, but just sprinkled through from song to song throughout the album. There’s this connection of bird themes. So when I was thinking about what to call it, it was a long journey and I went through many different options. I came across filoplumes when I was designing the cover for Indiana and I was working with a digital artist to get the artwork for the release prepared. When I was researching some content for the artwork, I came across filoplumes and I had never even heard of them. Then when I googled that and saw the images of actual birds with filoplumes. So filoplumes if you’re unaware of them, they are like extended single feathers, usually they come off the eyebrow or sometimes off the tail feather. They have a long central feather core and then at the end they might have like a feather at the end and they bounce them and they use them like ornamental kind of like, a peacock feather, but a peacock has a ream of them, but these birds that I saw that inspired me, they were just like a normal bird but they would have like a single filoplume of each eyebrow. They are just gorgeous and saturated in colour and pattern. I was writing the album and I knew I had all these lyrical ties to the bird theme there and the festival, live gig attributes was all there through the lyrical content and then it had street edge and I though yeah, this is relatable.” 

That’s really cool and definitely very relevant and it’s just showing the layers of depth that you have put into this release, even right down to the name of the album. So let’s talk about the album itself a bit more. So you were saying that the album is written for festival stages?

“Yeah. There is lyrical content that is kind of in that space, I have played a lot in bands over the years, so I am pretty familiar with stage presence and the crowd interaction with being a frontman. Some of the lyrics are literally written one to one from frontman to the crowd. And some of them are pitted like I am in the crowd. So ‘we dance these dancing fields’ and it’s like you are travelling from one stage to the next, going from one band you’ve just watched to the next band you want to see and you’re dancing through the dancing fields and then you get to the lights. So there’s a lot of relevance within the lyrical content, you know there’s a song called This Festival Life, which is the title and basically that one is written about being on the festival circuit, you know the chorus is kind of like, ‘drive in slow, festival views out the window…’ It’s painting the picture of entering the festival, you’ve got the marquee set up and there’s sound checking and everyone is pitching up their tents and you’re getting ready for a big 3 or 4 day festival. Then it goes on to sort of leave that one and then you’re down the highway on your way to the next festival.” 

That’s so awesome. When you were saying all of that I was reminiscing early 90’s  Brisbane festival days, like going back to Livid days and things like that. And I remember those vibes and those feelings. Is that something that you want your album to do? To take people on a bit of a journey?

“Absolutely. I mean I work festivals as well, we run the stage at Splendor In The Grass and we’re branching out now into Falls Festival and stuff like that, which is on the horizon. Living here in Maleny, we are close to Woodford and I have done work on the stages at Woodford Folk Festival and other little festivals. I literally go and interact as an employee with the festivals and then with the band background, you live that journey and you meet the people that are doing that. They are actually living that life. And whether that is artists, and I mean the big bands that are famous , obviously people recognise that, but then just in your local area, even Europe and America and everywhere, you have got your little festival hubs. Those people they are interconnected and they’re setting up décor and they are setting up signage they are setting up the cleansing stuff and the sound and the audio and the visuals and they are on the road and they go from this one’s packing up and they are on to the next one, the next festival.”

Yeah it takes a whole musical family/army of creative and talented people to put these events on, so it’s a pretty special thing to be a part of! 

“Absolutely and that’s kind of where the lyrical content of ‘Filoplume’ resonates. It’s touching base on that community, that festival community. It’s touching base on that kind of inner city hub of community that is in the gigging scene. Like the Tomcat crew when we did our gig there last year, we got saturated in that inner city hub for a bit and then there’s also the punters, the frontman to the crowd kind of aspect. So it’s not one thing, it is more broad. I am trying to capture that whole breed of community in it’s different elements and different aspects, throughout the album just in speckles and spots, you know, little filoplumes catching light here and there. If you can catch them, if you can hear it and if you can see it. Then there’s deeper sort of further plots to each song. But the common thread is woven from track to track.” 

We were talking earlier about some of the guest musicians you’ve had play on certain tracks on the album. So you’ve had Paul George from Tijuana Cartel, and there’s a few others you’ve mentioned. So how did you decide on who you wanted to be a part of this special musical project? Because I think that’s a really important thing, to decide who you want to bring in to contribute?

“Yeah it is. And it wasn’t something I actually envisaged. I wrote the album completely on my own and different songs I lent on different instruments in different ways. Some of the tracks I pressed the drum track more, some was the lyrics more, some was the electronics more, and then I shaped the rest of the sounds with all the instrumentation differently. I sat back and I had written a whole album and it just wasn’t quite there. Too many hats. That was when I started to think I need to do something here and as an independent, it can seem quite daunting at times and then you have a lightbulb moment. It was Brad Wenham who came in first and Max Sportelli. These are all Melany guys or Sunny Coast guys and the funny thing is, talking about the whole Brisbane scene earlier, with the really roots of punk and rock and the subculture of Brisbane which I resonate with, Sunshine Coast is a whole different breed. So these guys are all so professional and really driven by… it’s more like Nashville Tennessee here, where as in Brisbane it’s more like the attitude the Seattle thing, it doesn’t matter how good you play, you know Kurt Cobain used to say “Anyone that can play a power chord can do what I do” and kind of shirk off the genius. But it’s that sort of style and the cool that counts. But up here, it’s different, it’s the skill and the finesse, these guys are switched on to modes and modulation and how many notes can you fit into a four bar phrase and ‘we’ll have a competition tonight while we play our set to see who can smash the most jazz notes out’ and ‘oh the pianist won tonight.’ I was out watching Brad and Max play at Whispers in Caloundra the other week and they posted the day after ‘the pianist won most notes in a single phrase’ so these guys are competing on a skill set level. So I benefited from that, they are lovely, beautiful people, just really soulful musicians. So they come in and they look at what I am doing and I know these guys didn’t grow up in Brisbane and I know some parts they are looking at me like “Dude, what are you doing!?” and I am like “Weird is good right?” * laughs*”

And that is something I was going to ask about too, we’ve talked a lot about Brisbane but you’re now based in Maleny, on the Sunshine Coast, so being there and having that natural, relaxed, earthy atmosphere around you, does that help inspire you with your music and with your creative side? 

“It does. I am fortunate, I live in a rainforest on 100 acres, I have a private creek, three waterfalls, and the album is talking about the lyrical string of themes throughout, there is also a pretty prominent theme throughout a couple of songs there that touch on freshwater streams. Obviously I write in the studio and I have a mountain bike here, so if I just need a break, I just need to step away, sometimes I just jump on the bike and cruise down to the creek. I go down there and I clear my head and then I literally write a chorus, like you know ‘let’s go to the freshwater stream…’ *laughs*” 

I can only imagine how inspiring that must be. If you’re stressed or overwhelmed with life, you can just go and sit by a waterfall, that’s just amazing. 

“It is nice and you know, the guys who come in that have played on the album really dig it too. Lee Hardisty, is an amazing guy, he plays the flute and saxophone, apart from one track where I had another local saxophonist play. But Lee is just this wonderful cat, who has played all over the world. We come down and we do sax sessions and then we go down to the creek and he brings a jug of chai. So we will go and have a chai by the creek after a jamming session. He is a gorgeous player, his tone is amazing.” 

We’ve covered a lot and I would love to chat more, but let’s wrap it up with a couple of final questions. …What does music mean to you?

“An old friend of mine, Tim, always says ‘Music is life’ so we can nail that one like that I think. *laughs*”

And my final question, I just have to ask it… How did the bird fly? 

“*laughs* Well, that’s up to interpretation! Any which way you want. But I do love Eckart Tolle, and it was kind of something that resonated when my son mentioned that band name to me,. Eckhart Tolle, if you are familiar with him, he is pretty magnificent guy and he writes these wonderful books, one of them is called ‘The New Earth’ and he actually says in there that ‘it took millions and millions of years before a single flower bloomed, and then over the course of thousands of years, many more flowers bloomed and then the earth came to fruit,’ so we are talking about primeval kind of stuff, or he is. Then How Did The Bird Fly kind of stuff I always just imagined you  know they talk about the fish that came out of the water and then after millions of years they crawled and they became reptiles and I can just imagine animals trying to get away from predators and they might have been leaping from branches unsuccessfully and then one day, the feather was evolved and an animal was born out of an egg and they had the first feathers and then they leapt from a branch and took a glide and after millions of years, the glide got to flapping and then all of a sudden the bird flew! So basically it’s just about higher consciousness and raising your vibration and setting yourself into the heights and soaring and doing the things you want to do.” 

I think music and spiritually can be put together in a sense, I guess How Did The Bird Fly has perhaps a higher meaning than just the music itself? There’s more to it there maybe?

“I hope so. I want people to know that you can achieve what you want to do. It’s an inner drive.” 

And inner drive is something Brock most definitely has. Stay tuned to How Did The Bird Fly’s socials for his upcoming releases.

Follow How Did The Bird Fly:

Leave a Reply