New Zealand based emo/punk/synth-pop band Openside has been checking all the right boxes since their early days.
In 2016 their EP Push Back was released, with their ever-popular single ‘Letting it out’ hitting Number One on Spotify’s New Zealand Viral 50 Charts.
The Upside News got to speak to lead vocalist and guitarist Possum Plows, about their inspiration, representation and responsibility to their fanbase.
Speaking from Sydney, where the band had landed merely minutes before, Possum seemed rearing to go with back-to-back interviews.
The ever-rising popularity of Openside is apparent, but their humility is warming, as Possum seems cool and calm, a trait rare in someone with such a profile.
TUN: Listening to your music, it feels like there are a multitude of inspirations behind the overall style of it. Are there any specific performers or bands that influence the sound of your music?
P: We have a very collaborative writing process, so often on each song there are about six writers credited, and we all have our own- what we’re listening to, what we’re being inspired by at any time. For our recent stuff there’s definitely been a lot of inspiration from the most recent Paramore record.
TUN: It’s funny you say that, you know you’ve been labelled the next Paramore, the up-and-coming one?
P: (laughs) I mean, people always say that, there has been this thing about female vocalists, even though I don’t identify as female, Paramore were kind of the only band that was in that category and then people would get compared to them but in particular, After Laughter is my favourite record of theirs and I have been a fan for a really long time. I love the way that they’re bringing emo back and making it fun, and that was really what I wanted, that was the kind of vision I had for the new Openside stuff. So from my perspective there’s a lot of that but each of us have a lot of diverse inspirations. The boys listen to a lot of hip hop and rap music as well, so it’s quite eclectic.
TUN: The energetic vibe within the music is very open and almost happy sounding, which the backdrop for ‘Episode one: Character flaws’ is very happy and with an upbeat melody, but then it has all these deep and meaningful lyrics in the front of it. How did you come across these lyrics here? Were they based on a personal experience?
P: I kind of just started the song when I was on the piano and, it’s like when you’re so upset or annoyed that it’s almost funny? You know everything that’s going on is so ridiculous and you’re like, ‘Man, everything sucks’ and then it kind of just started out as like a slurred out ramble that I just did on the piano, like, you’re finding the humour in it, and that translated into the music.
But I think the main thing is that it feels sometimes a bit liberating or empowering to just say that you feel shit and that you feel insecure and then it’s kind of ok because you just acknowledged it. And I think particularly if you’re looking at the way that the song works in a room full of people, it’s like everyone can just scream ‘Nothing’s gunna be alright!’ and then it makes them feel like everything is going to be alright in a kind of weird way.
TUN: It sort of has that effect on people, definitely!
P: Yeah! You’re looking around a room full of people and you’re like ‘oh everyone feels like this sometimes’ and it just takes the power away from those dark feelings a little bit.
TUN: One of your last tracks (‘Letting it Out’) felt like it came from quite an emotional place and there was a concentration on identity with that one, can you tell me more about it?
P: That was on our first EP and that was very early on in our career. Because I identify as gender non-binary at a time when I was weary of talking about that in my music and in the band because it wasn’t as, well, things have come a long way in the past few years in terms of, people being socially aware and socially progressive in terms of gender and sexuality…but yeah at the time, I was really worried that, maybe talking about it could be a hindrance to me in some way or to the band or, it could compromise opportunities so…that’s quite a tense feeling of the contrast of wanting to be honest about something. Because then you feel like you can do your job better and be a better person for others, but also being afraid.
But the main thing that happened is that once we started putting that music out and talking about gender, so many kids would come to you and be like ‘Thank you for just being out!’ and that’s such a simple thing but it can mean a lot to people. And the moment we started to feel that response from people, it was like ‘Ok, this is definitely the right move, this is the right way to be going, if it makes people feel better.’ And that’s the community we’ve really created with our fans in New Zealand, which is pretty cool.
TUN: Yeah, it definitely seems like an excellent sort of family feeling, like a community now. I guess while you’re out and you’ve been talking about it with your fans, do you feel very responsible for representing the community? Now that you’re in the public eye a lot more?
P: Yeah, a little bit. I think some people kind of look at that as like a burden. Obviously we’re still doing it on a small scale, so from where we’re standing it’s very manageable and it feels important to me.
I am very happy to take on the responsibility of looking out for the community and making sure I’m doing right by people, and always learning and trying to do better. But it can, it can be scary sometimes.
The more progressive and harder you’re trying to do good in the world, the more you’re held under a microscope that every little thing you’re doing might be wrong.
But I think it’s good overall. In society we are starting to now hold the general public to a higher standard – and our celebrities and our entertainers – which I think can only be a good thing, really.
TUN: Definitely. Speaking about your fans at your shows, recognising you and performing with them, you’re performing for all-ages crowds, especially in New Zealand, how does it feel to have all those younger fans at your show?
P: Yes. I mean that’s a really important angle for us because, for one thing, young fans tend to be more enthusiastic, more passionate and, I don’t know, its just completely a different vibe from going to an 18+ show in a bar or a club. Kids want to come early; they want to be there with their friends, they are there for the experience and the music and not just for getting drunk or whatever. I think also it’s nice to just give kids something fun and interesting, a productive and creative thing to do on the weekend. If people aren’t putting on all-ages shows, what are you supposed to do?
We’ve done some tours of smaller towns as well, and people are so grateful. They’re like ‘Hell yeah come to our town’ and we’ll be there with bells on and they’ll make flags and signs and it’s such an awesome thing to be doing. I think we need more of it in New Zealand.
TUN: Exactly. I think we’re needing more of it in Australia as well that’s for sure!
P: Yeah, it’s really hard to put on shows without alcohol, it’s just hard. Venues make it hard, and making money is harder, so you have to really fight for it, but it’s really important to us.
TUN: It’s definitely worth it. And with that younger audience in mind do you feel like your songs in written, with them in mind a bit more, because they can see your shows live?
P: A little bit, I try. There’s been times where I’ve tried to write music and I’m really conscious of the audience. But I think overall, it’s better to write your truth, which sounds really cliché but, if you just are honest in what you’re saying, a lot of the time, that’s what a lot of young people will respond to anyway. They just want to see something honest. That’s not pandering, you know? So I think, treating your audience like they’re smart and treating them with respect and just telling your stories and hoping they relate to them, is kind of the angle we’re going for now.
TUN: That’s definitely a good way to go. You’ve supported some very well-known artists in the past, do you have any favourite moments from these shows?
P: We’ve been very fortunate in New Zealand getting to support some amazing bands that we really like. The first Twenty One Pilots show we did was at quite a small venue, it was kind of before they really blew up, and it was only maybe 1500 people.
I just remember they came and hung out for sound check, and they were so friendly and they were like ‘We watched your video!’ and they were like goofing around and, they were really exactly what I would like to be once you get bigger; just be that kind and respectful to your support band.
Because some people aren’t, some people can be quite rude and caught in their own world but [Twenty One Pilots] were such genuine and passionate musicians.
The big thing we’ve taken away from all these support slots is how to up our game in terms of being a performing band, which is what we really, really love to do.
TUN: Definitely! So, how does travel go for the band at the moment? It seems that you’ve been to some interesting places lately?
P: We did one music video in California, in the desert over there. Which was amazing. And we’re in Sydney at the moment, and our most recent video was filmed in China..
We like to travel, I think we’d like to travel more, but we’ve just been focusing on New Zealand so far. Now we’re really ready to…
TUN: Take on the world?
P: (laughs) Yeah to really get ourselves out there.
TUN: Just to finish off, will we be seeing you in Adelaide soon then, are there any future tours in the works?
P: Yeah, I think a tour of Australia is definitely a probability, hopefully very soon.
Openside’s new track ‘Character Flaws’ is out now. Click the image below to listen. Music video to come soon.
Interview by Kirra Hussey