Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips sat down with Frank Apicella and Victor Stranges from Saturday's Child to discuss the project, their new single, and the recording process.
Victor Stranges and Frank Apicella from Saturday’s Child, welcome to Australian Musician.
The obvious question is, how did you two guys meet?
Victor: It’s an interesting story, and we brought the cannoli and the coffee here to represent that, as a metaphor for our relationship. In about March 2021, we were at Thirty Mill Studios, we didn’t know each other but we met at that studio because Mark Opitz was producing Lipstereo’s debut EP, which is my son’s band, so I was there. I brought some cannoli along. Frank is a buddy of Mark Opitz. Frank made the coffee, and that’s how we met. It was the Italian connection as well right?
Frank: Yeah, there was a certain synergy there. It was probably written in stone, somewhere back in time, that Frank and Victor were meant to meet.
You both grew up in Southern Italy, didn’t you?
Frank: Yes, I’m from a little town called Castor which means ‘House of Bulls,’ which is close to Naples. Victor is from Calabria, I don’t know the name of the village …
Victor: We’re from Conflenti … the actual village is San Mazzeo (Costa). There’s also a town called Stranges named after us which is next to it.
Frank: I knew you were famous somewhere.
Victor: Yeah, there are about ten people who live there Frank.
In the discussion did you find that you had similar music tastes?
Frank: Yeah, it’s ironic. I’m probably about ten years older than Victor, so the beauty of me finding the music that I grew up with was … I was looking for where I fit in. Being an immigrant coming out to Australia, still not able to find my spot in Australian society, and feeling quite disenfranchised. I discovered punk, and to me, it was a calling really. That’s where I felt that I belonged like I was part of it. Meeting Victor and having these conversations, sussing each other out. It was amazing because the language that I was speaking, and the music I was talking about, were pretty close to Victor’s.
Victor: It’s interesting that Frank mentions his migrant history, I hadn’t thought about that. But when we were young, we were all looking for a place to fit in, so TV was our escape. Countdown, Sounds with Donny Sutherland, and all that. I used to watch all the bands play on there and obviously got a bug for the drums. I saw this band at St Gerard's Primary School called “Trax.” I don’t know if that was the name of the band or just the logo on the drum kit, but I thought they were called Trax. I fell in love with the kit, and I wanted to be like them.
My Dad ended up buying me a drum kit, which is interesting as an Italian because migrant parents don’t often invest in those sorts of things. Toys, you don’t need. Chocolates, you don’t need. It was always ‘go without.’ So when he actually bought a kit, I couldn’t believe it. I hassled him enough. But the connection with the music, not only is it our background migrant experience. Musically, I started playing ink a punk bank when I was fifteen or sixteen, in a band called ‘Drunk and Disorderly,’ and it turns out that Frank knows all these bands that I know, and a lot of people don’t. Like ‘Stiff Little Fingers,” and “Generation X.” He was into The Clash, The Ramones, and all that first-wave punk. It’s funny, it never happens that you meet someone who is into your favorite band, that no one knows.
Frank: I think it’s also about the rebellious, anti-establishment … there’s so much commonality between the two of us, that it’s just uncanny. It’s just something that was meant to be.
And we’ve been working, 24 hours a day. I know I haven’t known Victor for that long, but the work ethic that we both have, and the name “Saturday’s Child” which is from a poem that Victor made me aware of. Saturday’s Child is actually about a child that works every Saturday, and we’re forever working.
Victor: We actually wrote a song called ‘Working Hard like Saturday’s Child.” It hasn’t come out of anything, We also know it’s a song by The Monkees, a great song from that wonderful group from the 60s.
What’s the goal of the project?
Victor: Well the goal for the project is art for art’s sake really. We’re just into music. Frank and I love the studio environment, and being together, feeding off each other, and it fits in with our label, Pop Preservation Society, which is all about the song. So if the song’s good, we want to be a part of that process, in creating that song, having a vision for that song, and making it as great as we can. The experience and the richness of being in a studio, and being in that moment. It’s not selling millions of records or having millions of streams. That’s all good, and it’s nice to resonate with an audience, but first and foremost it’s about creating that piece of art, which is the song. If there’s not a good song there, I’m not that interested. What about you Frank?
Frank: For me, apart from what Victor has just said, it’s also the emotion and the power of music. The ability to be able to affect people with the music that we’re going to try to put out. To touch people, whether it be spiritually or mentally. To give them a sort of awakening. That’s what music did for me, and I would like to pass that on, as part of our project.
Victor: That’s a deeper aspect of the band, the why we do what we do. A song can be like a clanging cymbal that doesn’t mean anything unless there’s some purpose behind it, some emotion. Call it love or whatever. But in everyone that we deal with, we like to bring people into our projects that might not be huge artists but are extremely talented. Whether they are videographers, like when we did our clip, or whether they’re singers like Ema Jay.
Frank: The video shoot was just a sensation.
Victor: Yeah, it’s lifting them up and helping them with their careers. We’re a bunch of old dudes really when you think about it. We’re not young, but we love to be involved in music projects, and we like to get others involved and lift up their careers too, being producers.
Frank: I think we’re young at heart Victor.
Victor: We’re young at heart. Yes. But if there’s no one else to sing our songs, we’ll sing them. We can do the whole lot. We played and recorded the instruments, produced, engineered, and mastered, the whole thing. But we like to involve other people because I think they can bring something to the table.
You alluded to the single and the video. Let’s talk about Cola. How did the song come about?
Victor: The song is actually not our own song. It was written by Arlo Parks, it’s a wonderful song that someone from a record label brought to my attention, and thought it would be great to record. So I spoke with Frank, and he knew Ema Jay, so we pitched the song to her and she wanted to do it. So it was … let’s just get in the studio and do it.
We hadn’t even thought of the Saturday’s Child project, we just loved the song and wanted to record it, and wondered … what will it take to get this thing out? It’s something that I’ve never done. I’ve had my own career ‘Victor Stranges’ as a solo artist with my own band, it’s always been me upfront, so this is quite a unique diversion from what I’m doing. I’m really enjoying it because there’s this freedom in doing some other styles of music. So that’s how it came about. Do you agree with that Frank?
Frank: Absolutely. But even just the recording process. I’m originally from New South Wales, and I had my own recording studio there. I kicked my Dad out of the garage, took over the garage, and built my own recording studio.
Victor: You had to move the salami, Frank.
Frank: The whole lot. We even chucked all his wine barrels out of the cellar, because that made a good reverb chamber. The recording process for ‘Cola’ I just found so easy, and it was just an amazing process. After recording quite a few bands, I’d never felt so comfortable recording as I did with Victor. We just thought, let’s get in there and most of the stuff was one take. Victor played all the instruments, the bass, and the drums. The whole thing just gelled. I find it a really magical moment when you get the result coming back out of those speakers. It was a no-brainer.
Victor: It was just a project that we did for fun …and then, well this is actually good. We played it to Michael Matthews, our radio promotions guy, and he goes ‘you’ve got to put this out, this is really good and deserves to go out.” So then we thought, we’d better get a name, and put a face to the name.
I’m foremost a songwriter, and so is Frank. We did a cover for fun, but I don’t think, we’ll be doing covers necessarily from here on in. That was just a diversion.
Frank: I think we were sussing each other out really.
Victor: Yeah, what do you think of this song? Ok, we’ll try it out with Ema Jay. I’m enjoying that aspect of, coming from a punk background with The Clash and the Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello and all that post-punk stuff, really getting into some of that Massive Attack sort of stuff, and Amy Winehouse … there’s a bit of a soul thing going on there. I’m really enjoying that. And having the freedom to find other singers to interpret the songs is great.
Tell me about the gear that you used on the single.
Victor: I’ve got this old Pearl export kit if you would believe it or not, that I’ve had since 1987, with Zildjian cymbals, and it’s got a big sound. The way we recorded it, we just mic-ed up the drums and played the drums initially, and we captured it with individual microphones. I think it was SM57s that we used. I had a bass drum mic, and we had a couple of pencil mics, just as condensers,
One of the drums sounds, if you recall Frank, there’s that middle break-down part where the I did just get dirty. I’ve always wondered how INXS on (the song) ‘The Swing’ how got that dirty sound. I was talking to Mark Opitz about it, and he said they used a ball and biscuit mic. Actually, I think it was Colin Wynne, the engineer, he said they used a ball and biscuit mic, and I didn’t even know what that was, but it’s a specific microphone. But we discovered this process, and I didn’t know how to do it beforehand. I’m not really an engineer, Frank is the engineer. That’s how we excel because Frank helps me with the vision I’ve got in my head, and he’s also got his own ideas.
We basically recorded the drum tracks, and then we double-tracked it, and we added distortion and compressed the second track, and overlaid it on the other. It gave this really organic drum feel, a real sort of hip-hop feel. We thought … wow, that sounds great!
Frank: In the mixing of it, for me, my approach was that we had Ema Jay with this soulful, innocent, honest, beautiful voice, and then we had this antagonistic drum. The plot of the song itself is a bad relationship between two people. You have the loving, committed girl, and then you have the guy who is a bit of a player. So the drums are the beast of the song, and the vocal is the loving part of it, and somehow there’s that fight going on between the vocals and the drums, which I found to be the heart of it all. The song delivers on that emotional level as well. It felt right, it all worked. No matter what we wanted to do, we didn’t have to work too hard at it.
Victor: It just came out.
Frank: Yeah, it was perfect.
Victor: The other thing too, Greg you asked about the instruments, we used a Fender Telecaster and a Fender Precision Bass. So it’s just three instruments, basically, and a vocal, and a backing vocal that Ema Jay did too. We over-dubbed the ride cymbal, so that was interesting. In terms of the instruments that we used on that track, I purchased a Gretch Renown kit and we’re going to be using that moving forward. We’re in discussions with a studio where we’re going to be able to have access to a room permanently. We’re going to rent it and use this Gretch Renown, with Zildjian cymbals, and we’re going to record a lot of 70s-sounding drums in there for tracks, and really mess around with it a bit. We’re really looking at finding some different textures in the recording process. One of the guys we’re working with, Marc Scollo, is doing some mixing work for me at the moment on another project, we’re in early discussions with him about working on the Saturday’s Child project. We’ve flagged it with him, but this interview will reveal it to him now. I want to work with Marc because he knows Los Lobos album Kiko, and he knows The Latin Playboys and these messed-up, backward sounds, and he loves modern hip-hop and all that. He is really the perfect engineer to work with us. Frank and I are engineers as well, but Marc is the young breed, he’s fast, he’s got his own studio, and that’s what he does full-time.
Frank: He’s quick on the buttons.
Victor: He’s quick on the buttons and we’re more there to oversee it and play the instruments and write the songs. That’s how it’s moving forward and we’re pretty excited. We’re looking at increasing the output, a lot, in the next few months.
Do you have many other songs actually written or recorded?
Victor: I’ve got a butt load of songs that I’ve written, in the can, that we can re-purpose. I mean, I write songs fairly quickly as well, so there’s stuff that’s ready to go.
Frank: It’s funny you ask that Greg, I as well have got lyrics and songs that I wrote when I was eighteen, nineteen, and three of four weeks ago I opened up the folder again and was going through some lyrics. It’s uncanny, the time that I wrote those lyrics can transpose to today. For me, I believe the longevity of a song is to write something two decades ago, maybe three decades ago, and bring them to today, and they still have relevance. As far as songs go, I think we’ve got, between Victor and myself, a fair amount.
Victor: I’ve got a lot of songs, so many. We will just never get to them all. But there are some new ideas as well that I’m looking at, and getting the Gretch kit has been inspirational because there are some old drum patterns that I’ve never recorded before, that are really interesting and will be good for a hip-hop-type project. It’s not hip-hop but I just want to try some rhythmic, soul-type stuff that will blend in really nicely.
Frank: Oh, you’re beautiful.
Do you think at any stage you’ll play live shows like Saturday’s Child?
Frank: I don’t know, but if you coax me enough I might get up and do some backing vocals on something, but for me personally, I would rather see the people that we use to record the songs. Sure, Victor will be more likely to play on stage than me. He’s a great guitarist and a great showman.
Victor: Frank stopped playing on stage a few years ago, so he’s more into the studio these days. To be honest, I don’t know if I would be up there playing Saturday Child’s music, I’ve got a lot of other live projects I do and it’s just another thing that I’ve got to pull together. I just enjoy the freedom of the studio environment.
A bit like The Beatles, you see interviews with John Lennon … and they ask ‘do you think The Beatles will ever get back together again?’ I think it was 1975 or something, and he said … ‘sometimes George wants to get together, and I don’t. Paul does, and I don’t. And then Ringo does … he said the only reason they would get back together would be to record, they’re not interested in the live thing. There is this sense, that when you’re in the studio there’s a lot of freedom. It’s all green light zone. You can record everything and then take your time. There’s no pressure. Because we’re independent artists, we own all our own assets and recording gear, and this and that. We pay for studio time, and we can take our time and do whatever we want to do. To answer your question, we wouldn’t rule out that we would play live, but possibly not.
Frank: We might make a sneaky appearance somewhere. You’ll have to watch out for us. I do enjoy mixing live music, it’s something that I really like. So you might see me behind the desk, rather than on stage.
‘Cola’ is the current single for Saturday’s Child, what’s the next step?
Frank: We’ve been having some discussions about that. We’ve got a couple of songs that we’ve got in mind. I think it’s just a matter of working out some final arrangements on some songs and possibly identifying a vocalist that we could use for the song. There’s a lot going on in Victor’s life with Pop Preservation Society, so I’ll allow him a bit of space to get that done. It’s just a matter of us getting the time to sit down to nut it through. Don’t you think Victor?
Victor: Yes, we’re involved in so many projects, this is just an extra thing, so it’s not like we’re on the clock with another label wanting us to produce a single. We’re a bit slower in our approach, but once we get into the next lot of recordings that will start this side of Christmas. We’re just organizing a studio for that at the moment. So possibly early in the year. We weren’t even sure if we were going to do anything after that first song, because once Michael Matthews told us that we should get it out, and having some success overseas in Europe, it’s played on some mainstream radio stations there. It’s getting played in the States on college radio and community radio. Even some major radio stations overseas here and there, that’s a real encouragement. Not from Australia, but that’s ok, we’re working on that. Australia is really unique in that way. So we didn’t expect to do a follow-up single, it wasn’t on the radar, but now we’re thinking we’d like to do it. We’re feeling motivated to do it, so expect something soon.
Well, Frank and Victor, it’s been great to chat, and thank you for joining us.
F: It’s been great Greg.
V: Thank you very much.