Canberra’s music scene is thriving with new talent blasting through our radios via Triple J Unearthed and a bustling live music scene representing all genres, sub-genres and scores of professionals that love making music.
Local band, Signs & Symbols, are one of the many hoping to make it but are enjoying the ride and all that comes with the privilege of getting to do what they love – create and perform music.
Individual roles and instruments have been decided but the enormous talent across the board means the instruments can be shared and diverse sounds created.
Sitting in on a practice session, we chatted with this group of friends and discovered their humble beginnings in a high school music room and their natural love for jamming, entertaining and sharing their creativity with the world.
A new generation of rock and roll, Signs & Symbols take to every stage with enthusiasm, talent and a goal to electrify the crowd.
Brent Brosnan – Lead vocals and guitar, Callum McDonald – Drums and vocals Brodie Heidtmann – Bass guitar and Matt Madsen – Lead guitar.
How did the band come together?
Brent: Officially in 2009. When I was younger, I liked to write songs and they were awful and then I wrote one of our songs ‘Stay for the Sunrise’ and played it to Matt and he said ‘yeah, that’s not completely awful.’ Then in our music class, Callum joined us and we played Chasing Cars (by Snow Patrol) together and made a girl in our class cry and thought ‘this is cool, we should do something with this’.
Callum: We made her cry because she thought it was good, not because it was awful and wanted us to stop…
Brent: Then we entered Battle of the Bands at our high school and won it. After that, our music teacher asked if we wanted to play to schools in Tasmania and we were asked if Brodie could play with us and that’s how this all came together.
Callum: I was the guitarist in the band at first, we had a different drummer. Matt and I played guitar. Our roles have switched up a lot. At first it was just, ‘okay, I’ll play drums until we find another drummer…’
Matt: And we’re still looking…
Why Signs & Symbols?
Brent: We were all hanging out on a secret beach when suddenly lightning struck the sand. We looked down upon the signed shore and it spelt out signs and symbols.
How would you describe your genre of music, if definable?
Brent: I think just straight up rock and roll – that’s our base, everything we do starts there. We might play around with other sounds that are not too crazy or different at the moment but it all starts with good ‘ole rock and roll.
Callum: We like having beers and having a good time and playing loud music. I think loud is the word to define us.
Brodie: As well as a few quiet songs here and there.
Who are your major influences?
Brent: Foo Figthers, Biffy Clyro, classics like Nirvana, The Beatles, Michael Jackson. Newer bands like Violent Soho and Arctic Monkeys. There are sounds that will influence what we write and as corny as this will sound there are bands that influence us as people.
Callum: A lot of local acts and down to earth bands influence us pretty strongly because it hits us at home and we can see it firsthand a lot easier. Every Thursday or Friday night we can see these bands and we can take what we like from those gigs and practice that and mould it in our own ways.
What does music mean to you? Why do you love it?
Brodie: ‘To begin with…everything.’ I don’t have a good answer apart from that quote from [movie] Almost Famous. For me, it’s a release, it’s something to do. It keeps us entertained, we make new friends.
Brent: It’s one of those things that nothing else feels like. The feeling of jamming with each other and hearing your songs taking shape or playing a gig on stage and just getting to scream and get all of your aggression out – nothing feels as good as that does.
Matt: I like that we’re creating something that people enjoy and that it’s an expression of our creativity and the fact that people enjoy it on a recording or at a live show really helps. It’s sustaining our attitude [towards making music].
How did you get your first gig?
Brent: Our first gig was at Belconnen Community Centre. It was with a band we went to high school with.
Brodie: They called us two days prior to the gig.
Brent: They remembered us and knew that we liked them and they said they were playing a gig there in two days for free and did we want to come play? And we thought, yeah definitely. Besides school, we’d never really played anywhere.
Matt: I came straight from Melbourne for the gig so we didn’t really get to practice.
Brodie: We ended up having a quick practice in the car park beforehand. It was pretty good.
Tell us about some of the gigs you’ve had – the good, the bad, the interesting.
Brodie: All of the Transit (Bar) ones have been great. I’d put the Roxbury in Sydney up there as the best because we’d never played in Sydney before and the two bands that were headlining had a pretty crowded house and when we started setting up people started leaving. As soon as we started playing one of the guys from the previous bands, left the room and we thought, ‘oh okay, I guess we weren’t that good’ and then we look up again and he’s back, shoving people into the room and you hear him yelling out to his guys telling them to bring more people in and by the end we had a room half full with people that didn’t stop moving and it was great because it went from nothing to something so quickly. We can never pinpoint or guess how many people are going to turn up, but for us, no matter how many people show up, we’re always going to play as if to one thousand people. But we’ve had some shockers.
Brent: We played with a glam rock band at The Basement once and it was very strange.
Callum: They really looked the part, they looked like Motley Crue with the hair and makeup and the outfits and confetti canons.
Brent: Fake candles, strobe lights, all of that.
Brodie: Our worst gig was a ‘90’s tribute night at The Basement.
Brent: We had a lot of technical difficulties – which happens but it’s something that I love about these guys; everyone just rolls with it. Instead of cancelling or panicking, we do something. If I’ve broken a string, the guys save my a** and give me time to fix the string.
Callum: We’ve had some long beer jams doing that.
Brodie: There was one gig where we just didn’t work well at all. We can be optimistic and say, ‘well we need to work on that and practice this’, but this one we were all quite off.
Matt: We had stopped practicing and it was more like jamming and drinking.
Brent: We were just off and out of sync with each other but it was good because it was like a slap in the face and we went back and practiced our songs, tightened up the screws then went on to play a gig at The Phoenix and it was certainly one of my favourites and we got redemption from the previous gig.
So you learn from your mistakes?
Matt: If you keep anything from this interview, keep that in.
What is it like being an up and coming band in Canberra?
Brodie: For us it’s always been challenging. We don’t have a scene where we 100% fit in to so we always stand alone.
Callum: But we’ve always got a gig coming up.
Brodie: We were always interested in diverse shows, it was never that we needed to have two other rock bands playing with us. When we play with an acoustic group and a metal band, that’s cool because it’s a diverse show.
Would you say it’s still a good scene to be a part of?
Matt: I definitely think it’s great.
Brent: There is awesome music out there, there’s so many great Canberra bands.
Brodie: Canberra does have a big interest in live shows and live music and there are always bands playing and gigs happening and venues are constantly booking new bands and bigger bands. It’s great that this exists.
Brent: It’s like a circle block and a square hole, we still get in there and are accepted but we don’t quite fit.
Matt: Venues like us and I think people like us and that’s because there’s a good music scene in Canberra. So it’s good to stand alone and have something others don’t.
Callum: It’s a good following as well, it’s not just about the people making the music but the people that go and see it. Like Brodie said, there’s a lot of people in Canberra that love live music.
Brodie: As challenging as it has been for us not to have that scene, the kind of band that we are, we’re kind of the wildcard but we can just fit in there and play a diverse range of venues.
Brent: We were booked in with four heavy metal bands once and two or three of them were from interstate and had a pretty big following and the thing that made it so powerful was that the poster was in the style that a lot of metal bands like to write in and it was great because you had these four band names written in that style and then right down the bottom probably in Comic Sans or Times New Roman is ‘Signs & Symbols’, and it just didn’t fit but therefore stood out. And people that didn’t come to see us still enjoyed us and that’s what’s great about Canberra’s music scene; we might not all like the same type of music but we all like music.
Callum: The funniest thing that I constantly hear people say about us is ‘I don’t normally like this kind of stuff but ‘blank’…” or ‘I’ve never head banged that much or I’ve never mellowed out that much’ – to our slower songs.
So it’s good because you stand out as well as being able to fit in?
Matt: Yeah, not fitting in means we get to stand out.
Callum: I mean who wants to go and see three of the same bands in one night? Except if it’s the Foo Fighters, then you’d definitely want to see that.
So, what are your plans for the future?
Brodie: We’ve been trying to put out an album for two, three years and this is the only one that’s starting to make sense and proper things are happening.*
Brent: It’s an itch that needs to be scratched at this point. We recorded a demo when we were about 17 and it was cool but we were young, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We paid too much, I know I mucked around more than I should have and it all just fell apart and I think that’s left somewhat of a negative stigma on the band. We wanted to make something that we’d spent a little more time on, put a bit more effort in, work on the songs a bit more and add new things that you can’t really do in a live recording. We just want this to be released now and once it is I think we’re going to feel really good about it. To finally have something that’s out there and we can play if asked.
Brodie: We don’t have any recordings [out now] that we have as much pride in as we should. As much as you really want people to hear your stuff, you kind of grit your teeth because even though they don’t really know what they’re listening to is terrible, we do.
Brent: This is us being open and trying to create something and it becomes pretty personal and if people don’t like it, as much as you can be resilient and understand, there’s part of you that always thinks, ‘well that sucks’. You have that in the back of your mind and you work to make it the best album, so that’s why it has taken us so long to get the new one out.
And after the album is released?
Brodie: After it’s out, we’ll just keep gigging, we’d love to do a tour – that’s a bit of a dream.
Brent: Immediate future is just to release the album and get it to as many people as we can, through various social media outlets, selling them at gigs and playing gigs interstate so we can physically give it to people around the country. The gigs are important to us because as good as a CD or recording is, it doesn’t compare to a live show and the feel of it.
Brodie: As cocky as it sounds, I don’t think you can quite get our energy onto a CD. On stage it’s really loud and the fact that we don’t write out a set list, it’s all quite spontaneous and trying to put that on a CD, while it sounds great, I think our live energy can’t be matched.
Brent: It’s like taking a picture of a bullet train.
Brodie: Unless it’s a live album.
Brent: Like taking two pictures of a bullet train. And quickly flashing them back and forth. But all great analogies aside, [the plan is to] keep playing gigs, getting the album out and figuring it out from there.
Matt: The immediate plan for the future is to plan for the future.
Brodie: You know, get health insurance, I’ve got to go to the dentist. Probably have a shower…
Where can people look for you next?
Brent: Nothing at the moment but we’re always doing regular gigs.
Callum: You can look out for us at The Basement, Transit Bar, The Pot Belly and The Phoenix.
Brent: It’s one of those things that just comes up.
Best place to contact you/find more information?
Brent: Our Facebook page is the best. We do have a Triple J Unearthed page but we’re not on that as much as we should be but will be working on it soon.
Brodie: We also have an Instagram page that isn’t that active but it’s there.
Callum: Our email address is email@example.com and I’m free on Friday nights ladies…
Brent: And that’s Signs and Symbols signing off.
*Signs & Symbols’ self-titled album is out now and available for download at signsandsymbols.bandcamp.com.