Q&A Scene: John Palmer ~ SECOND PRIZE

Tell us about your Release ‘The Heel Turn’ ?

I’ve been saying it gives masculinity the Marie Kondo treatment, which I think is true, but it’s only true in retrospect. I didn’t set out with a manifesto. It was only when I sat down at the end to try and make sense of the album that I realized that more than half of the songs were in some way or other about problems with the way that men are raised to act and to view the world.

Musically, most of it’s on a continuum between a britpoppy take on disco (the kind of thing Blur or Franz Ferdinand might have done) and fragile, croaky hangover music, a la Lambchop or Bill Callahan. Plus there’s probably the odd bit of Grinderman-era Nick Cave mixed in. If you’re writing an album about the problems with masculinity, that’s a long shadow to escape.

What’s your favourite work at this point in time? 

The thing I’m enjoying most is the video for our song ‘Waiting for a Spark’. I found this guy in Croatia who had exactly the animation style I wanted and we worked together on it. I wrote the script; he animated it.

Tell us a quick, on the road or studio, anecdote.   

Once my band practice was crashed by a funeral. I used to rehearse in this derelict nightclub in Auckland, rented to my band by this extremely odd guy who I’m not certain had any right to be there. A member of the local homeless community died from an overdose, and this bloke offered them the space to have the funeral. He just forgot we’d already booked. Everyone was extremely chill about it. They let us keep rehearsing except for ten minutes in the middle we took a break so someone could say a few words. At the time we were working on a cover of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, and a couple of the guests came up and said the deceased would have appreciated how deeply weird it all was.

What, or who, inspires you?   

Our songs tend to be pretty narrative-based – we try for a beginning, a middle and an end, even if we don’t always get there. So I tend to be inspired by (aka rip off) filmmakers and writers as much as musicians. I like Wes Anderson for the understated way his characters’ suppressed emotions erupt – I think there’s something really true about that. I like Miranda July for her commitment to an idea – the way she’ll jump on something and let it go where it wants to go, rather than trying to force it into an established narrative structure.

Which song do you wish you wrote?  

I tried to think of a hip answer to this, but the honest-to-god answer is that the song I come back to over and over again and try to figure out how they did it is Common People. It’s just perfect: class tension, sexual tension, incredible multilayered production and it always fills a dancefloor. All great songs are about class.

What’s next for you?

An album release at the Workers’ Club on Sunday March 31 with Duke Batavia and Magnets, then hopefully a follow-up EP by the end of the year.   

What’s your scene?    

Right here, right now. The tech advances of the past 15 or so years have made such a dazzling a sonic palette available to everyone that the music coming out now is richer and more diverse and just more interesting than any previous time. Plus we live in fascinating times, so there’s plenty to write about. And as an immigrant I am allowed to be unashamedly parochial about Melbourne, which I love.

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More about Second Prize:


The new album from Melbourne band Second Prize takes its name from the world of Pro Wrestling. The Heel Turn is the moment when a good guy (or a “face”) becomes a bad guy (or a “heel”).

Many of the songs on the debut album inhabit that space – the grey area where male behaviour normally regarded as  drifts over into toxic masculinity.   

“At the moment I think we as a culture are engaged in this massive audit of masculinity – what do we keep; what do we chuck out?” says singer/ songwriter John Palmer. “When you look at a lot of the common topics in rock music, they’re fine as far as they go, but you don’t need to push them very far at all before you end up in wrongtown. I’m really interested in that dynamic.”

He points to lead single Waiting for a Spark, which details a couple picking over their relationship, as an example. Other variations upon the theme include Sneak Around, which details an inept seduction attempt, and Try You On, which takes the cliché of a male narrator’s erotic fixation on an item of his girlfriend’s clothing to its logical conclusion.

Musically, the songs by turns evoke the sleazy disco of Pulp, the mid-life-crisis scuzz-rock of Grinderman-era Nick Cave, and the hangover-weary tenderness of Lambchop and Sparklehorse.

Palmer was previously the frontman of Half A Cow signing The Raylenes, and has more recently played guitar for Melbourne indie-pop auteur Georgia Fields. Chief collaborator Dave Rogers has played with Klinger, Ben Lee, Sophie Koh and Slow Fades.

The Heel Turn is released independently on March 22, and being launched on March 31 at The Workers Club with support from Magnets and Duke Batavia.


About Mary Boukouvalas 1620 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs Rocklust.com where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos, blistering.com, theaureview.com, noise11.com, music-news.com. She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.

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