MEET: Kirsty Tickle aka Exhibitionist

MEET: Kirsty Tickle aka Exhibitionist

Full disclosure - Kirsty Tickle used to work in the Young Henrys tasting bar. And while you can still catch her doing the odd cameo on the YH beer taps, mostly her hands are busy holding a mic or the sax these days. Her silky-smooth solo project Exhibitionist, signed to Future Classic, has been gracing festival stages from Falls and Laneway to Mountain Sounds and Secret Garden.

Then there’s Party Dozen. Saw-toothed improv jams with Kirsty on sax and Jonathan Boulet on drums. When you walk in to a gig and there’s a big bowl of earplugs sitting alongside the LPs and merch, it sends a clear message: We're going to blast your eardrums, but we care about you and your future tinnitus. Of single 'Straights', man on the internet, Declan Byrne declared, “Just installed this giant as the new emergency alarm in my flat”. (Huge if true). Check it out...


Kirsty, as Exhibitionist, will play next month’s Sounds on the Terrace at MCA. Which was the perfect excuse to lure her back to the brewery for a beer and a chat…

Party Dozen and Exhibitionist are obviously two very different beasts! What do they each fulfil for you?
I really like heavy music, so Party Dozen is kind of scratching that itch. And just having a really unapologetically musical project. When we started we didn’t care if anyone ever came to a show because it was music that we wanted to listen to. We self-release it, it’s not tainted by anyone else’s — not tainted, I shouldn’t use that word —  there’s [been] no ‘Oh you might need to add another chorus’ or ‘you need to do this or that to it’. It’s just whatever [we] want to do. So that kind of scratches that itch and it’s also the instruments that Jono and I are best at. I’m best at woodwind instruments, that’s my strength. But I’ve always really wanted to sing in my own projects because I really like singing and I miss writing songs so I was like it might be nice to start a pop project [Exhibitionist] where I can sing and write and not just be in a band doing back-up and stuff for people.

Do you have a musical mentor?
I mean, Jono [Boulet] is my collaborator. He works on Exhibitionist as well, we’ve known each other for a really long time and he’s very honest with me about what he thinks about stuff. Which used to hurt my feelings but it doesn’t anymore. I think he’s probably a really good musical mentor for me because he’s done it before as well and he has a lot of skill sets and he’s pretty quick to call something out as being boring or not entertaining enough for a live show, or not having enough credibility, musically. He’s very quick to call that out. I mean, I don’t listen to him all the time. I still have my own beliefs about that sort of thing but I think he’s probably whose opinion matters most.

How did the conversation first start about Party Dozen? Was there a particular moment that sparked it?
So, that started with us playing each other’s instruments. So, I was on drums [and he was on sax]. We were just mucking around jamming…

And what’s he like on sax?
Actually, you know what, my song ‘Being a Woman’ that Exhibitionist did, he actually plays one of the saxes in the end, he’s pretty stoked about that. Yeah, he goes alright on sax. He just makes really gross noises…

Actually when I saw you live at 107 Projects we were way up the back and at one point you were like ‘I hate doing this’ and I couldn’t see what it was.
Oh, I was singing into the sax bell, like yelling into the sax bell. Which I now feel less self-conscious about. It reminded me of this Dave Grohl thing that he used to do back in the early 2000s, maybe it was for Monkey Wrench and he had that air thing that he sang into, it was like connected to his guitar somehow and he was like ,’I feel like such a douchebag doing this’ every time he did it. I kind of felt the same about that song but now I’m over that, it’s fine.

Do you feel different on stage depending on what instrument you’re playing?
Yeah, sax is like no nerves. I just feel really excited. I also can have a few beers before I play saxophone and I know I’ll do a good show. Whereas singing is not as natural to me, I have to concentrate a lot more, there’s a lot more attention on you. In Exhibitionist I feel like most of the eyes are on me so it’s like making sure that I sing really well because people are brutal if you sing out of tune! [laughs] Which I do…

So you guys swapped instruments…
And then we were like ok we should probably play the instruments we’re actually good at and then we maybe wrote two tracks over in London before we came back to Australia. I was still learning how to use guitar pedals and we were still figuring out how to mic up the sax to make it sound good as well. We had a contact mic on it for ages which was taped on but it sounded like shit. We were just trying to figure out the best way of getting a good sound out of it that was still interesting and not tinny and shrill. And yeah when we came back to Sydney we just kept doing more and more over the next 12 months until we were like well we’ve got enough songs for an album so we may as well do that. Just created a little label with our friend Steve to put it out on, and just did it. But [we] didn’t expect any response whatsoever.

Yeah, I got that impression, that you were like ‘oh people actually get into it’??
Yeah I think the live show is impressive enough that people don’t feel like it’s super alienating. I guess, we’ve both come from pop pasts so even though it’s experimental and improv it still grooves along. It’s not like completely alienating to people who don’t like that kind of music. There’s still something that they can grab on to, whether it’s just like a bass thing that Jono’s looping or the fact that he plays drums really impressively, but it’s in time, it’s not like sporadic, weird drums. I think that’s why people are ok with it.

It’s always good to walk in to a show and there’s just like a massive thing of earplugs!
Yeah! Very important! I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone’s hearing that night.

With Exhibitionist there seems to be a lot more sensory stuff, collaborators and there’s a lot more of a visual element to it. Do you see it as more of a holistic project?
Yeah definitely. And it’s been really nice to collaborate with friends. Jos [Eastwood] has done 90% of the artwork and photos for it, which is great because it’s all cohesive and it’s just like another creative element. I think I’ve always seen Exhibitionist as like an art project as well. In a different way to Party Dozen, in that it’s not just a musical project, it’s supposed to be quite sensual.

How do you find that translates at a festival?
I think we were smart to use Bri [dancer and longtime YH staffer, Brianna Kell] at Laneway, just because she is so great to watch, and the colour blocking with the costuming was really good. And it just adds another element to that art aspect to it, that people can kind of grab hold of a bit more. It’s not just somebody singing songs and standing in the middle of the stage, there’s interaction and it’s more of a performance.

And, ‘Being a Woman’, how’d that come about?
After the Women’s Marches last year we were just in the studio talking about it and, actually, Jono was like, ‘you should write a song about it’. We were talking about Nina Simone and how so many of her songs are a rhythmic loop, whether it’s on piano or a percussion thing, and we just started mucking around like that. The lyrics were written over a few days. I was trying to make every word count, rather than [using] metaphors. Nothing metaphorical, just straight-up, short sentences. Yeah I’m really proud of that song, I really really love it. We recorded it and we recorded the vocals in one take so that the actual recorded version gets more and more intense towards the end because we did straight-to-tape as well.

What was the first gig you ever went to?
Mine was…Tina Arena! Yeah I was real young, I reckon I would have been like eight years old…and I was up the front. It was at the theatre in Toowoomba and someone lifted me on to the stage and she came and held my hand and sang, it was so great. I was like, this is amazing! I was just so tiny, someone just lifted me to sit on the edge of the stage so I could see.

And what was the last gig you went to?
Well, Laneway on the weekend but I’m going to Moses Sumney tonight at the Opera House.

See Exhibitionist play Sounds on the Terrace, MCA Sculpture Terrace on Wednesday 7th March (FREE SHOW).
Follow Exhibitionist on Facebook/Instagram
See Party Dozen play Bad Friday on Friday 30th March.
Follow Party Dozen on Facebook/Instagram

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