MUSIC

Children Collide's Johnny Mackay explains following his heart over his bank balance

MORE RELAXED: Children Collide's Chelsea Wheatley, Johnny Mackay and Ryan Caesar aren't following any trends.
MORE RELAXED: Children Collide's Chelsea Wheatley, Johnny Mackay and Ryan Caesar aren't following any trends.

THERE was a period more than a decade ago when Children Collide appeared destined to become one of Australia's biggest bands.

Their 2008 debut The Long Now had introduced the Melbourne three-piece's modern take on '90s alternative through the triple j favourites Social Currency and Farewell Rocketship.

They even had established US hit-maker Dave Sardy (Oasis, Wolfmother, Dandy Warhols, Jet) behind them in the producer's chair.

Album No.2 Theory of Everything (2010) delivered Children Collide an ARIA top-five hit and their biggest single Jellylegs.

"We were on a trajectory where we were on the way to being a pretty big band and if you're a big band in Australia, you can play there forever," Children Collide vocalist and guitarist Johnny Mackay says from New York.

"At the same time I had to go with my heart and not just do it for the wrong reasons. That would have come out in the music. I think I can hear that when bands do that."

Going with his heart meant shutting down Children Collide in 2012. Prior to the third album, Monument, Mackay and drummer Ryan Caesar fell out, causing the latter to quit.

Mackay had also become seriously unhappy with the direction of the band and his music under record label Universal.

"It did get quite weird around that third album," he says. "We had a lot of people around us with big expectations and fair enough, that's their job.

"But you've got people worrying about what f--king chart position the album is gonna come in at, telling you what to wear in photo shoots and all kinds of things.

"It just got weirder and weirder. That was about when I went to New York because I loved doing the band, but when we're not on tour doing it I needed to be somewhere else, so that's where I went."

Mackay relocated to Brooklyn and continued releasing psychedelic synth-pop under the moniker Fascinator.

Yet Children Collide never totally disappeared. There were brief reunion shows in 2014 and then in 2019 Children Collide returned with Chelsea Wheatley from punk band The Gingers on bass, due to Crawley not being able to recommit to the band due to his Central Coast-based business.

Children Collide songs have never ceased for Mackay, either. The product of that continued fascination with punk-infused alternative guitar is Children Collide's fourth album Time Itself.

Children Collide - Man Of The People

"At the end of the break, I thought, 'I think the band is over'," Mackay says.

"I kept doing my thing and sometimes I wrote a dance song, sometimes I'd write a Fascinator song, and sometimes I wrote a song that felt like Children Collide.

"Ryan and I became friends again and we were talking about it and jamming every now and then. We had a bunch of songs and it wasn't until [Tame Impala and Pond manager] Jodie [Regan], who is managing me now as Fascinator, said, 'why don't you do another Children Collide record'?"

It proved sage advice. Once Mackay got back in a studio with Caesar and Wheatley the magic he first felt radiating around Children Collide came flooding back.

PHASE TWO: Children Collide are Johnny Mackay (vocals, guitar), Chelsea Wheatley (bass) and Ryan Caesar (drums). Picture: Jordan Drysdale

PHASE TWO: Children Collide are Johnny Mackay (vocals, guitar), Chelsea Wheatley (bass) and Ryan Caesar (drums). Picture: Jordan Drysdale

"I didn't stop writing for Children Collide, but what it did revitalise with me was the humanity and appreciation," he says. "Now if we play a show and everyone is singing the words I take a moment to think 'this is amazing' whereas back in the day I wouldn't been saying, 'my amp sounds funny' and worried about that the whole time."

Time Itself hasn't tossed away the Children Collide template. There's plenty of their trademark distorted guitar theatrics reminiscent of Sonic Youth and early Smashing Pumpkins.

But the second coming of Children Collide has also embraced a more modern psych-rock sound, possibly influenced by Australian bands King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard and Pond.

"On this record I can hear all the bands I listened to growing up," Mackay says. "I was a little afraid of that in early Children Collide, getting pegged.

"We'd get a review saying Nirvana or Sonic Youth. I'd think I have to write the opposite of that song now. This time I was, 'let's lean into what's fun about this'."

Children Collide - Uh Oh

Since the first break-up of Children Collide the music scene has irreparably changed. Streaming dominates and COVID-19 has further depleted the opportunities for rock bands to be successful.

If I stayed there we probably would have got trapped making the same record over and over again and playing Rooty Hill RSL.

Johnny Mackay, Children Collide

Does Mackay regret taking a break when Children Collide were nearing their commercial peak?

"If I stayed there we probably would have got trapped making the same record over and over again and playing Rooty Hill RSL," he says.

"Maybe I would have owned a couple of houses. But you make choices in your life and I still get to make music. I'm making records and it's what I've always loved so I can't really complain.

"Who says it wouldn't have ended in disaster if we'd stayed there being successful and angry."

Time Itself is released on Friday.

Children Collide are scheduled to play theSooki Lounge, Belgrave (November 25); The Eastern, Ballarat (November 27); La La La's, Wollongong (December 1); Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (December 2); Kambri, Canberra (December 3) andNewcastle Hotel (December 4).

This story The kids are all right in Children Collide's second coming first appeared on Newcastle Herald.