I admired Break Even from afar for years and years. They’re a band that mean a lot to me, and to a lot of other people as well. I never met Mark in person properly until 2014, when Break Even did their reunion tour. After that, I saw him a lot out on the road as a tour manager for just about everyone. We’re not besties or anything like that, but we always make a point of saying g’day whenever we’re at the same show and he’s always been a big supporter of my podcast.
Obviously, I only knew him as this legend of the scene back when this interview happened, so it’s funny seeing me fangirl over the band a bit and bring up some snark against that Title Fight tour in this feature. Very different times, folks. Anyway, I love Mawds. You should too.
One of the hardest working bands in Australia, Perth’s BREAK EVEN spent 2011 playing some of their biggest and wildest shows yet. Ahead of their appearances at the Soundwave Festival, DAVID JAMES YOUNG spoke to the band’s irrepressible vocalist, MARK “MAWDS” BAWDEN, to discuss everything from playing in museums to supporting Australian music.
Normally, phone interviews with musicians are connected through to the musician’s home, or their hotel – or, in some instances, even their tour bus. Mark Bawden is quite a different tale, however. With the band’s touring over – at least, for a month or two – Bawden is back in the workforce, where he takes our call and heroically sacrifices smoko in order for him to do the interview.
“I work transplanting trees, horticultural kind of stuff,” he explains. “They’re thankfully pretty understanding that I can’t always be here, and when I’m here I’m a pretty hard worker, so it’s a good relationship.” Being a hard worker is certainly not a foreign concept to Bawden and his band, who hit the ground running with their 2009 debut, The Bright Side, and have barely stopped for breath since. In 2011 alone, the band toured with artists as diverse as Rise Against, Title Fight and The Getaway Plan, each tour bringing a new challenge and a flock of new fans towards the band’s passionate, melodically-swayed take on post-hardcore.
“We got to tour through Europe in February – that was a really great experience,” recalls Mark. “That was just the start of it. All through this year it’s been about the really big experiences for this band. We’ve gotten to do things that we hadn’t previously had a chance to do. Europe meant playing to a lot of different kinds of audiences through different cultures. With the Rise Against shows, it meant performing these massive arena shows – which was nerve-wracking at first, but soon became really fun. Lately, we’ve been doing shows with The Getaway Plan. We were so stoked to see those guys together and just smashing it; and it was great for us to be playing to these audiences that we definitely weren’t used to.”
This retrospect eventually leads to the Title Fight tour. Already controversial before it even began, due to bloated ticket prices and venue choices, things got even more heated on the first night of the tour, at Brisbane’s Old Museum. “We all got spoken to before the show started and got told that we couldn’t rile up the crowd,” says Mark, giving his side of the story. “We couldn’t have stage diving or anything, because it was a really…y’know… Old Museum. So, from the start of the show, it was a really weird vibe. Unfortunately, the night was really timid, and no-one felt like they could really get into our set or Touche’s set. When it came to the last song of Title Fight’s set, I think everyone decided that then was the moment to get really crazy.”
“It all got a bit too crazy,” he continues. “Some dudes got on stage, and then one of the guys who worked at the venue grabbed the kid, who was really close to Title Fight’s guitarist. At this point, Title Fight’s stage tech saw what was going on and pushed the guy who worked there off the stage or something like that. The cops were called, and I was just up the back watching the whole thing. It felt like a really bad way to end the show, but in a way I think it showed that pretty much everyone that was there was there for the right reasons.”
Amazingly, amongst all of this extensive touring, Break Even have found the time to begin work on the long-awaited follow-up to The Bright Side. Bawden does not give too much away in regards to what we can expect from the record, instead finding himself discussing the context of the album’s songwriting process. “I guess we’re all growing up,” he says. “We’ve all got full-time jobs, so we’re not the kind of band that can just finish touring and then head straight back into the studio. We’re a band that kind of takes our time, and we’re not letting anyone push us – least of all ourselves. This year,we tried to push to finish the record, but all that really did was get the group angry at one another. It didn’t work out at all. The way we’re working now is much better. At this stage, it will probably be ready by the middle of next year.”
Before the release of the record, however, Break Even have one last massive tour ahead of them in the form of the Soundwave Festival. As one of three Australian acts playing the festival – alongside Sydney bands Tonight Alive and Heroes for Hire – many see the opportunity for a homegrown band to be playing an internationally-dominated festival as a privilege. The question must be asked, however: is it really a privilege for an Australian band to be playing an Australian music festival?
Bawden considers this, and answers carefully. “I think if any band from Australia got an opportunity to do this, then they would love to do it,” he says. “With that said, that is something that Soundwave really needs to open its doors to; and that’s having more Australian bands as a part of the line-up. It’s a very different environment for bands – not everyone who goes to shows goes to festivals, and vice-versa. So it’s good for a band like us, where we can hopefully get those people to come out to one of our own shows. It’s not a privilege, not at all. For us, though, it’s definitely an honour to play something like this. I’m sure many other bands would find it an honour, too – which is why I’d love to see a whole stage at Soundwave dedicated to Australian music. Wouldn’t it be great to have that amongst… what is it, a hundred international bands? In the end, it is an Australian festival. I’m glad that they’ve opened it up, but it needs to go further.”