“I don’t ever look at Twitter,” says Australian indie rock crew Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s bassist, Joe Russo, 28. “But from what I gather we’ve become much bigger in the States than in New Zealand and Australia.”
He’s not kidding: The Melbourne group’s fusion of 1970s power pop, 1980s college rock and early 2000s indie rock has connected here in a big way, yielding 5.8 million Spotify plays for their 2017 single “French Press,” rave reviews for their debut LP on Sub Pop, Hope Downs, and sweaty, well-attended shows across the U.S. “The most exciting day on tour is always laundry day so we have clean clothes,” says singer-guitarist Tom Russo, 32. “None of this is very glamorous.”
As the band’s five members sip cheap canned beer backstage at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Records before the first of two evening shows this spring they have every right to sound a little exhausted. It’s been a month since they played Coachella, and since then the group — which consists of the two Russo brothers, plus a pair of singer-guitarist cousins, Fran Kearny and Joe White, and their longtime buddy, drummer Marcel Tussie — have traveled throughout the continent in a cramped van, spending the night at dirt-cheap motels and playing in a different city almost every single night.
American crowds, they all agree, are far different than the ones back home in Australia. “Everyone here is more open about their enthusiasm for the music,” says Tussie. “People here will give you a hug and be like, ‘You made my night. I really connected with this song and that song.’ We’ve never had that in other places.”
They’ve also never seen restaurants like the ones they’ve found in America. On a good day, they might manage to find a Whole Foods and stock up on vegetables, but often they subsist on roadside fast food. They’re still grumbling about a weird deli they found the other day between Boston and Philadelphia that charged them $28 for a single roast beef sandwich. “It was a nightmare,” says Kearny. “We bought two of them and asked for extra bread to share them. We wound up each just taking big chunks of meat into our bare hands.”
That level of closeness and cooperation has been there from the very beginning, when they started writing songs in their Melbourne bedrooms. Kearny, Tom Russo and White have always shared songwriting and singing duties equally, meaning the group has no true frontman. “This started out as more of a songwriting collective than a band,” says Tom. “For the first few years it was really just a hobby, a casual songwriting project. Gigs were few and far between and mainly at parties of our friends. We stumbled into this once we started putting music up on the Internet.”
Onstage at Rough Trade, they radiate with charisma and youthful energy, even when Tom Russo breaks a string and has to rush backstage mid-song to borrow a guitar from the opening act, since they can’t yet afford a road crew or backup instruments. “I hope that looked okay from the outside,” he says afterward. “It sure didn’t feel that way from up there.” Chief on their wishlist for their next U.S. tour, they say, are slightly better lodgings than the endless chain of Motel 6s they stayed in through the spring and summer of 2018. “At this point,” says Kearny, “even a Days Inn would be luxurious to us.”