“Something’s missing inside your soul, and you’re looking for someone to blame.”
-Poison Oak, “Some People Tell Lies”
An artist doesn’t have to be unique to provide quality music. Creativity is creativity, and it takes a lot of work just to contribute to the continuation of a genre. Rockers Poison Oak look to give listeners quality music to simply enjoy.
Poison Oak hails from Townsville, Australia on the north-eastern coast of Queensland. The process to forming the band was organic. It started with jam sessions, then innocent recording and eventually serious industry interest.
“We came together because we like to write music,” said lead vocalist James Balthes. “After a while we decided to do some recording, which lead to some music companies showing interest in us, which also led to taking it more seriously.”
When like, or sometimes unlike, minds can conjure and create through improvisation in an intimate setting, the writing benefits. It’s more living in a sense, and eventually those sessions don’t just make a song, they make a story. There’s still a need for great songwriters who keep their songs due to the deep personal connection within the work.
The band, though hesitant to define their sound, can fall into the mass saturation of Indie rock. However, they do offer ‘80s’ and ‘90s’ punk elements whether that be through strategy or subconscious inspiration.
Balthes explained, “We’re not that unique, and I don’t consider that a bad thing. We all creatively play the way we do, and when it mixes together it comes out as a combination of everyone’s individual influences.”
I’m a sucker for nostalgia, musically and lyrically. Singer-songwriters like Frank Turner, Butch Walker, Brain Fallon and Dave Hause have the uncanny ability to capture a moment, reminisce and share that with listeners for them to find a relation. Aage Birch, formally Onward Etc., is also fantastic at this style. Poison Oak focuses on recollection as a theme, and that’s what makes the act so appealing.
Locals have compared the group to other Australian acts such as The Go-Betweens and The Whitlams, but one thing is for certain: their music is broad and has the potential to reach many audiences—audiences that know what they like and know what has worked before.
Poison Oak has been releasing music since 2019, but their latest EP, 1996, has given them a solid sample to provide audiences. “Waiting” is a great opening track; it’s rhythmic and has decent structure. This is especially exemplified about two-thirds through the track when the bass only accompanies the vocals, and the drums begin to build up before the group falls fully back into the chorus. The song is a throwback to old catchy Brit-rock.
“1996” captures Poison Oak’s theme. Coming-of-age lyrics and guitar melody starts to showcase the band’s strengths. They keep their same structure, which is seemingly simple, but also difficult to perfect and remain consistent. Small elements like light backing vocals that sometimes go unnoticed really bring the production of a song together, which can be heard on the title track.
The group slows it down a tad for “Sarah” but maintains the theme of memory. Lyrically, the song is descriptive and detailed, honing in on imagery like cigarette burns that can activate multiple senses—hearing not being one of them, coincidentally.
“Some People Tell Lies” continues the gradual slowing of cadence. The track is a ballad and it provides the all-important aspect of balance to an album. The melody is strong once again, and though Blathes breaks from the theme a tad, the emotional tone is still present. The build-up is the strongest on this song, almost similar to how The Airborne Toxic Event expertly produces anticipation.
Poison Oak then showcases their versatility in “Let You Down.” Musically, this is my favorite track, and though Blathes doesn’t stray from his range much, he subtly hints that he contains the ability to do so if controlled. The bluesy, dark dynamic of the structure is intoxicating; it compares to acts such as The Zutons that can offer a different sound without it actually being different.
“Thinking of You” is the perfect closing track to the EP. It sums up Poison Oak’s sound with shifts in tempo and their lyrical theme of reminiscing. Not only is balance important on an EP or full album, it also can be accomplished in the same song.
Poison Oak has not just created a sound and nostalgic lyrics, they’ve created an atmosphere, and experience best visualized in crowded dive bars and pubs. Don’t assume that limits them, however, because they have the talent to go far and connect with the audience and meet their energy. They have the ability to relate because they are not just rockers, but fans of rock. They’re simply people telling stories about life.
Blathes stated, “Daily life is the struggle, and drive is to make it more enjoyable each day.”
Have fun today, everyone.