Formed in the summer of 1989 by a close group of high school friends, Psyclone Smyle were conspirators of Sydney’s anti-shoegaze movement, playing their part in the local rise of the funk metal genre.
Emerging form the blues-rock scene of the inner western suburb Balmain, Psyclone Smyle were part of a small, close-knit collective of local high-school bands that included Baby Sugar Loud, Walk The Fire, The Beefs (featuring a young Alex Lloyd) and The Silenced. Previous incarnations of the band had existed during the school years (known variously as Mad Tangent, Cyclone Smiles & Psychlone Smyle), but the group re-invented their line-up, sound and approach, dropping the “h” from “psychlone” in late ’89.
Realising that the local Balmain gigs were mostly inhabited by the Sydney blues-rock “mafia”, a scene that had no time for bunch of young punk-funk-metal upstarts, Psyclone Smyle started their gigging life in the Open Mic Nights at the Landsdowne Hotel and went on to enter (and win) a band competition at the infamous Kardomah Café in mid 1990. Their first foray into a recording studio was part of their prize, and their first official recording “Land of Stranger Things” came from this session (co-engineerd by Andy Kent who went on to play bass in You Am I). This song later appeared on the “Big Hope Little Town” compilation LP, featuring bands that had become popular at Surry Hill’s famous Hopetoun Hotel at the time.
The next year, 1991, became a fruitful time for the band with a growing live reputation, enhanced by support slots with an eclectic range of Sydney (and Oz’s) finest – The Clouds, Falling Joys, Hellmenn, You Am I, Tumbleweed, Underground Lovers, Sea Monsters and The Plunderers to name but a few.
Comradeship had also developed with a growing funk-metal scene in Sydney, as heavy rock with an emphasis on fun and danceability became the order of the day. Bloody Mary, Juice, Caligula, Def FX, Slampacker, Succotash, Mindrider and Split were all furiously honing their sound at this time. Funk bass, slapped or plucked, lyrics rapped and sung, and guitars, blisteringly heavy, were taking over the town!
It was while working in the Festival Records warehouse that Chris & Ben discovered that sometimes it was “who you know” that counted, as a chance party invite to Todd Wagstaff (who at the time was a accountant trying to make the move to A&R) saw him turn up to the house party in Enmore. Psyclone Smyle played the show with half their equipment perched dangerously on the stairs. So impressed was Todd, that he courted an independent deal for them with Festival Records Publishing, and a booking agency deal with The Harbour Agency. Later that year, after the departure of original mentors Belinda and Paul “Zip” Murrell, Todd became the band’s manger.
The debut E.P. “Real Soul Pleaser” was recorded with legendary producer Mark Moffatt at the helm, and launched to a packed house at the Landsdowne (by this time, Psyclone’s home turf) in November 1991. The title cut received high-rotation airplay on Triple J, and the touring grind began in earnest in 1992. Despite some early touring disasters, Psyclone Smyle warmed up the boards along the east coast of Australia for acts like Noiseworks, Baby Animals, Falling Joys, The Trilobites, Nick Barker and The Dubrovniks during this time.
A follow-up single “Smylin’ Assassin” was recorded, but shelved by Festival for unknown reasons. The time that followed was tumultuous, to say the least. Festival Records’ support for the band became increasingly distant, and negotiations for a bail-out deal with Noiseworks’ manager Michael Browning failed to reach any satisfactory resolution. The bad-luck continued via a fallout with the Harbour Booking Agency, and Todd Wagstaff quit his role as manager to pursue an A&R deal for You Am I and the fledgling Rooart label. Todd’s replacement was ex-Baby Sugar Loud manager Megan Atkins.
Around mid-1992, amidst growing tensions within the band, founding drummer Dan Townsend was replaced by Peter Oriel and a second 5-track EP “Suspended” was recorded with money provided by new manager Megan. This too failed to excite Festival Records and the label withdrew any hope of a follow-up CD, although they would not release the band from the grip of their publishing contract. Self-funded tours to Brisbane followed, but crowd support started to dry up as Psyclone Smyle had trouble staying relevant in an increasingly grunge-soaked world.
By late 1992, Megan Atkins had left and a new enthusiastic manager in Jodie Pryor came on board, as well as drummer number three Luke Mason, however the changes failed to adequately inspire the core members Ben, Piet & Chris. So, in March 1993 when Ben announced he would leave the band, the decision was made to split Psyclone Smyle up completely. A limited edition cassette LP was given away to a lucky 100 punters at the final show.
A year later, in April 1994, the band was asked to reform for the opening of a new club “Feedback”, above Newtown Station, by Alan Scott who ran Zen Rehearsals at the time. To coincide with this, Megan Atkins had decided to launch her own record label Watchtower, with the shelved, aptly titled “Suspended” EP from 1992, becoming the first, and only, release for the label. The gig became a posthumous CD launch.
Arguably one of their finest shows, the PA repeatedly overheating in the sardine-like conditions, it provided a fitting last chapter to the story of Psyclone Smyle.
- Ben Nightingale – guitar, vocals
- Chris Newton – bass, vocals (also rhythm guitar in 1987-89)
- Piet Boon – lead vocals (also bass in 1987-89)
- Dan Townsend – drums (1988-1992)
- Peter Oriel – drums (1992);
- Luke Mason – drums (1993-1994)
- Peter Dodson – lead vocals (1987-89)
- Omar Balfas – drums (1987 & 1989)
- 1991 – “Land of Stranger Things” track on “Big Hope Little Town” compilation LP. Vinyl only. Modern Records.
- 1991 – “Real Soul Pleaser” Single/EP. CD/Vinyl/Cassette. Festival Records.
- 1992 – “Smyling Assassin/Tide” CD single, unreleased. Festival Records.
- 1993 – “Psyclone Smyle” LP. Cassette only, limited edition. Smylesongs.
- 1994 – “Suspended” EP. CD only. Watchtower Records.
Soon to be released through Portable Hole Recordings – retrospective CD/downloads of complete studio recordings, and a complete live set recorded at Sydney’s iconic Harold Park Hotel.
All promo photos taken by Tony Mott, 1991-1993.
All press clippings from Drum Media and On The Street, 1991-1993.
Artwork logos by Glenn Smith, 1991.