SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
May 26, 2023

RIP Collarbones

After more than a decade of mashing genres, ADLxSYD duo Collarbones has called it quits. Ahead of a national farewell tour celebrating their new and final album, Travis Cook and Marcus Whale talk coming of age on the internet and what comes next.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Graphic: Jayde Vandborg

Turning’ is the song that made Collarbones.

Released in 2014, it’s choppy electro-pop exploring the electricity that builds when a new relationship is formed. Its charged vocals ring out into infinity: “You make me feel like someone new”.

The song also came with a very of-its-time video clip, popping with surreal lo-fi internet aesthetics and synchronised dancing by then-fresh-faced Adelaide producer Travis Cook and Sydney-based vocalist Marcus Whale.


Collarbones’ new album ‘Filth’ is due to drop on 23 June.
Keep an eye for the record on Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp.

For updates on Collarbones final Adelaide show, follow the band on Instagram and Facebook

Revisiting the clip nine years on pulls CityMag (Collarbones stans that we are) back to 2014 – a time when Tony Abbot was Prime Minister, the 808 had made a musical comeback and bruising was considered a look.

For many who came of age in this Collarbones Common Era, ‘Turning’ was soundtrack to the formative years that connected our teenagerdom to our adulthood. We came out from behind our online user names to flaunt it at nightclubs, shaking loose our adolescence and crystallising the persona we hoped would become our future identity.

As we embarked upon this process, Travis and Marcus, as Collarbones, were on the precipice of of mastering their own destinies.

Travis, who is the producer and South Australian half of the duo, says the Collarbones engaged him at a major juncture in his life.

“I think it occupied me at a time when I was unemployed,” he tells CityMag. “I was getting out of high school. I studied two years at film school, so I just poured everything into that as an outlet.”

Speaking to us over a glitchy Zoom call while walking down a busy Sydney street, Marcus, who provides Collarbones’ croons, caterwauls and guitar riffs from the East Coast, says the project held a similar place in his life in the beginning.

“It’s basically my entire [life],” he says. “We started it when we were teenagers, and for a very long time it was the main thing for both of us. It was, in many ways, the foundation of me doing things for most of my twenties and late teens.”

Collarbones’ debut album, Iconography, came three years before ‘Turning’ broke them through. The album’s 11 tracks are kaleidoscopic, loopy and lo-fi – akin to Animal Collective’s brand of experimental pop.

Iconography was released at a party at the Sydney Marrickville Bowls Club after a meat raffle. Marcus crowd surfed on the night, and Travis blew the speakers. “All the high frequencies got cut out,” Travis remembers, laughing.

The band’s subsequent releases — Die Young (2012), Return (2014) and Futurity (2019) — explore different layers of Travis’ postmodern production, over which Marcus’s lyrics slowly peel back at his subversive and sensitive subconscious.

On ‘Hypothermia’, a glitchy bop from Die Young that zooms in and out of abstracted focus, we’re only given a taste of Marcus’s inner world: “How the time won’t fade / All goes frozen white”. Then there’s the creamy cut ‘Deep’ from Futurity, which is lyrically straightforward, unravelling the anxious feeling of being in someone else’s bed: “It fucking scares me when I feel you move / Do you trust me to sleep around you?

The success from these songs afforded ample opportunity to the pair, whose creative relationship began online. They found each other on a post-rock music forum in 2006. In “November 2007, we put a track on MySpace,” Travis says. “That was the beginning of Collarbones, and we didn’t meet until after that track was uploaded.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Collarbones (@collarbonesband)


This year marks 16 years of Marcus and Travis making music together, and through that time Collarbones never stopped evolving.

Their career has taken them to performances at Vivid, Pitch Music & Arts and Sugar Mountain Festival. They’ve been the focus of music outlets like Purple Sneakers, Pilerats and FBi Radio, and even caught the attention of Flume, who remixed ‘Turning’ in 2015. They guest hosted ABC cult music show Rage and collaborated with well-known names in Australia’s brimming 2010s electro-ecosystem: Oscar Key Sung, Banoffee and HTML Flowers, to name a few.

Collarbones was a door-opener for Travis and Marcus. They shapeshifted from dorky kids behind computer screens into fixtures of the national underground music scene. They also catapulted their respective music careers.

But their time as Collarbones is about to end. Their latest album, Filth, due to drop on 23 June, will be their last. To celebrate the album and this final milestone, they will also embark on a national tour.

Travis cautions there is “always the risk of becoming John Farnham or James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem” by reviving the act after a brief hiatus, but he and Marcus want to canonise Collarbones with a coda.

“I could picture us becoming Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross or something in the future,” Travis says. “By doing film soundtracks or something completely different… [but] maybe it’s good to draw a line in the sand.”

Filth, their final work, is a throwback. Its 11 tracks are a cocktail of shoegaze, alternative, electronica and industrial music, and it’s a disparate listening experience.

The album opener, ‘Tap the Vein’, mixes Imogen Heap’s layered vocal harmonies with slippery guitar slides. ‘The Southerly’ has gentle acoustic guitar melodies threaded together with drawn-out silence. But then songs like ‘Little Death’ and ‘Further’ serve up brawling techno and jungle textures with wobbly vocals.

There’s a reason Filth sounds disjointed and referential of different musical eras — from ’90s nu-metal to 2010 electronica.

“Since our last album, Futurity, we worked on a few different things and a few different styles of tracks,” Travis says. “We weren’t sure of the form that it was going to take, and initially we were thinking of doing something very industrial, almost like Ministry or Nine Inch Nails-style album called God Gave Me This Body For a Reason.

“But basically, all of those tracks were scrapped and we were toying with the idea of releasing a mixtape and an album, but then eventually settled on combining the two into this. That’s why there are these guitar heavy tracks near these quite electronic ones.”

The guitar-based structures come from Marcus, who says they came from him being cooped up during COVID lockdowns. Holed up in his room, he digested music livestreams religiously – mostly Deftones performing their latest album, Ohms. Playing guitar was a form of escapism. A means of feeling good as the world was collapsing.

With these influences swirling around him, Marcus tried to mimic a feeling of freedom in his writing. He mined the “magical feeling of discovery” first experienced when getting into alternative and heavier bands at age 12. Marcus has an undying commitment to this era of rock, encapsulated by the White Pony ink on his back.

“I got into Korn when I was 10-ish from my older brother and his friends being into that sort of music,” he says. “And so for me, it was, like, ‘Oh wait, I can break out of my kid world and there’s this fantasy zone that takes me out of the everyday through music’.

“I think there’s a darkness in the music and a sort of emotional intensity to it. I think it also fits into the feeling of wanting to regress into easy pleasure, which I think, for me — and probably a lot of other people — [helped me get] through the days back in 2020—2021.”

Lyrically, Filth is a distillation of sex, sin and surrendering your body to pleasure. ‘Ripe for Filth’ is perfectly inflammatory: “My every hole is yours / Slick with sweat and ripe for bliss”; while ‘Edging’ is an industrial, in-your-face ballad about giving someone “just enough to keep you on the edge”.

The filmmaker John Waters once said being dirty strengthens our immune system. “Not filthy. Just mildly grimy,” he’s quoted as saying. Collarbones are prepared to go further. Filth explores how good transgression can taste. By zigzagging between musical eras and genres, and exploring how delicious it feels to fall from grace, the album pushes back against expected sounds and ideas. It’s a difficult body of work to settle into, which is perhaps the point.

Filth also works as an artefact of Marcus and Travis’s growth and provenance. The album’s name harks back to toddler Travis on the brink of his own musical discovery.

“The title, Filth, is named after a compilation that I liked as a child,” he says. “When I was about four years old, my dad had this free music sampler with a bunch of alternative rock tracks on it, like Rage Against the Machine and The Prodigy.

“My introduction to music was through that compilation.”

In an age where you cop a single through a stream rather than by visiting Sanity at Marion after school, Travis and Marcus want to revive the rituality of accessing music. The pair have commissioned Sydney-based creative director Killjoy to guide the shape and rollout of the band’s aesthetic and physical finale. This includes designing a CD cover, band t-shirts, posters and other collectable ephemera.

The aim is to draw a silhouette of a rock band and something to obsess over. “It’s almost like we’re fulfilling that teen desire to start a rock band,” Travis says. “And even when I initially made our social media accounts, it was CollarbonesBand, it wasn’t CollarbonesDJ. So maybe I subconsciously wish we were a rock band too.”

But success, in that traditional rock-documentary sense, is a double-edged sword. The industry churn is one of the reasons Marcus wants to shelve Collarbones. He says the industry structure of writing music, releasing music and touring music — a pressure-cooker of expectation, that it not only sound good but be better than prior releases — has become burdensome.

“Every act of trying to release became heavier,” Marcus says. “[But] when I do stuff on my own and other projects it’s a lot more flexible, and I can kind of be more imaginative and fantastical with it.

“Over time it felt like Collarbones was more chained to an idea that belonged in the 2010s, in a way… and I think Travis’ style is pretty exploratory and jammy without my voice on it. Without the organisational structure around Collarbones, it feels flexible and more in the moment – making and exploring.”

Though this is the end of Collarbones, it’s not a bitter split.

“Not everybody collaborates for this long, and I’m glad I had something that was formative for me,” Travis says.

“I really enjoyed being able to be a social media manager and Photoshopping crazy memes and making people laugh at it. There was a music part of it but I realised it was a platform, and then it led me into doing stand-up comedy [and] all kinds of strange things you wouldn’t expect from listening to the initial music. It allowed me to express myself.”

Travis also looks fondly on the world of his collaborator, saying he continues to be transfixed by the way Marcus has morphed into a staple of Sydney’s performance scene.

He particularly enjoys the characters Marcus embodies, believing they could be “an extension of the scenes he sings about in Collarbones — embodying the vampire, and this forbidden lust,” he says. “I’m not sure what he’ll do next. I’m never quite sure.”

Marcus says Collarbones was the springboard for his career as a multidisciplinary artist, but he says his relationship with Travis is “bigger than Collarbones and more important than Collarbones”. He’d rather protect it than put a strain on it for the sake of producing something for the music industry.

“I’m really happy with what I do these days… and the foundation of me being able to do that was always [because of] Collarbones. Everything led out from there,” Marcus says.

If ‘Turning’ is the song that kicked off Collarbones’ career, the first single from their final album, ‘Ripe for Filth’, could be considered their closer. It’s brash, anthemic, and evidence of the pair becoming who they want to be.

Marcus and Travis will cap off their journey together by going back the beginning. As part of the national tour supporting Filth, their last Sydney show will be at the Marrickville Bowling Club. They have plans to fire up a meat raffle.

“We are returning,” Travis says.

“But also, ironically,” Marcus interjects, “we’re still very much looking to the future with this album, which is maybe more important than the past.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Collarbones (@collarbonesband)

Share —