Latest release: Le Demon de L’amourWebsite: www.theneptunepowerfederation.com
The Neptune Power Federation celebrates ten years since their debut vinyl album release Mano a Satano in 2022, a career that got off to a bit of a wonky start when promo copies of the album went out to media with the wrong music on it. Since then they have become an internationally-touring psychedelic metal and rock n’ roll beast with five albums, a graphic novel tie-in and a mesmerising live act that centres around the shamanistic presence of vocalist and self-styled High Priestess Lauren “Screaming Loz” Whalley. It’s certainly a long way from the germ of an idea in the mind of creative force, guitarist and artist Mike “Inverted Crucifox” Foxall and lightyears from the cartoonish punk shenanigans of his 90s band Nancy Vandal.
The band’s latest album used the theme of love as its central concept. Appropriately released on Valentine’s Day this year, Le Demon de L’amour took inspiration from 70s funk rock and the grandiloquent rock epics of Jim Steinman in keeping with their reputation for never repeating themselves. Next month The Neptune Power Federation will be part of the Blacken Open Air festival in the Northern Territory. In our wide-ranging interview, Mike Foxall gives us his thoughts on the arts, his band and how they manage to work around bassist Jason Whalley’s often parallel schedule.
Before we get started on the NPF, you did an animation thing with Craig Billmeier of The Love Songs, who was the original singer for your band, which won you an award. That must have been quite amazing.
Yeah, it was. We finished that quite a while ago. We were doing it last year. They did an album and got me to do a music video for them and then they couldn’t play anywhere because it was during the peak of COVID, so they decided to do a short film. Now they’re entering all these film festivals over [in the US], so you can’t see it anywhere at this stage other than those film festivals, but eventually it will come out.
Like you said on a Facebook post, people don’t get the recognition they deserve for things like that here.
Well that’s the funny thing, that I’m winning awards over there. Why don’t they do that kind of thing over here… It’s hard over here to get those kinds of things recognised. There’s some vehicles, but not a lot.
Bands outside the mainstream had to struggle for years to get recognised by ARIA. I suppose it’s the same sort of thing for other areas of the arts as well.
I guess some of it is population based. If you are an underground artist of any kind, then the people you are appealing to it, by sheer numbers, a smaller amount, compared to Europe or the States. But I think that’s where it should be up to governments to ensure those arts things are supported and propped up, because there’s not the numbers to otherwise support it. The other part of that is the whole cultural cringe thing where Australia looks down on cultural stuff that we produce.
Hopefully Albo will do something about that. I saw him at Bluesfest making a big deal about it. Now he’s actually the PM, hopefully something will happen.
Yeah I think that might be our best chance for a while.
Let’s move on. This is now the fifth album you’ve done.
I know! We sort of keep slowly churning them out. It’s funny because Nancy Vandal did six, with that more recent one we did included. And the length of the band has far exceeded Vandal’s “career”. It’s funny isn’t? A lot of people were surprised by that, who followed Nancy Vandal back in the day.
Yes, many people have been surprised. I spoke to Jay once about it, and I remember I said something to him like, “I bet you never would have expected to turn up in a heavy metal band – with your wife singing.” It was as much of a surprise for him as for anyone else, wasn’t it?
It really was. When we were thinking about getting a local singer, Lauren wasn’t the first person who popped into our heads. We were brainstorming for ages. Then it was like, “What about Lauren?” It was a good decision for the band, as it turned out.
She has totally embraced that character too.
That character is her. She basically invented that. When we got her to sing, we didn’t have that in mind. An occult witch priestess thing – that’s all her! So not only has she brought her amazing voice, but that character is her too.
You’ve always been the creative force behind all these projects, so that must have been a refreshing thing to have someone say, ‘This is what I want to bring to the band’.
Yeah! She wasn’t really pressured to come up with something. I think she feels more comfortable. She’s a very natural dramatic actor. It was very cool. Everyone in the band does their thing in their own way. Everyone has their strengths and rough ideas for the way they’re presented.
Every album you’ve done so far has had an individual personality.
I’m hoping that’s the case. When you sit too close to it, it’s hard to tell sometimes if that’s the case. When writing stuff I always have a slightly different thing in mind for each album. The spacing between them means there’s a couple of years between them and naturally you would expect a difference in headspace each time. As opposed to pumping out one a year, which is usually my default setting, this allows a bit of reflection on what the last one sounds like and what needs to change for the next one.
People are starting to really cotton onto it now. There’s no way people were going to mistake the whole Meat Loaf vibe you had going on there.
Yeah I know! And that’s really cool, because I fucking love Meat Loaf, for one thing, and that was exactly what I was hoping to do with that. You don’t know when you write a song and you think, ‘Well let’s try this Meat Loaf-style duet, except our singer’s the female and we’ll have a male subject for the song’… And Chris Penney smashed it out of the park. Again, having just a rough idea and then handing it over to someone and then just running with it – he smashed it.
It was timely too, because it came out at almost the same time that Meat Loaf passed.
And Jim Steinman. They both passed after we recorded our song! They passed in between writing and releasing the album. We’ve got a little dedication to Jim Steinman on the back of the record. Meat Loaf hadn’t passed at that time, and I thought to myself that Jim Steinman might like that, that he gets the name on the album and Meat Loaf doesn’t! It was usually the opposite, in his life.
I want to talk a little about the Blacken Open Air festival the NPF will be appearing on soon. Have you been to it before?
No, we were scheduled to do it last year and they cancelled, of course, so we haven’t played it before. It’s sort of been on our radar. It’s sort of snuck up, hasn’t it? It’s gone from a little niche, weird little festival, and it’s huge now! The line-up they have, they’ve really nailed it.
I’m really looking forward to see what you guys can do out there, in the middle of the Outback.
Yeah. The setting is just wild. I can’t wait to see it. I’m not sure… I think the setting alone will get us 90% of the way there! You’ve just gotta not fuck it up!
The NPF has done some big trips before. You’ve played Europe – but this is really a unique situation.
That’s the way we’ve approached it. We’ve had to cancel all these European plans over the last couple of years, so this is something a bit different. It’s the next best thing to getting away. It’s a different environment, a different setting and we’re really looking forward to it.
You have done a few shows off the back of the album so far, but you are sometimes in a situation where you have one of the guys in the band is also in another band that is also still extremely popular – and full credit to Jay because there’s not that many bands around that could still do what they do after such a long stretch – so how do you get around that, having Jay in two bands. One time recently both were places in two different cities on the one night.
Well, [Frenzal Rhomb] has right of way, because they are A-listed heritage, and you can’t just fucking rip down an awning without permission. But we have been operating with reserve bass players for quite a while now, so we did manage to play that show when Frenzal were playing the same night. We’ve had Loz from C.O.F.F.I.N. as our first Number Two, but now even they’re sort of taking off now too, so we have another bass player, Will, who plays in a band called Scrotal Vice with Glenno [Lawnsmell] and Keith from Midget. Wil is actually doing Blacken, and he has the advantage of being a tall, dreadlocked guy and… everyone loves this story: he once went to a Frenzal show in Japan – he taught English and speaks Japanese – and he was at a Frenzal show and Jason lost his voice. So Will stepped in and performed as Jason in Frenzal Rhomb in Japan! And because of the – what is it, the cross-race effect? – they just saw a white dreadlocked guy with Frenzal Rhomb and didn’t even realise the difference. It was the perfect crime. He’s that sort of Jason replacement!
What I really like about Neptune is the way that it has been embraced by a wide variety of fans. Metal fans love your stuff, rock fans love it. It reminds me a bit of the Tumbleweed effect – no matter where you came from, you loved Tumbleweed. It seems to be the same with you guys.
I’ll take that comparison! I think it’s a bit of trying to write good songs. Good songs do cross most genre barriers. The metal thing surprised me the most. Ostensibly we thought, at the start… we were probably more of a metal band at the start than we ended up becoming, but the metal guys and girls in Europe are mad for it. It still boggles the mind that they’re so into it. I think it’s the sheer number of metal fans over there. Even if you’re a niche band you’ve got a bigger following. It’s very specific to Germany, but also in wider Europe too.
The Germans seem to have a much wider definition of what metal can be. Many years ago I was asked by my German publisher to include Choirboys and Cold Chisel in an early version of my metal encyclopedia, because they were both considered metal bands there.
I understand being a snob as a music fan. That isn’t as much of a negative comment as it sounds, but they are not judgemental at all. They’re just like, well, that falls into the category here. I’ve found when I do interviews with German magazines that they understand. They’re like, “We understand that Queen are heavy metal, and Rush”. It’s not just the heavier bands or the more traditional heavy metal bands, they do have a very broad definition of heavy metal there. As long as you fit somewhere in those parameters, they’ll judge you on those merits.
You have a wide angle. When I talk to Troy now and then I know he enjoys playing in a band where he can really stretch out with his guitar playing. I think that’s another thing that people see in the band, that you bring so much to it.
People do respond to that, which is cool because that’s definitely been a focus. Don’t just play the one thing over and over again. Let’s do this song in this style and this song in this style and then put this style with this style, and Troy’s so versatile as a player, so he can do it! “Can you play a twelve-string acoustic introduction?” “Oh yeah, I can do that!” “Can you do a funk thing? Can you do blues?” He can do it. He loves such a wide range of music that it helps.
Speaking of wide ranges of music, when I got the promo of your first album ten years ago, I remember having to contact you immediately because the CD had eastern European polka music on it. At first I thought you’d done that on purpose as a joke! But it went on and on, so I figured it just had the wrong music on it!
That was the problem! People knew us and knew we mucked around a bit so they thought it must be one big practical joke! So we just had to unwind that. Not a great start to the career! I guess it was a test of how well you knew us before you stopped listening to it. You probably listened to it for a lot longer than most, actually! It would have been funny to have, on the first album, opened it with some sort of world music thing for three minutes or so, then launched into it. Maybe there’ll be a special edition in the future.