Operator Please has come a long way since being formed by a series of Gold Coast high school students to take part in a national competition. In the five years since, they’ve enjoyed top 20 chart success, had their songs used in high profile advertising campaigns and have even been invited to play prestigious music festivals in Europe. With their new album ‘Gloves’ in the shops this week, we had a natter with OP’s frontwoman Amandah Wilkinson (pictured, second from right) about the LP, toilet tours and that song about ping pong.
We start off by asking her if she could have imagined her little ‘Battle Of The Bands’ entry morphing into something so successful.
“No. I actually really didn’t, honestly. I guess that subconsciously I’ve always wanted to make music, but at high school I always thought that it was something that was really unattainable. So up until year ten I stopped thinking about being in a band or having a career in music. But I started listening to lots of left field lo-fi sort of music and realised that there were no limitations and no rules to the music that you could make. I guess subconsciously, I’ve always wanted something along the lines of that,” she said.
The name of the band was to come about rather organically, with Amandah’s schoolfriends deciding it was the most catchy from a series of options they’d been considering.
“The name was actually brainstormed. We had a piece of paper and we wrote down words that rolled off the tongue and ‘operator’ and ‘please’ were at two different sections of the piece of paper. I did a loop around them and I thought they looked good next to each other.”
Then, armed with an official name and a debut, independently-released EP (‘On The Prowl’), the band set about making a name for themselves, playing shows across the east coast to anyone who’d listen. And with the power of the internet behind them, public interest began to grow.
“We were entering a lot of online competitions like ‘National Youth Week’ where you had the opportunity to upload a song and really expose it to people through every facet of the internet. After doing a lot of that stuff by ourselves, people started to take notice. We started getting local airplay and I suppose the turning point when Australia really got interested in us was when we got asked to showcase to a couple of labels in the US. Everything started snowballing from there.
“I think we’ve always had this thing at the back of our minds that everything should be driven creatively, and regardless of whether you’ve got people supporting you or not, everything still needs to be natural and nothing should ever be forced.”
So to say that the band’s biggest hit to date (‘Just A Song About Ping Pong’) was a complete fluke is an understatement. Amandah and her Operator Please co-stars never imagined that ‘Ping Pong’ would be the song to give them their first taste of chart success.
“It was actually on the very first EP, slotted in the middle of other songs that we thought were better. We put it online and people said, ‘we really like this song’ and we thought ‘wow – that’s really strange you say that because it’s not necessarily our favourite.’ We’d had the song for such a long time and then it came out as a single and it kind of hit everywhere.”
And hit it did, rocketing into the ARIA top 20 where it peaked at No.12. It was the first of many chart successes for the band, and one of a number of highlights Amandah mentions as part of the Operator Please timeline.
“Glastonbury is obvious. When you’re starting out, you start from the very bottom and you build yourself up to a certain level. And then when you go overseas, you have to start again. We were going to the UK and doing what I call ‘the toilet tour’. I find that there’s three levels of the toilet tour – there’s the small toilet tour, the medium and then the big toilet tour. And then you start doing the really good venues. So we’d gone back and done those types of shows and we finally got to a point where we were being booked for festivals like Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds in the UK and Hurricane in Germany. It was an amazing experience for us.”
The new Operator Please album ‘Gloves’ marks a slight shift in musical direction for the band. Gone are the spiky, crunching guitars of old, replaced by a fresh new electro-pop vibe that’s just ripe for commercial station playlists. Amandah tells us the reason for the band’s evolving sound.
“When you’re coming to do your second record, the last thing that you want to do is making the second part to your first record. You can either back pedal or you can push forward. So what I thought was the next logical step was to embrace the more pop side of our writing and really delve into it. So that’s kinda where we went. It was definitely a natural progression for me. I think it was time for me to really be able to show that there was a vulnerable side to my writing and the kind of songs we had. It’s quite stripped back compared to the last record in the sense that the approach to the songwriting was really minimalist and focussed heavily on the melodies within the songs.”
But though the band is forging ahead with something new, the singer also understands that there are plenty of Operator Please purists who’ll be none too happy with the change in direction.
“I think it’s always going to be difficult from album to album because I look at writing records and writing songs – it’s like a documentation of a point in time. Of what you were, of what you are. And so I think that for a lot of the time that we were writing this second record, I was thinking that it was shaping up to be quite different to what I had imagined. The demos were different from the first record, but they weren’t a far stretch. Then I started thinking about them as a single entity and not something that was connected to another place and time. You don’t want to do things you’ve already done. You want to push yourself and try new things. I think that’s got a lot to do with shaping your music organically rather than forcing things and thinking that they should sound a particular way,” she says, adding “Another really important element of it is to inform the people that are listening to your music on your facets of the internet. Talk to them – and tell them the processes of what’s going on – because I think then it kind of sheds a bit of light on where you want to go with this. And then it makes things seem a little bit more understandable.”
In what we’ve previously described as a complete stroke of genius, there’s also a limited edition of the album, which comes complete with a mixtape – on a cassette. An actual proper cassette tape.
“I thought the demos would go perfectly well on a tape because they’re just bedroom demos of me doing little songs I’ve written that are super, super lo-fi and very stripped back and quite vulnerable. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with having that on a CD. So that’s why we went with putting it on a tape. And also because it might also encourage people to go find a tape player and hear the kind of demos that are on it.”
We also speak about the shift that we’ve perceived in the world of pop music throughout the past few years as artists, and more importantly the sound of their music, evolve.
“Pop is no longer that bubblegum thing that it was in 1999 when Britney Spears was first coming out. People have realised that with a lot of genres – you’re ultimately listening to a pop song written within that aesthetic. I think people are realising that it’s about being able to have a certain aesthetic to what you’re doing, but also be able to connect with a large amount of people. And a pop song that connects with a lot of people – that’s hard work. And that’s why you see artists like Lady Gaga owning it right about now – because not only does she write a pop song, she can sing and she is a performer and she’s also a bit kooky, you know. I think, as much as people want to diss her, I think she’s really opening a lot of doors for people who do make pop music.”
The band is about to set off on their ‘Gloves Off’ national tour. It kicks off in Perth on June 18, before visiting Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane before finally coming to an end on the Gold Coast. Amandah tells us what fans can expect.
“We’ll be playing some of the first record, but I think that the main thing I’m trying to achieve with this tour is maybe bringing in a little bit of stage set. I think it’s time for us to do that. We’ve played so many shows where we just get up on stage and play a show and that’s the end of the night, but I really want to do something that’s a little bit memorable in the setting and the mood of things.”
Something similar to the ‘Back And Forth’ clip (above) perhaps?
“We could, you know! That’s what I mean – just having an aesthetically pleasing set-up around you so that not only can you enjoy listening to the music, but you can also submerge yourself into the setting.”
“It’s a secret show and then it gets announced. The location is still secret, you see… It’ll be cool because it’s the first all ages show we’ve had in Brisbane for a really, really long time. I think since Valley Fiesta in 2008, so yeah, it should be good.”
They have indeed come a long way since battling the bands five years ago, but with a new LP chock-full of fantastic new tracks, a great new direction in sound and a fresh new line-up, it seems the ‘Operator Please’ battle for chart domination has only just begun. And the gloves are off.
The new Operator Please album ‘Gloves’ is in-store now.
The band’s new single ‘Back And Forth’ is available digitally now.
Catch Operator Please on their ‘Gloves Off’ national tour, kicking off in Perth on June 18.