When you think of pop-punk, you think of college parties and pizza, beer bongs and teenage angst, snapbacks and skateboards. It's an image we've seen a thousand times, from Blink-182 and Green Day in the nineties, to Sum 41 and New Found Glory in the noughties, and again with the uprising of All Time Low and State Champs in the tens.
Along with a handful of fellow Australians, Sydney pop-punkers Stand Atlantic are ripping up the rulebook, throwing the codes and conventions in the proverbial bin, and bringing a whole new flavour to the genre with their strikingly vibrant second album, 'Pink Elephant'. From its pop-sensible arena-ready sing-alongs to its explosion-of-colour cover, vocalist and guitarist Bonnie Fraser, guitarist David Potter, drummer Jonno Panichi and bassist Miki Rich are done with being down as 'just another pop-punk band'.
"We wanted to show that it's so easy to just stick a label on a band from a certain scene. We wanted to prove that we're more than that. Genres don't exist anymore, and people just do what they want," says Bonnie defiantly, not letting the confines of her hotel room during self-isolation following her return to Australia stop her from taking a stand against the old guard. "We wanted to prove to ourselves that we're not one-trick ponies, and we like writing songs no matter what style that is."
One trick ponies and one-hit wonders, they are not. While 2018's 'Skinny Dipping' was a dazzling debut of pumped-up pop-punk, 'Pink Elephant' rearranges and reinvents their sound. They've spent some time slipping, sliding, and shapeshifting through genres, resulting in experiments in early-era PVRIS electro-rock ('Shh!'), synth-pop ('Blurry'), singer-songwriter acoustics ('Drink to Drown') and late-night laid-back R'n'B-meets-pop-punk vibes ('Silk & Satin'). Like a sponge, they've soaked up the suds of the washing bowl of popular music.
"Music is always changing in terms of trends, and that's not to say that we set out to follow any trend, but there's so much music coming in that it's hard not to get inspired by new sounds and new things.
"I wouldn't say there was any 'we want to sound like this band', it was kind of like, 'yo, this song by this band is really cool'. That song itself might not even sound like the rest of that band; it was just the process of taking little factors of different sounds we've heard. It's just a big conglomeration of everything."
While Stand Atlantic were working on their sound, they were also writing a record in realtime, drawing off of the day-to-day experiences and emotions they were working through. As a result, Pink Elephant is at once a collection of perfectionate, polished pop-punk and a riveting, raw expose of their struggles.
"The whole album is about having tough conversations, whether that's with yourself or somebody else. It's fucking scary to think about needing to talk to someone about something or have someone confront you about something you're doing wrong.
"You end up going, 'oh no, I'm not a bad person, I swear, no I'm not', and you then have to have a conversation with yourself and be like, 'right, why am I doing these things and what can I do to change that?' It's about learning to accept yourself as well, and finding the strength in what used to be a weakness as you're addressing it and taking control of it."
Bonnie has not only taken control of the strengths she's developed by addressing her weaknesses but has embodied these experiences and distilled them into every single note you hear on 'Pink Elephant'. Empowerment, it seems, is at the very heart of Stand Atlantic's second album.
"'Pink Elephant' is a representation of delirium, like being trippy and out of your mind, but it's also that concept of addressing the elephant in the room. The whole album conceptually is addressing elephants in the room of your life, basically, things that you can't avoid, you just need to talk about them.
"On the other side, it's also about how not wanting to talk about them fucks your head because you're not letting the universe deal with it so you're just left to your own mind which can be your own worst enemy a lot of the time. It's like you're tripping on your own problems, and you kind of build it up to be something completely far-fetched to what it actually is, and that's where we were going with it."
'Pink Elephant' addresses the elements (and elephants) of Bonnie and her bandmates' lives that they've been brushing under the rug and running away from, bringing them into focus as part of a cathartic process.
"For me, writing lyrics is the only way I can truly express my feelings. I've said this a million times, I'm not very good at talking about my feelings, and I feel like I lose confidence as soon as I start opening my mouth and try talking about something. I don't know why the fuck that is, but when I start writing songs, like, it's kind of the way I wish I would talk about things, but I don't know how so I just sing about them. That's a cathartic experience for sure. It helps me get over things. For example, if I'm angry at my mum or something, I write a song about it, and it's like me putting it to bed and getting over it."
Just as the album's music promotes empowerment and self-discovery in the face of adversity against a soundtrack of vibrant pop-punk, so too does its artwork. It's not easy to describe the concept of a pink elephant crawling out of a cut-out skull against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic fluorescent colours, and that's something Bonnie learnt the hard way during its creation.
"The artwork, our manager and I were talking about it and sorting it out for eight months straight. It took so long, and we had so many versions of it. We had so many different artists that would just give us stuff. There was one copy of the artwork, and I'm not joking, it just looked like someones budgie smugglers. I was like, 'what the fuck' and one of them - I'm not sure I should really say this - but one looked like a vagina. I was just like, 'how have you gotten that from what I've said?'"
With a new album and new artwork comes newer tours and longer sets, which ultimately means more power and responsibility for pleasing their hordes of fans. In the age of social media, bands have come under constant attack for their setlist choices, but as they finally reach a point where they've got enough songs to fill a set without playing them all, they're not letting the keyboard warriors worry them.
"We just have to fuck them off. We'll never pull a Radiohead and not play the biggest song we have, or the one everyone wants to hear - we're not dicks. But like, other people think they know what they want to hear, but ultimately we're just trying to get a good set flow and make sure people aren't bored. It'll be fine."
That feeling of it being fine, a positive mental attitude that ultimately seeps through everything Stand Atlantic do and say, is something they share through the support they both give and receive from their fellow patriots. Along with artists like Dune Rats, Yours Truly and Eat Your Heart Out, Bonnie and co. are bursting off of their island and into the big wide world, a feat that they still feel is surprising.
"The main difficulty is money, it's expensive - not only to fly yourselves, but all your gear, and VISAs and all that kind of stuff. We're quite lucky in the sense we get good quality bands because we understand how difficult it is to leave, so the people that do are the ones that really want it, and they're going to try their best to do it and make the best shit. Or, at least, I hope they do. I'm just talking for them. I think it's a different kind of drive, really, everyone just supports everyone. It's a nice little home to grow out of."
It's a support they've grown to lean on a little, almost like their own little community spirit superpower. It's something that excites them as they climb the ladder from hometown heroes to international stars.
"Australians always have this cute little bond. Even if you don't really know each other, if you see another Australian artist like us doing well overseas it's like, 'good on you mate, it's fucking hard to get out of Australia'. I think it is really cool, and all of these bands are really, lovely people. It's nice to know we don't have dickheads coming out of our country."
Even as Stand Atlantic play a part in a bigger picture of Australian pop-punk, they've always been a little different with the way they evolve their sound and the way they present themselves. In many ways, they're the de facto leaders and flag-bearers of their own little scene, and with that comes the pressure of exposure and the responsibility of playing a role model. As a woman and an advocate for LGBT+, it's a topic Bonnie pulls no punches on but simultaneously shies away from.
"To be honest, I get a bit conflicted at times. When people ask me questions about being a woman in the industry, part of me is like, 'well, is that part of the problem?' because it's just amplifying the fact that I'm a woman, when, my mindset is like, that's never been my thought process.
"I've never thought 'I'm a woman, I need to make myself known!' - I'm just like, 'I want to be in a band, I'm going to go and do that'. I don't give a fuck if anyone is going to treat me differently, because that just reflects on them more than it does me.
"I think in a way, and I hope I don't get shat on for this, it's helped us because when we were coming up, people were hungry for more female-fronted bands, and I think that made people more open to listening to us, or other female-fronted bands. It's good in a way because we've had a surge."
While at times her thoughts on her responsibility as a role model are conflicting, Bonnie, much like the music she makes with Stand Atlantic, and the songs that fill out 'Pink Elephant', is empowered by the actions her and her fellow artists make.
"From where I stand, I've always just thought that instead of talking about it, I'd rather show through example. That it doesn't matter what you are or who you are. As long as you're a genuine person and your intentions are good, and you work hard, anything's possible really."
Possibility, ultimately, is what Stand Atlantic and Pink Elephant stand for. Through their belief in anything's possible, they break through the barricades of pop-punk's cliched bravado to pack out shows with their evolutionary sound. If they're addressing any elephants in the room, in particular, it'll be anyone who's ever doubted they'll take themselves to the next level and conquer the world.
Taken from the August issue of Upset. Stand Atlantic's album 'Pink Elephant' is out 7th August.
Featuring Biffy Clyro, Wargasm, Stand Atlantic, Fontaines DC and more.