Bursting out of the garage for another round | The Areola Treat

At the forefront of the local indie-punk scene, vocalist Lisa Micallef Grimaud and bassist Steve Shaw speak to TEODOR RELJIC about their history and what makes them tick as a band, ahead of an upcoming gig at The Garage

Areola Treat (from left): Steve Shaw (bass), Lisa Micallef Grimaud (vocals), Chris Busuttil (drums) and Adrian Mizzi (guitar)
Areola Treat (from left): Steve Shaw (bass), Lisa Micallef Grimaud (vocals), Chris Busuttil (drums) and Adrian Mizzi (guitar)

The Areola Treat have firmly established themselves as one of the main reference points of the local alternative music scene. What do you think helped you to establish yourselves as one of the leading voices of the genre in Malta, and how do you hope to grow in the near future?

Lisa Micallef Grimaud: You need to know where someone’s come from in order to understand the here and now. Each of us were in a multitude of other bands before we got together as The Areola Treat, and I think having come from different places in terms of music but all having one common love for garage rock was the determining factor in bringing us together and in music-writing.

I was fresh out from an all-female punk band called Girls That Do that had a garage for months but never really got anywhere music-wise, except for having some garage cassette tapes and back then we’d just lost our drummer and our bassist was filling in for her and I was doing guitars and there was that uncertainty of where we would be so I was ready for a new venture. [Former bassist Matthew Cuschieri] was an ex-member of grunge n’ garage darlings Shostakovich’s Nightmare. Drummer Chris Busuttil and guitarist Adrian Mizzi were also in Lumiere, another much-loved indie band.

Before the band was formed we hadn’t all been properly-introduced but met each other at shows. While doing some vocal work for a band (I was also in a new-wave duo act at the time) we became better-acquainted and got to work together. Bassist Steve Shaw joined us a few years later when Matthew left. He’d also been in another band before ours and caught up super fast and with enthusiasm, which was exactly what we needed. I think the boys might have initially questioned my commitment to the band because according to someone I’d previously worked with, I was always jumping from band to band, but they couldn’t have been more wrong – I’m the seriously committed type once I find something that fits me like a glove and that sounds right!

All the previous bands may have been a part of me musically but nothing I cared to take further like The Areolas, who also gave me a platform to do much more song-writing than any other band I was in. I never cared to be a cover band and I hadn’t found my musical niche. I wanted to write and I wanted to adore the music I was producing. We’re all dedicated, seemingly. Adrian’s grown into an exceptionally solid guitarist. He’s always been in charge of the musical arrangement and compositions and I of song-writing. Chris has to be the best drummer I’ve ever played with and Steve has evolved into an exceedingly prolific bass guitarist. Twelve years on and a lot of material’s been produced.

Growing means working on both the new and the old. I hope we can always manage the rehearsing twice a week that we’ve kept up throughout these past twelve years!

Steve Shaw: I think that apart from having some really well-written songs, we always maintained a high bar for our live performances. We take each gig seriously regardless of size, meaning we’re always really well-rehearsed and confident by the time we hit the stage. I think that helps a lot in leaving an impression with the crowd.

How does it feel to be back on stage after something of a longish absence, and are you looking forward to the gig at the Garage?

Shaw: Although we may have been absent from the stage we were keeping busy with song-writing. We’re excited to share some of our new songs at The Garage, together with other “new” stuff we wrote in recent years but haven’t recorded yet.

Micallef Grimaud: It’s always great to get back on stage and perform live. Sharing your music and seeing people in the moment is particularly special.

I always had a strong hunch that V18 events are simply done for the benefit of promoting a country’s touristic value – Lisa Micallef Grimaud

What can you tell us about the new material you’ll be playing?

Micallef Grimaud: We’ll be playing a lot of our older stuff for those who love our music and we’ll also be catering to the new blood in the crowd. We’ve got some of the newer, unreleased songs planned.

Shaw: We’re really happy with the new material, a lot of which came from spontaneous ideas that we made songs out of, without over-complicating the songwriting. The end result is more accessible than some of the post-rock influenced material from our last album.

What do you make of the local musical scene, and what would you change about it, and on that note, what do you make of Malta’s current status as European Capital of Culture? Do you think musicians of your stripe in particular stand to benefit from our capital city – and by extension, the island – being bestowed with this title?

Micallef Grimaud: If we have to be very honest, we live on a tiny rock with considerably fewer people attending alternative music gigs and events. Artists here have always had to work twice as hard as anyone else to reach a bigger audience. But all that doesn’t mean we can’t get ourselves the exposure we need. The internet, music blogs and online facilities do facilitate that process though. There are around four or five designated venues where bands of our ilk tend to play and everyone would like there to be more options but the venues seem to be doing pretty well nonetheless. It’s a small scene and it has always been so.

I never thought Maltese garage rock and underground bands really stood to benefit out of V18 unless a massive effort is planned, which even if it is I very much doubt we’ll get hounded by the press just because of the events happening in a year-long stretch, however I hear there’s alternative music events coming up later this year, which we’ll hopefully be playing at and I very much look forward to that.

However, as far as how far bands will get, I don’t have much hope that V18’s going to be giving bands like ours any more exposure than usual or getting artists record deals. I mean, perhaps I’ll have to stand here and eat my words in a year’s time – we’ll have to see – but I always had a strong hunch that these kinds of events are simply done for the benefit of promoting a country’s touristic value and as we all know, the underground scene is always the very last scene to see the light, let alone reap the fruits. V18 or no V18 though, what I really want is for more of our talented, young, underground artists to get exposure because there are people with real musical talent among us that really do deserve all the love in the world.

Shaw: We’re not ones to bother with fancy titles, but at least it’s a great opportunity for performers to take the stage and play. We know of one alternative event that should be taking place, which is Rock the City, a spin-off of the very successful Rock the South.

What’s next for you?

Shaw: Rock the South coming up in April! And a new album in the not-so-distant future. Otherwise, stay tuned for more gigs; latest updates are always posted on our Facebook page for anyone who would like to follow.

Micallef Grimaud: Yeah – Rock The South for sure! There’ll be other shows too, I’m quite sure. In addition to that, it’s going back to the drawing board with some songs perhaps, reviewing, structuring and sorting some of our material in preparation for the recording of our next album. We’ve got an overwhelming amount of songs we’ve written and there are just too many tracks we wish to include. Also, releasing our next album on vinyl, as well as digital, is the general aim.

Photography by Purdey Fava