Erica Dunn is a Triple-Threat Rocker Fronting Palm Springs, Tropical Fuck Storm, MOD CON, and More

Erica Dunn with MOD CON

What’s more impressive than being the member of one of Melbourne’s most iconic rock ‘n’ roll bands? Being the member of several. Erica Dunn – of MOD CON, Tropical Fuck Storm, Harmony, and Palm Springs –  is a rarity.

The signs were all there early, though. Her school guitar lessons morphed her into a non-stop busker at the age of 13. She recalls taking the train into Melbourne’s city centre with a friend, then “playing the most horrific, full-on, original compositions,” she tells Audiofemme. “We were really serious about it!”

Somewhere along the line, she recalls, she got into punk and rock ’n’ roll bands and immersed herself in the British live music scene. She returned to Australia and began hosting her own radio show (Mixing Up The Medicine) in 2008 – which ended up running for 11 years on Melbourne’s community station PBS 106.7FM before her schedule with Tropical Fuck Storm, MOD CON and Harmony took precedence. “I had this show that was my special little pocket, and I only had to give it up because we were touring so much. I still miss it,” she says.

Before leaving the show, she also began solo project Palm Springs to exercise her acoustic persona. Back in 2017, Dunn applied and got a songwriting residency in upstate New York, where she felt duty-bound to write a record. Palm Springs & Friends came out of that time; the album was released in limited edition on cassette, and the gorgeous, pared-back sound is reminiscent of recorded-to-tape, ’90s lo-fi bands. That’s no accident – she tracked most of the album at NYHed Studio, which she describes as “this amazing underground 8-track tape analog place on the Lower East Side. It was a real dream.” It was mastered by prolific producer/engineer/musician Mikey Young. Soon, Poison City Records will put out a Palm Springs best-of collection on vinyl. “It’s amazing that anyone cares,” Dunn says. “It’s really nice to think that someone values it and wants it out on record. Mikey’s been on the blower today because it’s his job to master everything.”

Dunn inhabiting her Palm Springs persona

It is in Palm Springs that Dunn is at her most vulnerable, though her punk-rock soul meant she’d chafed at being boxed into the stereotype of a folk rock girl. “My relationship with just being a girl and a guitar, having that pigeonholed, I full on flipped and rebelled against that,” she explains. “It’s been interesting to get back, enjoy the depth of the craft, and just picking on a nylon string guitar, which is so terrifying and such a stretch of skills. There’s no distortion pedal, nothing to hide behind at all. I really love playing in that way.”

Around the time she started Palm Springs, she was living with Raquel Solier, who played drums on a few of the project’s early 7 inches. Along with bassist Sara Retallick, Palm Springs put out a tape called Flowers in a Vase as a three-piece, but their work together quickly mutated into the energetic, angular MOD CON. “When we began writing together,” Dunn remembers, “we saw that Palm Springs was one thing, but MOD CON is a whole other thing.” Their fabulous single from June, “Ammo,” is all-femme power-punk, with guitar sweeping over the atmosphere like a venomous tail. Ten days ago, they released a second single, “Learner in an Alpha;” both will appear on their forthcoming LP Modern Condition, out October 22 via Poison City.

“You start a little band and you never know the longevity of it or what’s going to happen… especially, three women. You play in punk bands in your 20s and then people have families, or they start to treat it as a hobby,” she points out. “Raquel became a mum, Sara does this high-level study, and I’m away all the time, but actually the three of us are like, ‘This is part of our identity, this is how we express ourselves.'” Dunn says it was “a great relief” that Solier and Retallick both opted to continue MOD CON.

But Dunn’s most well-known musical endeavor formed practically on a whim, and has endured, seemingly by happenstance, against all odds. She was on tour with dark pop project Harmony (“I Love You” on 2018’s Double Negative is both pleading and seemingly resigned, with its sad doo-wop harmonies, the thunk of a drum that sounds like it might just give up, and a sense of echoing loneliness around vocalist Tom Lyngcoln) supporting The Drones when she became fast friends with Gareth “Gaz” Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin. They’d just started a side project called Tropical Fuck Storm and were fleshing out the lineup, which would also come to include Lauren “Hammer” Hammel.

“We’d go up to their ramshackle place in the bush in the summer, hanging out. I’m not sure exactly when the conversation came about, but it took them a little bit of time to work out what they wanted TFS to be like,” Dunn recalls. “It was really exciting. There’s not that many people in Australia who can make music and live off that, and they spend most of their life touring. They’ve got big plans, always looking to make something out of nothing. One moment they’re like ‘Do you wanna jam?’ Then they’ve booked a tour to the States!” That’s exactly what Tropical Fuck Storm did, releasing debut LP A Laughing Death in Meatspace in May 2018, less than eight months after their first live shows.

“It was a crazy time, that initial year,” Dunn says. “It’s amazing working with people who are so gung-ho, who live, breathe and do. We made an album, then we were away playing hundreds of shows. It was intense, but then of course last year, we came to a total standstill.”

Tropical Fuck Storm / Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

Dunn was in Melbourne, but domestic partners Liddiard and Kitschin live in regional Victoria, which was off-limits during lockdowns. “Gaz and I were trying to send each other videos and audio but it was crap because we’re so bad with technology,” Dunn says. “When the ring-of-steel lifted in November, I went and lived with them for three months and we recorded up there. It was strange, getting back into it. We’d been in a van all together every day, and we wondered if that intuition would ever come back. When you think you’ll never do anything like that ever again, it was so exciting to play as a band together again. I plugged my guitar in and was like, ‘Can I even use this?’”

In fact, Dunn plays guitar and keys and shares some of the vocal duties on Tropical Fuck Storm’s latest release, Deep States, which arrived in August of this year via Joyful Noise Recordings. The album “absorbs and distils some of the madness of the time” they spent getting used to one another again. “It’s funny – we were trying to have days off but we’re used to being up in each other’s grilles in a way. It was like I’d missed my family for a year and the ridiculous sense of humour we have grown together with,” Dunn says. “We’d work hard, then have times of just going swimming. We’d be trying to make a barbecue, but discussing the bridge, the harmony, the lyrics. Three months is a long time. It was a hard slog; it was great.”

So too, does Deep States mine the current political and social climate for all its gory, disturbing and darkly humorous gold. Single “G.A.F.F.” is a cosmic journey of fuzzy, furious feedback, raw daggers of reality delivered by Liddiard’s snarling vocals, all riding upon a twangy bassline that treads a narrow brick wall, threatening to fall and crash any moment. And, in Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, the sentiment – “Give A Fuck Fatigue” – hits home. Elsewhere, “New Romeo Agent” is a melodic post-punk ballad delivered over the gentle handclap-style drums and jangle of keyboard chords.

With so many of her projects finally releasing material again, Erica Dunn is not likely to leave Melbourne’s musical radar this year. There are even tentative plans to record again with Harmony. Hailed as something of a cult hero, Dunn explains her wildly prolific output rather humbly. “It’s funny to have these different hats and different projects,” she says. “The different things that I’m inspired by seem to present a different trajectory in what I’m making and doing.”

Follow MOD CON, Tropical Fuck Storm, and Palm Springs on Instagram for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Lily & Madeleine



Over the course of the past two years, Lily & Madeleine Jurkiewicz, teenage sisters from Indianapolis, have had a performance go viral on Reddit, written their first original songs, gotten signed to Asthmatic Kitty, released two full-length albums and an EP, and played several tours. The duo’s most recent album, the spooky and elegant Fumes, starts with the basics that have always characterized Lily & Madeleine’s sound–unadorned folk melodies and close harmony between the pair’s twin voices–and twists the basic foundation into something more nuanced and experimental. In what’s perhaps a byproduct of their overnight success coupled with being so young, Lily and Madeleine are still evolving as artists: Fumes pushes at the outer boundaries of folk and indie pop–turf that has by now become familiar to this group–and hints at more experimental, darker territory to be explored in the future. Even “Peppermint Candy,” one of the poppiest tracks on the album, complexifies its catchy melody with a sinister lyrical slant: “Peppermint candy, and a hand upon my gun,” the first verse begins, “I keep it handy, I’ve never been the kind to run.”

The overarching feeling in these tracks, however, is a kind of hopeful independence: the women in the songs are alone but self-sufficient, and just discovering their powers. “We felt inspired to create songs that reflected our current empowerment,” Madeleine explained to me when I called the sisters to chat yesterday afternoon. It was their second tour stop, and they were in Boston, waiting to start soundcheck. Read on to learn about Lily & Madeleine’s writing process, what they’ve been listening to these days, and what’s next for the duo.

AudioFemme: Hi, guys! You just kicked off a tour–how’s it going so far?

Lily: It’s been really fun. We’ve only had one show–we’ve done some radio things–but tonight is our second show in Boston.

Madeleine: We had a show in Indianapolis, right before Halloween. That was our album release show. The first show that we traveled to was in Charleston, WV, and we played on the Mountain Stage, which was really cool because they’ve had, like over 800 shows on that stage and broadcast them on the radio. Now we’re in Boston, and we really love Boston. It’s gonna be fun!

AF: You guys just released Fumes, your second album in 2 years. You’ve been so prolific so far–what’s your writing process like? Do you set a regular schedule or routine for yourself in terms of writing or playing?

Lily: I like to play every day just because it’s relaxing and fun. I like to write too, but you can’t always write a song by pressuring yourself to do it–sometimes it’s better when you’re inspired. So I don’t write every day.

AF: Has your writing process changed since your first recordings?

Madeleine: Honestly, no. The writing [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][on Fumes] was pretty similar to what it was for our first album. We wrote the same way, with me, Lily, and Kenny Childers, who’s our co-writer. The way that Fumes is different from the first album is that once we got into the studio and started arranging the songs, we began to experiment more. We brought in some new musicians and tried out different sounds, different distortions, things like that. The writing itself wasn’t different but the production was a little more involved.

AF: What inspired you thematically on this album?

Madeleine: Once we finished the first album and had some success with that, we knew we wanted to make a second album that was going to be just a little different, a little more evolved. Because we’d grown up, I guess. We were inspired by the tours we had been on, the people we had met, the experiences we had had, the way that our careers were shaping us as artists and as women. We felt inspired to create songs that reflect our current empowerment, I suppose. That’s really the main theme of the record. Empowerment.

AF: And these are all new songs that you’ve written since putting out a successful record. On your first EP, did you include any old songs? Anything that you’d written before knowing there was even going to be an EP to put them on? 

Lily: No, everything that went on the EP was written specifically for the EP. Before then we’d never written songs. So pretty much every song we’d ever written at that point went on the EP.

AF: Wow. So did you start songwriting specifically for the recording process?

Madeleine: Yeah, pretty much. We met our manager and producer and he challenged us to start writing our own music. We just fell in love with the process of creating  together, and we both just love music so much that it totally made sense to write our own material. Before that point we hadn’t really done much with writing.

AF: Did you worry at any point that you wouldn’t be able to write songs?

Lily: Oh, yeah. It was really hard at first. We tried and we didn’t know how to do it. Now it’s great.

AF: Clearly! So what got the ball rolling? Did you enter into the process totally collaboratively?

Madeleine: We did, yeah. That’s kind of how we always do it. Usually one of us will start with an idea and bring it to the other. Once we have a verse or a melody, just something to start on, that makes it easier to develop the song more quickly and turn it into something we both like.

AF: What are the best things about songwriting with a sibling?

Lily: Because we’ve always lived together, we have a lot of the same experiences. At the same time, we have different emotional reactions to things. Under pressure, Madeleine tends to get more anxious, and I tend to get more pushy. It’s a difference in our personalities.

AF: It must be beneficial to you as business partners to have different strengths. How has your personal relationship evolved since you began this project?

Madeleine: Definitely [it is beneficial to have different strengths]. I think we balance each other well. We’ve always been close. We’re not very far apart in age, and so we had the same teachers growing up, and very similar friend groups. This experience has made our relationship stronger, but nothing’s really changed that much, because we’ve always been friends.

AF: Have you always played music together? What were your first musical experiences?

Lily: We would always sing together around the house and things like that. But we never performed together.

Madeleine: Like Lily said earlier, we’ve loved music forever. It was something I would do as a hobby because I liked it and I was good at it. I didn’t think of it as being a career until we started writing and released our songs and signed to a label. Even then, I was really unsure of what we were getting ourselves into. Not until recently have I felt super comfortable with what we’ve been doing, but now I’m ready to be an artist and a musician. I’m letting myself do this and control this. I’m feeling good about it now.

AF: It sounds like you’ve both had to grow up really quickly.

Lily: Kind of. Yeah, probably. What with the places we’ve been, and the challenges we’ve had to overcome. But I do feel that we’d be the same people if this wasn’t happening.

Madeleine: I think about what I’d be doing if I was in college, or whatever, if I wasn’t doing this with Lily. I probably wouldn’t be as strong, and as sure of myself, because we’ve had really cool experiences that my peers haven’t had yet or may never have. So we’re lucky.

AF: Is it hard keeping in touch with friends who are on that other path?

Madeleine: I’ve stressed about that a lot. Like, as recently as last month. More and more, I feel like the people who want to stay in contact with me and support me, they will. Those who don’t, I don’t have any place for them in my life.

AF: Talk to me about blood harmony. I love that phrase. What does it mean, and why is it so special to you? 

Madeleine: I love that phrase too. It’s so creepy and cool. Well, I think it’s really natural for us to harmonize because we have the same voice, and the same genes. It’s really just the way we naturally do things.

AF: You have this amazing story of having a song go viral on Reddit and breaking into recording in this very fast, Internet-based sort of way. What do you think about Internet stardom and “going viral” as a way of breaking into the music industry?

Madeleine: It seems like that’s the way it happens now. We live in this age of technology, and posting stuff to YouTube is super common. Things going viral, it happens all the time, and I think it’s actually an awesome platform for artists to get going and put their art out there. Sometimes you have to search through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff, but I think it’s an awesome way for musicians to get started. I think we’re lucky that it happened for us that way.

AF: Really fast, too! If that hadn’t happened, would you be trying to break into the music business in other ways?

Lily: I think so. I think I’d probably go to college and study something music-related. But this is what I truly want to be doing so I’m glad everything went the way it went.

Madeleine: I don’t even want to talk about what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing do this. Because obviously this is what the universe has given to us right now, this opportunity, this chance, so I think it just makes sense for us to  keep going with it. If I wasn’t, I guess I would be in college, and have friends and a boyfriend and hang out and go to parties. But I’m doing this, and I want to be doing this.

AF: What are some of your individual influences, and what do you both like to listen to?

Lily: My influences, they shift a lot. I tend to get really obsessed with an artist for a couple of weeks and then it dwindles a bit. I still listen to them, but I calm down and move on to something else. Right now I really like hip hop.

AF: Wow, I would not have guessed that from listening to your album!

Madeleine: Lily’s been sending me some of her hip hop stuff. I like it, but it’s not my favorite. I’m into electronic stuff–not hardcore electronic, but I’m starting to get into the genre a little bit more and take some influences. Maybe on our next album you’ll see some hip hop and electronic influence in our songs!


Catch Lily & Madeleine live tonight in New York City at Le fabulous Poisson Rouge! It’s not too late to pick up your tickets hereand stay tuned for my coverage of the show. To get a taste, watch the official music video for “The Wolf Is Free,” below: