Bugs' Connor Brooker on Charlie, Cooties and surviving the rigours of being a band

CONTINUED GROWTH: Indie-rock band Bugs feature, from left, Brock Weston (drums), Connor Brooker (guitar, vocals) and Jordan Brunoli (bass). Picture: Ted Min
CONTINUED GROWTH: Indie-rock band Bugs feature, from left, Brock Weston (drums), Connor Brooker (guitar, vocals) and Jordan Brunoli (bass). Picture: Ted Min

IT happened two years ago, but Bugs frontman Connor Brooker still gets stopped in supermarkets by people wanting to talk about Charlie.

"I get people who don't even look like they listen to music come up to me all emotional and wanting a photo," Brooker says. "People have sent messages, gotten tattoos saying how much it meant to them and how much they've connected to the band through that song.

"The scale of it was crazy. When we did it the apps on my phone wouldn't open because I was getting such a flood of notifications."

Charlie, is of course Bugs' triple j Like A Version cover of Mallrat's humble pop ode to her dog. Mallrat reached No.3 in the 2019 Hottest 100 with the song and a year later Bugs snatched No.91 with their cover, which featured Newcastle's Raave Tapes on backing vocals.

"The coolest part of the success is the shared element, like your mum being able to hand her phone to her co-workers and say, 'this is my son' and all of them getting it," Brooker said.

It's remarkable that the biggest moment in the career of the Brisbane indie-rock band almost didn't happen. The night before the triple j performance Bugs and Raave Tapes got locked out of their Sydney accommodation and had to wait for a locksmith to open the door at 4am. After an hour's sleep they bundled into the triple j studios bleary-eyed.

"It almost helped again, because we're just like, 'we've just got to get it done and got to enjoy it still', so it was a whirlwind of a day," Brooker said.

Brooker (guitar, vocals) initially launched Bugs as a solo project in 2014 after leaving the Sunshine Coast and his former band for the brighter lights of Brisbane.

"I started doing laptop demos with automated drums," he said. "I wanted to focus on relearning what music meant to me because I felt I was almost restarting from that other band finishing and wanted to redefine myself and not just start a carbon copy.

Bugs - Charlie

"I started doing heaps of weird stuff and fuzzy no-fi recording and it started to get a bit of attention and I got excited and I asked on my Facebook, 'did anyone know how to record some drums'?"

That led Brooker to drummer Brock Weston (drums) and soon after Jordan Brunoli (bass) completed Bugs' line-up.

The three-piece have been steadily releasing EPs and the albums Growing Up (2016) and Self Help (2019) independently and attracting new fans with their infectious brand of pop-rock, which is influenced by everything from The Beatles to The Spice Girls to early 2000s pop-punk.

Along the way Bugs have supported Mallrat, Waxx, Sweater Curse, The Hard Aches and even Grinspoon at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre in 2019.

Bugs are hoping to build on the momentum of Charlie with the release of their third album Cooties on March 25. The album was written during 2019 and 2020 and was produced by Weston in his home studio.

The released singles Old Youth Feeling, Diamond, DecisionsCommitments & Plans and In The Middle (Of It) have whet the appetite of fans with their infectious and hook-laden sensibility. The good news is there's plenty more coming on Cooties.

"I grew up listening to lots of pop-punk which is built off these big anthemic pop choruses," Brooker said. "Things that make you wanna yell at the top of your lungs in a room full of hundreds of people who are feeling that same extreme emotion."

Brooker is a firm believer in the power of simplicity within pop music.

"Because it's so simple it can have a broad application and meaning to so many people, that's one of the coolest things about songwriting," he said.

"That was one of the key focuses [having strong pop hooks]. We wanted each song to have a standout moment, and even front to back, we focus on making sure there's something hooky going on in a song."

Bugs - Decisions, Commitments & Plans

Cooties tells the story of being in your 20s. A time when possibilities seem endless and responsibilities are minimal. But it's also a destabilising time of change and new relationships.

"It's my life experiences, it's things I think we can all relate to, in our 20s particularly," he said. "More broadly than that, it touches on themes of loneliness, the themes of relationship dynamics and all the things people struggle with and emotionally wade through themselves."

The story of Bugs as a band has been one of grit and determination. Each major success, be it Charlie, supporting Grinspoon or the upcoming release of Cooties, has come on the back of numerous sacrifices for the band members over a long period of time.

"Flash-in-the-pan things can be really successful and it does work well for some artists, but when it comes to bands, half of the battle is keeping the wheels on and keeping on track," Brooker said.

"You're trying to battle all these commitments and making personal sacrifices and living on flumes at times, with the way the financial modelling of it works.

"It's really hard. People talk about it, but it's something you can't really appreciate and understand until you're going through it.

"When you have those rare moments to reflect, and I have been reflecting the last few days, and I'm just so thankful to have the people I'm doing it with."

Bugs release Cooties on March 25.

The Cooties tour begins at Newcastle's Cambridge Hotel on April 22 and continues at theCrowbar, Sydney (April 23); La La La's, Wollongong (April 24); Vinnies Dive, Gold Coast (April 28); Royal Oak Hotel, Launceston (May 12); Altar Bar, Hobart (May 13); Barwon Club, Geelong (May 20) and The Croxton, Melbourne (May 21).

This story Bugs hoping to catch on with Cooties album first appeared on Newcastle Herald.