All posts tagged penthouse

  • Australian Penthouse story: ‘The Low Down: male mental health and Soften The Fuck Up’, March 2012

    A story published in the February 2012 issue of Australian Penthouse.

    Click the below image to read as a PDF in a new window, or scroll down to read the article text.

    The Low Down

    Feelings. We don’t like them – they’re awkward and can suck the joy out of a night on the town with the boys. But can deliberately avoiding our emotions be killing us? New website campaign Soften The Fuck Up believes so, and with youth suicide statistics showing a disproportionate number of men are killing themselves, they might just have a point.

    Story: Andrew McMillen


    Ehon Chan, 24

    I grew up in Malaysia. When I was 16, my best friend died in a drowning accident. For three months, I went through a period where I was, in some sense, questioning what life was all about. I asked myself, “If everyone lives to die, why do we all live?” I found it really hard to understand that we all could die tomorrow. I did what every man does at that time; the whole “suck it up, just move on,” kind of thing. I kept thinking, “I have to be strong for everyone else”. I kept a very strong face; on the outside I was normal, I was happy. When I’d get home and be in my bedroom at night, all these self-reflective questions would come up.

    When I moved Australia in 2006, I discovered that there is a really low level of mental health literacy in this country; for men, even moreso. Australian men generally can’t pick up mental health signs and symptoms. They don’t know where to get help. A lot of people don’t know that their first point of call could be their GP, or they could call Lifeline. I decided to start something to challenge that knowledge gap. What’s the most common thing that Australian men get when they talk about any kind of weaknesses? The response is generally, “Harden the fuck up.” There’s no equivalent phrase for that in Malaysian!

    My friend said, “why don’t we call it Soften The Fuck Up?” Initially it was a joke; we all laughed at it. It’s currently an online campaign (, launched in July 2011), but we also want to make it an offline conversation. We want to take the conversation to the next level, so it’s not just about having a conversation with your mates, but equipping young people – in particular, men – with an idea of how to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health issues. And also, when someone comes up to you and says “I’ve got depression”, or “I haven’t been feeling well for the past five days”, what do you tell that person? What are the things you can and can’t say? Where do I get help?

    I was hesitant when the name was first suggested, because the word ‘fuck’ was in there. I wasn’t comfortable going ahead with it, but the more we thought about it, the more we decided, “you know what? That’s the whole point of this campaign”. We want to be unapologetic, we want to be in your face, and we want to push the extreme because we really want to change the culture. The more extreme we go, the more conversation it’s going to generate.


    Paul Klotz, 51

    At the age of 13, I suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the Catholic boarding system in Brisbane. After many months of being abused in every form you could imagine, I was then beaten with a leather strap for being a ‘bad boy’. After 36 years of hiding in a false existence and having to support a facade of a personality, I finally collapsed, and all of my defences began to crumble. I told a very select group; immediate family, my psychiatrist, and a few other friends. They were shocked, angry, and frustrated in terms of not knowing all these years. It’s not something that was easy to talk about.

    I’ve spent most of my life under the influence of drugs or alcohol to pretend that I was a normal, sane person. Despite that, I was extremely successful throughout my business career. But I’ve always lived with that self-destructive path. Once I achieved, I didn’t feel worthy. Because of this lack of self-esteem and self-belief, I was just continually and totally despising myself. Two years ago, I was able to look in the rear vision mirror, look at all those demons that had been there for the last 35-plus years and say, “enough’s enough; I need to deal with this”.

    This decision came at a huge cost. It’s doubtful if I’ll work again in anything near the capacity that I was before, because I’ve withdrawn from society. I feel uncomfortable around people, moreso than I ever did. It’s great to finally confront those demons and understand and recognise that I’ve suffered from severe depression, and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. I see a psychiatrist. I’m on all sorts of drugs and pills to try and keep that balance of life.

    In the last eight months I’ve been through five suicide attempts, and I’ve had to resign from the last two jobs because of the impact that my mental condition was having, and the episodes of depression, and being put into hospital. That started a period of living on the streets. I have nothing to hide. I’m quite comfortable in saying that if it wasn’t for my four beautiful boys, I wouldn’t be here. I have no doubt about that. During the last few suicide attempts, when I was fading away, it was the image of those guys that allowed me to get some strength, and fight back.

    If I get through all of this, my burning ambition is to assist other males out there. I want to let other males know that it is okay to put your hand up, it is okay to cry. It is okay to say, “I have been abused”, as difficult as that is. It is okay to say, “I’m suffering from depression”. It is okay to say, “I feel suicidal”. I live with the thoughts of suicide every single day of my life. We need to break down all these stereotypes that my generation – and I suppose it continues on, of – “Harden up son. Big boys don’t cry. You’ve just gotta suck it in, and move on,” because that’s such a narrow-minded, dead-end approach. Those feelings of discomfort, unhappiness, pain, guilt, shame; if they’re left inside, they do fester, and fester badly.


    Nick Backo, 23

    I’ve lived in the same house in Parramatta all my life. I’m a social worker for child protection services, as well as studying post-graduate psychology and refereeing soccer. When I was 15, my Dad died. There was a lot of shock initially, because his death was unexpected. I became the eldest male in the house. I felt that I had to be strong, and look after my family. I saw a counsellor for two years, on and off, which was really useful for just talking with someone who was neutral, and who could give me some strategies around managing grief. I had a lot of support from friends, who gave me someone to talk to, even if it was just, “hey, I’m feeling shit”.

    It was hard to talk about. It brought up a lot of my own emotions, and you feel vulnerable sharing that sort of experience with people. It was also hard because a lot of people wouldn’t know what to say, or how to manage it. They were generally lost for words, so it was an awkward experience for me in bringing that up with them. To an extent, it’s something that you’ve got to live to understand. It would be beneficial for others to learn about grief, though. More broadly, it’s about educating people on supporting their mates, and being open to those types of conversations. Even if you don’t know what to say, just being there to listen and saying how you feel during those conversations is helpful.

    It’s important to embrace the characteristics of masculinity. One of those is ‘being strong’, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also really important to talk about how you’re feeling, and your experiences. When Dad died, I was at that ‘coming of age’ stage in life. A lot of people were saying to me, “make sure you look after your Mum”, or “you’re the man of the house now”. I don’t think they were meaning it to put pressure on me. I guess it’s just what people say.

    For people currently experiencing grief, I’d tell them that it’s OK to feel however you’re feeling. If you’re angry or upset, or if you’re feeling okay or happy, that’s all part of the experience of grief. It’s fine to have those emotions. I’d really encourage them to talk to people that they feel comfortable with, and to talk about their grief and the person who has died. Even if it seems a bit crazy or unusual, that’s OK, because it’s an unusual experience to go through. I think about Dad every day, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to manage my grief better. I took away a lot of positives from it, as well. I think I’m a better person because of that experience. On the same hand, if I could change that and have Dad back, I would in a second.


    Ben Pobjie, 32

    I only recognised this year that I am suffering an illness. Since I was a teenager I’ve suffered periodical depression; I’d sink into a deep low for no particular reason. In the past I’ve been advised by people close to me that I should seek counselling. I’d shrug it off, saying “no, no, I’m just sad. Just going through a bad patch.” Which is not the right thing to do, really. You try and fight through it, because I didn’t want to appear weak or like I was making a big fuss over nothing. It builds up and gets worse and worse, and you have to admit that it’s not nothing. I broke down early this year, then realised that it’s not normal. I generally write jokes, and comedy. I’ve been writing more serious reflective things, having admitted to this. It’s possibly made me a little bit more honest as a writer. I’m on medication now, and I’m seeing a therapist.

    When I’ve been at my worst, I’ve self-harmed. I’ve cut myself. It’s hard to explain after the event, when you’re not in that headspace, exactly why you did something like that. It’s a culmination of trying to distract yourself from an emotional pain by giving yourself some physical pain. It’s a confusing time because when you go through those episodes, because obviously you’re not thinking rationally, and you don’t react to your own feelings rationally.

    When you’re depressed, you feel ashamed of yourself. It feels like something that you shouldn’t talk about. But I came to the realisation that if I didn’t tell people about it, then this can’t really be recognised as an illness. It couldn’t just be a secret that I kept. It takes courage to admit that you have a weakness. Everyone has weaknesses. It’s gutsy to own up to that. Most people are very willing to understand, and to show sympathy and support if it’s brought out into the open. That’s what I’ve found.


    William Wander, 24

    I’m Brisbane born and bred. I went through various Catholic schools, though I’m definitely not Catholic. I work in sales for a software company. By night, I’m a writer and blogger. I’m that guy in their group of friends who always says the things that nobody really wants to hear. I’m a little bit too honest. I’ve always had something to do with depression, even from the age of 11 or 12. I had a very rough childhood; I had an abusive father, and was quite sick as well, while growing up. From the age of 13 or 14, I was on anti-depressants. For me, having depression is like having asthma; it’s just part of your genetic makeup, and you learn how to appropriately deal with it.

    I hadn’t been on anti-depressants for years until the GFC hit. I lost my job, I was unemployed for the first time in my life. I applied for 250 jobs and couldn’t get a single one. I hit rock bottom. The thing about depression is: it’s a hole that you can’t get out yourself. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about depression, and I’ve never met anybody that’s got out of it by themselves. I don’t think it can happen, honestly. You need to have somebody else, or some other group that helps you get out. You can take the first step, obviously, and say “I need help”. But in the end, it’s the support of other people that helps you to get out of that, and start to feel better.

    Depression is a disease that you can’t see. If you get hit by a car and your leg is twisted, that’s very visible and we can understand that. When people talk about depression, they feel weird about it for one of two reasons: they’re experienced it and they’re embarrassed about it and don’t know how to talk about it, or they have never experienced it and they can’t conceptualise it in their own head.

    I don’t care who you are, or how in touch with your emotions you are; it’s never easy to admit that you’re depressed. It’s always difficult, because the nature of depression is that you don’t want to acknowledge it. It’s easy to talk about it now, but when I am actually depressed, it is hard to acknowledge that, even to myself. I’m a very emotional guy. At the same time, I’m a fairly typical Aussie bloke, but I’ve always thought it’s ridiculous how closed-up guys are in general in Australia. Let’s not skirt around the issue. Let’s be men about it. Which, ironically, means approaching something, rather than just avoiding it.

    An enormous thanks to the brave men I interviewed for this story, and to Australian Penthouse for publishing.

    For more on Soften The Fuck Up, watch the below video and visit their website.

    For more about depression, visit Beyond Blue.

    If you are distressed after reading this story, please call Lifeline immediately on 13 11 14 (free call from all telephones in Australia).

  • Australian Penthouse story: ‘The High Road: Silk Road, an online marketplace like no other’, February 2012

    A story for the January 2012 edition of Australian Penthouse, reproduced below in its entirety. Click the main image for a closer look (which will open a PDF in a new window), or read the article text underneath. You can click any of the below images and screenshots for a larger version, too..

    The High Road
    by Andrew McMillen

    Silk Road is an online marketplace like no other. Totally anonymous, the website uses sophisticated encryption software and a digital currency to facilitate the worldwide sale of prohibited items, particularly illicit drugs. Australian Penthouse investigates.

    “Imagine how exciting it is when you get something in the mail; even the shittiest thing, like a free sample. But in this case, you’re getting drugs that you really want to take, and get high on. It’s a compounded experience of excitement; an exponential high.”

    A 24-year old man who lives in an inner-city suburb of Brisbane is describing what he felt upon opening his mailbox one day in 2011 and discovering a package containing one gram of cocaine. It was addressed to a person who does not exist. He does not know the source of the substance beyond its country of origin. This was not the first time he had purchased drugs online; his first order was for one gram of MDMA powder. That package was sent to a house that he knew was unoccupied; it took around nine days to arrive from Canada. He checked the vacant mailbox daily. “I’m still waiting for some undies off of eBay from Hong Kong,” he says. “[The MDMA] arrived way quicker than that.”

    Why the alternate address in the first instance? “Because having something illicit sent in the mail seems fairly thick,” he replies. “It seems so simple; too good to be true. I wanted to put some form of buffer between myself and the order I made, as a ‘test run’.

    “One day it was in there and it hadn’t been intercepted. I didn’t get immediately arrested when I took it out of the mailbox. Since I didn’t use my real name, it didn’t seem possible to get traced back to me. It still hasn’t been.”

    These orders were made using a website called Silk Road. It can only be accessed after installing anonymity-enabling software called Tor. All purchases are made using Bitcoin, a currency which only exists online and whose public transaction history can be untraceable if handled correctly.

    My interviewee randomly discovered online mentions of Silk Road in May 2011, and pursued the intriguing concept all the way through to installing Tor and trading Australian dollars for Bitcoin; a process he calls “semi-prohibitive” owing to the persistence and tech-knowledge required to check all the boxes before users can place an order. In four transactions, my interviewee has ordered three grams of MDMA and three grams of cocaine at a cost of “close to AUD$700”.

    So what motivated him to take a chance on buying illicit substances online from a complete stranger?

    “I’m interested in taking drugs casually, but I hate the process,” he says. “I don’t know any dealers. Even if I want to get weed, I don’t know anyone, so it always becomes this drawn out process of finding someone who knows someone who knows someone. It’s a real pain in the arse. Whereas this way, it’s so direct and private. I didn’t leave my room, and then nine days later there was something in the mailbox that was for me. It’s discreet and exciting. Imagine the fun of shopping on eBay, but then you can also get high.”

    Visiting Silk Road for the first time, I feel a little like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. After downloading the correct Tor software bundle, I connected within five minutes. A warning appears at the bottom of the registration screen: “Be advised: This website is experimental. We do not guarantee your anonymity, protection from law enforcement in your jurisdiction, or protection from other users of this service. You and you alone are responsible for the risks associated with entering and using this website.” The site does not request any information from its users beyond a username and password; not even an email address. And then, you’re in.

    The site’s bright, clean design displays images of nine items for sale; among them, ‘red joker’ ecstasy pills, one-ounce of the ‘purple kush’ cannabis strain, a $50 Australian banknote and syringes. When I first visit the site in late August 2011, one bitcoin is worth USD$11.15; a fortnight later, the exchange rate has dropped to USD$6.18 per bitcoin.

    The nine ‘featured’ items change upon each page refresh. A column on the left categorises the goods for sale: ‘drugs’ is split into sub-categories like ‘dissociatives’ (11 items for sale), ‘psychedelics’ (123 items), ‘stimulants’ (65) and the most popular category, ‘cannabis’ (237). Other categories include ‘digital goods’, ‘money’, ‘XXX’, ‘weaponry’ and ‘forgeries’.

    At first, it’s a little overwhelming. What Silk Road [SR] offers is the online equivalent of strolling down a dim-lit alley filled with surly guys wearing heavy trenchcoats, except that you can contemplate purchasing their goods while lounging in your underwear, without fear of being stabbed.

    Each page on the site generally takes a few seconds to load, regardless of the user’s connection speed, due to an overcrowded Tor network. A page called ‘how does it work?’ describes the site as “an anonymous marketplace where you can buy and sell without revealing who you are. We protect your identity through every step of the process, from connecting to this site, to purchasing your items, to finally receiving them”. Lengthy guides for both buyers and sellers are freely available. The latter guide states that “every precaution must be taken to maintain the secrecy of the contents of your client’s package. Creatively disguise it such that a postal inspector might ignore it if it was searched or accidentally came open.”

    It concludes with a ‘final note’: “Regardless of your motivations, you are a revolutionary. Your actions are bringing satisfaction to those that have been oppressed for far too long. Take pride in what you do and stand tall.”

    There’s an active and boisterous SR forum community, which is hosted off-site and requires an additional registration; this process requests an email address, but a note states that it doesn’t have to be a legit address.

    After poking around the site and smirking at some of the items for sale – condoms, an e-book of Neil Strauss’ pick-up artist classic The Game, military training manuals – I decide to engage with a few sellers by requesting interviews using the site’s private messaging system.

    Within 10 minutes, three sellers respond enthusiastically to my request; one says, “I’ll even give you a media discount if you order.” The website’s administrator, who goes by the username Silk Road, also responds. “Sorry, we aren’t doing interviews at the moment,” he says. “Good luck.”

    Of the 27 SR sellers I approach during a two-week period on the site, seven respond thoughtfully and at length to my questions. They are mostly based in the US and Canada, though one is Australian. All seven request that I don’t mention their usernames. A few prefer to conduct the interview using PGP text encryption, which adds another element of spookiness to the situation. Most of the sellers found their way to Silk Road after the site was covered online by Wired and Gawker in June 2011.

    When I ask what they like about Silk Road, I’m met with a range of responses. “Being able to provide a safe and anonymous way for someone to purchase something that they choose to put into their body,” says one seller. “It’s nice how it turns drug dealing into an office job, with less risk and more stable demand while interacting openly with customers,” replies another. This focus on administrative duties is echoed by another seller, who says it’s “nice to have everything so organized and centralized, it really cuts down on the time spent per order which is a huge plus when you’ve got a mountain of them to work through.”

    One source remarked aloud, ‘this is the future’, upon finding the site. “The free market has provided for one of the oldest needs in human history,” they elaborate. “[SR] removes the elements of danger that exist in in-person black market arrangements, and offered anonymity for all parties involved.”

    I ask what sellers don’t like about the service. One tells me, “while the majority of users are honest and trustworthy, you always have to keep your guard up. There are plenty of scammers here on SR.” Another is frustrated by the long wait between making a sale and receiving the bitcoins in their account. “It can take a while for people to finalize transactions, so the money gets stuck in escrow until the customer remembers to finalize, or it auto-finalizes after like 20 or so days.”

    One seller is concerned about the silo-like nature of the site: “Having everything organized – vendor statistics easily accessible, reliance on a single server, etc – all makes any vendor, or even SR itself, a juicier target for LE [law enforcement].” An Australian seller replies, “I don’t like being out in the open. Even though I feel rather anonymous within SR, I could always make a simple mistake with my packaging or use of encryption that would give me away.”

    A few of my respondents reveal that they have sold drugs in the real world. One dubs the online process “much easier” than face-to-face sales. “SR buyers have no info about me whatsoever. Whereas with a face-to-face transaction, a buyer might know my name, what I look like, the car that I drive, or the city that I live in. So if they get caught, LE goes up the food chain. Here on SR, there’s nowhere for LE to go.”

    Another seller says SR is preferable because it “takes potential violence right out of the equation, and mitigates theft; you can’t exactly take someone to court for robbing you during a black-market trade, which is why there is so much violence. I prefer SR to offline, any day of the week.” One seller candidly replies, that SR is “better and cleaner. Customers are more educated and nice, and it leaves you more spare time to study, play with the kids, and clean the house. It’s telecommuting at its finest.”

    None of the seven sellers I interviewed would detail how they package the illicit substances sent through the international postal system. A couple mentioned that it’s an unwritten law among SR sellers to not disclose such methods, though I learn by reading the forums that vacuum sealing is common. The young man from Brisbane who received MDMA and cocaine in the mail didn’t want to discuss the appearance of the packages he received, either.

    All this illegal activity must be a rush, even if the process does become somewhat normalised due to the volume of orders that some sellers process. I have one final question. What does it feel like to sell illicit drugs over the internet to complete strangers?

    One replies, “honestly, it can be quite nerve racking. I have no idea if I just sent some illegal items to LE. That’s why it’s so important for a good vendor to use all precautionary tactics to keep important info away from them. Leaving no DNA or fingerprints, and sending from an area where you don’t live. It’s not unusual for a vendor to be wearing hairnets and multiple layers of gloves while packaging the material. If there is even a one-percent chance of some identifying marks on or inside that package, it will be thrown out.”

    Another says, “It’s awesome. Most of the users on Silk Road are good people, and it’s always been a pleasure providing them goods that their corrupt governments have denied them. By simply living our lives and doing what we want to do, we break the government’s iron fist. It’s pretty satisfying.”

    “It feels great,” agrees another. “I get to make a positive contribution in the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to drugs, such as old folks, and people in remote locations.” The seller shares some feedback received by a buyer that they found “really touching”. The feedback reads, “I don’t want to sound all sentimental and crap but in all honesty, my friends and I have become closer and happier with ourselves and each other, thanks to you and your stuff. It’s really been a bonding experience for everyone. We aren’t really the partying type and instead like to chill and talk for hours. Thanks to you, we have shared some amazing experiences.”

    The seller tells me that “getting feedback like that makes those nights spent sweating over a hot vacuum sealer seem worthwhile!”

    For more on Silk Road, visit its Wikipedia page.

  • Interviewed: Meg White on interviewing, 2011

    The lovely Meg White – staff writer at Australian Penthouse – asked me some questions about interviewing. The results are published on her blog, Excerpt below.

    Andrew McMillen on Interviews

    Andrew McMillen is one of the best journalists around. He’s also one of the best resources, one of the best hustlers, and one of the nicest guys in the biz. I know this because I am a weary old hag, and I’ve watched McMillen go from one success to the next with nary a stitch or strain. Earnest, reliable, skilled and ubiquitous—my praise could carry itself far, far away.

    So back when I proposed an interview series, I immediately thought of Andrew. Though his city had just become submerged in floodwater, he agreed to answer my questions and did so in a timely fashion. Then I moved out of my house and found myself stranded, for actual months, in a world of no Internet, so those answers were hidden in the musty dungeon of my inbox. I’ve freed them this morning. Here’s what he had to say:

    What were the circumstances behind your best interview?

    I’d wanted to interview Robert Forster – he of the Brisbane pop band The Go-Betweens, who were active between 1977 and 2006 – for a long time. I didn’t have a particular ‘hook’ or currency peg, though. Except that the man is a total fucking legend, and not just for his music: he’s also one of the highest-paid music critics in Australia through his monthly column for The Monthly (note: highest-paid is not to be confused with best). So since Mess+Noise, a website dedicated to Australian music, have an irregular section named Icons, where significant contributors to the Australian music scene are interviewed at length, I eventually figured out that Forster would be perfect for it.

    I pitched the story to my editor, and he was keen on it, so I asked Forster’s manager for the interview – on the condition that we’d speak at length, about his whole career. We sorted out a time to meet at a bakery near his house. I spent many hours reading and watching everything I could find about Forster and The Go-Betweens online. I arrived with three double-spaced pages of questions. Forster answered them all, thoughtfully and at great length. By the two hour mark, he was late for a meeting, so he gave me a lift across town in his old Volvo. (The interview was over at that point, and we chatted casually.) I called him two days later and we spoke for another half-hour. So around 2.5 hours all up, and around 15,000 words on paper. Not once did he give me anything less than his full attention, or act impatient, or attempt to avoid a question. It was brilliant.

    I was paid $100 for the article, which ran in three parts on Mess+Noise. I generally outsource my interview transcriptions. It cost me around $140 for the transcription, so I was effectively operating at a loss. Which is not something I tend to do. But it was such a great opportunity – to ask a hugely influential artist many questions about his whole career – that I was happy to wear the cost.

    Another interview of note was a five-minute conversation with the American hip-hop artist Big Boi for The Vine, in a crowded ‘green room’, upstairs at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney. In no way was this interview representative of my ‘best’ work, but it is an example of how certain situations require the interviewer to think on their feet, and adapt to the mood of the room. I wrote the interview up in a way that blends my inner monologue with Boi’s answers to my questions. It’s here.

    Also: I am reasonably proud of my interview with Tool singer Maynard James Keenan. I think I did as well as I could have possibly done, considering I had 15 minutes on the phone with one of the least talkative guys in rock music.

    I liked your Big Boi interview. When I read it my first thought was, “I wonder if any of his prepared questions got in there?”

    How about I just open up Google Docs and show you the questions I had prepared to ask? (These were then written, in note form, on a small piece of paper, which I carried into the interview.

    Big Boi Questions

    • How did this gig come about?
    • Are you a gamer?
    • Fave game of all time?
    • Of 2010?
    • Frustration that it took three years for Shutterbugg to come out?
    • Ever hear The Vines’ version of Ms Jackson?
    • Feelings on radio edits? Yelawolf’s verse in ‘You Ain’t No DJ’
    • Cee-Lo’s ‘Forget You’
    • You seem to put more effort into your videos than most artists. Do you see video as a big part of album process?
    • Censorship / logos in videos
    • What’s the next material we’ll hear from you?
    • Consider yourself more of a performer, producer, songwriter? Actor? Label boss?
    • Touring with Vonnegutt this time? If not, who you got singing ‘Follow Us’?
    • What other outrageous demands were you able to make for this one-off show?
    • Is this the first video game launch you’ve played?
    • The key to this album’s thrilling ride lies within this approach: by taking advantage of the freedom to flit between several personas, the rapper can both shrink and exaggerate his true self. It’s less a schizophrenic episode than a tactic to unlock new songwriting ideas and it’s one that works beautifully.” [note: this is a quote from my review of Big Boi’s album for The Vine, July 2010]

    Interesting. And on to Maynard: The interview looks shorter than 15 minutes.

    During the Maynard interview, there was a minute or two when he was speaking with someone else nearby. ‘Off camera’, if you will. I think it was a plumbing contractor asking him what needed to be fixed. Evidently he didn’t know, and said a couple of times, “I’m on the phone to Australia.” (Also: how do you think I felt, having my already-brief interview cut down even further due to an external distraction? Yeah.)

    How much of your interviews do you throw away?

    The answer is, it depends. If it is a relatively well-known/famous person who a lot of people will be interested in reading an interview with, I am a firm believer that the absolute entirety of your conversation (on the record) should be published. Why? Longevity. So that when someone’s Googling “(person’s name) interview” in 10 years’ time, your interview will show up. And not necessarily on the first page of results, or anything like that; just that it exists is very important to me.

    If I’m conducting a bunch of interviews with several different people for a feature story, those individual interviews probably don’t deserved to be published beyond the quotes I pull to include in a story. There is a reason why journalists pull quotes, and it usually comes down to two things: a) word/space restrictions, or b) the majority of the interview was unremarkable, irrelevant, or otherwise not worth publishing.

    The rule of thumb is: if it’s a famous person, I keep it all. If it’s not, I toss the unusable/uninteresting stuff.

    For the full interview, visit Meg’s blog. A big thanks to Meg for the interview.

    Elsewhere: Meg White asks, ‘How do I approach pitching as a freelancer?’, April 2010.


  • Australian Penthouse story: ‘Man Vs Beast’, February 2011

    A story for the January 2011 issue of Australian Penthouse. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Man Vs Beast

    Death matches between a man and a monstrous foe dominate the worlds of literature, film and television. Australian Penthouse takes a look at seven of the best…

    Chief Brody & Jaws
    When & where: 1975, Amity Island, Massachusetts, New England

    Few man-versus-beast conflicts are more notable than police chief Martin Brady pitting his wits against the greatest shark of them all (known among crew members as ‘Bruce’ and named after director Steven Spielberg’s lawyer). In what has since been recognised as a watershed film in motion picture history, Jaws proved terrifying to audiences through its tense, dramatic, and – most importantly – realistic portrayal of a seaside town in the grip of shark fear. After killing five people, the fish meets its match in Brady, who meets kills it by exploding an air tank in its mouth.

    David & Goliath
    When & where: 11 Century BC (allegedly), Valley Of Elah

    The ultimate tale of the underdog. Twice daily in the midst of a 40-day war, the Philistines’ biggest, strongest fighter – between six and nine feet tall, according to conflicting interpretations – challenges the Israelites to engage him in single combat. None dare face him until regular dude David happens upon the scene and accepts the challenge. Opting to fight with just a staff and a slingshot, he immediately hurls a sling stone at Goliath’s head, knocks him down and beheads the beast with his own sword, thereby turning the tide of war. David: the original MacGyver.

    Peter Griffin & The Chicken
    When & where: 2000s, Quahog, Rhode Island

    An infrequently recurring character in the television series Family Guy, Ernie The Giant Chicken is the rival of protagonist, Peter Griffin. In perhaps the best example of creator Seth MacFarlane’s fondness for non sequiturs, Ernie and Peter engage in extremely long fight scenes that results in both characters causing obscene amounts of property damage and beating each other to the point of ridiculousness. Despite having made just seven appearances and four fight scenes, the Ernie vs Peter running gag remains one of the program’s most popular and is immortalised on tee-shirts. Remember, Peter: the chicken could strike at any time. Remain vigilant.

    Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
    When & where: 1886, London

    From the pen of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson emerged The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a story noted for its vivid portrayal of split-personality disorder. Its narrative concerns outsider observations of the gentlemanly Dr Jekyll and the deranged Mr Hyde, who is suspected of murdering several citizens. We learn that the doctor, seeking to separate his good side from his darker impulses, discovered a way to transform himself periodically into a creature free of conscience – Mr Hyde. Trouble arises when periodically becomes regularly, then involuntarily, and ultimately, permanently. At least, the doctor’s dark side would have become so had Jekyll not committed suicide.

    Ahab & Moby Dick
    When & where: 1851, Pacific Ocean

    Captain Ahab seeks revenge against a gigantic white sperm whale that crippled during a previous voyage, and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goal. The tale is told through the eyes of Ishmael, a Manhattan native who believed the purpose of the expedition to be harvesting the mighty mammal’s oil. In fact, the crazed captain forces the crew the follow the whale across the seven seas, hoping to harpoon it into submission. In the end, Moby Dick prevails – it dives deep with Ahab in tow, thereby dragging the captain to his watery grave.

    Perseus & The Kraken
    When & where: Ancient Greece

    What is more fear-inspiring than a giant whale? A giant squid, of course! In this case, the mythological monster known as the Kraken. Legendary hero of ancient Greece, Perseus faces the 100-foot beast in a climactic battle in the 1981 movie Clash Of The Titans (and the 3D revamp in 2010). In an unexpected turn, the Kraken is turned to stone upon gazing at the decapitated head of the Medusa, previously killed by multi-tasker Perseus.

    Luke Skywalker & The Rancor
    When & where: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

    The dictionary states that the word ‘rancor means “a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will; hatred; malice”. Yet, despite its fearsome appearance, the Rancor – a giant creature with long claws, originally imagined by its creators as a “cross between a bear and a potato” – ultimately proves less of a death match for Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, who lures the creature into a smaller section of its cave and crushes it under a steel door, leaving its keeper to sob quietly. Surely the Rancor could have achieved maximum sustenance by munching on morbidly obese space gangster Jabba The Hutt?

  • A Conversation With George Sotiropoulos, Australian UFC fighter

    In August 2010, I interviewed Australian UFC fighter George Sotiropoulos for a story in Australian Penthouse [‘Caged Fury’, pictured right]. You can read an edited version of that interview here.

    Below is the full transcript of our conversation, including a couple of touch-ups by George via email afterwards.

    Andrew: My research tells me that you had a history in amateur boxing in Australia before you decided to start travelling the world to learn other styles of fighting. I’m interesting to know what you found attractive about mixed martial arts (MMA) in the first place.

    George: Boxing was the last type of amateur competition I did before fighting mixed martial arts. I already had an extensive background in Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Grappling, and Freestyle Wrestling before I started Boxing. Boxing was the last stop that I made to round off my skills in preparation for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I started with Jiu-Jitsu to develop skills in ground fighting. Then I added wresting to learn takedowns. Finally, I implemented boxing to add striking to my skill set which got me ready for MMA.

    Why did you decide to stick with MMA?

    I decided to do MMA before I decided on anything else. I saw UFC back in ’97 at a friend’s place one night before heading out, and I basically decided then that’s what I wanted to do. So I set off on an expedition to get myself trained as a mixed martial artist. I had no formal training or skill in mixed martial arts. I was attracted to MMA by the display of Jiu-Jitsu by the Gracie family, and that’s basically what I wanted to learn. I started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. MMA was evolving, and other styles were becoming effective, so I added wrestling.

    It was the grapplers/Jiu-Jitsu artists that were the most effective in the beginning, then the wrestlers followed by the strikers. Therefore, I added the boxing last as the sport and I evolved.

    I trained and competed in all the styles I practiced. My total experience in Jiu-Jitsu is about 130 grappling / Jiu-Jitsu bouts, 15-20 bouts in freestyle wrestling, 10 amateur boxing matches and one professional. My MMA record is now 13-2, plus the three exhibitions bouts I had when I was on The Ultimate Fighter. That totals 18 MMA fights.

    I developed the skills and experience by training and competing in the individual sports. It would be very hard to go out there and become a mixed martial arts fighter without the specific experience. So I trained specifically to acquire those skills.

    Congratulations on your 9-0 record so far in the UFC, by the way. I watched your last couple of fights in preparation for this. I’m interested to know where you think you’re strongest as a fighter.

    I train Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, boxing and Muay Thai. But I’m mostly known for my Jiu-Jitsu skills because that’s where I have given the greatest display. However, I address and work on everything equally.

    What does your average week of training look like?

    It’s a very gruelling and intense training schedule. I train three times a day from Monday to Friday, and I usually train once or twice on the weekends.

    Does that amount of training increase in the lead up to a fight or do you keep it steady, even up to the day before the fight?

    Training is usually six to eight hours a day, which remains constant right up to fight week.

    That seems to be working for you. You’ve been with guys like Eddie Bravo and Leonard Gabriel since November 2008. How important do you feel your team is to your success so far?

    Very important. They believe in me and I have faith in them. They’re guiding the ship. They’re as much a part of it as I am.

    I’ve seen you say that by the time you’re fighting, when you’re in the ring, you’re calm and there’s nothing frightening or surreal about it. Is there any difference between training in a gym with your team and fighting in front of 20,000 people? Is there a different kind of mindset required or do you feel it’s the same?

    No, you train day in and day out for that moment. All scenarios, possibilities, techniques and strategies are covered in training that will be executed in the fight. On fight day the work has already been done – the training is harder than the fight because so much was done in preparation for the fight.

    What happens after a UFC match, George? As the winner, do you now meet with the officials and they decide your next match, and who you’re fighting next?

    I’ll be informed of who and when I will fight next. My team and I will study the opponent, run strategies, scenarios and address his strengths and weaknesses.

    There’s some chatter about trying to get your next UFC fight to happen in Melbourne, but MMA events are currently banned in Victoria. Do you know why?

    Not sure why they’re banned, but I have been present at several sanctioned MMA events in Melbourne which were held in a boxing ring, not a cage. So it might be a technicality.

    There’s too many reasons why MMA and the UFC will be held in Melbourne. First, it is a legitimate, credible and regulated sport. Secondly, the boost which it will give the local economy is too substantial to be ignored; our economy needs everything it can get, along with the international exposure that comes from the events.

    Why do you think that some people have a problem with mixed martial arts fighting?

    There’s a misconception from some journalists, writers, politicians and other public groups. The sport has comes a long way since it started back in 1993. The sport now has weight classes, time limits and is strictly regulated, supervised and judged by professionals.

    Rules have been introduced, there’s structured ways of competition, fighter safety is paramount, and it’s a professional sport. MMA combines all the elements of the Olympic stadium events; amateur boxing, taekwondo, freestyle wrestling, Greco roman wrestling and judo. These styles are the make up and blueprint of MMA.

    MMA should be accepted and regulated because it is a bi-product of Olympic sports. Furthermore, MMA was in the ancient Olympics, originally named Pankration. There is a long history; we are witnessing the rebirth of true combat sports.

    To me, it’s one of the purest forms of professional athletic endurance. It’s just two guys in a ring using their training to take the other one down. There’s not much more to it.

    That is part of it. In a street fight, anything goes. People can utilise any object as a weapon; they can literally take a person’s life. MMA is a sport with technique. The only way you’re going to win is utilising real skills and technique, from boxing, taekwondo, muay thai, wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu and any other martial art style out there. Skill is effective, not brutality. There is no such martial art or style called ‘street fighting’, only the wild imaginations of thugs and misinformed politicians and writers.

    That’s the big misconception; people don’t understand. It’s a new sport which only been around for 20 years. People are not fully informed about the facts, so that’s why people jump the gun. But that’s going to change. UFC is the fourth most viewed sport in the U.S.A. It’s huge. Pay-per-view’s in the millions, and up to 20,000 in attendance at events. It’s mainstream now. Australia follows the same trends as the western world whether it be sports or any other professional field.

    Your Sydney fight in February at the Acer Arena (UFC 110) was huge. It set the merch record for the venue, beating out Iron Maiden. The fact that obviously it sold out quickly indicates that there’s obviously an audience for it, and it’s turned mainstream. Do you see yourself as an ambassador for MMA in Australia?

    Definitely, I’m one of Australia’s leading competitors representing my country. It’s also my responsibility to educate the Australian community and provide insight about the sport. It’s a safe and regulated sport. Safer than the boxing, muay thai, or kick boxing which have been around for decades. MMA is safer because of the wrestling and grappling components. Consequently, resulting in less striking during bouts and training which means less head trauma.

    Why do you think people are attracted to watching UFC, and MMA in general?

    To quote Dana White, the president of the UFC: fighting is in our genes. People are naturally attracted to fighting. This is the ultimate form of fighting, so naturally people are going to be attracted to it. Fighting has been a part of human evolution; we evolved fighting, dating back to caveman. That’s why it’s in our instincts. Finally, it’s definitely the most exciting sport and it sells itself. The presence of striking, grappling, and wrestling makes for exciting action.

    Can you describe the feeling once a fight begins?

    You must prepare for all scenarios; standing, ground, the clinch, submissions, striking with your hands, elbows, knees and feet. You’ve got to be prepared for everything. All bases must be covered.

    It’s exciting. The offense can come from just about anywhere. The only way I can describe mixed martial arts is navigating through an asteroid field, asteroids coming from any direction. You’ve got to be ready for everything.

    Outside of fighting, George, do you have any vices? Do you drink, smoke, play video games?

    I do not drink. But I will have a glass of wine after my fight. Mostly, I just like training and fighting, and not much else. It’s a full-time commitment. When I’m not training I’m preparing to train or getting ready for a week of training, which it leaves little time for anything else.

    One last thing. There’s a bit of a misconception that anyone who pursues professional fighting generally isn’t an educated person, but when researching you I was interested to find that you had a business degree. You’re clearly very articulate and well spoken.

    A lot of the fighters who are in this sport have college degrees. So you can’t stereotype people because of the misconception of fighting being done by the poorer or underprivileged classes in society.

    In my case, I went to school, graduated, have a degree and associate diploma. I worked in finance, shipping and various other professions growing up. I chose MMA because it’s what I enjoy and love doing. It’s also my obligation and duty to represent it professionally since I am representing my country.

    Congratulations on your success so far, George. I wish you more of it.

    Thank you.


    For more on George Sotiropoulos, visit his website.

    The above transcript appeared in edited form for a story in the September 2010 issue of Australian Penthouse – read it here.

    I’ve embedded a video of George’s UFC highlights below, but since UFC generally aren’t too keen on allowing their footage to appear on YouTube, I can’t guarantee it’ll stay up for long.

  • Australian Penthouse interview: UFC fighter George Sotiropoulos, September 2010

    My first story for Australian Penthouse: an interview with Australian UFC fighter George Sotiropoulos, which appeared in the September 2010 issue.

    Excerpt below – all text copyright Australian Penthouse. Click the image for a closer look.

    George Sotiropoulos interview by Andrew McMillen for Australian Penthouse, August 2010Caged Fury
    Aussie fighter George Sotiropoulos is taking the UFC by storm

    by Andrew McMillen

    He grew up in Geelong, completed a Bachelor of Business and worked in finance before dedicating his life to the pursuit of elite mixed martial arts (MMA). Meet 33 year-old George Sotiropoulos: Australia’s strongest contender in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the world’s largest and most prestigious MMA tournament. Undefeated in the UFC (6-0) as this issue goes to press, George’s overall fight record reflects an impressive 13-2.

    MMA seems to be one of the purest forms of professional athletic endurance – it’s two guys in a cage using their training to try and take the other man down.

    That is part of it. In a street fight, anything goes. People can utilise any object as a weapon; they can literally take a person’s life. MMA is a sport with technique. The only way you’re going to win is utilising real skills and technique, from boxing, taekwondo, muay thai, wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu and any other martial art style out there.

    Skill is effective, not brutality: that’s the big misconception. MMA is a new sport which only been around for approximately 20 years. People are not fully informed about the facts, so that’s why they jump the gun. But that’s going to change; UFC is the fourth most viewed sport in the USA. Pay-per-view numbers are in the millions, and up to 20,000 punters attend events. It’s mainstream now.

    What does your average week of training look like?

    It’s a very gruelling and intense training schedule. I train three times a day from Monday to Friday, and I usually train once or twice on the weekends.

    Is there any difference between training in a gym with your team and fighting in front of 20,000 people?

    No; you train day in and day out for that moment. All scenarios, possibilities, techniques and strategies are covered in training. Then on fight day, the work has already been done. The training is harder than the fight.

    Visit the Australian Penthouse website for the full interview. You can also read the unedited transcript of our conversation here.

    UFC videos are pretty much impossible to find for free online, so I can’t show you footage of George in action. Instead, I’ve embedded an interview recorded after UFC 116, where George defeated Kirk Pellegrino.