Are you able to remember all of the new lyrics live now?
Yeah. It helps to have written them, you know. I’ve probably gone over them a million times. And they rhyme. I have no idea how actors remember all of their lines.
They do that thing in the mirror just practicing over and over, until it becomes like muscle memory.
Yeah, it’s quite boring really: the process of just repeat, repeat, repeat.
Do you have to go through anything like that to memorise the lyrics?
Yeah, I do. Well, you can remember them, but you really have to go over it a million times so they just get really natural. Otherwise you can hear your brain ticking over and that’s not a good thing.
After you first bring the lyrics to the band, do they change a lot? Or is most of the work done before that?
Nah, it’s all pretty much done by that stage. Occasionally there’s an exception to the rule, but usually that’s what it is and everyone hangs their stuff off that.
Do you have a certain ritual with how you write lyrics: maybe a certain workspace you have to use or certain things that have to happen?
Yeah, you have to be alone while you do it. I’ve got a converted bus parked out in the bush. It’s kind of like a bedroom and office with a cheap shit rug on the floor. It’s cool. It gets hot sometimes but otherwise it’s alright.
Are you still enjoying living in the country?
Oh yeah I love it. It’s pretty cool. We’ve moved: we were way out before, like three-and-a-half hours away, but now we’re an hour-and-a-half away so it’s a bit better.
Well there’s a town just below Shepparton called Nagambie. And we’re about 30 minutes out of that, sort of out in the sticks.
Listening to ‘Nine Eyes’, first I thought some of that was about living in the country but then it seemed more about you revisiting where you grew up. Did any of that come from not living in the city?
Nah, not really. It’s weird: you kind of write songs about things, especially in a geographical sense, that you haven’t experienced in a long time. I’d have to leave the country to start writing about the country.
So you’re able to tackle Melbourne properly now that you’re not living there?
Yeah definitely, or any sort of urban place. It’s good to get your head out of it to get your head into it, so to speak.
I want to talk about All Tomorrow’s Parties [Festival] quickly. Were you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, it went really well. I was really happy. We were all really happy.
No regrets of any kind?
Nah, not really. I mean you saw that list?* But you know, that happens. I have a new respect for people that organise festivals, because you just can’t get everybody that you want in the same spot on the same weekend. It would have been great to get more bands, but at the same time … like Pere Ubu: we got them and then it was their decision to do The Modern Dance. And we were like “Wow, OK.” We would have wanted them to do something like that anyway, because ATP is all about doing something special. But they volunteered it.
Before A Thousand Mistakes [DVD] came out, you were talking about all the different instrumentation that you’re not usually able to use live that you could use in that warehouse. Do you think that informed some of what we’re hearing on this new record? Maybe some of the orchestral stuff and the piano?
Yeah, had we not done that, then maybe Steve [Hesketh] would not have joined full-time. That was just a fun thing to do, and we basically recorded this album in the same way we did that [DVD]: just us in a big circle in a warehouse, which is a fun way to play. That experience was definitely the reason we chose to record the record that way.
Why a circle? Just so you can all look at each other and make eye contact?
Yeah, pretty much. It’s a physical thing, really. Like with Fi, everyone says, “Oh, she faces her back to the audience,” but facing Mike is what she’s actually doing. And you don’t have to have direct eye contact necessarily, but in your peripheral vision when you can see someone’s hand coming down on a note or a beat or something like that, it’s a huge part of playing. Especially when you’re kind of sloppy like us, we can all slop around together if we can see each other.
And you worked with Burke again?
Yeah, Burke came in a little bit later and he basically made us re-record ‘Nine Eyes’ and something else … ‘They’ll Kill You.’ So he recorded them and then we mixed it and processed everything, just fucked it up. Then he went to Canada and sort of fucked it all up a little bit more, and then sent it back and I just got the levels straight. I did a few bits and pieces here and there and that was it. It was a weird way to do it, but it worked out alright.
So a lot of it you did yourself, prior to Burke coming in?
Yeah, all of the recording. But then again I’m always involved in that stuff when we’re making albums anyway. And once it’s all set up, it’s set up: you just leave it pretty much.
Tell me about the space where you recorded the album?
Well, we rent the property that we have, but our landlord is really cool and he let us put an old demountable school building on the land. It’s like an old ’60s classroom pretty much: a really big 11-x-9-metre science classroom with windows down the sides. We had a truck dump it on our land, but it was pretty fucked. So we fixed it up and chucked all of our gear in it.
Did you fix it up as a band?
Well it was me and Fi mainly, but then Lusky [Dan Luscombe] would come up and help out. It was a lot of work.
I can imagine it as a bonding exercise, like a corporate retreat?
[Laughs] Yeah, before we make the record, let’s make the fucking studio. It was good, but it’s not the sort of thing that we’d repeat. It’s too hard.
Do you still use that space for anything?
Yeah, well, now we’ve got like a kitchen and lounge room. Because where we live there’s a couple of little cottages and a couple of other girls live in there, so it’s good for a bit of extra space.
So what was it about the songs that Burke re-recorded them? What was the reason for redoing them?
I don’t know, he just thought they were shit probably. They were getting there, y’know, but they weren’t all the way there so we had to redo them. But it’s a good thing he came in because it had worked okay with us producing everything else, but then it was nice that he pointed out where we had gone badly. They kind of weren’t … I don’t know, it’s really hard to explain: some things work and some things don’t. And they weren’t quite there so he made us do it all again, which was painful but worthwhile.
‘Nine Eyes’ stuck out to me as this really seasick or sloshing piece. It has that off-balance feel. Did it develop into that from something else?
Yeah, it went through a few different things: at first it was sparser, and it was more like ‘They’ll Kill You’ in that it was slow and spacey. And then we were just looking for some kind of gimmick. That’s what we refer to it as – “This song needs a gimmick” – and it’s always hard to tell what that is. And yeah, we just played it a million times and it just became sloppy, but in a good way. It’s really fluid and strange, a kind of ectoplasmic weirdness. We tried lots of different versions of it and in the end that one stuck out and we used it. I guess you’ve just got to ride these things out and hope for the best.
On ‘Laika’ there’s that orchestration, which is a real cinematic moment. It’s quite a surprise the first time you hear it. Was that another song where you kind of needed something, and then the orchestration presented itself as an option?
Well, the melody was there. Lusky did that guitar intro bit and he came up with that on a piano. And then we took it from there. I had all of those melodies that go over the top so it was just a matter of saying, “Hey, here’s a melody, what should we do with it?” Stevie brought in the keys and all that, and finally the strings came in. So I guess it was just a process of having a beer and a smoke and a chat, and delegating it to somebody else so I didn’t have to do it.
So Steve was pretty involved through the whole process of the record?
Yeah, he was definitely as involved as everyone else, which was great. I mean, he plays with a million people but I’m not sure how often he gets to be involved with a record from the word go, which he enjoyed a lot.
It’s funny, a lot of what we’re talking about: the deliberation and uncertainty. It would be surprising to a lot of people because there’s so much conviction in the way you guys present things, as if there couldn’t be any other way. So it’s interesting to pull back the curtain and hear about different versions and all this uncertainty.
Yeah it’s a funny thing when we’re together. There’s this girl that comes and stays with us at our place, and she’s got a kid that’s like two years old. But before he could walk or talk he’d dance to music: if you put James Brown on he would dance to it, and if you put … I don’t know, something that wasn’t very dance-y then he wouldn’t dance to it. And you couldn’t tell him to dance because he didn’t speak English at that point, so that shit’s just in you. Music is not something that you have to prop up that much; it’s already there, and you have to just roll with the punches really. I mean, electric guitars kind of already play themselves so you just have to steer it. You don’t have to carry it or anything. It’s actually easier than you would think, but in saying that I’ve been playing it for fucking 20-something years. Music just happens naturally; it’s in you.
Well, it’s a combination of having heard it your entire life, and just having that innate thing like you said, that response to rhythm.
Yeah, it really is innate; it’s just there. So you’ve just got to go for a walk with it, and sooner or later something will happen.
Does that carry over for you with writing the words? Is it pretty natural, and easy to figure out what works and what doesn’t? Because obviously rhythm is a big part of writing lyrics as well.
Oh, it’s a huge thing, yeah. I mean, you listen to [Einstürzende] Neubauten or Rammstein and they’re singing in German. I think with Neubauten the vocals are more musical, even though you don’t know what he’s saying because it’s in German. It just sounds better: the phonetics, the meter and all that. You need to get that right, as well as whatever you’re talking about. You just have to couple those things up. But generally it’s just a process of being able to spot what’s shit and being able to say “Fuck that,” and not feel bad when you have to erase eight hours of work: you need to learn to get over that. It’s just about spotting garbage really, because there’s a lot of it.
There’s this great moment on ‘Why Write a Letter…’ with the vocal sarcasm. How do you test out something like that? Is it alone or in front of the band? I can imagine this being quite a nervous thing, when you try a mannerism for the first time.
I don’t know, I mean, that first take is the first time the band has actually ever played the song, after I’ve just told them the chords so it is completely live. It’s just about letting your inhibitions go, really. Some of those first listens are really tight and, if you can get rid of those nerves, then off you go. I think that’s in everybody, but you’ve just got to work on that shit for a thousand hours and then you can turn it on whenever you want.
Then the “magic” happens?
Yeah, then the magic happens. That’s entertainment.
How do you feel about the shows supporting Neil Young? Obviously he’s been a big influence on you, so how do you feel about getting this opportunity?
Well, we did the Big Day Out tour when he was playing [in 2009], and I’ve seen him a couple of other times, like the Greendale [tour in 2003]. But everything has been really busy, and I haven’t really thought about it until I talked to a friend who saw them in Perth and he told me that their sets are like the ones from Weld, like those late-’70s stadium sets that he had with the big 20-foot-high Fender amps and the Jawas from Star Wars walking around. Then I was like, “Oh yeah, fuck! That’s nuts!” That concert is something I’ve watched heaps, and now we’re going to be standing in that concert footage, in that set. It’s a really fucking trippy thing. It’s one of those things that just doesn’t seem real: we will have to roll up to soundcheck, and I think that’s when it will hit us.
It must be nice for you to just be the support band again.
Yeah it is. That’s always fun because you don’t have to care so much. And we’re doing the [Bimbadgen] Winery in the Hunter Valley too, which is our winery debut: we’ve finally jumped the shark and now it’s like our retirement. Hopefully the promoters are impressed and they invite us back for more.
I guess you’ll be doing cruises and yachts and all that soon?
Oh yeah, totally. Even casinos, any of that shit. But my main worry is meeting Neil: half of me can’t be fucked just because it’s too scary. What do you say to someone like that?
Now you know how the rest of us feel.
So originally this was published on the now expired website called Mess + Noise under the title ‘It’s Just About Spotting Garbage’ and Interviewed by DOUG WALLEN.
*that list refers to this just below, from yet another Mess+Noise interview a couple months earlier in 2013 before this one I’m posting today. That fest would have to be one of greatest I’ve ever been and really should blog about it sometime soon!
Is there anyone you tried and couldn’t get, for whatever reason? Name names!
Yeah. The Jesus Lizard, Television, PiL, Modern Lovers, Lightning Bolt, Toumani Diabate, Jesus and Mary Chain, Low, Butthole Surfers, Latin Playboys, OFF!, Marc Ribot, Guy Clarke, Fugazi … the list goes on and the reasons why people couldn’t make it vary pretty wildly. It’s a weird world.
Do you know how hard it is finding something that’s from an expired website? After last month re-posing stuff from a couple of very cool music websites I like I when looking from my fave one of maybe all-time, Mess + Noise. Try it yourself, you’ll get re-driected to a pretty shit website which is nothing like it but must own the name or something and I couldn’t find anything but digging a bit deeper and a lot of stuff about, I found it! So it was an all Aussie indie music website from around mid-2000’s to early-2010’s and digging about I’ve only picked out 15/16 feature articles, that I’m going to re-published or post them again on my blog here this month. Trying to track down some of the writers have been very hard because I do what to give them credited from the work but all writers names will be in caps locks and hopefully linked to them now. Off course, The Drones are a fave act of mine so kicking off this little set of blog posts with them. Adding the one official promo clip, four live clips and three lifted straight from the album but all eight songs from the I See Seaweed album, the sixth by them and gotta be one of my faves!