They arrived a couple of years back and have played a few shows. They managed to get an EP, Arks Up, out at some stage and it was a cracker. Then we waited and we waited and they seemed like they’d all but disappeared. In fact, if it weren’t for the odd live performance and the fact that a couple of them play in other bands around the traps, you could’ve sworn they’d dropped off the planet all together.
Then, as if from nowhere, they finally drop an album. The thing is better than good. It captures all of their tonal slackness and packs a real sense of humour outside of the, often narrative-ly straight up, Australian stories it tells. Founding member Alistair McKay explains it was the writing of these songs that caused the hold up. “Both Rupe [Edwards] and I write pretty slowly,” he says “We write a lot of songs but we’re not happy with most of them. This is the first record that we’ve done with Steph [Hughes] and Al [Montfort] doing stuff as well. We recorded a bunch more that we had but we settled on ten that we wanted.
“I reckon Rupe probably throws out about 90 percent of the stuff that he writes, I write fewer songs. Al writes heaps of songs but he’s in six bands; Steph’s in three at the moment and it was just a matter of going up, recording a bunch of things and having the time to sit back and think relatively critically about it and pick out which songs we thought fit together.”
Of the large amount of material that Rupert Edwards discards, he puts much of it down to his own belief in the songs more than the stock of audience or those around him. “I don’t really worry about or care about whether people can relate to it or not – if that happens, that’s great,” he says. “I’ve gotta be happy with being able to sing something. I’ve gotta be happy and feel good about singing it. Not because it’s all autobiographical, it’s all pretty made up, but some stuff just feels OK to sing and other stuff just doesn’t.”
The songs paint a picture of inner-suburban life. Numbers like New Start Again paint a pretty grim portrait, whereas Flying Teatowel Blues or Seagulls offer snippets of daily life and Head Back slaps a cheeky grin across the arse end of the record. It’s accomplished, without being self conscious or arrogant. The songs string together like a wee narrative all of their own – albeit a brief one. “Pretty good,” answers Edwards when questioned how he feels about the record now that it’s finally on the shelves. “I guess it’s been so long in the making and it feels like it’s been so long since we recorded it to now. This is a pretty common thing with bands I guess, but I feel pretty over it in terms of waiting to have it out. I’ve listened to everything so much now that it’s just weird that everybody’s just hearing it for the first time. So I’m feeling good about it but it’s just a weird thing that there’s been such a delay I guess.” He still reckons he’ll be able to bring some enthusiasm to their launch, “Playing them live is still heaps of fun, I’m not at all over that.”
New Start Again marks the group’s first attempt at shared writing duties and the rewards are plain. The calibre of songwriting is bolstered by the use of vocal pairings that alternate through the listen – it’s never a bombardment or four-way vocal harmony, but the changing selections of vocals to songs right through lends the thing freshness and light. “Maybe the way the band formed, Rupert and I had played together for a long time with just us two,” continues McKay of the band’s incorporation of shared writing and singing duties. “So when we formed for the first bunch of shows that we did and for the EP, we had a bunch of songs that we’d written and so naturally it sort of came as a top down kind of thing. But now that we’ve played together more and spent more time together as a band, it’s just developed organically into a more collaborative thing, which is great. It’s much more enjoyable for everyone; I think you get the four different voices a lot more, I enjoy it a lot more personally.
“It’s never been a very laboured process. Put it this way: I don’t think many of the song pairings that we’ve done on the record have been done other ways. They either started with someone singing and then someone joining in at practice and the rest saying yeah that sounds cool. Or when we’ve recorded, someone will jump in at the last minute and try things. Actually we tried a couple of extra over dubs and that kind of stuff in terms of vocals. Generally we tried to sort of cut back. We didn’t want to end up sounding like the Beach Boys or something. Even though we all like the Beach Boys.”
The recording took place in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and the thing was captured by producer/musician about town Mikey Young. There is warmth to the album that smacks of a bunch of people having fun and not taking the process too seriously. They recorded the album in a couple of days, largely live in the living room of a house in The Dandenong’s. Sound kind of intense? Not at all says McKay.
“I wouldn’t use intensive,” he laughs. “It was really great. It was really relaxed and just a lot of fun.” The set up was pretty simple; their gear, Young’s “very impressive preamps”, some mics and a laptop. McKay agrees the vibes achieved are a lot about the chemistry of all recording in the same room. “We’ve never tried it that way with Dick Diver,” he says of attempting to capture their sound in separate booths. “Rupe and I have done recording in a studio separate, and it was just awful, I didn’t enjoy it at all. Especially with Dick Diver being a vibes band, for want of a better word, we just kind of, y’know feed off each other and I guess we’re a bit loose and sloppy as well and you lose that if you’re playing by yourself or playing to a click track or if you’re even in different rooms.”