Sunday, March 16, 2014

Harmony Interview with Tom Lyngcoln

On paper it’s always seemed frightful: three doo-wop women bringing gospel harmonies to what can best be described as some kind of deconstructed punk outfit playing slow, heavy, gristly tunes. But anyone who’s caught Melbourne’s Harmony live or listened to their slightly antisocial self-titled debut would understand that this most unlikely of cocktails actually works.

Harmony find strange symmetry in their double-pronged “mongrel concoction of lost-in-the-wilderness blues and heartbroken balladry”. There’s the darkness at the back – though drummer Alex Lyngcoln brings the look of the thing up a few notches from the unshaven beasts either side of her – but the front-end harmonies lift the sound out of the slough. It’s somehow got decent feng shui. It’s a mixture you’d struggle to invent if you tried and, says guitar player/dark vocalist Tom Lyngcoln, he sometimes has to double check it’s really a ‘thing’. “There are times when I’ll actually catch myself and I’ll be singing and I’ll look across and be like, ‘What the fuck is going on over there! How did this happen!’ he says. “It’s a pretty strange phenomenon.”

2013 was a massive year for the band. They busted out performances at the Drones-curated I’ll Be You Mirror ATP event, played Victorian favourites Golden Plains and Boogie festivals and even hit the road with The Drones for their I See Seaweed album-launch tour. Better still, they had their new record, Carpetbombing, recorded and pretty much done while their bumper year unfolded. “We started it about three years ago and, I dunno, it’s kind of been a long process,” says Lyngcoln of the record. “We’ve really kind of sat on it for a long time... There is a lot of work that went into it as opposed to the first one, which was pretty kind of ragged and slap dash. This one, a lot of man hours went into it.”

As with their debut, on Carpetbombing Lyngcoln took control of recording and mixing duties. Born out of pragmatism, it’s a role he’s finding himself increasingly familiar with – he’s played a hand in recent recordings of Spinning Rooms, Batpiss and Hoss, amongst others. “I can’t really convey to other people how I want things to sound,” he says. “It makes it really hard when you’re in a band and you’re playing music and you can’t tell people how you want a record to sound, so I just figured I’d have to do it myself... I’ve had a lot of help from friends too. Alex MacFarlane from The Stevens and Mikey Young both guided me a lot and showed me some neat tricks too, and other stuff I’ve just picked up along the way.”

There’s a lot of space on the new record. You can feel the earth beneath the band members’ feet. It sounds as though they set up in a suburban dungeon somewhere and thrashed the thing out in a matter of days. This, says Lyngcoln, couldn’t be further from the truth. “If you take us and put us in a thousand-dollar-a-day studio, the music just can’t withstand that,” he says. “It needs a layer of shit in between the listener and the band to kind of take any kind of notion that maybe it’s some kind of slick production – you wanna blow that out of the water. You don’t want it to be like some kind of tribute soul band – something that it isn’t. Slick production will do that, it’ll just make the songs sound like shit. So it kind of needs to sound shitty for the songs to kind of retain a bit of weight, I reckon.”

In a nutshell, the approach they adopted was for Tom and wife Alex to play guitar and drums live together, lay down the bones of each song then allow the other members to build their own parts. “It was completely almost built from the ground up, which is how we did the first one too,” says Lyngcoln. “As soon as I’ve written a song I give it to Alex and we go into a room and as soon as we get the first take then that’s what goes on the record...

“[Harmony]’s definitely a weird kind of alchemy, that’s for sure. It’s is the sum of its parts. I think if one person left the band then the sound would change dramatically. It’s a collaborative process despite it being a fragmented process.”

Through Poison City Records, Carpetbombing will be released on CD and gatefold vinyl and any physical purchase will come with a bunch of downloadable bonus material. As well as a spoken-word appearance by Don Walker on the album proper, Harmony enlisted the likes of Adalita, Qua, Spinning Rooms, Heinz Riegler and Mick Turner to record reconstructions of the band’s songs. “It’s pretty interesting to let it go and just let people do what they want,” says Lyngcoln. “There’s some pretty wild deconstructions of stuff, that’s for sure... The whole idea was that they could take a single note from a song and just sample it and just do something else with it. The only thing that would remain was the song title.”

The invited guests are mostly friends of the band, but Lyngcoln being Lyngcoln (he’d previously wrangled Marc Ribot to collaborate on their debut) he was prepared to push the limits of stalkerdom to get a couple of heroes on board. “Mick Turner I hadn’t met but I had crapped myself in front of [him] on numerous occasions,” he laughs. “He’s the one person in Australia... Actually there’s two of them ‘cause Don Walker’s the same. Don and Mick are the two people that I can’t be in a room with ‘cause it freaks me out too much.”

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