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Splashbacks 2012
The Laurels released an album

Welcome to Splashbacks 2012, a series of little reverse glances into the rearview mirror that was This Year. The moments that touched us, the musicians that touched us in exchange for favourable critique (hi Matt Banham) and the tiny slithers of importance that dwell in-between.

In this opening exchange, Rav — PoA stand-over man and Nada Surf Fanclub President (Wagga Division) — chats to "his favourite Sydney band", The Laurels, about how this year saw them (finally) release their debut album, and how that feat was mostly inspired by UFO sightings and a general distrust for guitar pedals.

It was a shit night when I met up with Luke and Piers from the Laurels a few months ago for this interview. A typically cold, dreary, sleet bothered Sydney winter night, we'd arranged to meet at the Clare Hotel in the city for a few beers and a chat about their new record, Plains.

We set up shop on a couple of wet milk crates in the hotel's "beer garden" and talked music while we downed cheap jugs of Boston pale and Luke generously rolled us all cigarettes.

When did you guys start writing for this album? Because I know you spent a lot of time writing for Mesozoic, so did part of the writing come from that long period of time.

L: Six years ago. Yeah. We've been together for six years, so there's quite a lot of stuff that's built up in that time, but it's just not financially viable to put out heaps of albums [at once] unfortunately. We'd like to be able to do that.

P: Half the album is old and half of it is stuff that was written in the last six months.

And what was the writing process for that last six months of material?

L: The same as it's always been.

P: Luke and I work on demos and then take them in to rehearse and work through stuff with the other guys. Then sometimes they make up their own parts or sometimes they play what we've already got.

L: It's very democratic. Everyone has their input.

What were some of the themes that inspired the lyrics?

L: Piers and I saw a UFO at the end of last year.

P: So there're songs about UFOs.

What?!

L: We were up in our backyard. It wasn't that late, it was like 9 0'clock at night.

P: We live in Lewisham and our house looks straight at the Mill. It's like 200 metres away in was in between the Mill and us, 50 metres up in the air. Really close.

L: Closer than any of the planes.

P: We get lots of planes going over head, but this was flying really silently and we were like, "What is that." It was kind of glowing, but there were no lights on it.

L: Then it split into three pieces and kind of dissolved.

P: Like a second later.

L: And we both saw it and nobody believes us!

P: But we saw it!

L: We did see it!

Did you believe in UFOs before?

L: Yeah.

P: Yeah. It was like a sign.

L: We were all sceptics until we had the proof. But since then, yeah. That's not the only theme.

P: Dealing with life.

L: Experiences, work and relationships.

P: Positive vibes too.

I was going to say that this album has a sound much more upbeat and positive than Mesozoic, which had a much heavier and darker vibe. Plains seems to have more pop structures and a faster tempo.

P: I think that's because we've never been in a studio before (Mesozoic) and we were just being told what to do. On this album we planned out what we wanted it to sound like before we did anything. We like so many different types of music it was annoying being called a shoegaze band.

L: It was kind of trying to break free of the shoegaze tag.

Yeah, because the last time we talked we talked a lot about hip hop and you guys said you were listening to lots of James Brown. That kind of energy sounds like it had some influence on this record.

P: We've always been into really crisp production and I guess the shoegaze bands we do listen to have really crisp production.

L: We always had the intention of trying to replicate Revolver.

P: It's also because we've been around so long that everyone's been expecting one thing and it's kid of nice to get the unexpected.

L: The next album we don't want to repeat ourselves and be completely different to these two.

I feel that your music has been able to evolve from where you guys first began without betraying any of the reasons why people fell in love with your music in the first place. It feels like a natural progression — did it feel that way as you guys were piecing it all together?

P: When we first discovered music we were really set on the bands we like. When Luke and I would discuss our top 10 bands they never changed. If you can find a few people that like the sound you start off with, it's kind of nice to show them a musical journey with different styles rather than just being the band that you're like, "I don't like that sound anymore."

We're the same too. We're not doing it for other people, we kind of want to show everyone the bands that we like and it's a good way to do it — through music.

I read Richard Kingsmill's comment on your unearthed page about Black Cathedral and it said, "I've heard this stuff a million times before. So why aren't I sick of it?" I think that was true for Mesozoic, in that you really seemed to be wearing your influences on your sleeves. Whereas Plains seems to reflect a more evolved, individual sound, like you're coming into your own. Do you agree?

L: I think it's the more stuff that we listen to the more we're taking all these influences on board and trying to combine those. There's still the shoegaze aspect like we'll take some of the reverse reverb, or the treble guitars, and then we might have a James Brown drum beat.

Kate's drumming and Connor's bass playing stepped up man, he's stepped up.

He's definitely started filling in a big space in the sound. He's not only making up part of the rhythm section but he's contributing to the melody.

L: Yeah exactly.

So what was the recording process like? You guys fucked off to rural NSW somewhere?

P: We went to Beakhill which is like an hour and a half south.

L: That was kind of getting a feel for Liam's (Liam Johnson) approach because most of the band's he's been doing the last couple of years — he gets all his gear and he goes to a place and just sets up the house.

P: He has a bunch of houses he knows that he can rent and get good sounds out of and we just tried out one longer, psychadelic, dronier song and one fast, kind of punchy, punky song just to get a feel for both types. And then we did the Plains session a few months later in another house.

Do you think that added being in that house together added to your playing at all? Did it make you guys play more cohesively?

L: I don't think it made us more cohesive. It was just good to wake up and be able to play.

So it was the only thing to focus on. Unlike Mesozoic, which took you guys a long time to piece together.

L: Yeah. With the EP the process dragged out over so long and with this we had just 10 days and we were actually stuck in the studio for those 10 days with no escape.

P: There literally wasn't. You couldn't walk anywhere.

Was that enjoyable? Or did it get irritable at all? Because I've done a little bit of recording and it can definitely get exhausting after a while when you're trapped in the studio.

L: Well, if you try and condense the whole process you can't really fuck it up. Like Kate, she was only there for the first four days of the second session because she had to get back to work. So basically we had to get the drum tracks for every song before she left and that was a bit stressful.

P: We definitely could have used more days. It was rough. We got close to the album we wanted. But we could've done it a bit better.

Do you think the forced time frame contributed at all to the energy of the recording though?

L: Yeah definitely. I think we just wanted to impose a time frame after what happened after the last record. Because everyone gave us so much shit about how long it took.

I think I was one of those people giving you shit.

L: Yeah, you gave us shit.

P: It was so bad because every gig we went to, everyone would be like, "When's your album coming out? When's your album coming out?"

That being said, the turn around has been fairly quick. I was under the impression earlier in the year that it was going to be out in August.

L: Yeah, that was the worst thing about the EP.

P: We wanted it to be out earlier.

L: The EP was finished for like a year and a half before we put it out. That's the kind of shit thing about this industry, it's all about timing and "building a story," and that affects everything.

So what would you say working with Liam brought to the project?

P: He was pretty awesome because he knows so many of our favourite records and what sounds we were going for. You could tell him something ridiculous like, "I want this guitar to sound like oriental sitar," and he'd be like, "Yeah, I can do that." Or you'd be like, "I want this to sound like it's being recorded from far away, over a hill," and he'd be, "No worries!"

He was like a recording utility belt.

L: Yeah. He's a really funny guy.

P: And I'm sure if he wasn't there, some of us would have killed each other. He was keeping up the good vibes.

You guys have also signed with Rice Is Nice. How is that working out? They seem like a really fucking cool label.

L: It's been awesome. They're keeping us up to date with things, which is nice.

P: They haven't gone insolvent yet, like the last label we put our EP out on.

L: It's good that you work directly with the head of the label, like there're only three people you need to go through. So you don't get forgotten about. Like if you've got something coming out, you're their priority.

P: You can go round to their house and be like, "What's going on?" [Laughs].

Even this week I've heard you guys on Triple J like three times and obviously you've been on the cover of The Drum, which when I look back to the EP time, less than a year ago, you weren't getting anywhere near that exposure. Do you think that's down to Rice Is Nice or is that organic?

L: I think it helps. We've been around a long time.

P: I think people just feel sorry for us. "We'll give them a go. See what happens."

[We all laugh. Touching moment].

Are you enjoying the recognition? Is it rewarding knowing that this stuff is coming out — even if it is a bit embarrassing — the least it will do, I suppose, is sell some more tickets and albums.

P: We got to put an album out. That's all we care about.

It's been a relief to finally have it out?

L: Yeah, exactly. It's basically been about getting to the stage where we can do this for a living and put out albums more frequently, not sit on them for two years at a time.

The guitars on Plains sound phenomenal. How did you work those parts out on the record and come up with some of those sounds? Luke, the last time we spoke you said that a lot of what goes into your sound is getting new effects and pedals and exploring what you can do with those.

L: Just because you have so many pedals, people think that we rely on the pedals, and that's not true. Live, we have such massive pedal boards just because it's for different songs and different effects. When we're recording we probably only use three pedals or two pedals at a time.

P: I think I only used one.

But do you take more of the lead role Luke? Or how do you divvy up the parts?

L: It depends what song it is.

P: Some songs all the guitars are Luke. Some songs all the guitars are me.

L: And we'll add bits to it. I prefer rhythm guitar, just doing textured kind of stuff.

I guess rhythm guitar can take on just as much a lead role depending on the context.

P: There's a really good John Lennon quote that's, "I can't play guitar for shit but I can make it howl."

L: Yeah, it's never been about our technical ability or anything. Just conveying a feeling.

So has that been a learning process too then, in terms of taking what you've been able to create in the studio and then being able to recreate that live?

L: I guess what we've been trying to do is separate the live performance from the studio stuff.

P: Watching a band live is a totally different experience to the record. I guess on record you want to make it clearer, so it's dynamic. And I guess live you want to make people feel.

L: We really wanted to showcase the dynamics and really just the songwriting, just to show that [the band's music] is not just this wall of noise. That's what we've been known for for ages now.

P: If you have a cleaner sounding album you can crank it louder, where as if you recorded distorted it gets fucked up when you crank it louder and it can destroy your speakers.

Where do you guys see the next few months?

P: We did have really tentative plans to go to the US but I think we're going to put it off [actually, they're heading to Austin Psych Fest now in early 2013] and hopefully just rehearse the songs we have for the next album. Maybe not necessarily play them live but just work on them.

Is that something you've already got in your head — when you're going to record the next album?

P: We've got three albums of material. When we did this album we had to select songs for it.

L: The second album is definitely written. So it'll just be a matter of picking which one. I don't even know what we're going to go for on the second one. I mean I want to try something different. Depends on what everybody else in the band wants to do. I want to make a hip-hop record.

Additional Reading Listening: Podcast: Episode 73, Rav shoots the shit with The Laurels at a (different) pub.

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Splashbacks 2012

 

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