Last month, the Australian band Blackchords released their second album called 'A Thin Line', which is a step forward for the band in terms of learning how to work better together as a group and also experimenting with various different sounds. The band recently toured North America and also played at this year's SXSW. They are not complete strangers to the UK either, as they played The Great Escape and Liverpool Sound City a few years back and hope to return over here in the future. We certainly hope to see them back as well. In our interview, the band's bass player Tristan answers some questions about the new album and its interesting recording process, thoughts on the North American tour, Australian music scene and more.
EVA: Your second album ‘A Thin Line’ came out on 5thApril. In what ways does this album differ from the previous one and how do you think your sound and song writing evolved over the years?
TRISTAN: From a writing point of view it was much more a band record. Nick wrote the songs for the first record and then the instruments were painted over the top, whereas on ‘A Thin Line’ the songs, for the most part, came out of recorded jams and band retreats away. I think it took us a while to get used to writing with each other’s ideas and pulling the many parts into a cohesive whole but ultimately it was a rewarding way of writing.
From a production point of view, there’s a lot more experimentation with electronica on this record. There’s lots of synth sounds, drum machines, some of it analogue, some of it from our laptops. During the writing process sitting down at laptops and passing round hard drives was a bigger part of writing the record as sitting down with guitars.
EVA: Could you tell us about the recording journey of the new record?
TRISTAN: We were recording demos with producer Mark Stanley when we decided we had enough material to record the next album. Mark had spent a lot of time working in Ireland, where he worked with David Odlum who was the guitarist from the Frames and has also won Grammy’s for his work as a producer.
David agreed to come out to Australia, escape the French winter (where he runs his studio) and produce the record with Mark. It all happened very quickly, we only had 11 days to record it before David had to return to Europe. We worked long days with minimal sleeping opportunities with no time off. We recorded in a converted shed in the Yarra Valley, about 1 ½ hrs out of our hometown Melbourne. There was no internet and no phone reception. We slept, cooked and ate in the shed, it was very immersive and it was great to be free of everyday distractions. Sometimes conventional recording studios can be claustrophobic and this certainly wasn’t the case recording out in the shed. If you needed to take 5, you could wander outside and sit by the creek, look at the gum trees and pretty soon your head was clear again.
EVA: Do you have a favourite song on the album, or one that has a special story or meaning behind it?
TRISTAN: I really like all the songs from the album and we’re really proud of it as a 50-minute piece of music, so it’s hard to pick one song. I guess I was really excited about how our second single from the record ‘Oh No’ came together. We’d being playing that song for a long time, it was kind of an alt-country thing that wasn’t really going anywhere but I always really liked Nick’s vocals on it. At 3am one of the nights of recording, we started playing round with different chords, changing the electric bass part, adding synth and writing different guitar parts. The genisis of the song as it is on the album came together in about 15mins and it sounds nothing like it did originally.
EVA: You’ve recently toured North America and performed at SXSW as well. How was this experience for you?
TRISTAN: It was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to tour North America. SXSW was larger than life; it almost felt that every band that existed anywhere in the world was playing there. We weren’t sure how we would be received or how much interest a band from Australia like us would have but the shows went really well and US crowds give you a lot when you’re on stage. Then there’s all the peculiarities of touring away from Australia; driving the tour van down the right hand side of some of these enormous free, free pouring at bars, burgers for every meal and maple bacon ice cream sundaes. Every city in the US is very different of course and Canada has its own thing again. It was amazing to wrap up our tour and play in New York.
EVA: A few years back, you also played the Great Escape and Liverpool Sound City festivals here in the UK. How do you recall these times and do you plan to return over here in thenear future?
TRISTAN: That was such a great trip. I think there are more music nerds in the UK than anywhere else and it gives the indie scene in the UK such a great vibe. The venues in Brighton were some of the best small clubs we’ve ever played at. The Great Escape was a bit smaller than SXSW so it was much easier to get into clubs and see all the bands you wanted to see. As massive Beatles fans, it was great to go and play in Liverpool too. We’d love to get to the UK again soon; hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re back.
EVA: What's your working process? Do you usually write together as a band or does each person bring material in progress, or do you start from scratch, jam your way into ideas etc.
TRISTAN: Ideas come out lots of different ways, sometimes from jams, sometimes from guitar riffs, sometimes from half songs that Nick writes and then we go about re-writing them 100 times over till we have the final song, which often bares no resemblance to the original starting place. Lots of the final compostion of this album came together during the recording process. Trying new parts against pre-exisiting ones and moving everything round like jigsaw pieces.
EVA: Are there any particular musicians or bands that have had a strong influence on your music over the years?
TRISTAN: I guess we’re all big fans of brit-pop and everything around that. I think we have pretty short attention spans in the sense we all always have a brand new favourite band.
EVA: What kind of music did you grow up listening to and what made you realise you wanted to pursue career in music?
TRISTAN: I guess it was different for all of us but I think it all took me a while to believe that a career in music was possible. I didn’t really know any career musicians growing up and if you ever floated the idea, people were often pretty quick to shoot it down. I think once I realised being a musician is more about developing ideas and working really hard, rather than waiting for fully formed genius to fall from the sky, that the whole ‘music thing’ seemed possible.
EVA: What is the music scene like in Australia at the moment and how difficult is it for new upcoming bands/musicians to try and break through over there?
TRISTAN: In Melbourne, our hometown, the music scene is very vibrant. There are lots of small live music venues and there are bands playing all over the city. The festival thing is also massive here now, it seems like there’s a new festival on every weekend. There’s very little live music on TV in Australia though, there’s nothing like Jules Holland or the Electric Proms or anything like that. So you tend to get lots of the big overseas stuff reigning supreme on commercial radio and then a healthy underground scene and there’s really very little crossover.
EVA: What’s next for Blackchords? Do you have any special plans for the upcoming weeks/months?
TRISTAN: We hope to follow up‘A Thin Line’ with a new EP before too long, but we’ve only just come back from North America and currently are in the middle of our album release tour in Australia. We’re really enjoying playing all our new songs off the album live, a lot of the tracks from our first album don’t get much of a look in these days. There’s plenty more creative blood to be squeezed from the Blackchords’ stone so you should hear plenty more from us soon.