It’s all hands on deck over at Art As Catharsis, the label is really stretching it arms through 2015. Music is being recorded, songs being released and bands touring. Some of these are happening simultaneously. Recently I was approached by the busy man who runs the AAC label in the hopes of shedding some light on a promising Australian act and thankfully, Matt Harvey (We Lost The Sea’s guitarist) is as forthcoming and thoughtful as the music he helps create. The band’s new album, “Departure Songs” is set for a late July release and is sure to mentioned in any reputable site’s “best of 2015” lists. When asked about the group’s upcoming record, the passing of vocalist Chris Torpy and the upcoming tour with fellow Aussie’s Hope Drone, Matt provided more than enough information than we bargained on. Here’s what he had to say:
“Departure Songs” is a big album for you guys, not just in terms of the music but also in what it means to continue as a band. What does the new album mean to you guys as a band? How has the writing process helped you individually?
For me personally it’s been a sad and hard yet amazing experience, with some fun times thrown in. This is my first record with the band (I joined in 2012) and I couldn’t have been met with a more fragile and intimate task. This record means a lot for all of us. It’s a representation of the emotion we were left with after Chris, a tribute to him, to others like him that we’ve referenced in our songs and it’s for us as well. And now it’s all come together we feel some sense of epic achievement and it’s brought us closer as mates and as musicians and made us better at what we do.
Chris was actually the one that asked me to join and I was lucky enough to get to play a bunch of shows with him, and it’s a massive thing not to be able to write new ones with him. When we started writing these new songs we didn’t know what would come out and it took a long time to patch together some ideas and structures. A new album was the goal, but getting there was confusing.
There wasn’t a clear definitive initial reaction to be an instrumental band, I think a coupe of us were considering not continuing on in the band and as musicians but we realized that after working so hard on this band that quitting or breaking up would’ve been a let down to everyone. Plus it is the way we deal with emotion a lot of the time, and some of us have been doing it for 15+ years, so it’s our therapy. Once a couple of songs took shape and we realized what was happening, it started to slowly fall into place. For the first 12 months we still thought we were going to have vocals on it, all options went through our head, even doing it ourselves, which would have been terrible! Then we toyed with the idea of guest vocalists then I think after we played our first show as an instrumental band it kind of dawned on us that; that’s where we are now headed. I think this band will always try and challenge itself and rise to the occasion.
I think we struggled with the idea of it for a while then let go. Were we going to be a heavy band still? How do we write full instrumental stuff? Do we get other musos in to help us? All sorts of questions. I think that was also partly representative of trying to let go of Chris and him being the vocalist and writing with one, and for one. We realized that he was honestly one of the best heavy music vocalists in the country and trying to replace him wasn’t an option. We also said that the new stuff probably would’ve come out the way it did anyway, and Chris would have worked around it, which was his talent as a songwriter. I think we struggled with it a lot at times, not knowing if it was good enough, not knowing if it was right, but in the end our gut feeling led us and when things started to lock in it got exciting again and we realized we’d made it to that point. When we started associating themes to the songs and an overall album theme it gave context and reason to the songs and inspired us musically to make them right. It was the missing part of what Chris’ contribution would have been lyrically associated to the songs that kind of gave them gravity.
The album’s new single “A Gallant Gentleman” has just been released under a “name your price” format (via Bandcamp). Have you received any feedback yet? Do you prefer Bandcamp when compared to other sales platforms?
The new song has gone down great, people are stoked on it, which is awesome. There’s more to come, and it’s all slightly different from the next. I think Bandcamp is brilliant, I can’t sing it’s praises high enough. I have to work with it all the time and I’ve even had to email them a few times with help and suggestions, and they’re super nice and responsive, and doing it for the right reasons. I think that the money straight to artists thing is essential. Also they add to the exposure of the band because of it’s search functions and database of artists and tagging of genres, also it’s ‘best sellers’ gallery. I always try and buy from bands’ Bandcamp pages rather than anywhere else if I can. On the other hand, I [fucking] hate iTunes. I personally think Apple’s monopoly control and involvement in music is harmful to artists, they are definitely not doing it for the right reasons. And assholes like Taylor Swift with her open letter and her PR stunt sums up the whole thing, corporate whores in bed with other corporate whores. It’s a leech on the neck of artists, especially small ones, and I hate it right down to the interface. It’s clumsy and non-intuitive and a terrible user experience and everything is way over priced. Why would someone have to pay $17-22 for a digital album!!!??! Unless there was 100 songs or something. I understand that music is worth something, I don’t believe in downloading music for free illegally, but a digital album in my opinion should not be over $10.
Does the rest of the album follow in the released single’s mood? Explain.
It does. The whole thing is a collective of stories, forming it’s own story that is summed up by the last song, essentially. We love writing crescendos and giving the listener a pay off for sitting through long periods of somber and quiet. I think with the single, “Gallant”, is probably the most different to the other tracks on the record in that it’s shorter, simpler, more post rock orientated and really an opening track to a album full of sad yet triumphant songs laden with emotions we were feeling at the time. It’s simple in parts but really layered and textured. Having our mate and dad, Tim Carr, along for the recording was essential to us and for him to be a big part of this record as he was close to Chris as well. The production is subtle but really beautiful on Tim’s behalf, it really captures our mood and vibe. I think we’ve struggled with this album since the start, although a lot of the song writing came fairly easily, some of it did not and we worked on things over and over until it felt right or clicked. Once we had the overall theme we found a direction to follow. Without lyrical content or a story to follow the songs seemed to wander a bit, so by grounding them with a theme helped us fill the right gaps.
One thing that excited us and really added a lot to this record was the extra layers of instruments like the choir, cello and trumpet and even some Mogwai esque synth stuff. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re super proud of this record and the songs are exciting and we captured the best we could from the time and experiences we had, and it’s honesty shows.
What is the meaning of “Departure Songs”? What does the album represent?
‘Departure Songs’ is about failed journeys, about those who have gone above the and beyond their duty as humans and sacrificed themselves for others and for honourable reasons. About those that have left us and moved on. Each song on this album has a themed attached to it, it’s like the song’s lyrics, telling a story. All of the stories are from history and about real people. Part of the band’s creative process was and is to find themes that fit the music and tell stories like that. Epic stories for epic songs. It helps give context, narrative and character.
One of the first songs we worked on was “Challenger”; The first part came together quite quickly and we were all surprised, but then we hit a wall and it took a long time to work it all out, it’s such a trawling monolith of a song. But it wasn’t until Mark came in with an idea to associate it with the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1988 that it kind of clicked for us. We could hear the parts in the songs relating to parts in the journey of Challenger and it’s crew and the very famous and visceral end to that story. Now our song made sense and we could see a light at that 33 minute tunnel. So from that came the overall theme. I have to address here that the name Departure Songs is actually the same as an album by ambient experimental band Hammock, which I only found out after I’d come up with a name and brought it into the jam room. We all loved it pretty much straight away and it made total sense with our themes, I went home and googled it and then Hammock came up. We debated changing the title for a while and decided we couldn’t part with it, it actually made so much sense for us to use it. So, apologies to Hammock and anyone else who picked up on that, we’re not trying to rip them off at all. My justification of it was that Departure Songs as a theme is something that can be extended and revisited as it’s so big and emotional that it kind of needs to be shared.
- A quick look at the album’s tracklist shows a two-part “Challenger” series which closes the album. Can you tell us about both “Flight” and “Swansong”? What is the significance of breaking the music into two parts?
As explained above, “Challenger” is overtly about the Challenger disaster but it represents something we have associated with Chris’ story, in terms of it’s significance and meaning, it’s probably the main song on the album. Flight is the take off into space, but it’s more about the idea of mankind reaching beyond it’s means and doing everything it took to get there. Space is not a nice place, it’s hostile and deadly for humans yet it’s an amazingly beautiful place that we have to explore. The speech at the end by Reagan (even though we’re not supporters of his) summed it up nicely, and there’s something oddly poetic about what he says that we had to use a sample of it. Basically saying that when we strive so hard for something so dangerous and rewarding, things like this happen to further the human race. So these people didn’t die in vein, they were heroes and explorers and pioneers and all those words, and that sums up what this album is about. The story related to a lot of things we were feeling at the time.
“Swan Song” however is a bit different, while it is part two of Challenger it is about saying goodbye to those who we have lost and celebrating the great things they did in their time on earth. It is the emotional, sad yet triumphant summary of the story. It’s a track that Mark wrote the opening chords for not long after we lost Chris so not only is the track for all the lives we are celebrating on the album but also celebrating his life and his contribution to the world. A tribute to all of them.
The new record is self-funded. Without an outside source financing the album was it hard to get the proverbial wheels moving towards the creation/production of “Departure Songs”?
For us, we knew from the start that we had to come to the table with the money for the production of this. We approached a couple of people about possible monetary help but nothing came about this time round. We’ll continue to look! We’re also at a point in our small musical careers that we want to step it up a level, we don’t want to settle for doing things super cheap anymore, our sound has grown with us and we need to do it justice, and that costs money. One advantage we have is that we have 6 people to split it between, but it still costs $$$$ to get everything done. I spend my spare and work hours doing all the artwork, design, video editing, websites, admin, banking etc… and that saves us some costs too, but the total is still expensive. I think it’s really hard to get ahead these days as a small band without spending the money, recording costs and then vinyl pressing costs in USDs are what ramped the price up, then there’s PR and touring etc. That might just piss off loads of DIY dudes, but I’m sorry, it’s true and I’m happy to say we’re DIY as anyone else. Hopefully next time we can get some money off someone to help us press vinyls in Europe or something, we’ll be approaching people when the right time comes. I’ll have to big up our label guys, Mike (Bird’s Robe Records) and Lachlan (Art As Catharsis). We’ve been working with Mike for a few years now and he’s always been a massive help, he’s throwing us some dollars for some production costs this time round. We basically restarted about 3 years ago and decided to give it a red hot go and we dumped a release on Mike at the last minute and he helped us deal with it. Anyway, both BRR and AAC have come on board in a more serious role with this release and are about to punch out promotions as we speak. It’s guys like that; that help bands like us get to play on a bigger stage and in front of more people and get us out there, and they don’t do it for the pay check, so it’s invaluable to the scene that these guys exist and continue to help bands.
The new single features the recordings of Mercy College Choir. What was it like bringing both the choir and We Lost The Sea together? Was it as cohesive as the single sounds now?
Hahaha! No. It was a pretty awesome, and hectic experience. I spent about two months emailing choirs. Everyone from the Sydney Chamber Choir, to the local high schools. The SCC asked for $5000 to do the job, which if we had the money, we would’ve paid gladly. Right at the last minute our friend and label guy Mike Solo put me in touch with a teacher at Mercy College who used to play in a band back in the day. Between us we sorted it all out and I sent across some really rough mp3s with some midi piano as the melody lines. It wasn’t until they came in, all 20 girls, and their 2 teachers on a Saturday while we were recording and basically nutted it out on the spot. It took us all up about 3-4 hours to get it all done. Initially jam on the song, work out a melody, play it over and over, record a bunch of takes and then perform with them a couple of times for the videos we were shooting. Basically our piano guy, Mat, sat there and coached them through the parts on a grand piano. In about 20mins of them being there, they had a melody and we were hearing the song come to life. We changed the ending to the song on the spot and had to choir and piano play it out to the end. It was a fantastic experience, and it brought tears to everyone’s eyes when we heard it, even now I listen to it and tear up. We’d love to do it again.
It’s no secret that the spirit of Chris Torpy would’ve weighed heavily in the making of a new album. How have the last two and a half years been and has there been any point where you or the other members have considered simply stopping?
Absolutely. After Chris passed there were a couple of us who weren’t sure if we wanted to continue not only in We Lost The Sea but as musicians. All of us at some stage went through the grief process and reached the point of considering chucking in the towel as the thought of continuing without him was just too much to bare. Eventually at separate times we all decided to continue playing music as it’s what we’ve always done and what we use to get us through times in our life that aren’t great, plus it was one of the many joys we shared with Chris. He was the one that had brought us all together at different stages in our past and we wouldn’t have been doing his memory justice to take the easy road and stop playing together. For the first year playing together was extremely hard and at times heart breaking, especially live and especially playing tracks off The Quietest Place On Earth. Every time we played we could hear his voice and his parts and we always expected to open our eyes and see him on the stage in front of us. It wasn’t uncommon for emotions to get the better of us and we’d fall to pieces on stage though we managed to hide it well. Playing started to get easier as we started playing tracks off Departure Songs as the feeling had moved from mourning to remembering and rejoicing that time that we had with him. It is still hard and there are times where the emotion comes flooding back while we are playing but we get through it and remember what he left behind was some amazing memories and amazing music.
In August this year We Lost The Sea will tour with fellow Aussie’s Hope Drone. Have you played with those guys before and what do you think of their new music?
Yeah we’ve played with them a few times before, in Sydney and in Brisbane, they actually played our last album launch, so it’s a nice full circle. Good dudes, great band. From the song I’ve heard, I’m expecting epic evil shit destroying everything. Actually really excited to be touring with them as we’re such two different sounding bands each with big sounds both promoting new stuff, and I hear they have a home brew keg waiting for the Brisbane show. Either way, beer and metal. Super stoked for them getting signed to Relapse, it’s an amazing opportunity for a band with that sound to make international waves which is still a hard thing for us to do being from Australia. The rest of the bands we’re playing with on the tour are actually all pretty awesome, it’s going to be hectic.
The Sonic Sensory has the new Hope Drone for review, you can read it here: https://thesonicsensory.com/2015/07/06/hope-drone-cloak-of-ash/
How do you guys feel you rate with the year’s music? Do you think you have released one of those “highly acclaimed” albums that will transcend most others this year? How do you think We Lost The Sea compare to the likes of Jakob, Earth or Boris?
I don’t think we’re the right people to ask about this! I think we need to wait for the album to come out and then let people decide for themselves. I’d like to think so! At the end of the day we love what we do, like millions of other musicians and we’re happy to share it with people. Like I said earlier, this is our therapy in a way. We’d like to get a bit more famous, sure, who wouldn’t I guess? I want to play Glastonbury one day [hahaha] (Something we secretly want is to be signed, have heaps of money thrown at us, tour the world, dominate, do heaps of coke and then retire as millionaires.) We’re pushing as hard as we can and working really hard as well so we’ll just wait and see what happens. People write to us all the time thanking us for our music and asking us questions and telling us how our music directly effects their lives, which is awesome and makes me think we’ve done our job as ‘artists’ – to affect someone on a personal level is what a lot of art strives to do in my opinion. I remember doing that when I was younger. The first time it happened to me, when someone said ‘thank you for your music’ then quickly ran away shy and embarrassed, I almost teared up. That’s what it’s all about. We’re not standing up and being political or radical or trying to directly contribute back to society in an overt way, but if our passion and art translates to people and affects them in a positive way and helps them get through the day, then I’m proud and stoked about that.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add here?
I think I’ve said enough! Thanks to everyone for all their support, it means a lot to us! Cheers!