Second Prize

The new album from Melbourne band Second Prize takes its name from the world of Pro Wrestling. The Heel Turn is the moment when a good guy (or a “face”) becomes a bad guy (or a “heel”). Many of the songs on the debut album inhabit that space – the grey area where male behaviour normally regarded as drifts over into toxic masculinity.

Musically, the songs by turns evoke the sleazy disco of Pulp, the midlife-crisis scuzz-rock of Grinderman-era Nick Cave, and the hangoverweary tenderness of Lambchop and Sparklehorse. John Palmer was previously the frontman of Half A Cow signing The Raylenes, and has more recently played guitar for Melbourne indiepop auteur Georgia Fields. Chief collaborator Dave Rogers has played with Klinger, Ben Lee, Sophie Koh and Slow Fades. John answers a few questions for Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about their debut album.

Is it a really good feeling knowing that the album is finished?
Extremely. It took a long time because we kept running out of either free time or money. We had each of those things, but never both at once.

Was it a tough slog getting to the finish line?
I’m almost embarrassed of how long it took – even Sgt Pepper only took The Beatles five months. By that logic The Heel Turn ought to be at least ten times as good. You can’t dispute that. It’s science.

To music lovers who don’t know of Second Prize how would you describe it?
A time-capsule of indie influences from about 1995-2005. The polyester swagger of Pulp and Suede, the tender-headed ruminations of Lambchop and Smog, and barrelling about in the middle of it all middle-aged dummy spit of Grinderman.

How did Second Prize get together?
It’s weird to think of the band “getting together” per se, because it just kind of gradually evolved. I had played some guitar for Dave in his old band The Wellwishers and he had come on board to play guitar for my band. We had been writing songs and making scrappy demos and decided to start working towards a record. We recorded the drums at drummer Dave Kleynjan’s basement, which was a like a museum for vintage Ludwig drum kits. We built the arrangements up as a four piece and went from there.

Were you heavily influenced by pro-wrestling given the album title and album art?
Not heavily, but thematically the album turned out to be very much about masculinity as a set of roles men act out, rather than something immutable and biologically determined.

There is no arena that I can think of that makes that worldview clearer than pro-wrestling. You have these absolute units, these slabs of muscle and testosterone, engaged in trying to dominate each other and performing incredible feats of athleticism, but it’s also very clearly all a big put on.

What’s the story behind the single Waiting For A Spark?
I wrote that one eyeball to eyeball across my kitchen table with [Melbourne singer-songwriter] Georgia Fields. Ostensibly it’s a riff on the whole Frankenstein story, with the inert monster standing in (metaphor alert!) for a dead romantic relationship. But with the benefit of hindsight I realised that, from my point of view at least, the song was really about a set of problems with masculinity. I don’t know what Georgia’s interpretation is.

Did you have all your ideas consolidated before going in to the studio?
I reckon we were 90% there, but you have to leave room for inspiration to strike. For example, I originally envisaged Waiting for a Spark as a straight-ahead alt-country thing – something like Whiskeytown or Bright Eyes would have done. But our drummer Dave thought that was boring, and had the idea to give it this big Mercury Rev/ Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin sound. I think that’s what makes it the lead single.

What was the biggest lesson learnt from the studio experience?
Near enough is never good enough. If you decide that it is you’ll just end up coming back two months later and rerecording the whole part. Oh, and always bring spare strings.

Biggest musical influence and why?
Pulp. I didn’t really get into them the first time around, but upon reflection I realised that they covered off on all my favourite themes – bad sex, class anxiety, high drama – and they did it all while looking fabulous and laying down incredible disco beats. Plus Jarvis Cocker leaves every other front man I’ve ever seen for dead.

Are there any plans to tour around the country this year?
Not this year. It would seem a bit premature given this is our first release. But we hope to have a new EP out fairly rapidly after this, so there may be a short tour around that.

Interview By Rob Lyon