City Calm Down are one of Australia’s most exciting bands and have released their much-anticipated third album Television. Faster, simpler, tougher: this is City Calm Down like you’ve never heard them before.
Television is a spectacular record short, sharp and focused. Recorded with producer Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, DZ Deathrays, Julia Jacklin) at The Grove Studios in NSW, it sees Jack Bourke (vocals), Sam Mullaly (keys), Jeremy Sonnenberg (bass) and Lee Armstrong (drums) chase something new, without hesitation or second thoughts. With the upcoming tour not far off Hi Fi Way spoke to Sam Mullaly about the album.
It seems as if City Calm Down delivered a ripper album with Echoes In Blue that you have stepped up again and outdone yourselves with Television?
That’s extremely high praise, thank you. You often feel like the phrase you’re only as good as your last album. I don’t when I heard that phrase or whether that’s designed to instil fear. Putting out and album means something for each of us in the band and we still think that an album is a really powerful vessel even in this day and time with the advent of digital music and singles that can be a bit of a distraction from making albums. This is a long player and that’s what I love with music and I hope we can continue doing that.
Does Stuck On The Eastern mean a little more living in Melbourne?
As a Melbournian, yeah definitely! Jack, Sam and I all grew up in close proximity to one another. Jack and Sam went to school together and my friend Patrick, who has never been in the band but my neighbour four doors down, was instrumental in reason why I started playing bass guitar and the reason why Jack had someone to sing-a-long with. The suburbs and where we come from the Eastern freeway is the main corridor in to the city from where we grew up. Being Stuck On The Eastern is still my favourite freeway to drive because there’s no fixed speed cameras and when you’re not in peak time it flows really well and it’s nostalgic for me. I live right near the freeway exit from when I was seventeen until I moved out of home and I remember when I started going to Uni every single day I would be stuck in that traffic on the way in to city. I hope people understand the sensation that is the morning commute via road corridors that are a bit overcrowded, it’s the time you listen to music, when you’re alone you have time to reflect on what the hell you are doing with your life. It is an interesting space.
Once you finished touring in 2018 was there discussions around doing something different as the bio said making the album more “exciting” again?
It didn’t feel like a conscious effort and we were all at a point to be able to keep doing this, as we were all turning thirty, it needs to be fresh and do something different and exciting quickly to remind us why we do this. Everyone sacrifices a lot to do music professionally and a lot of time recording and playing it. We knew it was time to step outside our comfort zone with our production team.
The idea of working with someone different was exciting to be pushed in to a space we haven’t been before. It was the perfect opportunity given the way we were writing music and what the music sounded like, it was a conscious effort to try to make more focused pop-centric music. When you start doing that and try simplifying your music, everyone says that pop music is really easy and basic but when you try simplifying everything down to do that well it is easy to hide behind a different style of writing that is laden with melancholy or layers of synthesis or whatever it is. It is tricky to write music that feel right and that’s naturally what we feel we needed to do as a band.
How do you manage the juggle with professional careers, life and keeping the band going?
It can be really tricky, it can be hard financially and it can put a lot of pressure on all your relationships. Everything suffers but at the same time being able to create music with my band and play my instrument on stage makes me the happiest in life and brings me the most joy and I hope that makes me a better version of myself. I tell myself that makes me a better version of myself and I think my partner would acknowledge that to some degree. When I get to do what I love I’m the best version of me. I would love to just do music but having to juggle and do work it makes you hungrier to do it well and it starts to feel like the ultimate luxury. There’s a perception that when people start to see and hear bands that are successful in inverted commas are getting played on the radio but for that to be a financially viable thing for four adults to do you have to be doing it real good to a real high level. It has taken a life time to realise the reality of it as the industry is really tough.
How do you think you’ll go with the set list on this tour with three really good albums and so many songs to choose from?
I have thought about this and people have paid to come and see us play presumably for the old stuff, what’s the balance of old versus new songs? I really want to play a really good chunk of the new album but of course you have to play your songs for the people that want to see you play those songs. It is a bit to think but we’ll think more about how the set is going to flow as a chunk of music whatever that time is, what are the ebbs and flows and how do we calve up our previous body of work and insert this new stuff in so it’s cohesive and exciting.
Maybe you could make Stuck On The Eastern a bit more localised maybe in Adelaide you could call it Stuck On South Road!
Stuck On Southie! Ha! That’s a good idea!
Beyond the tour what’s on the horizon for City Calm Down?
Before the tour we’ll head over to Europe for a couple of weeks and smash out a few shows playing in cities we have never down before. It is always good to be able to test the waters overseas, last time we were they we had an amazing time. Going back to places such as Berlin, Hamburg, Glasgow and London obviously we had amazing experiences. It is good to be able to back it up. Beyond the tour we want to keep working on new music and get the ideas flowing, keep the ball rolling, keep creating and not over think it like we used to.
Interview By Rob Lyon