The Australian garage rock/ psych scene is thriving at the moment, and Brisbane’s most acclaimed act SACRED SHRINES will certainly not contradict this statement! Driven by the charisma of frontman Phil Usher (former Grand Atlantic), their sophomore album Enter The Woods is a tale of losing your way and the time spent in the wilderness without a map to guide you, a sprawling and vintage-inspired thirteen track filled with earworm melodies, wrapped in gorgeous reverb and a rare authenticity, as proven by their latest videos Trail To Find and Front Row Future.. The album was mixed by Michael Badger (King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard), Donovan Miller (FOREVR) and James Aparicio (Spiritualized, Grinderman). Phil tells Hi Fi Way more about the album.
How challenging has the build up been to the album release?
Covid aside, we’ve had a bit of a journey personally and as a group since we released our first album. We’ve had a few line-up changes which is always a challenge and finding time and the finances to make a whole album can take some doing as well. The album has been done for a little while, but we decided to sit on it for a bit so we could get out and play some shows to support the release. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen last year. It’s fantastic to finally have it out there in the world and hear how people are responding to it!
Did COVID throw up additional challenges?
Following on from the last question, the main thing for us was probably on a personal level rather than the band. Of course it definitely put the brakes on a lot of things and we love to play live and tour when we can, but more importantly was the concern for everyone’s safety and for our friends and music family in other parts of the world where things haven’t gone so well. We’ve been so lucky mostly here in Brisbane and our hearts have been heavy for those overseas who have been less fortunate. Having music in our lives is a welcome positive force in these heavy times.
Did everything go to plan recording the album?
I think so. For various reasons, we’ve tended to write a few songs, do some pre-production and then go in and record them. Then start the process again. As much as we like to work out what’s going to happen when we go into the studio, we always leave room for experimentation and not overcook things too much. Having done this a few times before, it does give you the confidence that you can leave some aspects a bit more open ended heading into the studio. I take the view now that the recorded version of a song that will end up on the album is only one possible reading of that tune and of course you could always do it a multitude of other ways. This approach has helped us to be able to let go of the song and actually finish a project without getting too sidetracked with minute details. Capturing the right vibe for a song is probably the most important thing to the band.
Did you have a clear plan of what you wanted to create musically?
We had discussed moving in some different directions with this album. There was a definite focus on pursuing the ideas that came to me which were taking the band to places we hadn’t been before. I also had it in my mind that we wanted a flow to the record with less gaps between songs and included some parts that were like vignettes rather than complete 3 or 4 minute tunes. We’re all super happy with the way the whole thing came together.
How would you describe the Sacred Shrines to fans of the psych rock genre?
As a band, we are focused on trying different flavours of what might be considered psychedelic music. There are moments of baroque pop, sunshine pop, eastern influences, swampy blues, shoegaze and psych pop to name a few. Probably the overarching sound of Sacred Shrines would be psych/garage pop, but it really does come down to what the listener hears, which encompasses their own personal history of listening experiences. We’re really just writing songs that we like and just happen to be a bit weird and left of centre.
Do you focus on the lyrics first?
The music and melodies always come first. I also keep a book of lyrics that I write separately which I trawl through for inspiration after the song is mostly written. The melody and feel of the song often inform what the lyrical content will be. Somehow the song seems to tell me what it should be about. It’s a weird and very individual process for me and some of the songwriters I have discussed this with.
Who would you say is the biggest shared musical influence/ inspiration for Sacred Shrines?
We talk a lot about the psychedelic music from the late 60’s and I’d have to say that has been where the band’s sound mostly came from. Of course, we have taken that sound and tried to forge our own path as we worked through our influences to create something that reflects us more as individuals. We aren’t really interested in copying other bands, but we don’t live completely in a vacuum. There are many bands we listen to when we’re hanging out – The Rolling Stones, The Morning After Girls, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives to name a few.
Are you looking forward to being able to tour more broadly around the country this year?
We have a few things happening in Brisbane scheduled around our album release. We’ll be playing a huge launch show in July at The Zoo which will be cool. Plus we’re looking at some in-stores and listening parties as well. We’ve just finished a few shows with Grinding Eyes from Sydney which were our first after over two years away from the stage. It’s still very difficult to book tours and very risky financially to try to travel too much unfortunately, but when possible we’ll be out playing wherever we can.
What’s next for Sacred Shines?
We’ve still got a bit of work to do promoting this new album. We’re working on music videos and doing the usual interviews and radio promo as well. We’ll be busy most of this year spreading the word about ENTER THE WOODS and then we’ll discuss what we want to do next. Plus we’re all currently involved in other projects, so it’s always a juggling act. It’d be great to do another album as soon as possible as well.
Interview By Rob Lyon