Melbourne based synth-pop indie rockers City Calm Down released their third album, Television, on August 23. The follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Echoes In Blue, Television promises to push the band to even greater heights, featuring a simpler and rockier, yet expanded sonic palette. MICHAEL HOLLICK caught up with the band’s singer/songwriter Jack Bourke to hear the story of the album’s creation and about their upcoming national tour hitting Rosemount Hotel on Saturday, October 19.
What was the band’s intentions going into the making of this record?
We wanted to do something different to what we’ve done previously. So far we have released two records and an EP that have a fairly similar sonic palette, so trying to get away from that dour, punk-influenced music was something we really focused on for this record. Of course, that darker element is still in there but we’re trying to step away from that. For the time being, at least. Ultimately, we are trying to find our own identity as a band and that takes a while to do.
The first thing that stuck out to me about your new LP was that it is a very happy record. Was this a deliberate choice by the band?
I think that it (the happiness) was a product of being in a different head space when we were writing the record. This time around we recorded in a very different environment to where we had previously and it was a much more relaxed setting. Also, we cut a whole bunch of the stuff out of our lives which meant that we weren’t just cobbling it together on the weekends. It really made the writing and recording process a lot more enjoyable.
How much of the album was written and conceived prior to entering the studio?
The album was mostly written prior to going into the studio. I think we had about ten demos from pre-production, which we did at my house. We took six of those demos and spent time working those tracks up. Then when we got into the studio we had a pretty clear idea of how they were going to go but it’s funny, when you have a song and when you strum it on guitar and sing it, everyone likes it, but then you go to record it you sometimes need to do a lot more work on it than you thought. And you have to work to find that track’s sound palette, maybe play around with the tempo and the key in the studio to try and make it work.
An example of that was the chorus of your main single, Stuck on the Eastern?
Yes, for Stuck (on the Eastern), we actually wrote the chorus while we were in the studio, which was very stressful but ultimately worth it. Sometimes, you just have to wait for those moments of inspiration, there is no point in forcing it.
Is there any artist you look up to and admire?
Probably the first that comes to mind is Morrissey. I know that he has got his own ideas and he can have those ideas, but when it comes to writing a lyric, he captures a moment with incredible wit and poise, and I don’t think that has been surpassed. You take the song, There is a Light That Never Goes Out, I haven’t heard anyone else capture a moment like that, something that is so awfully bleak but also so beautiful and colourful at the same time. To even write one line like that, that is such an achievement.
Why did you choose Burke Reid to work with on this record?
We chose Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, Julia Jacklin) as it seemed a very natural, logical fit for us and we shared an understanding. When we were setting out at the beginning of the recording process, I think Burke summed it up really nicely when he said “You just have to steal from three or four decades and we will find something new and exciting.” That made a lot of sense to us, as we were trying to make a record that is fairly unique in a contemporary sense. Obviously, we are re-hashing a lot of tried and true ideas on the record, and we’re not going to be the judge of whether it is unique or not, but that is what it felt like we were trying to do, and hopefully we got there.
The lyrics on Television are more externally focused and less introspective than your previous work. Is there a reason for this difference?
This time around, I had more time on my hands, so I was able to spend time looking back and exploring ideas further, as well as actually spending time reading other literature. It has been a long time since I was able to do that.
Would you consider going further politically in your lyrics in the future?
I sort of don’t like the idea of songs being overtly political. To me, they shouldn’t be like news headlines or articles. I’m not writing about facts, it’s far more abstract, it’s more about a time and a feeling than facts. I think that a song that taps into a sensibility has a lot more duration to it and when you go back to it you can get a much better feeling of the sentiment of what the people were thinking about at the time.
A Bloc Party line from their second record was “pop songs don’t change the government,” which is totally true but you sort of participate in the ideas of the culture you are in and maybe that changes the government. The purpose of the song is not to be too political or prescriptive in that sense.