Gold Class relish tension. MATTHEW TOMICH met with vocalist Adam Curley and guitarist Evan James Purdy when they were in town recently, to reflect on the making of new album Drum, producer Gareth Liddiard, and the inseparability of the personal and political.
On their 2015 debut, It’s You, tension sat in the space between every beat and note, each of the band’s four players simultaneously working in opposition yet in concert. The result was a fragile but powerful 10-song document, with a sum far greater than its contrasting parts. On their second record, Drum, there’s more room to breathe. The tension is still key, but the structure is more stable. Evan James Purdey’s frenetic guitar is more laser-focused, Adam Curley’s affected vocal delivery has nearly doubled in range, and the rhythm of bassist Jon Shub and drummer Mark Hewitt – who since left after recording Drum – is razor-sharp.
Perhaps that’s owing to an accelerated two years that saw the band visit the US and Europe multiple times and play just about every worthy festival in the country. Perhaps it was also the influence of producer Gareth Liddiard, himself a master of deploying tension in the most productive and emotionally cathartic manner.
How did you come to work with Gareth Liddiard on this record?
EJP: It was something that was suggested when we were thinking about people to produce the record. It was obviously quite an exciting prospect and a really cool idea because he’s somebody with a lot of really out there ideas of what’s possible within a song structure and within a production capacity. We jumped at it and when he was keen it was perfect.
AC: Yeah. We definitely wouldn’t have thought of him ourselves because we didn’t know that he was producing for other bands, so I think it was a case of him being sounded out about it and us being sounded out about it. I think we were interested to talk to him about it from the start and it turned out he really liked the demos that we had and he was really into the songs and excited to do it. It was kind of nerve-wracking in a way to work with him because he’s Gareth Liddiard and came into our rehearsal room and sat down on the floor and listened to us play the songs.
EJP: Yeah, that was nerve-wracking. That’s something surprising that doesn’t happen all the time.
Did you expect him to be mean?
AC: I think disarming is a good word to use for him too. I think when you’re working with someone you don’t know, who comes into the room after you’ve written a bunch of songs that you feel really attached to and that feel really personal, you have your back up a little and you’re a bit cautious about what is going to happen and what their response is going to be. For him to be so open to it and warm and full of ideas, but also really respectful of what we were doing, was incredible from the very beginning. And he was just really nice to work with in the studio and a lovely guy to be around in general. He still sends me text messages when he’s bored or he’s found something stupid online that he wants to talk about.
Did you record at his house?
AC: No, we recorded at Headgap where we did the first album as well. Jon builds guitars – he’s got his workshop at the front of Headgap, so it’s an easy place for us to record and also just a great studio, a really comfortable studio to record it. So we did a week there and Evan and I went to Ngambie to Gaz and Fi’s house and they have this big piece of land which is really beautiful. We just hung out, drank lots of red wine and added some extra bits and pieces.
EJP: That’s when it got kind of a little bit more experimental and out there. Lots of sitting there for 15 minutes just making a weird noise and going, “is that good? Let’s keep that.”
AC: There are very few things as fun as getting drunk and making weird noises with Gareth Liddiard [laughs].
EJP: That’s very true. Career highlight right there.
AC: For as long as you like. And then sitting on the porch with no lights on around at all and just watching the stars, hearing weird wildlife sounds.
EJP: That was cool. That was a good way to wind everything up.
Do you think he pushed your guitar playing in a different direction? Because I noticed there’s always this sort of jazzy quality, in the sense that the rhythm is being held down by the others, but you’re kind of almost playing on top of it with – not disregard for what’s going on, but with this kind of freeform approach.
EJP: Not in terms of the songwriting. I think everything was kind of there. But he’s one of my big guitar influences anyway to begin with, so I just wanted to bloody do a good job around him. But just having his knowledge of gear and having him throw really random ideas at you about how to make noise sound cooler and how to just get a good take. Whereas the first record it was just like, was that good? That’ll do. This time it was much more about, “alright, you can put the emphasis there, maybe leave that note out, do that whole bit again, just fucking play better.” [Laughs].
How did that feel, having an idol of yours say that?
EJP: It was good. When it’s that voice coming down in the cans saying, “just fucking do a better job.” [Laughs].
Did you get that too, Adam?
AC: Yeah, definitely, but I kind of like it. With every take I’d just look at him and he’d be like, “do it again.” Okay! Sure! Until it gets to a point where it’s like, “can you just choose parts of the song I have to do again? I don’t wanna do the whole thing again.”
You don’t wanna disappoint him.
AC: No. And he’s like genuinely really good at everything, to the point where he can pick up notes and be like,” you’re just under the note, here’s the note,” and sing the note back to you and you’d say, “okay, I didn’t know you could do that, cool.
You wouldn’t expect him to be meticulous, I guess.
AC: He’s got an amazing ear.
EJP: And attention to detail, too. And I think that’s something you said – things that might sound freeform in his own music are really laboured over in unexpected ways. I think that’s a really interesting thing, that he can create this dissonant, chaotic sort of sound quite deliberately. I think that’s cool.
AC: Yeah. And I think it really benefitted us from just having someone know that something was possible that we weren’t aware was possible, or kind of could hear where a song could go and then push us to get it there. It was cool.
Is there a thematic underpinning to the lyrics of this record for you?
AC: Yeah, there is. We started writing it straight after a breakup for me. I’d already started thinking about kind of themes of resistance and defiance, which are a little bit in the first album. I suppose I wanted to do it less in an abstract way, maybe try to write more in a storytelling kind of a way. After my breakup, I was thinking a lot about queer histories and reading books like Le Livre blanc by Jean Cocteau and James Baldwin and the history of queer literature, exploring evasion and isolation and kind of the way that plays out in lives throughout queer history. There’s a lineage there and themes to draw from that you then make connections to in your own life, inevitably.
I was piecing that together in my head and feeling it really personally at the time, trying to write just from personal experience while also seeing – trying to find it within those histories, trying to also figure out what to do with all of those feelings and all of that knowledge. I think that all played into resistance and defiance and just finding little ways in your life to live your own life away from what’s expected of you. I didn’t feel the need to construct it in a way that is easily explained, because it’s a record; it’s not a novel. But I was definitely circling around all of those ideas, trying to not come up with any answers to them but just explore them and create something that was bold and personal and hopefully tells some kind of a personal story.
And I feel really grateful that I’m given the space to write whatever I like, explore my own ideas lyrically, and I hope that everyone likes them. It gets to a point in writing where I type them up and they’re sitting there and you’re not really sure whether to put them in front of everyone, but I definitely want everyone to have a look at them and let me know what they think. That’s a nerve-wracking part of writing.
EJP: Yeah, I bet. Especially this time because it was a lot more personal for you. It’s a lot sexier, this record, too.
Is that just lyrics, or are you all much sexier?
EJP: We’re all just much sexier.
AC: I think overall it’s a lot sexier [laughs]. Are we allowed to say that?
EJP: Yeah, totally. It’s a great selling point.
AC: That’s another thing though. I think everyone wanted to just try for a few different tones this album, so yeah, I hope some of it is sexy. I hope some of it’s a little bit humorous. You can only write about yourself and then you have absolutely no input into what everyone takes away from it. Normally we just get called dark [laughs].
EJP: Dark. Brooding. A guy told me, “you don’t have anything to pout about.”
I know there was an interview recently when you said that you hate rock bands, which was probably a line you regret so I won’t hone in on it too much.
AC: I don’t regret it at all [laughs]. That was at the very end of our European tour when I was doing an email interview and I remember sitting in the van writing, “I hate rock bands! I’ve just seen a billion of them. I don’t want to see anymore.”
You talked about that kind of cliché thing of four dudes singing about trying to get laid or not getting laid, and you wanted to shine a light on more queer spaces and female voices and whatnot. If not a rock band, what kind of band do you consider Gold Class to be?
AC: It’s not that I want to shed the light on queer voices or female voices. It’s more just that I think that space is interesting when it’s occupied by those voices, more than just hearing the same voices over and over again playing the same genre. I don’t feel the need to call is anything. We’ve kind of been through the whole thing of the first record being tagged with a number of genres and no one feeling comfortable.
EJP: Post-punk is the obvious one that gets thrown around and that’s totally fine. I like post-punk music but I like a tonne of other shit too, and so does everyone in the band, so it’s just that sort of –
AC: We’ve just never taken ownership of any genre name particularly, so now I just don’t really care anymore [laughs].
EJP: It sort of makes it easier to just go, “fuck it, we’re just a band,” and show up. But at the same time we’re not gonna show up and write an acoustic ditty. I think we operate in a certain way sonically that makes sense to us. And I think that’s more about creating something with – I keep using the word intensity because I can’t think of a better one – but wanting to create something that at least seems meaningful, and can be or has an energy to it.
AC: But you’ve got to give yourself space to move too. Not to use the obvious example because Gareth Liddiard produced the album, but look at The Drones. Are they a rock band? I guess they are, but that last album’s got a whole bunch of shit on it that I wouldn’t call rock,.I think you’ve gotta let yourself move a little. You see the bands who call themselves or do see themselves as belonging to one genre and they make the same album over and over again. I can’t imagine being interested long enough to do that. If it’s not changing, I don’t know why you’re doing it.
With your statement about rock bands, it sounded like you weren’t talking about people who play 4/4 and use guitars and drums and instruments, but some of the political undertones or lack thereof.
AC: I guess so. To my mind the most interesting music that’s been made right now probably isn’t rock music, in those terms. But I think it is also just that thing, of anyone who calls themselves a rock band in 2017 feeling a bit antiquated and outdated. I don’t know where that belongs right now in the whole landscape of what’s going on, and just wanting a bit more room than that to move, even though we do use guitar and bass and drums.
EJP: And all that comes, for me at least, with a hyper-awareness of fitting into that cliché to a certain extent, or to that model, quite obviously. We’re four guys in a band.
AC: I take it back. I love rock bands. [Laughs.]