IDYLLS call themselves post punk, but you’d be sorely mistaken expecting to hear something that sounds like Joy Division or Talking Heads. The Brisbane band deal in visceral, concentrated bursts of chaos that strike with all the subtlety of a trephination. Their latest record, The Barn, is an exercise in difficult listening, but a rewarding experience nonetheless. The songs are longer but more focused; the brass section appears infrequently but to even stronger affect; and the occasional downbeat instrumental passages make the chaotic flurries of sonic warfare even more powerful. Ahead of their Perth debut, MATTHEW TOMICH spoke with IDYLLS’ guitarist Chris Brownbill about the band’s evolving live show and their penchant for destroying equipment. IDYLLS play The Sewing Room this Friday, December 8 with Cold Meat and Warcycle.
How has IDYLLS’ live show evolved with this new material on The Barn?
We weren’t really a huge live band before this record came out. Now that it’s out, we’ve gotten a bit more comfortable playing live, a bit more comfortable expressing these songs the way they should be. Whereas before this record, playing live was always – not so much a hassle, but it wasn’t very natural. It was a little bit uncomfortable. I think we’ve all gotten a bit more comfortable at this point.
Is that because there was a lot more noise and electronic elements in your previous record, or is that just a natural evolution after being a band for so many years?
I think it’s a natural evolution. We’re not all extremely comfortable, social people, so being on tour was a little uncomfortable, but just after being used to it for so long now, it’s gotten a bit more natural at this point to be onstage.
Discomfort probably is a part of the process though, because you’re not exactly making comfortable music. I can’t imagine it’s particularly comfortable to be with you in the room as you’re playing it live.
Yeah. One thing we’re always a little bit wary of is we have really specific needs in terms of our sound. It’s not so much the production or an ensemble of equipment. It’s just the specificity of the PA system requirements. Obtaining the right kind of sound has always been really difficult for us. We have a lot of problems with venues getting all the intricacies sorted out. At the same time though, we do play in record stores and houses and it’s fine on that level. We just tailor a different set to what the requirements are.
What is it about your particular sound that demands those specifications?
It’s just kind of hard to play. Our drummer needs a very specific mix for him and I need a very specific mix on my side of stage. We always damage equipment. There was a period where every single show we’d blow an amplifier or a foldback monitor or a microphone or crack a cymbal or drums would fall over. Not so much due to the intensity of playing, it’s also our bad luck, really.
Has that bad luck streak ended for now, or have you broken a lot of stuff on this tour so far?
The last show we played was with Tropical Fuck Storm, which I guess was a pretty big show – it was a sold out show at The Landsdowne [in Sydney]. Our bassist fried two pedals halfway through the set, which is so bizarre. A pedal doesn’t usually just fry in the middle of a set, and two of them were destroyed. His whole entire bass tone was out the window. It’s not really worth getting upset about that. At this point in our band we just kind of laugh, like, “oh there we go, that was it” [laughs].
Since the last IDYLLS record in 2014, you opened your own studio in Brisbane called Underground Audio. You’ve already been recording bands for 15+ years, but how has your approach to writing, producing, recording, changed since you now have this space that you’ve built from the ground-up?
I’ve always had a space. Our last record was in my last studio which was also a venue connected to it. This room is a little bit bigger. I think that’s kind of influenced the songs a little bit, in terms of everything sounding larger, so we played less fast, with less intricacy, compared to the previous recordings. With a bigger space and a bigger room, you just play slower; there’s more time for the notes and the transients to decay. So I think that’s affected it sonically. But we’ve always had our own private space to write, so that hasn’t changed.
It’s interesting you say that, because I do notice there does seem to be this greater sense of space in the songs – there’s more room to breathe, rather than the hyper-ventilating of each instrument on the previous records.
Exactly. It wasn’t intentional. It just kind of happens I think from being in a bigger room.
A lot of the material on this record is longer than your previous albums – the shortest song’s 90 seconds and the closing track’s 9 minutes, whereas your previous albums feature one-minute tracks that you just blast through. Is that owing to playing and writing in a different space and giving the songs more room to breathe?
Yeah. We don’t think about track length too much. It’s just whatever the song is. The difference between this record and the last one is we were writing songs and piecing them together as we want, whereas the previous record, the whole entire record was one song and everything was written to be as one. With this most recent one, The Barn, that eventually happened at the end. With Prayer for Terrene, the previous record, since day one it was like a body of work. If something didn’t fit, it got canned.
Your previous record was mixed by Kurt Ballou of Converge. How did your relationship come about with him years ago?
With the last one, Prayer for Terrene, we went to a place in Melbourne called Head Gap and recorded it all there – a super fancy studio with the best equipment we could find. I didn’t have too much of a relationship with Kurt – I’d spoken to him on message boards over the years on tape machine forums and audio equipment forums. I think I just sent him an email asking about some work he’d done on a record in the 90s and mentioned that my band was making a record if he wanted to hear it. He asked to have a listen if and he was interested and said he’d be keen to mix it if you ever wanted to have some assistance with it. That’s kind of how that eventuated. With The Barn, we decided to go the other route and just have it – not intentionally low fidelity, but less money and time put into it and make it a bit more raw, less involved.
Is that also a way to reproduce the experience of the live show, or is the live show secondary to the recorded material?
I think it’s the opposite. The recorded material is secondary to the live show and it’s taken us a while to learn that. It always seemed like recording is really important because there aren’t many places to play in Brisbane or around Australia. It’s not like you can do a 30 day tour to kind of have that experience of small flashes in the pan throughout the year of actually playing music to people. I can see why a lot of bands become recording bands in Australia because they feel a bit limited and whatnot, but the older I get, the more I’ve realised – and collectively, it’s been realised within our structure – the recorded experience is like a photograph and should be taken as that, not like a holy grail. The live show is where it’s at.