Since forming in 2015, local alt-folk outfit Man Sandal have grown from humble beginnings to regular favourites on the live scene, with sold out headline shows and appearances in some of WA’s most popular festivals. Now after giving us the first taste of their latest sounds with their single release Can’t Mean Much earlier this year, the five-piece are finally set to unveil their debut album Chess Club on Thursday, July 8. Recorded in the docile seaside town of Bremer Bay in early 2020, the LP came to reflect the group’s shared experiences navigating the transition from being teenagers to young adults. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Man Sandal to find out how everyone in the band brought their own ideas and personalities to the album, and how it was better for it.
Congrats on the release of your debut album Chess Club this month. How long has it been in the works for and how does it feel to finally get it out into the world?
We started recording the album in November 2019, but some of the tracks were written as early as mid 2018. It’s been the longest process we’ve ever been through as a band so it feels incredible to finally put it out into the world and share it with everyone!
You recorded the album down at Bremer Bay on the south coast. Did you feel that location influenced the sound, or feeling of the record?
We all took a week off to go down south together and David (our bass player) recorded the album. Since then we have tweaked and recorded more in Perth over the last year and a half, contributing to the varying vibes and sounds on the record.
The last song on the record Future Knows Us was written and recorded while we were all together down at Bremer Bay. We spent all our time down there hanging out recording in the house and in the bushland across the road. We’d take a guitar and a portable mic into the bush and sit around it and work on the song together. The sample in Future Knows Us was from one of these nights – a little snapshot into the Bremer antics.
And taking a step further back, how did the band come together and how has your sound changed or grown up to this point?
There have been a few versions of the band since 2015, but our current lineup of Clancy, Georgia, David, Lochie and Julia started in 2017, just before we released our second EP Last Night’s Dinner. Our writing process involves someone bringing some chords or lyrics to the band and the rest of us filling in our own parts. Everyone contributes pretty evenly, especially on Chess Club and as a result, the album has quite a wide spectrum of genres and styles. This has always been the case but after quite a few years of playing with each other, we’ve managed to find a cohesiveness between our writing styles too.
Your first single Adulthood gave us a taste of your new material. Was that track chosen as the single because it captured the style of the album well?
Adulthood was one of the songs written in the middle of the album, so I think it captured a lot of the feelings that we put onto the record! Chess Club has a bit of a middle school feeling about it and I think that it’s because it was a transitional time in all of our lives. It’s confusing and disorientating and sometimes you have to make some hard decisions for the benefit of yourself. A common feeling in the band was experiencing this again in the period between leaving study and entering the adult world.
Adulthood felt like a great way to introduce the album and some of these ideas into the world, whilst still keeping an upbeat and positive attitude with it. It’s a bit like that “this is fine” meme where the house is burning and there’s a dog sitting, nonchalant, drinking a coffee.
And how about lyrically? Does the song reflect an overall theme or feeling that carries through the album?
Although each member of the band has written lyrics on the album, we’ve found the “coming of age” theme pops up again and again throughout. Over the years, we have played, experienced the world and grown up together, and writing about where we belong and who we belong with and coming to terms with how that’s constantly changing has been a shared experience for us all.
Songs like Shark, If You Try to Leave (Please Don’t) and Thinking on the Floor question how to relate to others when you feel like an outsider or how to act normal when it feels like your whole world is falling apart. There’s also this sort of existential dread feeling in a couple of the tracks like Everybody Dies and Adulthood as we find viewing the world through rose-coloured glasses becomes much harder, learning more about life as we venture into our 20s. We end the album with Future Knows Us which is all accepting the fact that nothing stays the same so all you can do is enjoy the present and be careful to have a positive impact.
And what other things are on the album that we might not expect from just listening to the single or your previous releases? Did the band expand their sound and try new things on this record that you hadn’t before?
The whole record touches on a lot of different feelings and sounds, and I think that’s something new on this release! We’ve always had a set that goes to a lot of different places, but I think the length of the album really showcases it this time! We tried out heaps of new, fun things on the album, with David and Jeremy Segal taking on producer roles and adding some subtle synths and other instruments that just help support the songs.
When we were writing If You Try to Leave (Please Don’t), from pretty early on, we wanted to include a strings section. Julia arranged the song for a quartet and we got to record them in David’s lounge room. The house is actually an Iwan Iwanoff house with a pretty crazy history! Rod Stewart played under the same chandelier in the 80s.
And how do you go about capturing this sound on stage? And what will it be like next time we can catch these songs live?
We tried to keep the recorded arrangements pretty simple and close to our live lineup, and so any parts that we added were on the subtle side. It also means that there are a few surprises on the album versions of the songs which I think is pretty fun! We might have a few surprises for you at the album launch though so make sure you get your tickets! It’s at the house we recorded parts of the album in on the 17th of July!