ODLAW The X-Press Interview


Three years after releasing their first album Regret City, Perth act Odlaw are back with their second, the somewhat confusingly titled Debut. But things look a little different this time round. Originally a four-piece, the project has progressed into largely a solo endeavour of local songwriter Mark Neal, who took a very different approach on this release than the first. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Mark Neal to find out how he embraced a more fun and relaxed way to create music and found himself more comfortable with being vulnerable and adventurous in the process.

So what has changed in the world of Mark Neal since the first Odlaw album Regret City and how did that influence the new music?

Odlaw has been a wild ride from the start. I had other jobs and bands that were busy and ambitious, so the goals in Odlaw were always set at an achievable level. And then somewhere along the way I got ambitious with Regret City, spent a fortune recording it in the best studio in WA, promoted it as hard as I knew how to, at the time anyway, and we toured it around the country. By the time the release came out I was burnt out. Regret City had taken a lot out of me and I felt defeated.

I went into the studio with (producer and Odlaw bandmate) Michael Strong looking to capture some of my songs before I forgot them and they got lost in a notepad somewhere forever and the process was so inspiring that I accidentally ended up recording an album.

So although Odlaw was primarily a solo project by the point you came to writing these songs you still enlisted Michael Strong to turn your ideas into a record. What was it that made you want to work with him again?

I don’t have the skills or the patience to record myself. I enjoy songwriting and recording but was always going to need someone to assist in the engineering and producing department. Michael and I have been friends for a long time. I started working with him because I knew it would be a rewarding experience and I also knew it would be the right level of casual for me. I wanted the entire thing to be fun and carefree. I brought Michael songs that weren’t even finished with half-baked ideas and together we built them up.

And did you have an idea of how you wanted it all to sound before you recorded it, or were you happy to let the songs grow by themselves in the recording process?

We took a very lo-fi and fun approach to recording. Looking for the most obscure and rewarding ways to capture moods. We definitely let the songs speak for themselves. When an idea felt like it was running out of steam we threw something crazy at it to make it fun again.

You have described the writing as “unorthodox”, what was the most unusual part of it for you?

The writing was comparable to the way I write all my songs. It starts with an acoustic guitar and an idea. But often if something doesn’t work in the band it gets forgotten or pushed aside for my solo sets. With this album I was digging up really old songs and bringing in new ideas and seeing what fit.

I suppose for me, most of my recording experiences have been with a band. Someone brings in a mostly finished song, you rehearse it over a few months, and then it gets played live a bunch before you take it into the studio. With this album, I had half written songs and weird ideas that we would muck around with until it felt right. Michael did all the drum bits. Together we did all the other things and we tried to record in as few takes as possible.

Was there anything lyrically that ties this record together? And is there a reason you felt the somewhat confusing title “Debut” was fitting?

I really wanted to be honest with my feelings and emotions in my songwriting. It’s quite common for my songs to come out quickly from a place I don’t really control and in the last couple of years I’ve tried pretty hard to focus that a bit more. I wanted to analyse where songs are coming from so I can strengthen that honesty and emotion in the lyrics.

I wanted to be brave with this album, and have touched on places that aren’t things I’m generally comfortable talking about, like relationship breakdowns and sexual frustrations. But for me it was important to be honest with myself and I wanted to be raw and real, and hopefully those things are relatable to other people. Debut was one of the first songs we finished and I liked it as a single. I also really liked the idea of the album title confusing media and radio presenters.

And as someone who works in the music industry more generally, how have you found the last few months? Are you looking forward to things “returning to normal” or have you found there are things we can learn from that will be valuable for us on the other side of the current challenges the industry is facing?

It’s been very challenging. There have been a lot of emotions this year. I have gone through so many feelings so often, everything from optimistic to grief. I can only really speak for myself and my own opinions but I’m excited to see where the creative industry goes from here and I’m very optimistic. Hard times can bring forward the best in us and I think there will be some great music coming out of this. There are always challenges but as a music community WA is incredible and we’ll get through this together.

And have you kept on with any of this momentum in songwriting and recording after this album finished? Is there any more music on the way we can look forward to?

I have. Thanks to the forced vacation. I have had a lot of time to write and I’m talking with Michael about making more music together in the near future.