PVT’s fifth album New Spirit is a reference to the hope and light the Sydney three-piece see in Australia’s socio and political future. Perfectly captured in the album’s pivotal centrepiece Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, it’s a spine-tingling journey of realisation and optimism. Producer and Perth expat Dave Miller speaks to LARA FOX about their upcoming show at Babushka, Leederville on Thursday, October 5, as well as the more organic approach to making New Spirit, why it’s important for PVT to make music that has a message and what influences their ever expanding and progressive sounds.
I understand in the past you have made music remotely from one another but that wasn’t so much the case for this one, can you tell me a little bit about how New Spirit came together?
The other albums we have made, I was in London. But this album Richard (Pike, singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer) was actually living in London. It was funny because as soon as I was ready to come home, Richard decided to go to London. Which is inconvenient band-wise, but that’s life I suppose. The process has varied for each record, depending on where we are located and what we are up to with other things, life, bands, music etc. That is probably why our records vary in sound so dramatically.
New Spirit was obviously put together from two different hemispheres, and although it took a long time to produce it and release it, we actually did the majority of the recording and writing over a few times that we were all together in the same city. Unlike other records, we did a lot of New Spirit in the same room. We also made a conscious effort for this record to reduce the amount of instruments. Richard in particular can play many things but we wanted to reduce that and make a conscious effort not to have bass guitar. There is guitar on only one or two songs. Even with the drums, we went electronic first, rather than the other way around. We all really wanted it to be a synth-led record; we wanted to reduce things as much as possible. That was the focus for us for New Spirit.
Each record has been different, there have been ones where I have been shooting over loops or bass lines from London and that’s how it started, so it is really different from record to record. And yeah – New Spirit was completely different again.
It’s interesting you say that, because to me New Spirit sounds like your most cohesive record to date…
Yeah, I think the fact that we were in the same room for this record really shows. In my opinion, it is our most cohesive record for a really long time.
You guys are all busy playing in other bands and creating in general, right?
Yeah, Lawrence plays in a bunch of other bands. He plays in Jack Ladder, he plays with D.D. Dumbo and Sarah Blasko. He is really a hired gun. He’s also got a couple of other recording projects; he does some improvisational jazz stuff with Mike Nock and is in another group with Luke Abbott called Szun Waves. He’s a busy man. Richard has been doing bits of pieces as well, which he will release in the next year or so. I used to do a lot of solo electronic stuff for years and years, but now I don’t really have the time for much else other than PVT and having a family now.
What does all that bring to PVT?
I think it really helps us bring and add different interesting parts to PVT; we bring such varying influences to the table. We are always sharing stuff we are listening to with each other as well, so the influence spreads that way. We all listen to a lot of different music. I remember introducing Richard and Lawrence to guys like James Holden and Luke Abbott. And now, years later, Richard is making music with Luke Abbott! We have really broad interests and tastes, which I think adds to our PVT sound a lot. Richard is getting into all sorts of really bizarre electronic stuff at the moment. If you can’t tell. The thing is we are always evolving individually and that is reflected in our personal taste in music and is also definitely reflected in New Spirit.
For such an electronic album, it feels really primal. How do you go about making something using technology feel so human?
Thank you. Part of it is to do with improvisation, with this record, unlike some of our others, we actually went with our first takes. Not with vocals, but with everything else. I think that keeping mistakes has been really important. I think it is really easy to affect music, and you can lose the soul of it that way. A lot of the songs on New Spirit are actually sequenced with vintage machines, which adds a really natural swing – and natural error. It’s not programmed by a computer, it’s programmed by a machine which is old and has its intricacies and its faults, and I think that really comes out on the record, it adds those little imperfections that are so human.
The album and its accompanying video clips reference Australiana a lot – what was the idea behind that?
Yeah, so most our albums have an over-arching theme and New Spirit for us was always going to be about Australia. We wanted to make a record that talked about and sounded like Australia. I mean – it’s no Great Southern Land. But we think it encompasses what modern Australia is, or would sound like. In the current political and social climate, it’s hard not to let that influence you. It didn’t feel right to record anything other than a commentary on Australia’s position. To us, it just had to be done.
Especially songs like Kangaroo, Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend and Murder Mall, that commentary on our environment is really confronting…
Yeah, it’s hard not to be influenced, maybe influenced is not the right word, it’s hard not be depressed by what’s happening. I think when you sit down and start to create some art it’s really important to try to say something about those kinds of things that matter. That is not to say there isn’t room for escapism, escapism is also really important. But unfortunately for us we are not going to be able to write two minute pop songs, so this is our way of doing it.
On that note, Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend is the centrepiece of the album, and the song starts slow and weaves emotionally but then ends on a really uplifting note, and the clip does the same thing – is that symbolic to the band’s feelings on Australia’s climate?
Yes! You get it! I remember Richard getting really annoyed at one review saying that it was a really dark record. Because it is not meant to be. We don’t really think that Australia is all doom. The album is really honest, but we are really hopeful, and we see the light at the end of the tunnel. And really, the message is that you make a difference, you can change things. Although, there is place for angry punk songs that say everything is rubbish and get all that aggression out, that is not something we would do, and it is not aligned to how we think. So yeah, like Morning Mist, the album is mainly about hope.
How does New Spirit differ playing live to your other albums?
We wanted to move away from some of our old stuff which is a bit more about musical acrobatics. New Spirit is a lot more fun to play, because we can really drag things out and play with different elements. Because it is more stripped back we can play with it far more. Homosapien was all about three or four minute structured pop songs, whereas New Spirit we have done our own thing and exercised our freedom more, so it was really fun for us to make and play, and that definitely comes across live.
What does the future hold for PVT? You guys are doing a national tour in October..
No other tours planned, just a small tour of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne in October for now. We don’t know what is happening after that, I am just really looking forward to being back in Australia and touring in Australia.
Perth made the cut – you are from Perth – is it important to you to play here?
Yeah, I grew up in Perth, so it’s always important for me to play there. I always get most nervous playing in Perth. I don’t know what it is. But I just get so, so nervous, it’s just important to me I guess!