Perth indie-rockers Turtle Bay Television launch their debut EP Rest Well in your Shell at The Bird this Thursday, November 16 with support from Web Rumours (Em Burrows), ABACAXUVA and Segue Safari. For frontman Thomas Cockram, the songs provide a snapshot of a stage in his life he needed to break on through, with themes like love, anxiety and the challenges of growing up woven through each of the four tracks. He spoke to BRAYDEN EDWARDS about how he channeled his experiences into songwriting, and how the steady hand of producer and synth-player Jeremy Segal bought both fun and clarity to his vision in the studio.
How did the band come together, was this your creative vision and you assembled the right team to make it happen or did it develop more organically and collaboratively than that?
A bit of both really. The first incarnation of the band came to be when I was about 15 years old. The original line-up didn’t have any of the people that are in the band now but they all joined pretty soon after it began. Jarrah, our guitarist; Lyric, our bass player; Adam, our drummer; and me singing and playing guitar and synth. Jarrah and I were the main songwriters and contributed pretty equally. A few years into that time Jeremy joined us on synth, which freed me up to do more on guitar.
In the last two years the balance shifted a bit in terms of the song-writing. At the same time as me meeting my girlfriend, Andrea, I was also coming to terms with some anxiety that I’d been experiencing for a while. This meant I had quite a bit that I wanted to write about so asked the band if they’d let me take control for a bit. That process led to all the songs on this EP.
We’ve recently been joined by our sax player, Tom, which has added a certain liveliness to our sound so, now that a lot of the anxiety has been exorcised, we’re going to go back to a more collaborative approach that will incorporate some of the brightness.
We might recognise some of the members of the band from other acts that play around town. Does that make it hard getting the group together or does it help out given they have other experiences playing live and across a few different styles?
I think the benefits far outweigh the occasional inconveniences. Our synth player, Jeremy Segal is also the creative force behind the amazing Segue Safari. Though this means he sometimes has to skip a jam or a gig, it’s definitely worth it given his amazing musicianship. He’s filled in for almost everyone in the band at one point or another and we’re also really lucky to have him as our producer.
We’ve also got Tom Beech on sax and he plays in so many bands that I’ve lost count! From memory, they include Fox Scully, Your Girl Pho, and Noah Dillon. Tom only joined recently – we originally met up to do some recording and I ended up asking if he wanted to join properly.
The opening track Accountant tells the story of someone escaping from a life they felt trapped in. Is that a true story or was it you adopting an artificial persona as an allegory for your own experiences?
A very true story! As the song describes, I worked for about a year and a half at an accounting firm and it just wasn’t right for me. The anxiety I’d had for a while bubbled up to the surface and became a much more lived-in reality for the last six months I was there.
Is there an overarching theme or message that encapsulates the EP or is it merely collecting the best songs you had available and ready to go?
Again, it’s a bit of both. Most of these songs were written between one and two years ago so, though there wasn’t much intention of linking them thematically while writing, they do serve as a pretty succinct snapshot of that period: love, growing up, anxiety, and those kinds of ideas. So I guess in that sense it was like making a collage. With that in mind, I was conscious of how we should frame the EP. Originally I wanted to just call it “Resign” but rethought that – though some of the songs were written in a darker place, the whole point of them was to brighten that up a bit, not reinforce it. So I went with the more gentle “Rest Well In Your Shell.”
I could sense elements of a number of styles in the music. At times it felt like power pop in the guise of Weezer or Spoon but then at times more withdrawn and charmingly cynical like the Magnetic Fields. What do you identify as the main influences of the group?
I definitely see what you mean with those bands. I saw Spoon a few years ago and really like their erudite take on rock. I think it’s largely thanks to Jeremy that we were able to capture an element of that sound in our recordings – I tend to be quite messy and happy to work on tracks quickly but Jeremy did encourage us to spend more time refining the recordings before release which gave him time to get the mixes sounding clearer and less muddy.
Some other people have also mentioned the Magnetic Fields to me and I must confess, I had little knowledge of them. Despite that, I thought I better check them out and now I understand the comparison! I listened to the song I Don’t Believe in the Sun and was struck by the melodic baritone quality of the vocals, which I also aspire to on some of our songs.
In terms of our influences at the moment, I would probably identify the National, St. Vincent, Sonic Youth, the Pixies and the Jesus and Mary Chain. I like how these bands take traditional pop/rock song structures and subvert them just a little to make something either moving or unsettling, like the fuzzed out guitar tones Annie Clarke drops into otherwise sweet pop songs to communicate her feelings of angst and frustration. The Jesus and Mary Chain do a similar thing by drenching song structures reminiscent of the Beach Boys or the Velvet Underground with distortion and noise, creating a sense of disaffection and petulance that acts as a foil to the vulnerability of the lyrics. Noise is really fun to mess around with in that sense.
How did you go about recording this, did you hand it all over to someone else or prefer to be involved in the full process?
We recorded all of it with Jeremy, predominantly in his bedroom, and then he mixed it. I generally sat in for this so that we could bounce ideas around. It helped in aligning our two varied approaches to music: mine being a bit messy and his more measured. By only mixing while we were together, it meant that we didn’t spend too long on the tracks, allowing them to still have a certain rawness, but still much longer than would have been the case if I was controlling the process. Jeremy would gently suggest we keep working on things when I was ready to say a section was finished and it lead to a much better end result.
Now that this is done, what’s next for Turtle Bay Television?
We’ve got another EP’s worth of material pretty much recorded at the moment so once this one is out there we’ll probably start looking at finishing that off in the new year and releasing it not long after. In the meantime, we’ll probably slowly start to accumulate new recordings in the hopes of putting an album together in the future.
Turtle Bay Television launch Rest Well in Your Shell this Thursday, November 16 at The Bird with support from Web Rumours (Em Burrows), ABACAXUVA and Segue Safari.