Cool Sounds chat Cactus Country, seven-piece bands, and Aussie reality television

Remember Channel 7’s 2014 reality television program The Great Adventure? Neither do I, but Melbourne outfit Cool Sounds have become quite familiar with the show, watching episodes at 9 in the morning as they tour their latest album Cactus Country.

Recently, while the band were in Sydney, playing shows in support of the record, we caught up to chat about how it came together, recording in a studio vs. at home, and who would win if all seven members of the group were to compete in the 2014 edition of The Great Adventure.

We caught up with Cool Sounds to chat their latest album Cactus Country, the struggles of playing in a seven-piece band, and some show called The Great Adventure.

HAPPY: Going back to before you released your two albums… Cool Sounds was initially a joke, is that right?

NICK: Yeah, you could say that. It was initially just Dain, Steve, Jack and I. It was definitely sort of a joke. We did silly songs. Not that it’s serious now, but it’s definitely less of a gag now.

STEVE: There are fewer songs written about movie plot lines.

NICK: Dain was just writing songs that were movie synopsises he was taking from IMDB. So it’s not quite as lazy anymore.

HAPPY: Was there a specific point where you started taking it more seriously?

NICK: Well we weren’t even doing it really as a joke. We just didn’t have much to write about. It was easier. It kind of transitioned over a long period of time. It was probably after Healing Crystals that it became a bit more sensible.

HAPPY: When did the full seven-piece band come together?

DAIN: That was kind of slow as well.

NICK: I think initially we got keys because we were playing this festival, and our friend didn’t want to buy a ticket, but he wanted to come to the festival. So he played keys, then just sort of stayed in the band. We’ve got a saxophone player, periodically. I don’t really know when we became a seven-piece. It never really happened by intent, it just kind of happened.

HAPPY: Seven people is a lot of people…

NICK: Yep.

HAPPY: Is it ever difficult co-ordinating band stuff with this many members?

NICK: Yeah, well that’s why we’re just a four-piece for this. It’s hard to organise stuff, it’s hard to practise, it’s to find times to record, touring is logistically difficult. But we don’t really need everyone to be able to do it. It’s just kind of whoever’s available. As long as Dain can do it, we can put together a lineup around him. But yes, it’s difficult. Seven is a ridiculous amount of people to have in a band. But sometimes it works really well.

HAPPY: Are all these seven people involved in the making of your records?

DAIN: Uhh, not really. The record was just me, Nick, Steve, and a few different people coming in and doing bits and pieces.

NICK: Again, it’s pretty difficult to get seven people together. So we just got the core stuff done, then added bits and pieces over it. Dain tinkered with it for ages at home. But yeah, people are involved where they can be.

HAPPY: Onto your most recent album, Cactus Country… this is some sort of cactus farm in North Victoria, right?

DAIN: Yeah, it’s near the Murray. I’ve never been there.

NICK: None of us have been there.

DAIN: I want to go.

AMBRIN: We’ve attempted the trip a few times, but never made it.

NICK: It’s also famously pretty crap.

DAIN: I think that’s why I liked the name of it. Because it looked so crap…

NICK: I still don’t really get what it is. I think people just go there for photos.

DAIN: I think they make all their money from fashion shoots.

HAPPY: So it really is just a bunch of cacti?

NICK: Yeah, I think so. I really think it’s just a bunch of cacti on someone’s property. I guess I’d like to go, but I think it’d be pretty underwhelming.

DAIN: I think we thought about going to get photos once. But then we looked it up and it was like a couple of hundred bucks an hour to take photos.

NICK: I don’t think it’s quite funny enough to warrant that amount of money.

HAPPY: So what was it about that place that made you want to name a song and album after it?

DAIN: Yeah, I don’t know. I think everything was pretty much written, and someone was talking about how they were having a wedding there or something. So I looked it up, and I dunno, I just thought it fit the aesthetic of the album.

NICK: It’s pretty interesting. We should try and sell that song to them, though I think we’ve pretty openly slammed that place pretty regularly. So maybe they wouldn’t be that into it.

HAPPY: With this new album, the writing began on an acoustic guitar, right? Which was different from Dance Moves

DAIN: Yeah, I guess so. It was less written, in a way. On Dance Moves, everything was demo’d and done before we recorded – I just wrote everyone’s parts. On this one, I just wrote some parts on an acoustic, then we figured it out, and slowly recorded them.

HAPPY: Was that process a decision you made prior to the album?

DAIN: I think so, yeah. I just bought this really crappy guitar from the swap shop. I just started writing everything on that… this old nylon-string.

HAPPY: That’s where the song Nylon comes from?

DAIN: Yeah exactly.

NICK: I think it changed the vide of it a fair bit. Listening to the demos, it was still pretty 80’s, but then Dain got this nylon-string guitar and it all changed. It became a bit more soft-rock, which was good. It worked out pretty well.

HAPPY: On this album, compared to the one before, there are obviously a few differences in sound. For example, the shifted vocals and drum machines. Was it a conscious effort to make that shift in sound?

DAIN: I think it was just us getting better at self-producing. Going forward, I think everything will sound more like Cactus Country. Just because there was a lot of experimenting with how to produce stuff, and how to mix stuff. We felt that the new style worked well with the sound.

HAPPY: It’s mixed, because you recorded a lot in a studio and a lot at home, right?

DAIN: Yep.

HAPPY: So where did it all begin? In the studio or at home?

DAIN: We recorded in the studio first, for like four or five days. We got most of the stuff done. It was kinda alright. Then we recorded for maybe another two or three months of just mixing with Snowy, who plays the saxophone.

HAPPY: So do you feel like you didn’t get what you wanted from your time in the studio?

DAIN: Well, I didn’t really know what I wanted. It was still worthwhile. We were still really productive, and we got a lot done, but it was so fast. You didn’t actually have time to really listen to stuff.

NICK: We got down the core of the songs, and we tinkered from there. It was eally productive, but we’re not used to having things well recorded. So everything came out clean, and maybe even a little sterile. So Dain tinkered to dirty it up a little bit.

HAPPY: So that’s where the home recordings came into it?

NICK: Yep. In the studio, we did everything to a click as well, which can sometimes make things a little bland. So yeah, it needed some tinkering. But I still think it was worthwhile. We got a good chunk of it done in those four days, then we took our time from there.

HAPPY: Going forward, do you think you’ll use that same method of recording bits in the studio and bits at home?

DAIN: I don’t think so.

NICK: Well, we’re recording bits now.

HAPPY: Just at home?

NICK: Yeah. Dain’s got a little studio setup now.

DAIN: Yeah, I kind of pulled a bunch of gear together with some of the Ocean Party guys, and set up a little studio. It’s good. It’s a good halfway between home recording and a studio.

HAPPY: It’s professional, but you can do it on your own time.

DAIN: Yep.

NICK: Yeah totally.

HAPPY: So when can we expect new music?

NICK: It really depends. Hopefully, we can get it done soon. We’re going to Europe in the middle of the year, so we’d like to have at least an EP out before then. So we’ll probably put something out in the not too distant future. We’re working on stuff. I think the idea with this one is to record songs as they’re ready.

HAPPY: So you’ve been writing on the road too?

DAIN: Nah, not this time.

NICK: We’ve been watching too much TV.

HAPPY: Any good show recommendations?

NICK: We can’t really tell you what’s good, but we can tell you what’s bad…

HAPPY: Hit me.

NICK: What was that show we watched?

STEVE: The Big Adventure.

DAIN: It was like a Channel 7 reality TV show from 2014. It was a flop. It’s like an off-brand Survivor where the games are too difficult to follow. It’s called The Big Adventure. They’re all playing these puzzles. So they get a shovel to dig in the treasure grid, and they can either get a stone or a key. If they get a key, that gives them a chance to open a lockbox, which gives them a chance to win a million dollars. If you can track that down, I’d recommend it.

HAPPY: Where’d you get your hands on this gem?

DAIN: It was on at maybe 9am on Channel 7.

NICK: 7 Mate in the primetime slot of 9am. I retract what I said about it being bad, it was great. I’m sure you can track it down on the internet. There were some really good characters. There was an old man, there was a guy from the country…

HAPPY: The whole spectrum.

STEVE: All the usual suspects.

HAPPY: If all seven members of Cool Sounds were to compete in the 2014 edition of The Big Adventure, who would win?

NICK: Oh, Steve maybe.

DAIN: He’s the best at puzzles. Really difficult puzzles.

HAPPY: And digging.

DAIN: Puzzles and digging.

Cactus Country is available now. Listen above.