After spending the last few months touring the world and knuckling down in the studio Luke Dubs and Elgusto of Hermitude catch up at the local AFL field on a day rare day off to chat about their new album Dark Night Sweet Light.
Photos by Liam Cameron.
HAPPY: You guys have been really busy as of late, are you still in production mode for Dark Night Sweet Light? I’ve heard the album and it’s good to finally get some new Hermitude!
ELGUSTO: It’s been a while, it’s been three and a half years since the last record. I suppose we’ve been writing Dark Night Sweet Light for about two years on and off between touring, writing ideas on planes and in hotels. At the beginning of last year we went “Okay, let’s pull back from the gigs and finish this recordI” because we want to get it out sooner rather than later. So we just spent a lot of time in the studio and got all those ideas we got when we were travelling and put them together, fleshed them out, got rid of the crap ideas and kept the good ones.
HAPPY: I’ve noticed a few cool new themes pop up on this record, so how do you choose to express them in your music when you can’t always rely on the luxury of vocals and lyrics?
LUKE DUBS: I guess, we kind of try to write really bold melodies these days. We like trying to write melodies that will stick with people and sing along to. That’s one way we battle not having vocalists. I guess the music we’ve written hasn’t real needed vocals. We have tampered with vocalists over the years. We used to collaborate with a lot of rapper early on and now we kind of work with more singers. This last record in particular has been a good experience in regard to co-writing lyrics, which is something we haven’t don a great deal of before. Like top lining with singers. So we’d all kind of sit in the rom and come up with a bunch of lyric ideas. That was a new ground for us.
ELGUSTO: Particularly for songs like Through the Roof, we wrote the base of the track and that has particular energy to it that made us go “Okay, this has some through the roof energy. It’s this big powerful thing.” So when we started thinking of what the song would be about we thought of stories that relates to the song in some way. There was this illegal warehouse rave that we went to that was on Parramatta road of all places. It was an old abandoned warehouse, it was going strong and then got shut down by the police. That was where that “You’ll never shut this down” lyric came from, it’s sort of that defiant kind of thing. We co-wrote that with Urthboy, and obviously he’s a lyracist and we’re not (laughs), so it was very handy to have him help guide that. It’s cool coz we get to put in our vibe and he helps to mould it into something that works lyrically.
HAPPY: The last song on the album, Searchlight (Reprise), there’s a lyric on there about looking for change. What kind of change are you looking for in that respect?
LUKE DUBS: Good Question. That track has had quite an interesting life. There’s two versions of that track on the record, there’s the Searchlight and then there’s the reprise. It was a song that’s been kicking around for a couple of years and had trouble when we had a falling out with a couple of top liners. It got put on the back burner for a while and we were a bit jaded by it. Our publisher sent it to a guy in Melbourne, Yeo who ended up on the track, and came up with this change lyric. It had a lot of other lyrics but we didn’t want it to be a real lyric heavy track. But that lyric really stuck out; “Looking for change/ Tell you what I’m looking for“. It’s kind of relatable in whatever way you want it to be. I know that’s a really broad thing to say. The first thing that pops up in my mind is music. I feel in mainstream music there can be stagnation. Things get popularised, they explode and then they get rinsed of their energy and coolness, you get left wit this shell of a genre. It can also reflect on a deeper level.
ELGUSTO: For me, in relation to some of the apathy and ‘white Australia’ kind of thing, that related to me. There’s this kind of undertone of racism that people don’t really seem to notice it. For me that’s how I’d like to see a change. Like Dub said it’s very broad so people can take from it what they will. There’s a Searchlight earlier in the record that is completely different.
LUKE DUBS: It’s funny, the first one is very festival. The second one is real deep, when we wrote it it hit us really hard. It’s almost like the light and dark, and it’s kinda where we got eh title Dark Night Sweet Light from, these ideas of opposite moments. Some really light, up-tempo music and then some darker, more reflective moments.
HAPPY: You mentioned before the saturation of pop music, and considering that the influence dance music has had on pop in the last six or so years has exploded everyone seems to have their finger in this pie. How do you guys make sure you don’t a). don’t repeat yourselves and b). don’t repeat what someone else is doing?
ELGUSTO: We early felt it when we wrote Hyperparadise, it felt like what we wrote the world joined in with us and like you said it just got real popular. So for this record we thought how now a lot of other people are doing that so how are we going to stick out? We kinda always write what we’re going to to write first of all, but because we’ve been doing this for so long together we have a particular sound that sounds like Hermitude. We always like to develop each record. So for this one we stripped back a lot of instruments we used for Hyperparadise. We used a lot analogue synths and stuff on Hyperparadise, we put that in another room…
LUKE DUBS: (laughing) Literally, that’s why I’m laughing. We actually put them in another room.
ELGUSTO: We just used one synth and a bunch of other plug-ins, that was about it, and a computer. And we tried to strip back our sound. Usually we have a lot going on in our tracks with a lot of atmospheres. This time we really wanted to focus in on what the main focus of what gets you into the song and back that up. I guess that’s how we try to differ from everyone else.
HAPPY: Listening to the record you can sense a grittier yet spacious feel for it.
LUKE DUBS: It’s definitely spacious.
ELGUSTO: You can feel there’s more space and there’s a bit of grit in there, that’s the ‘dark night’.
LUKE DUBS: Up until six months ago we were writing the record and only listening to it in fragments. I didn’t think it sounded like a Hermitude record, but ice we put all the songs together and listened to it as a whole I knew it was. We always do try do something different but I was really conscious of the fact this time round.
HAPPY: Working without a producer is it harder doing it by yourselves or is there more freedom.
ELGUSTO: That’s how we’ve always done it, so it feels very natural. Sometimes you almost have too much freedom, we may have gone off on a tangent where if there was a producer would have put us back on track. I feel that would be the case if there was an over-seer (laughs). Like I said it’s always been the way we do it. We work on production, we bounce ideas off each other. If there was a producer we’d probably her like “Nah man that sucks, leave us alone!” (laughs).
HAPPY: SO how was th eday by day production process like?
LUKE DUBS: We started out the same continuing on from Hyperparadise, then there was a good six months to a year of writing where we were writing in between touring Hyperparadise, not really having a sound in mind. We were just coming in and fucking with heaps of different sounds. We also moved studios in between records. So I feel like it took the focus of this one, and it wash;t a bad thing, it was just having fun and experimenting. It was just a matter of figuring out how to ignite the sessions once we had a goal in ming. Sometimes Gusto would lead the charge, sometime I would depending on the vibe…
ELGUSTO: On Monday no one leads the charge.
LUKE DUBS: (laughs) Yeah on Monday no one leads the charge. We come into the studio because we know we should (laughs). It was cool man. There was even a point in the sessions where we wrote a song that was so drastically different to what we’d done before, the technique was really. out. We were really psyched on it for a while, but we decided not to. You discover lots of real interesting thing in that earls phase of writing a record. You’re basically just going through all these techniques in you’re head going “How do we make this different from the last 300 days?“. For this one we definitely found more of a flow once we had that goal in mind.
HAPPY: Well at Happy we always write about what makes us happy, so Gus, Dubs, what makes you Happy?
LUKE DUBS: Food. I just had a steak fillet roll from The Bakery Cafe on Glebe Point Road. I used to live right around the corner and their prices are still in 1996. Six bucks for a fillet steak roll, maybe you can still get $2.50 coffees there. It was a little trip down memory lane, I sat in the park to eat it and it made me happy.
ELGUSTO: For me it’s coming home to my family, my girls and my cats, especially after spending so long touring. And then slow cooking barbecue ribs on my Webber. I’ve developed this weird barbecuing habit.
LUKE DUBS: He kept drag gin me to these barbecue joints in the States and…and that’s a giant flying insect behind your head.
HAPPY: Oh, it’s a wasp.
LUKE DUBS: I was once stung by a wasp on my ear lobe. The dray we first started missing our first ever record. We opened up our studio and went down to check on our marijuana plants that were just about to harvest. As soon as we got down there this whole bunch of ufcking wasps came up and started join “Buzzzzzzzzz”. Angus is a very chill guy, so he was just like “Oh, it’s cool man“. I fucking freaked out and bolted and the whole fucking crew followed me. I’m running up to the studio screaming “Get em off me!” and this wasp stung me on the ear.
ELGUSTO: (laughing) We’re there mixing Alleys to Valleys and he’s in the back with an ice pack going “Sure man, sounds great“.
LUKE DUBS: It was pretty ridiculous (laughs).
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