Stories from the gatefold of la Jungla: the new live album from Suicide Swans

Words taken from the gatefold of ‘la Jungla’, the new album from Suicide Swans

In the early months of 2017, with our sophomore album Augusta still not released, Suicide Swans were playing the odd show here and there as band members became fathers. Boredom, frustration, isolation and impatience had set in.

The best medicine for me while waiting for the latest project to be released to the public has always been to throw myself into something new, otherwise it all starts to get stale. We had (like we always do) a bank of songs in various forms or designs that had been demoed, rehearsed or performed live. The library was there, it just took a fresh burst of energy to revisit these past ideas and see if there was a linear narrative or sonic context that would draw the wheat from the chaff and allow a potential new album to start to reveal itself.

Pouring through notebooks, I found myself drawn to songs such as Jeremiah Joe, Proud, We Don’t Know Who We Are and Willow. All of which had been played any number of times live over the previous year and a half. It isn’t uncommon for Suicide Swans to road test newer songs live rather than promote the current release… but that’s another story.

la jungla suicide swans

“In the early months of 2017, with our sophomore album Augusta still not released, Suicide Swans were playing the odd show here and there as band members became fathers. Boredom, frustration, isolation and impatience had set in.”

Pastures, originally hidden amongst walls of feedback and distortion like a twelve-year-old with a new Metal Zone distortion pedal, was revisited. Upon revision, the song was stripped back to just Wurlitzer and delayed guitar, a version of the song Morgan and I had performed on several occasions during more intimate, acoustic Suicide Swans shows at smaller establishments. It was within this bare, fragile version that the idea to potentially undertake a new Suicide Swans album was born.

The first step now was to set aside some time to undertake some songwriting – I have always found turning up everyday and just attempting to do something gives me at least some chance of finding fruit on the barren tree. With that said, there was no great conceptual intention of thematically writing or creating an album of a singular vision. Instead, I wanted to do something completely different.

Where Augusta was exciting in its complex, layered construction of different instruments, compositions and textures brought together through addition and subtraction over an eighteen-month period, our third album had to have its own identity. This became the spark for creating something that captured the essence of what Suicide Swans sounds like live.

Phone calls were made, dates were discussed, debated, placed in calendars, deleted, changed, changed again until finally we had just one weekend on which we could all get together. Now, the pressure was on… we needed songs. The prior tinkering I had begun and the songs I had in my notebooks were revisited again and again as I searched for signs of life. This process usually occurred as the night gave way to early morning and after a couple of weeks, the songs finally came.

One after the other, and in no great order, we finally had twenty-three songs with potential. The first idea was to record everything and see what came of it. We knew from the outset that we were going to record an album live in one day as an experiment to see if it would work. We had the luxury of knowing that if it didn’t turn out then we could press delete and, like our two previous albums, record at By the Living Grace (our studio) at a later date.

I demoed the twenty-three songs and ultimately thirteen were chosen that collectively represented what we do as a live band. Phone calls were made to Ben, who would once again be the captain of the ship; engineering and mixing the album. Lists were made of what equipment we had and what we needed. We phoned friends and colleagues to see what we could beg, steal, borrow or scrape together. The next problem was a venue.

We searched for a place where we would have the space to set up in a circle and see each other, but still have enough separation to allow each instrument to have its own presence when recorded. We finally found a university amphitheatre that wasn’t being used so we booked an available weekend and the last remaining piece of the recording puzzle was finally in place (other than the fact that the band didn’t really know any of the songs, but that didn’t appear to be an obvious issue).

The afternoon of Friday August 4, 2017 we loaded into the theatre and proceeded to spend the night throwing carpets on the floor and creating makeshift baffling between instruments whilst Ben viewed his recording blueprint of where each instrument needed to be. Each of us undertook the task of setting up our recording world; Glen on drums, Kristian on bass, Ben on guitars, Morgan on Wurlitzer, Rhodes, slide and 12-string, and myself on electric guitar and vocals. Microphones were placed against amps, scattered around the drum kit like confetti and set up to record vocals in an attempt to capture us live, unabated with no sonic distractions.

It would be what it is and nothing more. Ben set up the recording rig with coloured buttons and leads spewing across the theatre floor like rivers snaking through the Amazon – it was his job to make sense of this crazy idea. Each Swan played their instruments, stomped on pedals, turned amps up and down until all was in symbiotic harmony. At 11:49pm we were set up, ready for the grand experiment the next day.

At 9am sharp on Saturday August 5, we reconvened at the theatre and looked at the thirteen songs to be recorded. The decision was made that we would do the five we’d previously played live, familiar friends so to speak. That would at least get us into shape for the other eight songs we’d never played before. In one or two takes the first five were recorded, listened to and welcomed into the Suicide Swans catalogue. I then showed the remaining songs with their chord changes and parts to each member. Notes were jotted down, compositional structures of each song were collaboratively dissected and agreed upon… we were ready to roll. Again we only took one or two takes to capture each song and by 5pm we were ready to record the final and longest song on the album; a thirteen-minute track called The Ocean Only Has Eyes for You.

It was either bold or insane to think we could pull off recording a song that was the length of three songs which the band had never heard, let alone played before. Ben pressed record, I counted the song in and we set sail on a sea of chord progressions, looks, head nods, shuffles, deep breathes, signs and chance. Thirteen minutes later we were finished and it would be the final song recorded in one single take. We had pulled it off and for all of us, the album represented what we set out to achieve; songs that were expansive, collaborative, immediate, and ultimately Suicide Swans.

While waiting for a dinner of beer and pizza to arrive, Ben sorted through the recording. We listened with baited breath as we realised that what we had made could and should be our third album. We then decided we’d add minimal overdubs to enhance what we had captured (and fix a couple of rookie errors). We added violin, slide guitar and piano here and there (depending on what hadn’t been played previously live). Harmony vocals and acoustic guitar were also added to a few of the songs to round out the sound.

At 11:17pm we were finished. Tired, exhausted, excited and relieved. We had recorded the follow up to our sophomore album (that took 18 months to make) in only 14 hours. It would be called la Jungla aka ‘the Jungle’, a metaphor for themes inherent not only in the songs but also the journey of searching for something unknown in the recording process. Our friend Liam, who assisted with finding, booking and setting up the recording space, took a photo of us sipping on beers and sitting in the seats of the amphitheater with his dog that would become the inside cover of the album. The front cover photograph, taken by Ben, is a moment in time of that Saturday in August when we recorded our album in a day.

This year sees the band release our third full-length album la Jungla, a thirteen song, near hour and a half sonic journey incorporating classic 60s/70s rock, acoustic folk/country laments and explorative jams. It is a layered, present, energetic and forceful album exuding with the spontaneity and excitement of our live shows, while capturing the sonic immediacy of five individuals performing together. It allows the listener to feel like they are there in the room with us as we perform each song, enhancing the experience through the parts each band member brings to the mix.

la Jungla represents Suicide Swans’ journey from country duo to a band that has found itself. la Jungla is confident, impactful and captures our live sound with a distinctive potency that is all our own. We hope you enjoy.

la Jungla is out now. 

la Jungla tour

Fri 6 July – Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, Newscastle – Details
Fri 13 July – The Spotted Mallard, Melbourne – Details
Sat 14 July – Major Tom’s, Kyneton – Details