Fresh from releasing their brilliantly weird new single Zodiac K, Sydney psych rockers The Laurels talk the art of samples, their new direction as a band and maybe putting on their own festival.
Photos by Liam Cameron.
HAPPY: I just want to talk about the new single to start off. It’s been floating around for a few weeks now right? How has the the response been?
LUKE: Well we haven’t put anything out for – what’s it been? – three years or so, so it’s really good to have something out again. But I’m not sure how it’s been received.
PIERS: I’ll just mainly, like, get a text message from a friend and it’s like “So and so from work said this sounds sick and that they’ve heard of you before.” And that’s pretty cool.
HAPPY: But I guess with the song having a pretty different sound, were you guys a bit wary of how it was going to go down, or are you just happy to just let it go?
LUKE: I don’t think that gets factored into it too much, I mean that’s just the way we’re heading at the moment, and it just reflects the sort of stuff that we’ve been listening to over the last few years. That’s the thing that is going to influence the sort of stuff that we are writing.
HAPPY: So this shift hasn’t been so much a conscious thing as a natural sort of progression?
LUKE: Yeah I’d want it to be natural, I don’t want to force anything.
HAPPY: Speaking of influences, the first time I listened to the track The Avalanches were the first thing that popped in to my mind.
LUKE: Yeah that’s been a big influence. Their first record, I was listening to it the other day, but a while back I discovered they did an EP before that, and it sounded heaps like Beasties Boys, kind of. I paid fifty bucks to get the CD off eBay, ‘cos they don’t make them anymore because they didn’t clear any of the samples and they can’t re-press it.
HAPPY: Where is the sample that you guys used from?
PIERS: It’s just from a Youtube video of a quotes compilation from different TV shows and documentaries.
HAPPY: And what’s the deal, legally, with the sample?
PIERS: Well it’s just a free download, but if we were selling the track I guess we’d have to deal with it. The guys who is talking on the track has passed away so the only people who we could possibly do anything with would be his estate, and they’ll never have even heard of us. But still you don’t wanna risk it, I guess?
HAPPY: I’ve heard you guys record everything yourselves. Is that in your houses, or do you have your own studio?
LUKE: We’ve been recording at home forever, but we just got a studio space in Redfern that we moved all of our gear into, and it’s been something we’ve been working on together.
PIERS: But, yeah, all the tracks on the album are being built on top of all the demos that we’d done at home already. So all the new stuff that is getting added was done in the studio but there are a few bits left over from the demos cos we are too lazy to re-record them.
HAPPY: Are the demos pretty solid?
ALL: Nup (laugh).
PIERS: But somehow Jasper miraculously managed to play drums over the top of just demos, so none of the tracks are all off us playing together, they’re all separately tracked. I find it helps. You can do it all much faster cos you don’t have to get a perfect take. But I dunno, I’m not sure if that destroys the vibe or something.
HAPPY: Is that how you did it on Plains?
LUKE: No, Plains was all tracked live. But those were songs that we’d all been playing for like six years or something.
HAPPY: So it was a bit easier to bang out?
LUKE: Yeah, we did that in like two weeks, tracking it all live, then try to do minimal overdubs. That was a lot more rushed. Well not rushed, but definitely a lot quicker than the way we are recording now.
HAPPY: These recording seem a lot more intricate. Plains was so massive and complex, did you feel like you had to spend a bit more time reigning it all in a bit?
LUKE: We are bringing in these songs that are kind of completed, and rather than telling each other what to play we will listen to it together and all come up with ideas with what can be added, building on these basic tracks, which I think has been good.
PIERS: We have been recording these tracks and noodling over the top of them, then taking samples from those tracks.
LUKE: It’s kind of like with what you mentioned earlier about The Avalanches. It’s obviously so hard to clear other people’s work for samples, so we have kind of been sampling ourselves. We will like record a guitar part and cutting it up in to a sample.
HAPPY: Have you guys done this sort of stuff before, or is it all a relatively new recording process?
PIERS: We did it on one song on Plains.
LUKE: Yeah, we recorded some loops and put them into a sampler. But compared to what we’d done as a band in the past, I mean, Piers and I have always kind of –
PIERS: And Jasper.
LUKE: And Jasper. We’ve always kind of done that stuff when we have recorded at home.
HAPPY: Are you guys all pretty involved in the writing process, is it pretty evenly split?
LUKE: Yeah pretty much. We are just all slowly chipping away at it with what we’ve all got and what’s best tailored to each track.
HAPPY: Do you find that easier, everyone having an input?
LUKE: I think it helps keeping everything more interesting. We will work on something together for a few hours, then once we all get some good ideas down we just move on to something fresh.
HAPPY: What have you guys been listening to lately, what has the drive been for the shift in sound?
PIERS: Just everything. I guess we kind of changed what we were listening to a few years ago when a few of these songs started forming.
LUKE: A lot of hip-hop. I have a preference for the Golden Age, late 80s, early 90s kind if stuff like The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy, DJ Premier.
HAPPY: How have you found fitting those influence into rock music?
PIERS: It’s a bit easier with Jasper in the band now…
JASPER: I like hip-hop (laughs).
PIERS: But we haven’t quite figured it out how to do it live yet.
HAPPY: Will it be hard?
LUKE: I dunno, we definitely won’t be doing it for this tour.
HAPPY: What about Zodiac K?
LUKE: Yeah we’ve already done it a couple of times, it just means we have to take so much more gear on the road, and we can’t really afford to.
HAPPY: What kind of gear have you been using?
LUKE: Lots of samplers and synthesizers. We’ve already got heaps of pedals so we’ll probably have to cull some of those and start switching it up a bit.
PIERS: But we haven’t really started rehearsing the new songs yet, we’re still sort of building them in the studio. I guess we will be able to start rehearsing when the album is done and everyone actually knows what they played on it.
HAPPY: How close is the album to being done?
LUKE: Hmm, maybe like 75 percent.
PIERS: Man, big call.
LUKE: I reckon 75!
HAPPY: Are we talking just tracking and getting all the bare bones down?
LUKE: The bare bones are there.
PIERS: All the drums are done, we just have to do re-do all of the vocals on them, do the guitars on about six more of them, then do the bass on all of them then that’s about it I think.
HAPPY: Is Zodiac K a pretty clear indication of the direction you’re going in, or are there still element of shoegaze left over from Plains?
LUKE: There are still those elements in there, it’s just there are now more varied influences that have effects the overall sound.
PIERS: I guess on Plains we just overlaid everything with guitars, whereas now there is, like, hardly any guitar.
HAPPY: And moving onto the tour, it’s pretty sweet you guys got Nick Allbrook on board, how do you know him?
PIERS: We met Nick when we toured with Tame Impala a few years ago when they did Sundown Syndrome. We went to all these weird little towns with them.
LUKE: But he’s the one that we’ve kept in touch with the most. We’ll see him when he visits Sydney. And I really liked his solo record, the one that just came out. And it will be interesting to see how he does it live, cos he’s just playing by himself.
HAPPY: What is he like as a dude?
PIERS: He’s lovely.
HAPPY: Did you guys read that essay he wrote about the cultural scene in Perth?
LUKE: Yeah, he’s a really good writer.
PIERS: I guess he was always the most inquisitive out of that group when we’d toured with them, always asking us questions, and he ended up being the one we talked to the most.
HAPPY: And you guys were just a part of the Gizzfest in Sydney, and you have Volumes coming up. Do you feel like Sydney is building on those sorts of smaller festivals?
JASPER: Yeah our mate Jaz put on this festival at Marrickville Bowlo called Rag Rag a couple of weeks ago.
HAPPY: How’d it go down?
JASPER: I didn’t go (laughs)…but I heard it was good.
HAPPY: If you guys could do your own festival, how would you do it?
LUKE: I always liked the ATP [All Tomorrow’s Parties] ones where you get all of your influences to play, but I don’t think we have that kind of pull yet (laughs).
PIERS: Just Sydney bands you mean?
HAPPY: Or just Aussie bands in general, if you could curate your own festival, what bands would you get and what setting would you choose?
LUKE: All our mates, I guess. Like ah Wild Cat Falling is our ex-housemate, Drew’s band. He describes them as sewer jazz.
JASPER: They could play for like four hours (laughs).
LUKE: Yeah it’s heavily influenced by Etheopian jazz musican Mulatu [Astake] – is that a good reference? Dead China Doll, this other band that Jasper plays in, Mezko.
PIERS: The Murlocs.
HAPPY: Gizzfest was a pretty great idea. I think that few bands in Australia could pull something like that off, but maybe you guys could do it.
PIERS: When we go to Brisbane, we still struggle to get, like, more than 10 people to a gig. So Laurelsfest would just be like “What the fuck is this?” (laughs).
HAPPY: Is Sydney still very much your home? Have you guys ever thought of packing it up and moving somewhere else?
LUKE: Not really.
HAPPY: People sometimes give Sydney a bit of shit, but I think we’re doing alright.
LUKE: I think it might be cos the venue choice isn’t what it used to be. I mean somewhere like Melbourne obviously has a lot more places to play.
PIERS: Maybe in a place like Sydney it takes a few venues closing down for people to start doing something about it, and organising festivals and that sort of thing.
HAPPY: What’s your favourite place to play in Sydney?
PIERS: It used to be The Annandale, and The Hopetoun, all the ones that were closed.
HAPPY: I never went to The Hopetoun, that was before my time man.
PIERS: It was so good.
LUKE: It was a pretty scummy kind of venue (laughs), but it was just the people that made it. It was one of the only venues that didn’t have security guards.
JASPER: And run by other musicians. It was a real sort of community.
LUKE: We’ve kept in touch with the bar staff, like Pete Kelly who was in Decoder Ring, Michael Sullings who was in The Maladies.
PIERS: Pretty much everyone who worked there was in a band.
LUKE: In terms of places that are still around I like the The Union, but it’s like that’s the only place that is close to an intimate pub venue that’s left.
HAPPY: It’s such a shame. Even places like The Vic are still getting noise complaints.
LUKE: We had a gig booked there and it got cancelled because they couldn’t do outdoor gigs there anymore!
PIERS: I think it was just after the Rice Is Nice party that all that went down. It’s like, you live under a fucking aeroplane path! They should just get bands to play there and just put heaps of flanger on their guitars.
HAPPY: Is that a plane? Nope it’s The Laurels.
HAPPY: What’s the plan for the tour, anything interesting?
LUKE: Same old shit.
PIERS: Luke’s picking up a Space Echo in Melbourne, a 301.
HAPPY: That might be a bit of a bitch to lug around.
LUKE: I think we’ll just be keeping that one in the studio.
HAPPY: Have you guys bought much more gear since you’ve started recording the new stuff?
LUKE: (Points to Jasper) This dude, he’s got a new job and he’s just been buying heaps of stuff.
JASPER: Yeah I’m getting pretty in to it.
LUKE: Lots of outboard gear like compressors and stuff, a pretty fancy reverb/filter…thing.
HAPPY: Are you guys all pretty geeky with that sort of stuff.
LUKE: Uh, I am, a bit. I’m always on eBay looking for stuff that I can’t afford.
HAPPY: It’s a constant struggle. Anyway, we always wrap up our interviews by asking you guys what makes you happy?
HAPPY: That’s surprising.
LUKE: Not like, in the band, more like inner peace.
JASPER: Playing live makes me pretty happy.
LUKE: Watching you play live makes me pretty happy.
PIERS: I’d say national parks, that’s about it. Going for a stroll.
Catch The Laurels with Nick Allbrook at these shows:
Saturday, August 1John Curtin Bandroom, Melbourne. Tix: John Curtin Bandroom
Thursday, August 6 The Brightside, Brisbane. Tix: The Brightside
Friday, August 7 The Great Northern, Byron Bay. Free Show
Saturday, August 8 Uni Bar, Wollongong. Tix: Moshtix
Saturday, August 29 Volumes, Sydney *The Laurels only. Tix: Moshtix
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Read: If you’re hunting around for some samples, check out our list of the best Youtube to MP3 converters.