If UK prog-rockers Muse approve of something, it must be quite spectacular stuff. Halfway through recording their sophomore album, Bonjah are also currently smack-bang in the middle of an east-coast tour that’s road-testing their upcoming record set for release in March 2011. And while the ex-New Zealanders are by now well-versed in performing their brand of pop/roots in the presence of superstars like The Who, guitarist Regan Lethbridge says having Muse watch the band’s Byron Bay show recently was one hell of a buzz…
“Byron Bay was incredible actually for more than one reason,” he claims. “The venue itself was pretty intimate and old-school, it worked perfectly for us. Then at the show we found out that Muse were in town and that they had been chilling out at their hotel. Apparently they were watching the show when we were playing, we knew it before we went on, so it was definitely an extra kick; quite a buzz.”
In fact, being back on the road in general has been something both the band and their fans have anticipated over the last six months. According to the guitarist, after a three-year-long tour that saw Bonjah travel all over Australia as well as overseas, it took some adjusting to the studio environment when the time came to follow up on last year’s debut album Until Dawn.
“We took about five months off the road to write songs,” explains Lethbridge. “We hammered out about 25 songs, but we missed touring because that’s always been our bread and butter, really.
“The album,” he adds, “should be completed by the end of March next year and out around May, so we’ll do some festivals over the summer and then get back into Sing Sing with Steven (Schram, who’s also produced Little Birdy, The Cat Empire among others) and really knuckle down on it.
“We were happy with the first album and had a fun time doing it, but it was more of a learning curve than anything. We are really being smart about things this time around. We’ve entered the studio on the back of 400 or 500 live shows, so we have the confidence to approach this much more seriously. We’re recording everything together in a room to give it a live feel and we’re experimenting with different guitars just to have a fresh approach.”
As Lethbridge warns fans, album number two is going to reveal something a new side to Bonjah… Distancing themselves from the poppy and rootsy feel of the APRA-nominated Until Dawn, the sophomore effort explores the band’s deeper and darker aspects, showcasing a much more mature approach to songwriting.
“We’ve actually spent a lot of time being careful to craft the songs the best way that we can,” says Lethbridge. “This tour is on the back of the single [Something We Should Know] but we’ve also approached it as a chance to road-test the songs that we’ve got so far and just to see the audience reactions. As I said, we’re being a lot more smarter in the way we’re going about this album.
“In the past we used to just jump in the van and not promote our record all that well, and we just worked more in the moment. Now we’ve got a different plan, the band are much more serious, we’ve got a decent-size team of people on board and the fan-base keeps growing.”
Which is bound to continue with Lethbridge announcing that Something We Should Know recently picked up airplay on Triple J – a first for Bonjah and a clear sign of the band’s ever-growing success since making their debut last year.
“We’ve been sort of spotted (put onto spot rotation) before with tracks here and there, but this is the first song that’s getting quite a few spins,” says Lethbridge. “It’s been amazing to have Triple J support because we know that building up radio play takes a while. I think down the track in the future it might affect things for us quite a lot, especially with festival billings coming up. The next six months should give us a good indication of that.”
In the meantime, Lethbridge claims the band are heading back to their native New Zealand for a series of dates, as well as Japan where Bonjah recently released Until Dawn to high acclaim.
“Melbourne is home to me, but New Zealand will always be a spiritual home,” explains Lethbridge. “It just comes down to numbers in New Zealand, which is something that it lacks, so when we were looking for a healthy and decent live music community, Melbourne was the one everybody kept telling us about. We still shoot back to New Zealand about twice a year because myself, David (Morgan, bass) and Dan (Chisholm, drums) are all from there originally. Glenn (Mossop, vocals) is South African but he migrated to New Zealand when he was 14.
“He actually travelled on a boat for two years with his parents,” Lethbridge chuckles, “and during that time he was learning to play the guitar and the whole experience made him write some really good songs. What you do in life shapes your songs and he’s a very mellow, humble dude who’s seen a lot. He goes pretty deep.”
BONJAH have packed their gear and piled back into the van for their Something We Should Know . They finish with a massive hometown show at The Hi-Fi on Saturday December 18, the band's biggest headlining show to date. Tickets are selling fast for what will be the band's first Melbourne headline show since March and their last for the 2010. Tickets from thehifi.com.au. They also support Arrested Development at The Espy on December 29. Something We Should Know is out now – check it out at myspace.com/bonjahband and on iTunes.