The John Steel Singers
Scott Bromiley and Tim Morrissey are pretty tired today, being that they’re on the last leg of their tour supporting Tame Impala. But with coffees and sandwiches, sitting happily in the Beat office, they’re kind of excited and nostalgic to be back near Sing Sing studios (which is behind Beat) where The John Steel Signers recorded their debut album (which is out this week), Tangalooma.
“It was kind of a long kind of process,” says Scott. “As in, not so much as the recording itself, but getting the ideas and all the funding together.” “It took a little while,” agrees Tim, “(Then) we had the two weeks at Sing Sing.”
Two weeks recording with Robert Forster, no less – something which obviously means a lot to the Brisbane-natives of The John Steel Singers, who have looked up to and admired him for quite a long time. “We’re good mates, which is a pretty surreal thing since he's a great songwriting idol of ours, too,” says Scott bashfully. “To actually count him as a friend…”
“I actually had him to dinner once,” interrupts Tim, “…and I've got a giant poster of Robert Forster on my wall,” he laughs, bashfully. “You didn’t think to take that off?” grins an inquisitive Scott. It turns out Forster loved it, (don’t mind the candles and locks of your hair, Mr Forster…), but in all seriousness, their relationship has been rewarding – for both Forster and the John Steel gentlemen. “He approached us originally because we were doing a ‘Fire and Flood’ benefit gig and ‘cause it was a last minute kind of thing, Adele (Pickvance) and Glenn (Thompson) weren’t available to be his backing band,” explains Tim, eyes suddenly lit up. “So he got in contact with us for us to play as The Go-Betweens backing band, so we were like, ‘Hell yes, we'll do that…’”
“There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation,” adds Scott. “So like, getting to play on the stage at The Tivoli, with Robert Foster, playing Spring Rain and singing Grant Mclennan’s parts; it's probably like the only time in the last five years that I've been nervous for a gig,” laughs Tim. “Not since the very infancy of this band have I been so nervous about a gig.”
“There's a lot more at stake,” explains Scott. “And prior to that, we had been playing a Go-Betweens song, The Old Way Out in our set. We mentioned this to Robert and he's like ,'Yeah I haven't played this song since 1984!'” he smiles. “We actually had to teach him the chords.”
“And on that particular night he said he wanted to do a cover of [John Steel Singers song] Strawberry Wine, so that was his finale song,” says Tim, prompting Scott to interrupt his bandmate: “No, no, no he finished with Darling on the first night,” he corrects Tim. “He wanted to finish with [Strawberry Wine] but we wouldn't let him!”
The influence of Robert Forster on the recording process of Tangalooma was quite significant, with Forster really helping the ‘Singers to focus and create a rounded, complete album.
Another big-name influence was Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne – who Tim explains Forster actually met once, and Byrne complimented him on his hair. “I actually listened to a David Byrne lecture recently where he was saying that people create music for the spaces,” says Tim, referring to a rather famous TED talk video and also the way that Tangalooma sounds sunny and summery like Brisbane, where it was mainly written. “David Byrne’s all over the record,” says Scott. “He's got his influence there as well.”
Tangalooma really does sound like Brisbane, though. It sounds like being outdoors, like not worrying about anything, like drinking beer and dancing with your friends at parties.
The lead single, Masochist, drives along with a tight and chugging drumbeat and a poppy, classic vocal line, complemented perfectly by the brass section, which sounds particularly clean and well-recorded. “Yeah, because Pete’s definitely a clean brass player, right…” laughs Scott. “The wonders of repeated takes!”
That said, most of the album wasn’t really tracked at all, allowing the boys to capture the ‘real’ band vibe that you can only get when you’re all playing together – a big part of The John Steel Singers recorded sound and live shows. And a big part of what they wanted to capture with this album.
Working with Forster and then sending the tracks to Nicholas Vernhes for mixing – a producer who’s worked with Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective and The Fiery Furnaces – Scott and Tim seem pretty stoked with the big names they’ve worked with and the product they’ve finally created.
As for the name, Tangalooma, it’s a bit abstract but it ties in with the whole feeling of the record, Scott explains. “The word itself means ‘fishing place’” he says. “Or meeting place,” adds Tim. “Yes,” laughs Scott. “A place where fish meet and date. But it’s also the name of a resort just up the coast near Brisbane.” “It’s where the album cover was shot,” adds Tim.
As his idea, he says he was pretty stoked that the label managers actually let them go with it. “We told them we were all going to go out to Tangalooma, wear shining horse heads, shorts with belts, and have our shirts tucked in…” Those label types obviously said ‘OK’, and despite the cover basically radiating summery happiness and heat, Tim laughs about how cold they were shooting it in the middle of July. “The water was freezing but it worked out,” laughs Scott.
It suits the album, which is in the running to be one of the classic albums of Summer 2011. “I suppose it’s sort of hard to escape that feeling, being from Brisbane and all,” Scott agrees. “There are some fairly bright moments but it’s got some melancholy moments as well.” So, with the album’s release looming, and despite just wrapping up the Tame Impala tour, The John Steel Singers are about to embark on another national jaunt for their own album tour. And even with all that touring, Scott says they’re still writing new tracks for their next release.
“We’re currently writing, yeah,” he says. “I think someone [in the band] said, ‘Do you want to start recording the next album in about a month? Because I’d be ready for it,”” adds Tim.
“Because we’ve had a long gestation period for this one, like about a year since we finished recording – and there were a lot of delays to start the recording – so during that period, it wasn’t necessarily so good, but in hindsight we had the time to write this second album, so this next album will come out probably a lot more promptly than this one.”
More promptly and apparently with a bit more groove. “I think it’s more groove-orientated, because the sort of writing we do,” says Tim. “The four or five songs we’re pretty confident with at the moment are quite dancey.” he says. “Not like, dub-step, Flying Lotus kind of thing,” laughs Scott, clarifying. “We’re not trying to completely reinvent ourselves but more just have a nice, healthy evolution.”
“I guess it comes back to Talking Heads,” he adds, describing the type of groove they’ve got going. But it’s also the process. “Rather than Scott and I bringing the songs and then bringing them in to the band, we’re bringing the ideas in really early and then jamming on them, so they’re a lot more natural,” explains Tim.
“When you jam on things they tend to build into a better groove anyway.” “Ross’ drumming is also a main influence,” Scott volunteers of their drummer Ross Chandler. “He sits on a groove pretty well, it’s his forté.” And their bass player, Damien ‘Buddha’ Hammond, has been a big part of the grooving, too – perhaps not to his great delight. “Yeah, we’ve got to reign in Buddha every now and then,” grins Scott. “Yeah, like, ‘Hey Buddha, look, you’ve just got to play one note,” laughs Tim. “We had this one rehearsal where he was playing two separate parts,” recounts Scott, “and he was like ‘Aw, you mean I only get two parts in this whole song?’ and we were like, ‘Yeah man, get used to it! You’re our bitch!”
All groove dilemmas aside, the second album sounds like it’s well in the works, and with such a stunning debut release in Tangalooma, The John Steel Singers might not just be our summer soundtrack – they might be our year-long Brisbane pop-groove listening and dancing delights. Certainly everyone use some more trombone solos in their lives, and I for one, am quite looking forward to a constant stream of their terrific creative output.
THE JOHN STEEL SINGERS’ debut album Tangalooma is out this Friday November 5 through Dew Process. The band will tour the country to launch it, and they hit Victoria at The National Hotel on November 25, Karova Lounge, Ballarat on November 26 and The East Brunswick Club on November 27. Tickets to all show and an exclusive Tangalooma album bundle are available through thejohnsteelsingers.com.
THE JOHN STEEL SINGERS will also help you ring in the new year at the Pyramid Rock Festival in Phillip Island – along with N.E.R.D, Arrested Development, The Temper Trap, Chromeo, Midnight Juggernauts, Mystery Jets, Little Red, Xavier Rudd, Built To Spill, Future Of The Left, Lightspeed Champion, Miami Horror, Operator Please and heaps, heaps more. All info and tickets from thepryamidrockfestival.com.