Cool Sounds are channelling the honesty and determination of Zac Denton through their music

Cool Sounds’ Australian tour should have been a carefree venture from Ballarat to Brisbane. 

It was a chance to cut loose with fans in pubs and on bonfire-lit beaches, and to promote their new album, Cactus Country, alongside co-headliners The Ocean Party. But the tour became something different with the death of Ocean Party drummer and vocalist Zac Denton.

Denton, who was 24, passed away suddenly, due to complications with a brain cyst. A prolific collaborator whose projects ranged from the indie ensemble Ciggie Witch to the Melbourne new wave outfit Pregnancy, Denton has left several Melbourne bands absent a member.

But the tour must go on, and what was planned as a month of musical carousing between Cool Sounds and The Ocean Party has become a tribute to Denton’s life and work.

“There will be a fair amount of tears, both in the crowd and onstage,” says Cool Sounds frontman Dainis Lacey. “Be prepared for that.”

Lacey isn’t just an admirer of Denton’s music – the two lived together for two and a half years, during which Lacey grew to admire Denton as an individual and musician. Lacey has worked to emulate Denton’s integrity and easy plain-spokenness – an uncommon combination that helped him cut straight to the point in his lyrics and in his life.

“For me, being around Zac was like being in primary school again,” says Lacey.

“Having a friend that you just wanted to spend all day with and do everything with. He was a shy, sensitive but also tough, stubborn country kid and like no one that I have ever met. He was extremely intelligent and thoughtful, which felt to me like something he had garnered through years of quietly observing the people around him. I think that went hand-in-hand with his songwriting.”

Though Lacey is a lone wolf by nature – Cactus Country was practically a solo record – he intends for his next project to be more collaborative. It’s not that the down-to-earth Lacey is particularly difficult to get along with. Rather, his creative style is gradual and experimental. A Cool Sounds record is produced by long hours of unhurried trial and error – the kind of tinkering that can quickly become pricey in a studio. Nevertheless, the studio was something Lacey wanted to tussle.

“Because I’d never done it before, I was keen to go work in a studio,” he says. “We left the studio and everything sounded pretty nice, but a bit lifeless … Then, we worked on it for a month or two after, adding little things and mixing everything to give it a bit more character, so it would sound more weathered, more funky.

“What came out of the studio is a lot different to what ended up on the album. It took a lot of messing up, cutting up bits of the recording and moving them around. It was good to do it. It was definitely a worthwhile experience. Even though the studio was pretty relaxed, it was still relatively stressful compared to DIY.”

The band’s (cool) sound, a nostalgic, lo-fi admixture of indie and soft rock, relies more on Lacey’s unrushed creative marinade than on any technical quality imparted by high-end studio equipment. Listeners can expect the next Cool Sounds record to be home-recorded.

“I, ultimately, just hope that people enjoy it,” says Lacey, relentlessly unassuming. “There’s no great, deep messages within anything. I just hope people enjoy it.”

After their current tour, Cool Sounds want nothing more than to take a moment off and regroup, before Lacey can think about writing a new album. Until then, they’ll be sharing their memories of Zac Denton with crowds around Australia, including a show at The Tote.

“I hope at the shows, especially the one at The Tote, it can be as much of a celebration of [Denton] as possible,” says Lacey.

Cool Sounds will launch Cactus Country at The Tote on Saturday December 1. Head to the venue website for more information.