The Dead Leaves
It might be a peaking summer day outside, but in the air-conditioned confines of a label office, half of Melbourne’s The Dead Leaves are looking, as always, extremely dapper. “We heard you were coming, so we dressed up” jokes guitarist Andy Pollock, bedecked in a neat pressed shirt framed by a waistcoast and full Windsor-knotted tie. He is flanked by frontman Matt Joe Gow, he of the cool demeanour and bruised baritone that drives so much of the band’s emotional candour, today dressed in a spotless black shirt and pants – save for a flashing bronze tie buckle. Usually a band’s fashion choices aren’t really worth mentioning but for the Melbourne four-piece, it reflects not only their polished image, but their equally buffed sound.
Their soon-to-be released debut Cities On The Sea, stakes a claim in ambitiously mature and spacious rockers, atmospheric guitars and melancholic piano anchored by jagged grooves and traditional song structures. For the man who voices them, it’s a record whose “emphasis was on the songs,” Gow remarking “what I think was special, is that we have the sound of a wide sonic picture – atmospheric and sparse – but saying that, amongst that landscape it’s quite structured. They’re like pop songs. We wanted that soundscape, but they were still unified, people could sing to them. I love bands that do that. Unifying atmospherics with actual songs.”
Indeed, the cathartic choruses of Harm (“I might just harm you”, Cover (defiant shouting of its title) and Ordinary Lot’s repeated refrain of ‘feel it’ all possess that rousing, anthemic quality. Or as Gow puts it, “songs for the everyman, with a unified sound and chorus in the lyric. I’ve certainly done more personal or introspective writing in the past, but on this record I tried to take on a more anthemic tone – to possess broader sensibilities. I try to focus on it being, not so much less personal, as more accessible for people.”
Their origins perhaps drawing from the blue-collar Americana of Matt Joe Gow’s solo work, back when the quartet originally began as a vehicle for his singer/songwriter roots. It was this project that originally brought him and Pollock together, “Andy played a large role in the sound” admits Gow, Pollock chiming in “although I worked on Matt’s solo stuff, The Dead Leaves is much more of a collaborative entity, where the influences of myself with Cam [Grindrod, bassist]and Joel [Wittenburg, drummer] inform the writing process. It took it, necessarily, in a new direction.”
That particular course led away from rustic folk and personalised storytelling, towards studio-polished, crowd-baiting numbers. Though their inspirations were drawn from America’s mid-western heroes like Petty and Springsteen, the sound of Cities On The Sea merges the stadium-bound sincerity of early U2 or latter-day Coldplay, with the grit and choppy guitars of gloom merchants Interpol, or The National’s austere songcraft. The latter in particular is a comparison difficult to ignore, from Gow’s rich croon eerily recalling the everyman poetry of Matt Berninger, to the rousing brass and pianos that punctuate album opener If The Shoe Fits. The pair however, are resistant to discuss specific influences, stating “we don’t like to talk about other artists.”
For them, the focus is on the details, Pollock enunciates, “You talk about particular influences, it’s not so much any one band or record – but the approach we were very firm on taking. Was a very detailed, and big intentioned record. You’ve heard it, you’ve seen it live, you know that not any one particular element is dominant – it rises and falls with the addition and subtraction of layers. You get to do that in the studio when you have that focus on building a big sonic texture.”
The Dead Leaves make no qualms about what they’ve achieved, a sophisticated record of near-ruthless aspirations to strike a universal appeal, but without sacrificing their passionate core. The focus now, Gow informs, is bringing that large, meticulous sound to the live setting. “I’m proud of what we did, but I don’t want to be restrained by the record, by that context. For instance, we played Ordinary Lot for the radio the other day and I changed the chorus around, Andy liked it, so we decided to just do it that way from now on. That’s where it’s exciting, the songs have this dualist mentality. They don’t exist just in the recorded format, they exist live and there’s always the opportunity to build on that and craft them.”
BY AL NEWSTEAD
THE DEAD LEAVES play Toff In Town this Thursday February 16 with Enola Fall. Cities On The Sea will be available from Friday February 24 through Liberation/Mushroom.