Creating a follow-up to a breakthrough album can be a daunting process – in the case of The Presets, it was even more so. Their second full-length,Apocalypso, was a great big festival-bestriding behemoth of a record, which went 3x Platinum and inspired a generation of youngsters to take their shirts off, sling mud at one-another and indulge in all types of risk-taking behaviour to the sound of its various singles. Rather than launch into a follow-up right away, Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes instead chose to put the band on hiatus, focusing on their family lives and on various other musical interests. It’s been a long four years, but their third record, Pacifica, is finally here. It comes with the weight of a lot of expectations, but Hamilton tells me that, when recording it, there was no choice but to put all of that out of their minds.
“You have to put all your ARIA awards in boxes and put them in the roof,” he tells me, “take your Gold records off the wall and put them in storage. You certainly need a clean slate to make the most honest music you can.” Looking back on the success of Apocalypso, Hamilton thinks it’s the honesty of the music that struck so many listeners. “All I can really say about that record is that we were making the kind of music we wanted to listen to. People can smell a rat, they can tell from a mile off whether something’s honest or not, so our main rule with this album was just to avoid following any trends, avoid just copying what we’d done in the past, and to make music that felt good to us. Our fans trusted us last time, and hopefully they’ll move along with us this time.”
The Presets are no longer the young upstarts they once were – hard to believe, but they’ve been making music together for nearly a decade. With age has come perspective, and many of the songs on Pacifica examine the idea of youth and recklessness from a detached observer’s viewpoint. Take the lead single, Youth In Trouble. “I guess essentially, that song’s about the ways that youth are portrayed in the media,” Hamilton tells me. “We’re encouraged to be scared of youth because they’re going to steal our jackets and scratch our cars. At the same time, we’re also encouraged to be scared for youth because they’re taking all sorts of drugs and they’re sexting, you know what I mean?”
The antics of young fans at Presets shows also played into the song’s lyrics. “When we play at festivals and we see all the kids with their shirts off jumping around and having a great time, you can’t help but feel a little bit responsible,” Hamilton says. “It’s a lot of fun to see people going off and having a great time and letting loose; I don’t think people, in day-to-day life, generally get much of a chance to throw mud at each other and get semi-naked and jump around and scream and dance, you know? So it’s nice to be able to provide an opportunity to do that,” he says with a laugh. “There are certainly moments in the show where it looks a bit scary. You look down and think, ‘Okay, I’m sure they’re having a great time, but I’m really glad I’m not down there, that would be a bit much for me…’”
Ghosts is another intriguing track on Pacifica, with lyrics that centre around the idea of old men sitting around recalling their lost youth. Lines like “shiniest stars won’t shine forever” suggest that The Presets were considering their own mortality when they wrote it – but Hamilton tells me it’s a bit more abstract than that. “To be honest, the thing that came first with that song was the melody,” he says. “It was this rollicking, sea shanty-style thing, and I really tried hard to find lyrics to fit.” It felt like a drinking song, he explains, so lyrics about old men drinking and reflecting together seemed an obvious fit. “I mean, there’s a little bit of a loosely autobiographical element to it, with talk of travelling with bands and wild parties, being a musician and having a band that’s successful… I guess those things are loosely taken from mine and Kim’s life, so yeah – that was the inspiration for it.”
At present, Julian and Kim are hard at work rehearsing their new live show; the songs from Pacifica will get their first official live airing at Parklife later in the year. “A lot of bands play and then record their songs, but we don’t do that – we record and then play them – so it’s always really interesting getting them onto that different plane and trying to get all the elements to fit. It’s really interesting now that we have so many years of music behind us. You put it on a computer and look at it all, and you think, ‘…Wow. I remember that guy singing Down Down Down and Are You The One [from 2005 debut Beams].’ It’s like looking at old photos of yourself or something.” It’s a weird feeling, he says, but a good one. “Every album we’ve made has been a picture of us at a certain time of our lives. Apocalypso sounds exciting, and we were so young and hungry… You can hear that hunger coming through in the songs, and it’s really great to go back and inhabit that again.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
The Presets AUS] will be playing at Parklife with Plan B [UK], Justice [FRA] and many more at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Saturday October 6. Pacifica is out now on Modular, through EMI.