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Tiny Little Houses on the hard truths of growing up

“That was one of the big shocks growing up: you’re not as important as you think you are.”

Having spent the last year undergoing a comprehensive stylistic overhaul, Tiny Little Houses’ sound has progressed considerably from its beginnings as Caleb Karvountzis’s solo project. The Melbourne band’s debut album, Idiot Proverbs, is a major sonic detour from 2015’s You tore out my heart EP and 2016’s Snow Globe – where the EPs featured acoustic-led experimental-folk songs, the album embraces incisive rock songwriting and a more intensified production style.
 
“The album is made up of songs that we’ve worked on together a lot,” says guitarist and vocalist Karvountzis. “[With] the EPs, I had written a lot of the songs when we’d just started the band. I kind of repeated the same process for Snow Globe as I did with You tore out my heart, which is I wrote a lot of those songs with Sean [Mullins, guitar], then we took them to the guys and had an idea of where it should go and they helped us out.”
 
The ‘guys’ in question are bassist Al Yamin and drummer Clancy Bond. Along with the rhythm section’s increased significance, Idiot Proverbs’ bolder stylistic make-up is representative of a growth in confidence.
 
“I think the album is more confident than the last two EPs and hides behind less vocal overdubs and less noise. It’s quite loud but it’s not so washy; it’s much clearer,” says Karvountzis. “These are all things that we wanted to do when we went into the studio with [producer Steven Schram]. Steven set up the studio in a cabin like a classic ‘90s rock room where everyone was looking at each other. It was pretty different to what we’d done in the past in a studio.
 
“Lyric-wise, I’m trying to be more direct or comfortable in what I’m saying. I don’t want to hide behind reverb or smother it with vocal layers. I’m trying to get my point across a bit clearer. Which makes it sound dramatically different from the last EP for sure, and we were aware of that.”
 
Although Tiny Little Houses was founded in Melbourne, at the time Karvountzis was a fresh arrival from Renmark, South Australia, roughly an hour and a half outside of Adelaide. He references his regional beginnings in the lyrics to various album tracks, including ‘Nowhere SA’ (“Gotta get out of here,”) and ‘Drag Me’ (“I was always a big fish in a small, stale pond until I moved out to the city.”)
Clearly the setting of childhood – and the self-understanding and survival mechanisms developed therein – continues to influence Karvountzis’s songwriting and the sorts of meanings he attempts to convey.
 
“An important part of the record is that I grew up in small towns. I grew up in Kalgoorlie, which is the middle of nowhere, and then Renmark and that’s also in the middle of nowhere. I was a kid who really liked learning about the world. I used to read the encyclopedia and I was into dinosaurs and archaeology. I was also in towns where kids weren’t really encouraged to do very well for themselves.
 
“I did really well at school compared to all the other kids, but when I came to Melbourne I felt like a very small fish in a big pond all of a sudden. Uni was a lot harder than I expected, things were just harder – you don’t really stand out very much compared to everybody else in a big city. I think that was one of the big shocks growing up: you’re not as important as you think you are. That’s what the record’s about.”
 
Along with Karvountzis’ personal experiences, the album owes conspicuous stylistic debt to a range of ‘90s rock music, particularly American bands like Weezer, Pavement and Modest Mouse.
 
“I’m 25 now and that’s what I like at the moment and that’s what I wanted to make. [Growing up] I didn’t really listen to that much Australian music. My dad really loved old American country and when I listened to music I’d only listen to [artists from the] Pacific Northwest and those kinds of bands. I’m just copying what I like.”

Tiny Little Houses will perform at Karova Lounge on Saturday February 24 and Corner Hotel on Friday March 2. Idiot Proverbs is out now via Ivy League Records.