Anyone paying attention to Australian alternative music lately will have noticed a resurrection of eighties inspired sounds, particularly those reminiscent of early years in that pivotal decade when bands walked a fine line between the socially supported ‘New Wave’ and more rebellious ‘Punk’ labels (most notably among them Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Joy Division).
As a massive fan of this golden-era revival, I was as excited as any to sit down and listen to Sydney based outfit New Lovers debut LP- ‘Performance’. Combining influences from New Order, The Wake and Rowland S. Howard, the record is nothing if not dynamic. From the spring-stepping ‘Tangerine’, to the melancholy ballad ‘Strangers’, ‘Performance’ explores and pushes almost minimalist instrumentation into juxtaposing moods and atmospheres. Though the band certainly maintains a distinctive New Lovers sound within their mash of familiar timbres, one certainly can’t help but align New Lovers with classic Australian ‘New Wave’ acts such as The Church, The Go Betweens and INXS as well as the aforementioned foreign acts. Listening the record over some afternoon beers brought me onto a rollercoaster of effective songwriting. The record unravels like an Elizabethan tragedy, with each new dramatic scene adding context to the last. The opening track and primary single ‘Impunity’ introduces the nature of the piece with a distinct disco rhythm and an elongated instrumental introduction- setting the stage for Nicholas Elias’s cryptic opening lyric “Jesus and the monkey man set up on a starless night, they add the winnings from the local gang fight.” The head bobbing epic continues to rise and fall, with synth-led reprises and driving bass lines acting as an energetic vehicle for Elias’s in-your-face vocal style.
The following pop tribute ‘Regret’ employs similarly progressive rhythms with composition reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s early work, before ‘102’ (perhaps ‘Performance’s most contemporary pop track) gives the bass and drums centre stage while the guitars and synths accentuate the catchy vocal choruses.
The building introduction and percussive soundscape of ‘Fatal Shore’ interrupts the so-far upbeat nature of the piece with such a charged crescendo that the chorus refrain hits like a strangely welcome punch in the face. Droning landscapes of feedback and synthesiser gyrate within the pulse like Nick Cave implanted in Sonic Youth’s ‘Dirty’. A standout track, ’Fatal Shore’ sets a new standard for Australian post punk.
‘Performance’s instrumentation remains relatively constant throughout the record, and though this may become monotonous for some listeners, the band attacks the traditional setup from every conceivable angle and combines well known timbres like re-arranging a jigsaw. For example, the atonal guitar in ‘Decadence’, alongside the more straight forward chord progression adds a no-wave edge to the otherwise pop-like structure. The overdriven guitar placed throughout the album (most notably in ‘Terminal’) also fails to go unnoticed as an effective balance of New Wave and Punk inspiration, as does Elias’s often Ian Curtis style improvisatory vocal nature in tracks such as ‘Hotels’ and ‘Medications’. The details in ‘Performance’ create contrast with other Australian alternative acts such as Big White and The Ocean Party, giving New Lovers a grit rarely heard in much contemporary Australian independent pop.
All in all, ‘Performance’ is a powerful debut record for New Lovers. By creating a signature sound through solid instrumentation and tones, yet simultaneously establishing themselves as a diverse act capable of feel-good pop, malicious post punk and wallowing ballads, New Lovers have marked themselves as an innovative Australian act and I’m very excited to hear what comes next.
To gain more depth into the production, motivation and influences of the album, we caught up with frontman Nicholas Elias.
Hey Nick, thanks for catching up with us!
No worries, thanks for getting in contact. You haven’t been involved with music for a pretty long time, how did the record come about after such an absence?
Yeah, so we did an EP a while ago, and then I guess it (the album) is just the product of everyone doing all different stuff and tonnes of other projects, so we recorded the album and sat on it for a bit, there’s a lot of dudes in the band so there’s heaps guys to make decisions. Then time added up and it came out (haha), that’s kind of it. No real romantic story about it. I read that the opening track ‘Impunity’ actually began as a play. How did that evolution happen?
Oh yeah, so I was writing a bit of a play. That song is kind of a combination of a whole bunch of stuff, based on this other song we wrote that had more of a Rowland S. Howard vibe to it called Suicidal Dramas, then I had this play and I sort of just cut it up and put it to this song. It was a song that took like two or three years to write all in all (haha). It had so many different parts, it’s almost like a collage of all these different songs. It’s a bit nuts. It’s kind of almost impossible to break down how the formation of the song came about. I guess that’s why its slightly different to all our other songs, it’s kind of more complex in it’s arrangement.
It certainly is, it’s a great opening track to the record, especially with that synth introduction.
Yeah yeah, it’s in g minor too which is one of our favourite keys. It’s sort of, I’m not sure if you can hear it, but it’s kind of got a Bruce Sprinstein type narrative to it. It doesn’t sort of come off like that in the music, but in a way that works because the lyrical content is different to the music itself.
Have you been writing throughout your absence from music?
Yeah, we’ve actually got tonnes of music. a bit of a collage of stuff, so we’re pretty keen to get back into the studio. We’ve got tonnes of music we’ve recorded over time. You write lots of music and then go to record, but you really only end up putting down the fresh stuff. We started out with less synthesisers, in was in a way more influenced by Rowland S. Howard and Crime City Solution and Australian electronic music from the early 80s, we kind of wanted to connect that. As well as those dance undertones, which changed the sound a little bit. Our drummer is into that sort of industrial scene, but less kraftwerk more crowd-work.
The drumming definitely shows that, his rhythms are insane.
Yeah it’s quite polyphonic, I think he’s pretty into those current ‘out there’ rhythms and stuff like that. I guess it’s a little bit like Can. In a way the music sort of sprung from that. And Cody, in Big White, he doesn’t play bass in his other projects but its kind of nice as he has a much more guitarist approach to the bass.
That really comes out in the record.
Yeah, it’s great because our lead guitarist doesn’t need to play lead so much, just colour the song. The guitar has that more trebly sound, it can be quite high but still dark. Another influence was Pill, which sort of has that jagged dance vibe. You know, all these influences just sort of mix. You don’t intentionally pull them through but they’re just there?
I know what you mean.
It’s actually like all these people from different groups and worlds meld together. Owen’s a graphic designer, I’m an architect… Cody’s in a thousand bands. We all have different things we do, so I guess it’s like a coming together of all our artistic creations really hahaha, rather than just be a bunch of dudes that play pub rock every day.
We actually sometimes tried to intentionally cut ourselves off from what other music is going on around here, so we don’t take a lot of influence. We’d rehearse separate from everyone else and not play that many gigs (haha). We tried to avoid influence from current things.
It sounds like that’s definitely paid off, the music isn’t dissimilar to other current Australian acts such as Big White and the Ocean party but, particularly in the guitars, there’s this grit. Everything has this unpolished, improvisatory nature. It’s really engaging.
I think that was intentional, like when we did the EP we spent such a long time in the studio that it was quite taxing on everyone. This time around we almost had a manifest about the quality, so instead of having anxious week long arguments about the mix we gave ourselves a concrete amount of time. In the beginning we didn’t actually want to record, we just wanted to be a live band, so the only way to experience the music would be at a show. That’s why we called the album ’Performance’, like we wanted to effectively capture that original idea. All the songs are pretty much live takes with very few overdubs.
Yeah we just wanted to shy away from it. It’s like the dynamic of being a ‘band’ these days is a little bit gone.
I agree, something you guys do well is use similar tones and similar mixes, but come from so many different angles that the record stays dynamic and interesting. Like a live set.
Yeah, well I don’t know if you know Steve Albini…
I am a huge fan of Steve Albini.
Haha, yeah well I always go with how he approaches recording, like if a band can’t produce an album in a day and a half, they shouldn’t be recording an album. Like you should have the songs ready to go, not be fiddling around too much. It’s really difficult to catch that live sound, almost impossible, I think that’s what we wanted to do. We want to do it more in the next record. Like the song ‘Fatal Shore’, that was a first take.
‘Fatal Shore’ is a great song.
Yeah and people were saying we shouldn’t put it out because its too long. Who cares.
It’s a pretty fresh take on contemporary post punk.
Yeah it’s sort of post punk, we almost approached it like a piece of soundscape music. We tried to create a sonic landscape, not in the sense of layering but more in the sense of time and space. People associate punk and post punk with short, loud songs, but it’s not like that.
They just haven’t listened to enough of The Horrors.
Yeah! Hahaha, you like that band?
I do like The Horrors, they’ve got a lot of variety.
Our drummer loves that band. I like that band. I don’t really listen to any music that’s been made in the last twenty years.
Hahaha, I’m with you. That’s why I loved working with this record, it reminds me of music that came out while New Wave and Punk were genres still being defined.
Yeah, also No Wave? You know, that side of the New York scene people don’t see.
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks!
Yeah, Lydia Lunch and all that. The early Australian punk rock is amazing too, there were so many good industrial bands people don’t know existed. That’s our real unintentional influence, I don’t know if it comes out though.
It peaks in and out through the record which I really like. The No Wave-y atonal guitar on Decadence is sick.
Yeah that’s a really old song, almost our first incarnation as a band.
Great first effort.
Hahaha, yeah it’s an old standard. It’s changed as we’ve played it live. I think the atonal stuff really stands up, like I’m not a huge fan of that rounded melodic stuff.
Is it daunting at all coming back into the Sydney music scene with the seemingly institutionalised lack of support for the arts?
To be brutally honest, I’ve sort of had a longstanding disdain for how that stuff rolls. To me, music is always a commentary on what’s happening- if you go back to that Manchester scene, like Joy Division and New Order.
Or The Saints and Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Yeah definitely, the Go Betweens and The Saints and all that stuff. It’s like theres a bounce that sometimes happens. Bands one hundred percent need money for support, so I think the government should be supportive, but art also seems to transcend that if it’s good enough. It’s a difficult question.
I think in the end, people remember The Saints and The Go Betweens, but they don’t remember Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen hahahaha.