Last Dinosaurs: The Magic of ‘Wellness’

Last Dinosaurs‘ synth-heavy tropicana will have you skirting the sandy rim of some isolated island-oasis; it will fling you onto the crest of a warm-with-sun wave. The Brissie boys really have a knack for capturing the sun-kissed laxity of their home. They understand that music can give people permission to loosen and dismantle their armour. That is what makes Last Dinosaurs powerful, they make us ride atop their wide yawning synths and beckon us to the rich-with-summer halls of the chillwave palace. Basically, they get you feeling all warm and free.

Luckily for all of us, they are releasing their second album, Wellness, on the 28 August, via Dew Process/UMA and following it up with a substantial national tour. We talk to the lead singer and guitarist, Sean Caskey, about the band’s videography, writing process and live performance.    

Last Dinosaurs recently released the video for Apollo. You said about the song that it is representative of the scene in The Matrix where Neo has to choose between the red and the blue pill. What exactly do you mean by that? 

S: Just having that chance to completely change your life from something that you don’t necessarily hate, but just that you don’t want. But you don’t know what’s happening on the other side, so you have to just take that dive. It is just something that I felt a little bit, just being so uncertain about a possible alternative in the future. The dialogue in that scene is just really, really awesome. I mean, the movie is awesome in the first place, but the dialogue in that particular scene is just genius.

It’s interesting that you say that. The music video that was shot by your bassist, Michael Sloane, features a security guard gesticulating in a white-with-light shopping centre. How does the video relate to this notion of uncertainty, of not knowing about the future? 

Well that was about desiring an alternative life. That was Sloane’s interpretation any way. The security guard is sort of living this separate reality in his workplace. Initially, it was supposed to be about a relatively dero tradie that would party and dance all night and then walk to the job site straight afterwards, you know, just be completely delusional. But it ended up being the security guard.

Michael has been doing a bit of directorial work with this video and also Evie. What is it like as a band to in-house produce/direct, in a sense, the videos and the visual aesthetic? 

I reckon it’s the best, because we were really scarred ages ago with another video. It was the first video we ever did, and it was so shit. It was insanely shit.

Hahaha, in what way? 

Aww man, you have no idea. Like literally, I was wearing a big puffy coat and gardening gloves walking down the streets of Melbourne with people lying on the ground with paint on their hands and faces and shit. I arm-wrestled a girl in the middle of a dead-end street in midair with paint on our hands. We also danced on the driveway of someone’s house. It was all a proper thing. It cost like seven thousand dollars to make. We got the edit and it was just the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen in my life. It was so bad, that they had to apologise and do another one for us. That ended being the one where that guy is running, which is also extremely random. Sloane is a film guy and has always been very good at that kind of stuff. We all know what each other wants. So, I think he does it best, because he knows the song just as well as we do. It’s good to have a creative director who knows the songs on an intimate level.

I can totally imagine. Just to get on to Wellness, which is coming out on the 28th. Last Dinosaurs have been on the road touring and travelling. It has probably been a testing time that has forced you to evolve personally and artistically. How do you think that has affected the album, as a body of work? 

Getting older and stuff, you generally get a better idea of what you think is cool; you narrow down your ideas. You get more focused ideas, sonically as well. I think for this one, I just went everywhere with it. For instance, Wellness, the actual song, started out as…do you know the genre ‘Noise’, like Boris…it started out like that. Once we were in the UK, and the sound guy was playing this awesome music, and I asked him what it was, but his accent was so thick that I couldn’t understand him. But I pretended that I did understand him. I came home and I really wanted to listen to it again, but I couldn’t find it, it was just impossible, because I had no name to use. So I started to make the song; it started with really heavy guitars and vocals. I kept the vocals, changed everything else and it ended up being this dreamy synth song. For this album, I just did whatever. If it was fitting into the shape and form of the album, I just went with it. Others songs, like Stream, Sloane and I wrote before he joined the band. It wasn’t a contender at all until the rest of the song sort of filled in the puzzle and we could see that there was an album there.

The album is really interesting, well at least the preview that I have listened to. Sonically it is slick, clean and sugary; it has that kind of chill-wavey sound. But then lyrically it is full of scatterings of inconsequential musings and broken contemplation. There is this interesting dichotomy. It sounds light and happy, but it is actually quite deep and melancholic. Was that the plan?

It was never the plan, that is just the way it goes. If I wrote a happy song with happy words, I would seriously start vomiting. I would rather write a happy sounding song with sad lyrics, than a sad sounding song with happy lyrics. Its just the way it goes, because melancholy suits me. I guess, I have grown up liking melancholic music. I think that one of the things was watching lots of Studio Ghibli films, the Japanese animation films. The music in that is deeply melancholic and that really stuck with me as a kid. So I think that’s one of reasons why I like melancholia now. I have always thought that the best songs give you the most potent feeling of melancholy.

Yeah. I remember this piano piece from Spirited Away by Joe Hisashi. It really affected me, you know, filled me with feeling. 

Yeah, he is just crazy good. His sense of melody and his chord progressions are so novel but familiar at the same time. You have never heard them before, but it just makes so much emotional sense.

You guys went to Grove Studio down in the Central Coast and had a two month reprieve. What was it like to have a break, and just work together in a safe and beautiful place? 

Man, it was crazy. It was so nice. I remember watching a documentary about The Grove ages ago, and just thinking that it was the best thing ever. I never thought that I would get to record there. Also, I have always wanted to write and record with Scott Horscroft. So having both things at once was just the best thing ever. The place is beautiful and the gear is insane. It was just a dream. We all just smoked heaps of weed and ate lots of chocolate. You have got to indulge every now and then, and we were there for a total of six weeks, so we indulged a lot.

Haha, so how much time did you spend actually writing? Was it like half a day in the studio and then you would do whatever else? 

We were there, you know, in the studio the entire time. But when you record, you are probably only doing something like five to ten percent of the day. There is so much setting up and preparation and all that kind of stuff. A lot of the songs had already been written, but I did have to go off a lot and do some more writing. A few of the songs weren’t quite finished, because I have massive issue with trying to finish songs. I just can’t finish them. Starting them is equally hard. So we recorded the first time and then we went away to Japan for a couple of weeks on a small tour. Then we went back to writing and mixing. But, whilst I was in Japan I wrote the second version of Evie, which was actually the ninth version. I just couldn’t deal with the first version; I couldn’t deal with it, I hated it. So, I went back and recorded it again. So it was the first song to be written after the first album we did, but it was the last song to be finished. Even up to the final days in the studio, I was still doing vocals and stuff. It just drove me up the wall.

How about working with Scott Horscroft, who you personally described as ‘the perfect blend of scientist and artist’, what was it like being with that musical magician? 

Man, I don’t know. I love that guy. He’s a classic character. He is a real vibe guy. I love his honesty and passion. He has worked really hard and he knows he is good at something. He also only does what he wants to do, so it was a privilege to work with him. I have always wanted to work with him, since the days that I figured out that he had worked on Starky, Mercy Arms and The Protectors, you know, all the stuff that he doesn’t actually write on his resume.

What for you was his main contribution? Was he the man that made everything work? 

What I thought was awesome was that he didn’t try to grab your song, pull it to pieces and then reassemble it. He was just like, ‘This is your song. It’s pretty cool. But you don’t need that and that. We are gonna make it sound cooler’. That was one thing that I found awesome and that I respect a lot in a producer, being able to step back and say, ‘that is yours, but I am just going to contribute to make it better’. His time to shine always came when we got to mixing. It was so awesome, seeing the way he mixes. Just hearing it over one hour, you know, hearing everything change and take shape, it is just crazy what he can do. He is just a genius when it comes to doing that sort of stuff. I really respect and admire him for that aspect. That’s the scientist aspect in him.

It’s certainly not without result. Your singles and the stuff that you have been releasing have been popular. Also, the Melbourne and Sydney legs of your ‘Evie’ tour sold out in seventy-two hours. What has your reaction been to all of this recognition?

I was just like, ‘Woah’. Its good though, because it was the first tour in ages. It was important that it sold well. We smashed it so it was fine. But we were really worried about what was going to happen to us, because it had been so long since doing anything substantial. We were on the edge of taking too long I think. So it was good. I was really relieved.

Obviously for the show, you guys have been rehearsing your new music and playing around with it. What’s the live performance of Wellness looking and feeling like?  

Things are different. We have a new keyboard player, who is actually a very well-respected electronic musician. His name is Charles Murdoch. He is awesome, and really good at what he does. I have always wanted for him to play for us, but there had never been enough for him to do. Also, the new songs have a bit more synth, so there is that extra layer that I have always felt we lacked in our live performance. We have guitars and stuff, but now, at least the way I picture it, we have this whole middle section that is wide. The synths are huge and can just fill up all this sonic space that was previously unoccupied. So sonically it is a little bit different. We are also focusing more on putting on a better performance, you know, a more streamlined set with songs blending into other songs. Back in the day, we would just play a song and then turn around to each other and ask, ‘What do you wanna play next?’ It was pretty stupid. I just want to be more professional. The tickets are more expensive, so I feel a kind of duty to step it up. We want to make a bit of a statement. We have always been a decent band live, but we just want to elevate it to the next level if we can.

Just finally, I was reading an old story where an inebriated fan, who was staying with you, chased Lach and he smashed his head on the fire exit door. Do you have any other good, crazy tour/performance stories that have happened since then? 

We have had plenty of crazy fans. I think now, the weirdest things are all these strange cartoons and shit that are popping up. The other day we found this cartoon which is a portrait of me with this other girl sitting on a park bench. Some of the cartoons look so funny. One of the weirdest things: two months after my birthday, there was this compilation of five YouTube videos by these South-east Asian girls, who were wishing me happy birthday. There were pictures of my face hovering around and it was all directly addressed to me.


Last Dinosaurs tour dates: