LEAD PRESS ALBUM (Credit McLean Stephenson)

City Calm Down: ‘A whole lot of water has to pass under the bridge until you realise what you’re doing’

For Melbourne rockers City Calm Down, their debut album In A Restless House has been a long time coming. Around three years to be exact, their first EP Movements dropped way back when in 2012 and since then the band have been working tirelessly, changing approaches in writing and recording, embracing the democratic and the organic and finding themselves again as a band who are now able to release a debut album they all felt both comfortable and content with.

Now finally with a record complete and on the cusp of a release, we got the chance to chat with frontman Jack Bourke about the journey they took to get to here.

Hey how’s it going Jack, where do we find you this evening?

Hey James, I’m good. I’m just in Melbourne.

Ah, so I’m calling you from the future with this whole daylight savings. We’ll kick off with the biggest news for you guys at the moment which is your debut LP In A Restless House set to drop very soon. Congratulations on that one. How does it feel to be on the cusp of releasing that, excited, nervous, relieved?

Thank you. Yeah excited and relieved, I think relieved is a good one. I won’t be sure it’s actually happened until it actually happens because things that seem to take a long time always seem to go wrong. Johann (from I Oh You) says we don’t stick to plans but hopefully we stick to this one.

Definitely, I imagine with this album after three years in the making it’d be a massive relief to finally have it out. It’s interesting that the title of it is In A Restless House, just in going over a lot of the release material with it there was a bit of talk in there about you guys sort of coming to terms with the frustrations of working as a democracy in a band, is that title kind of an indication of some of the internal conflicts that come with that or is that just me interpreting it wrong?

No, no yeah. Oh God, I just said ‘no, no yeah’, what a great start.

Very Australian.

(Laughs) Exactly ‘yeah, nah, yeah, nah’. Yeah you are right, the title does touch on that to an extent. I mean, it’s not solely focused on that but it’s definitely a part of… particularly how I was feeling. Sort of, I guess yeah, restless. So the title is from a lyric in one of the songs too. It kind of just came out of the blue really. When it came to me I was like ‘… I think that’s the title of the album’ because it captures how I’m feeling right now, how it lyrically sort of touches on all of the songs and also just thought it sounded interesting really (laughs).

So with the whole process of recording this album, what was your approach when it came to those creative differences and working them out?

Well, we went through a couple of approaches and the first one didn’t work so well, which was if you don’t like a song then no one is going to force you to release it. So that was the prevailing approach for probably the first 18 months after we released the Movements EP. It was very much like ‘alright here’s a song’ and three people like it and one person is like ‘no I don’t like that section’ and it was almost encouraged because it was like ‘yeah you’re putting your feet in the ground so you must really like it’. Well, I wouldn’t want to be in a position where someone is forcing me to release something I didn’t like so I’m not going to force you to do that.

And that’s perhaps, you know, nice in theory but what it kind of encouraged was for people to really stick their feet in the sand and be just… there was no amenability to the positions put forward by usually the majority and as Malcolm Beasley who produced the album said, and he said this more in hindsight, but what he said once we’d worked through this was ‘what you can end up doing is you dilute really good ideas through veto’. It just, you’ve got three people who are really on board with something and one person goes ‘hmmm, nup’ and then you dilute that good idea to satisfy that other person. They may not even be completely satisfied with it, they’ll just then go along because you’ve changed your idea to fit with them. Once we’d moved past that we kind of adopted this approach where it was like ‘if you don’t like something or you’re not 100% behind it, look at the other three guys in the room and if they really really like it, would you consider whether you’d be willing to be a stick in the mud about it’.

Because there’s an element of trust that goes in with being in a band. Each of us won’t like every single thing that we do 100%. There’s always going to be things that we don’t like about certain songs but if you can’t come up with an alternative yourself and there’s a whole lot of push behind it from the other members of the band then… it’s up to you but you should shut up.

You don’t have to shut up but… it might be good if you just shut up.

Haha! Probably in your best interest as the minority. That’s fair enough. I read also that you all wrote over 60 songs in the making of this album. You’ve then had to go and whittle that down to just the 11 that are on the final album which I can imagine was no mean feat. Are the tracks that didn’t make it gone for good or did they just not fit what you had in mind for the final product.

Well some of them were crap so you’ll never hear them. There were others that we really liked but didn’t fit within the mold of what we were wanting to do and it was really on just gut feel. Like, what two songs work together? It wasn’t a scientific process in that regard, we were kind of just like, these are the songs that work together. I think that it was more that we also collectively intuitively knew which songs were the better songs and, whilst we wanted to have a somewhat cohesive bunch of songs, we weren’t fixated on them all fitting into the same mold. It was very much like, we wanted the 11 best songs but we also wanted some kind of continuity.

And in listening back to the album, and I’ve listened to it a few times since we’ve finished it believe it or not (laughs). I don’t know if it’s an entirely cohesive album but I think that it does have flow to it and that each song offers something interesting to the listener and that it kind of works. That was the other thing, we just wanted to move through ideas so that we didn’t feel like we were just repeating the same idea through each song. Yeah. That was sort of the loose criteria we were working towards when we were putting together the tracklist.

That’s really interesting, for me just on the listen through that I’ve had it’s not so much that it’s not cohesive because it is, it’s more so that it’s just a lot of different ideas and sounds. I thought that was a really interesting way of making an album and thought it might have tied in to the other thing I read just before talking to you, which was that you’d adopted a more organic approach to your recording this time around, dialling back on the synths, jamming a whole lot more. What was it that sparked that change in approach?

There were a couple of things. The first one was that we discovered that that’s what we should be doing because we were able to write more songs and a lot more quickly. I think there were three or four trips where we went away and on each of those we wrote probably two or three songs that ended up on the album. So on those trips, if you were to break it down into the number of days spent writing, I reckon about 50% of the album was written in about 12 days.

Bloody hell…

Yeah you can’t sort of look at it that way though because there’s a whole lot of stuff that has to pass under the bridge, a whole lot of water that has to pass under the bridge until you realise what you’re doing. At least for us anyway. We’d never made an album before and making an album is very different to making an EP. So yeah, we discovered that jamming was the right process for us for that album when Johann encouraged us to just go away for a few days and we went down to the beach and just jammed for probably 14 hours a day for three days straight which I’d never done before.

There were some times there, usually at the start of those sessions, where it was just really frustrating because we were sort of writing at cross directions or playing at cross directions, but then you keep playing and you keep playing and stuff starts floating to the top and you can kind of grab a little idea out of that and we all hear something here, so let’s run with this.

The free flow of everyone just being able to play off of each other means that we were able to write songs quickly, once we had the start of an idea we could run with that and take it and turn it into a full song. That’s what we struggled to do when we were working in a studio setting and it was quite a protracted and slow process whereby someone maybe had a drum loop or a bass line and you get the synth loop and then someone would come in and try and put their drum loop underneath your synth loop… yeah. It was very difficult to allow a song to move in a new direction quickly. Essentially you had to build the next section from scratch if you wanted to change the chord progression or change the melody or even change the feel. You almost had to know what you wanted to do before you did it, whereas when we were jamming you could just do it and it was fine. Does that make sense?

Absolutely, seems like a much more convenient process.

Exactly. And it’s a pretty trite observation really because you would just think that bands should play together as bands but we somehow forgot that we were a band and we were more like a four-part production team.

In this day and age it probably happens a lot more often I’m sure. So with this massive change in approach, how does that then transition into your live shows?

Much better. Because pretty much all the songs are written in a live environment, we got a feel for how they would feel live. That has always been one of the things that we have wanted to excel at is to be a band that is really captivating live and it doesn’t feel like we’re just taking the studio and putting it onstage. So it feels like you’re seeing a band play. I’m not criticising other groups who do that, it’s obviously driven a lot by the type of music you make so I can’t imaging it would be easy to put dance music into a band format.

We wanted to make music that wasn’t like that, so it enabled us to assess whether those songs were fitting that criteria as well. It’s made it far easier moving out of the studio and into a live environment. I think we maybe had four or five rehearsals before playing the first gig and it was just a pretty painless process.

And I imagine that would have cut down on the amount of time spent at rehearsals remarkably given that you’d already jammed most of the songs and there was a lot less to translate.

That’s it.

Just to kind of wrap up and let you go, City Calm Down have had a massive year overall. Apart from releasing your album very soon obviously, is there one moment this year you can pinpoint as being a particular highlight for you?

Yeah I think when we found out that we were going to play Falls Festival and Lost Paradise, they were really good moments. I guess every band kind of just wants to put the next foot in front of the other and we felt that was where our next foot needed to be and we just wanted to do that. Provided we actually play these festivals, it’s a gradual thing and it’s always one foot in front of the other for us. We’re not under the impression that things are going to go ballistic, we just have to keep working at it and if you work at it long enough you’ll get to wherever you want to go. We don’t really know where we want to go though.

The other one was probably selling out most of the shows on the tour we’ve just done. That was a really good feeling.

It was all of them wasn’t it?

Yeah I think it was everywhere except for Perth.

Bloody Perth…

Bloody Perth (laughs). Yeah that was a surreal moment because I guess we’ve sort of just played a lot in Melbourne and you feel like it’s just your parents and all of your mates showing up. So maybe for once we felt like that wasn’t the case and people were coming along because they genuinely wanted to see us play and not because they felt obliged.

Well you’ve got just the one more date on that tour to come which is Brisbane this weekend and then you’re hitting the festivals. How are you going to change up what you do to switch to a festival environment from a headline set?

I guess we’ll find out. We’re still sort of trying to work that out ourselves. I guess they’ll be shorter sets which means we can condense a lot of stuff. I don’t think we’re playing filler stuff live at the moment but there are songs that I think work better in a smaller venue that won’t work as well on a big stage and we just need to go through and pull that out. We’ll hopefully do a cover. I won’t divulge that though.

Oh I wouldn’t expect you to, I’m sure Falls and Lost Paradise goers don’t want spoilers.

Well hopefully we get it done. We’ve rehearsed it a few times but we didn’t end up getting it going for this tour, but that could be fun. We’ve been playing a few shows with horns too so we’ll do that. We obviously can’t take horns to Western Australia because it’ll cost us a fortune but we’re hoping to bring them along to those festivals. I think it helps carry the band, when you have seven or so people onstage it feels like something big is happening, or you can at least maybe trick people into thinking that it is.

Instant legend set, just add horns. I’d better let you go Jack, thank you very much for the chat. Congrats on the album release and all the best with that!

Fantastic, thank you!

In A Restless House is out November 6th through I Oh You.