Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #127. Subscribe to our print edition here!
On their ambitious second album, City Calm Down trade restlessness for atmosphere. Words by Matt Doria
In the hyper-saturated music world of 2018, there’s an album for every scenario: you’ve got the big, booming jamfests that beg to blast through car speakers doing 150km/h on the freeway; the club anthems that force your fists in the air and the grimy metal opuses that trigger an innate need to start swinging limbs. But some albums yearn for more. Echoes In Blue is the kind of record you set time aside for, bust out the ‘special occasion’ headphones and soak in every fastidious crevice in the mix. As its primary songwriter – City Calm Down frontman Jack Bourke – tells us, it all comes down to one obscenely crucial factor: the vibe.
So this is your third record with Malcolm Besley in the producer’s chair. What made you want to link up with him again?
It felt like the second record needed to be a sort of bridge to what might come on the third one. We wanted to open some new doors, but we also wanted to keep some of the elements that we really loved about In A Restless House. We didn’t want to get trapped in this notion that the second album had to be a drastic departure from the first.
What was it about In A Restless House that you wanted to replicate on this record?
There was nothing precise about it – more just the mood and the feeling that I think we were able to capture on that record. There’s a lot of texture and detail, but the record still has a good energy about it. It’s really hard to capture the energy of a band while still keeping that textural element, but Malcolm captured it perfectly on that record, so we knew he’d be able to get us to that point again.
How did you want Echoes In Blue to evolve on the style that you’d established with In A Restless House?
We managed to play all of the songs live before we went in and recorded them. You never really end up recording the version of a song that you play live; playing them just gives you a sense of the atmosphere in a song, because when you perform it to an audience and you can hear every instrument at full volume through a PA, that feeling is quite visceral. Being able to get a sense of the way a song feels live helps us to then think about how we want to go about producing it – the kind of energy we want to capture in the recording.
Do you think it makes the song a little more special when you’ve got a dissonance between what you hear on the record and what you experience in the live show?
That’s not something we think about when we’re producing a track; we’re essentially just trying to make the best sounding version of that track when we’re in the studio. But I think the way it comes across live is very important. We want the songs to sound like they do on the record, but we’re not obsessed with replicating that – sometimes what works live doesn’t really work in the studio, and vice versa. We’re currently rehearsing all of the songs on Echoes In Blue, and we’re adding layers of guitars that aren’t present on the recording into the live show. If we just relied on the synthesisers, I think there’d be a lack of sonic depth and a lack of atmosphere. But the guitars wouldn’t have worked on the record, so there’s a bit of a dissonance there.
Why wouldn’t those extra guitars have worked on the record?
It was just the way all the different tones were working with each other. I had a few dabbles on the guitar with some of the songs, and I just didn’t think it married that well with what was going on with the synthesisers. But there are other songs that are dominated by guitars – you have to approach every track with a different perspective.
My understanding is that you don’t play it live, but you had a lot to do with the guitars on this record.
Yeah, I’ll generally write all the guitar parts. There are a few bits that I played on the record, but I’m not exactly what you’d describe as a crash-hit guitarist, so… If you give me enough time, I can play the part, but when you’re working with tight recording budgets and everything like that, it’s just impractical. Our guitarist Will [Fletcher] played most of the parts on the record, and he always does an amazing job. It’s a funny one, because much to my detriment, I’ve never really focused on becoming the best guitar player. That’s something I’ve been working quite hard at since we finished the record, though.
It feels like all of these tracks flow in such a way that you’re almost telling a story with the music. It ebbs and flows from this lackadaisical groove to a hard summery vibe, and then this cold, glittery sort of sombreness. Was that flow something you were aiming for?
Yeah! We were more conscious of achieving that with this record than we were with the last one. With [In A Restless House], those were just the ten best songs that the felt we had at that point, and we just produced each song as we thought that song should be produced. But with this record, we were trying to produce across songs so that a sonic idea that might occur on one song would then pop up on another song to give it a sense of continuity. And then when we set the tracklist up, we wanted to do the opposite, which was break it up so that you go from a song like “Distraction” to a song like “Blame”, which kind of reengages the listener. But because there are similar sonic elements throughout the whole record, it all kind of knits together.