Cousin-Tonys-Electric-Brown-artworkWe sat down with Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird songwriter Lachlan Rose to shoot the breeze about the band’s new album Electric Brown – a textural and retro-styled masterpiece of syncopated soundscapes, led by Rose’s baritone pipes and the astonishing vocals of bandmate Francesca Gonzales.

Apparently your studio in Yarraville was absolutely tiny. How small? 

It’s about the size of this little area we’re in now [approximately 6 x 3 metres]. But it’s kind of nice! There’s a sort of madness that comes from being in those small spaces and it’s sort of feel like the room slowly grows over you while you’re in there. It’s a great space.

It’s amazing how just a few elements can make for such an expansive sound. Do you think the literal physical walls of the studio made you want to push for a wider scope in sound?

Definitely – I guess a lot of that’s the magic and the fun of being in a studio in general. We had a lot of different ways we wanted it to sound, but one thing was: Big. It’s a really expansive kind of record, a lot of the time that doesn’t actually come from recording in a big space. There’s a lot to creating that kind of thing.

Blaze includes this marvellous lyric: “Hold my beer while I try to remove this here man’s brassiere with a mind trick.” I don’t know why this line is so triumphant, I’m sure the melody has a lot to do with it. Does it have a story behind it?

Not really, to be honest! I generally put a lot of consideration into lyrics making quite literal sense; I like them to make some kind of cohesive sense when you’re reading them off the page, and obviously the lyrics in Blaze don’t do that. But at the time I would normally start by singing lots of gibberish, and that [one] was a whole line, a whole verse, that just walked out. And it just feels really great to sing. That’s as far as I wanted to take Blaze conceptually – it feels like this massive release. There’s lots of little funny references in there but they’re personal quirky things, but it’s about having a bunch of sentences that flow in a really cathartic way.

So you’re singing just sort of vowels and placeholders before you decide on lyrics?

Yeah. There’s a lot of lyrics that do this, but Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National – it’s got this line that’s like, “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees,” and I don’t know how to relate to that, I haven’t travelled to Ohio in a swarm of bees, nothing about that makes sense to me. But it just feels so good to sing. He probably doesn’t know what the hell it means. But it feels great to sing, and then you imbue that sentence with your own meaning.

Blaze also finishes on a double-time jam out. Did this happen while you were recording and all went a bit mad, or did you plan it out?

Generally I’ll do almost 100% of the songwriting by myself. But again, Blaze felt like this really organic process. So when I started playing it with the band, originally it didn’t have that [outro]. But then we’d get to the end of the song, Nick [Reid, drummer] decided, “This is not over”, and just broke into this double time thing.

And we were all kind of laughing – it felt like we were King Gizzard for a sec – but then we were like, actually this is really fun, and it sounds great.

It was a good moment of handing the song over to someone else and seeing what they wanted to do with it.

The harmonies on Linda are so very gorgeous – the chorus is almost like a duet, moreso than a harmony. Can you tell us how you and Fran [Gonzales, synth/vocals] write these parts?

I played drums for most of my life, so when I’m writing a song, rhythm’s always really defined. And I love writing melodies. But harmony’s probably the one massive void in my songwriting. If I was just left to my own devices, there would be no harmony. Kieran [Christopherson, guitar/vocals] would always try and coach me; we’d be driving, and he’d get me to harmonise with whatever we were listening to. For some reason it’s just something my brain doesn’t gravitate towards. So whenever you hear harmonies in our music, that’s all Fran’s contribution. I’ll spend months recording, and then Fran comes in just for one day, and sings over everything. And she’s so professional. She’ll do one option, and then start again, give us a whole other series of options with harmonies. And all just sung completely perfectly – she’s a real machine like that. So she particularly gets to shine on Linda.

And also, like everyone, she has incrementally taken up more space in our music; I think initially it was this kind of backing vocal thing, but I think just naturally, she’s becoming just as much a leader of the band as I am. And she’s a much better singer than I am [laughs].

Who’s playing my all-time favourite instrument, melodica, in Pathetique?

That’s me! We really wanted to get a saxophone player in, but there’s a degree of pragmatism when you’re recording; as much as you want to bring all these instruments in, you have to be able to replicate it live. So I needed a happy medium – something I could solo on, but something I can also play live. And the melodica actually sounds pretty good, I think! It doesn’t sound like a toy in that recording – which it is.

I really credit Damon Albarn with getting the melodica the respect it deserves.

Totally. That’s directly where it comes from – he uses one in Clint Eastwood, the Gorillaz song. And it’s got an almost Eastern sound to it; it almost sounds like a shehnai [a kind of oboe, from India].

In Something In The Air, the synth line goes up in an angled semitone when you don’t expect it to, and it gives it this mysterious slant, which really fits with the song’s theme. Were you looking at how you could musically denote this kind of ethereal mystery?

Yes, that’s exactly what that note’s supposed to do. Sometimes when I’m writing I’ll stumble upon lines that feel really obvious, and a lot of the time I think that’s the sign that you’ve found something really great – good ideas do seem really obvious.

But sometimes things are so painfully obvious that you think, no, that’s a bit too basic, how can I spice this up?

And a really simple way of doing that is playing… an accidental [a sharp or flat note that isn’t in the key/scale of the song, creating an unusual effect]. And funnily enough, that was an accident. I played it wrong one time, and it was kind of right.

There’s so much joy across this album – which track do you find the most enjoyable to play?

Certainly one that I think’s felt the most special over the year is The Fear. I can’t even remember what I was specifically writing it about, in relation to my own life; it’s really simply a song between choosing between love and fear, and sometimes that’s on an everyday kind of level. But then we spent all of last year deliberating over the postal survey for gay marriage, and it was just so plainly a decision between love and fear. We were playing this song all year, and Fran and I were actually touring during the week that it was announced that gay marriage had been legalised. And that was kind of the first time we felt like everyone was really united in the room, on what this song was about – as opposed to everyone listening and having a very personal interpretation.

We would preface this song with “We’re singing in support of gay marriage,” and once it happened we could say “We’re singing in celebration”, and it is a song that still does really bring a room full of people together. That’s really special.

The album title is a bit of a non sequitur or a paradox, but somehow it fits your aesthetic perfectly. Why’d you choose it?

I never liked the idea of just naming a record after a song that’s on the record; to me that’s naming a book after one of the chapters. I wanted something that was like an umbrella for the whole record. But the songs are all about such different things; they’re all about these big universal things, and there was just no phrase that really tied it all together. The one thing that did tie it together was this sound that we were trying to create. My producer Matt Neighbour and I are fixated on these old instruments, mostly instruments that were made in the ‘70s, and the whole idea was about using these older instruments to try to create something new – which isn’t the most profound approach to a record, a lot of people do that, but it felt like we were trying to apply that to every song. And when I was trying to describe that to him initially, it was this kind of synesthesia thing – not that I claim to be able to do that, at all – but Matt was like ‘What do you mean?! Can you be more articulate about this sound?’ and I’d be like ‘Electric brown! You know!’ He wasn’t quite getting it. He’s got this filthy old Corolla from the ‘80s which he’d park at his studio, and it’s got these stripes on it, and it’s just the definition of electric brown. So I said ‘Make the record sound the way this car looks.’ And it’s on the record cover now. So it’s really just a reference to the overall sonic palette of the record.

Electric Brown is out March 2 via Sony.

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