Last year, five amigos from Melbourne made waves with a six-track EP; now Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have hit the ground running with debut album Hope Downs. We spoke to guitarist and co-songwriter Joe White about how this unassuming indie-rock band have seized Australia’s attention.
How do you know you’ve got to the Goldilocks point of writing a song – the not-too-hot, not-too-cold, creamy ideal? Melbourne-based indie rock five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have a helpful canary, and his name’s Mr Tussie. “We were up in Central Coast New South Wales, and Marcel’s [Marcel Tussie, drummer] dad is from up there,” says Joe White. “We were playing the first song, An Air Conditioned Man, and [Marcel’s dad] was dancing around having a great time. We tried a bunch of different things – in terms of tempo and rhythm and groove and all this – but he stopped dancing. Then we went back to the first way, and he started dancing again. We were like, ‘Alright. That’s definitely it.’ He should’ve got some production rights.”
Song speed was the main element which guitarist and cosongwriter White says the band particularly focussed on during the making of Hope Downs – technically RBCF’s debut album, although their excellent The French Press EP made more than a tremor last year. “On French Press we spent a lot of time working on tempos, and I think we learnt a lot from that,” he says. “Making sure the rhythm or the pulse is right often comes down to getting the right tempo – we can find a big difference between one BPM.”
The EP attracted fans with its woolly mix of hypnotic, thumping guitar work and exuberant spirit, which earned them comparisons to classic Aussie artists like The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly. White says that’s likely rooted in instrumental necessity. “We certainly don’t try and go beyond our means, I guess,” he says about production approach. “And there’s a history of guitars playing melodies in Australia – sort of using what you’ve got, which is for guitars to be as melodic as you possibly can. We just love the idea of great melodies – it’s the thing we latch onto.”
Those melodies and astonishing guitar playing – not just from White, but the band’s other two vocalists and guitarists, Fran Keaney and Tom Russo – join tinny tambo and occasional half-spoken vocals in extra-special cuts Time In Common and Bellarine, while Exclusive Grave blooms with oodles of tiny, glinting guitar details. It also features some brilliant lyrics, written by Russo. “They’re some of my favourite lyrics on the record,” White says. “I love the theme – the idea that these great big leaders are doing what they will to the earth and to the people, and then one day they’re all going to end up in the same ground. It’s very bleak, but the song itself, musically, is such a party. It was really fun recording that one.”
The least fun part of the whole deal, it seems, is media commitments. “We find promo shots very hard to do,” White says when we confirm who’s who in the new images. “It’s a matter of finding one where each person doesn’t look like an idiot. There’s nothing anyone likes about it… but people want to see our faces for some reason,” he laughs. Self-deprecation: nothing more Aussie than that.
Hope Downs is out June 15 via Ivy League.
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