A constant terror with phone interviews is that your spesh recording app will fail to work – a nightmare which appeared to be coming to pass as this scribe spoke to Mitch Galbraith, guitarist for 2018’s Hottest 100 victors and all-seasons purveyors of towering psychedelic rock, Ocean Alley.
“You almost need to run an extra little tape, like an old school analogue tape player, as a buffer,” the genial dude suggests. “A bit like Kel and his sausage memos?” I ask. “I’m not f-cking kdding: I was watching Kath and Kim last night – my girlfriend and I just started watching it again from the beginning,” he says with a hearty laugh.
This is precisely the kind of down-to-earth exchange you’re going to get with Galbraith, whether you’re gabbing about the joys of fishing, what makes a song’s bones solid, or how the Sydney six-piece decided to make their second album – this month’s Lonely Diamond – something of a musical odyssey. “Well, [concept albums are] the ultimate form of expression, you know, that artists try to aspire to; you know that they’ve gone in deep It can be very meaningful and thoughtful, a record that’s cohesive and requires that full play-through to get the full message,” he says. “That captivates the listener. It’s so much more engaging.”
The leaning into a long-player vision happened not because of a change in the way the guys write, but because of greater space and time (as compared to the circumstances of their previous creation – 2018’s hugely popular Chiaroscuro). “We’re proud that it went that way, because that means that we’re learning and growing,” Galbraith explains. “Most important to us was writing cool, fun music, [but the long-form concept] was always in the back of our minds. I remember there were some ah-ha moments, those epiphanies when you’re like ‘Oh, that’s how that’s got to go.’ When you hear it and when you feel it, you’ve got [to] go with it.”
Songwriting is an “organic and free-flowing” affair for the band which always begins with jams, and Galbraith describes their processes as “very democratic” – necessarily, he attests, because there’s six of them. “It’s quite a complex dynamic when I come to think of it, but while it’s all happening, it doesn’t feel that complicated – it’s just what we know. But there’s no rules or guidelines as to what the end product should eventually be,” he says.
Lonely Diamond presents as a braid of gleaming guitar lines which climb to gorgeous heights, with vocalist Baden Donegal’s unflaggingly robust, sensual timbre shining bright onto a rhythm section that’s tighter than Kim’s pedal-pushers. Single Tombstone contains a particular sound listeners will know well – and which you may be surprised to learn is not a guitar. “What squidgy sound? The keyboard? That’s the keyboard, and that’s actually a similar sound to what was in Confidence,” Galbraith offers, summoning the song which earned the band their Triple J crown.
The clip for this track is a hot mash of tour footage – sunny hotel balconies, landscapes rushing past the bus window, loading in, frothing audiences, meandering around backstage at festivals, surfing, sunnies, and plenty of tins. If you find it makes you miss live music, Galbraith’s in your camp: “We miss every part of touring, I suppose,” he says.
“We miss meeting new people – that’s the best part about touring, I think – and playing lots of different venues. I mean, we’ve gone from pretty much being in a different city every single day last year, to just being in the same place for, y’know, longer than we have been in a whole bunch of years.” There’s also the impending, compounding issue of the fact the guys haven’t been able to leap into practising the songs on Lonely Diamond the way they usually would have – but that may turn into something more exciting for fans. “That’s going to be a whole new challenge when we go back to touring,” Galbraith says. “It might be a cool opportunity – some of the songs might change a bit, when we come back to them with fresh eyes.”
Lonely Diamond by Ocean Alley is out Friday June 19 via Unified.
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