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By: Gilbert Potts
If you set yourself up to follow, for example, to be signed by Song BMG, then you’re doomed to fail. That should never be your goal. You should want to make music because it’s fun, it makes you feel awesome, you hang out with your mates, I don’t really care if I play in front of two or two hundred people. There’s a lot of bands out there, where first thing after a show they chase the payment, I’m like, “Dude, talk to some fans first.” Like, you’re gonna get paid, don’t worry, it’s not all about that. Don’t worry about how many shirts you sell, talk to the guy that’s buying your shirts. Find out what he’s listening to and what he thinks.”
I’m talking to Andrew Pearsal of Solkyri shortly before they go on stage at The Tote in Melbourne in support of Vampillia. Andrew is thoughtful and articulate about his music. Having fun performing is the reward but getting to that point requires a foundation, and what becomes evident is a fascinating balance between the serious and the relaxed.
I ask about whether being a musician changes how he feels about music, as a player:
Nah I totally disagree. I do it because I love it. I think, it might sound cliché, but it’s a total truth. Like, just anything from a rehearsal mid-week to a show on the weekend, I look forward to it. Like, it’s like, Monday morning go to rehearsal and that’s what gets me through Monday, that’s what gets me through Tuesday and that gets me through to Saturday. I love it like, I think for me playing live is the best thing.
But when it comes to listening he’s changed his outlook. Where he used to feel everything had to have a rating and you had to comparing one piece against another, you sense he’s not a huge fan of how we (reviewers) approach the exploration and assessment of music; “for me it’s just like, I wanna talk to people about a band without giving it a score. It shouldn’t be that, it should be about appreciating it for what it is”.
Many musicians talk about missing out on simple enjoyment of watching a band play or listening to an album because they see all the mistakes and faults and ponder too much on the technical and theoretical aspects of a performance, so I ask Andrew about it. Given the depth and technicality of his music, the answer surprises me:
Well, I’m not taught the theory. I got my first bass for my eighteenth birthday, and it’s just been from there. For me to watch sleepmakeswaves play live, I think Alex is an amazing (bass) player. I watch him and I’m like ‘wow, I just wanna go home and play’, like you get so inspired from it. Same with some other bands. It just makes me want to go away and better myself. I don’t feel like, ‘oh they were doing that wrong and this wrong’; I kind of see the positives of what they’re doing, and try and influence my own playing.
If he’s not listening for mistakes, surely the crowd isn’t. So why do performers get so stressed out when things aren’t running perfectly to plan? Andrew prepares for a set by getting into a mindset a couple of hours out, then really focusing with an hour to go, playing the first song over and over again “just to get my fingers going, and then it’s more kind of getting in that headspace, cause people are here to see a performance, and you want to show them that you’re pretty good at what you do”. Do punters really take much notice of the small stuff though?
They might tell you how it is. (laughs) Sometimes you need it though! Like if it was my Dad in the crowd, he’d probably say ‘Oi, what are you doing?’ and he’s not musical at all, but he might be saying ‘what were you doing, you cost yourself two minutes in’, I’m like, yeah I know, I’m not fuckin’ happy about it but that’s what happened.
So Dads take notice, which is a good thing. The X-factor auditions demonstrate that the world needs a few more Mr Pearsalls. But we’ve all seen that look of panic when a guitar goes silent in the middle of a song or when a band is setting up for their set. The best quality new sound gear costs money that the average pub band just doesn’t have, and as Andrew explains, if you step on a lead and it pops out you think the worst – has the amp blown up, is the sound guy not getting it. No amount of getting in the right groove when playing will save you when it all goes quiet:
I’ve seen bands do it and everyone’s like ‘you didn’t really recover’, like you can’t. I’ve played a set, something happens second song, and you try your best to get through it but you’re affected. You’ve got to kind of tell yourself it doesn’t matter, everything’s going to be okay, everything’s going to be fine, but deep down you’re like, ‘fuck, that two minutes has cost me’. It’s like dropping the baton in a relay – fuck I’ve dropped the baton for the team, I feel at fault, I feel guilty, I can pull out of this but I stull feel bad about it. And unfortunately, like maybe one in every ten, twenty, thirty shows, that might happen, and it’s about recovery, it’s about how you get through that hard time, and put it behind you. Especially playing a tough crowd, you’re like ‘shit, I fucked up, they’ve got a reason to be disappointed.’
One of the things about bands playing instrumental rock live is that because of its nature, it seems like there’s more happening between songs- they have to change pedal settings and tuning and sometimes instruments. I admit that I used to think something had gone wrong every time a song ended and the guitarists got down and started playing with things on the ground or tuning their guitar. You notice it so much more when there is silence. Like that feeling when a train stops between stations and there’s no announcement. The more experienced bands often keep some sound going from start to finish so you don’t really notice it, but it’s clearly not easy. I ask Andrew how much time they spend trying to work on getting that seamless interchange between the songs in live sets?
Honestly it’s interesting you bring that up because recently that’s been a bit of a point for us. Once you record a song, you’ve got it there. You can always learn it. But when you’re rehearsing the set, the set is, it’s not ‘how did that track go’, it’s ‘how did the whole thing go?’. And at a critical point if we play a song and that’s too long of a gap it’s ‘c’mon we’ve got to have noise there, it’s too quiet, we should take there because someone’s gotta set up the keyboards’, so it is a huge thing. I know to some of the crowd, it might be like a one percent thing, but it’s something that we’re like totally on top of. But, sometimes we loop a guitar part that leads into the next song, sometimes it’s, we finish a song and it’s like bang, into the next one. Not all times it can happen, like you might be tuning.
But a big thing though is that we don’t have a singer. And I’m not saying singers have got nothing to do, but between a song they might have a drink, that’s about it, and then it’s them entertaining the crowd. And that’s what they do, they’re entertainers. But for us, it’s like, we hate talking. I found actually, that when we play a few shows in a row, I don’t start talking properly until the last few shows of the tour. Because I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m playing, and when you rehearse it’s great. But when you play live you go hard, and I remember we played the Maybeshewill tour, we were playing Sydney, and people were like ‘you guys are buggered’ and I’m ‘yeah, I’m fucked!; we’re going a hundred miles an hour, and I’m talking and it’s like ‘hey…. Thanks… for coming out…’ (laughs) And then we played in Melbourne, I was so relaxed, and casual, and it’s was great, I was cracking jokes, and that’s what I like to do, but I don’t think it’s, more about the show, it’s about how it fits into the show. But it’s interesting you notice that because it’s something that we notice, and it’s great to see that someone notices that. We’ve got tracks that work well together, sometimes it might be, they form the album, or sometimes it might be ‘hang on, these just work well together’
Oh and I’ve gotta change the guitar, we can’t do that song straight away. I think we’ve got a set here where I have to change the guitar in ten seconds, mid song. It’s something that we go over with a fine comb, we want to be on top of that. Because in a way as like you know, sleepmakeswaves and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, they’re all mates, but they’re also the competition in a way, they’re all playing these cool shows, these sick shows, but we’ve gotta be at that level as well, and that’s something they do well.
The new album Sad Boys Club was released a few weeks ago and I wonder how Andrew deals with that point where no more changes can be made and it just has to get out there. While some artist always think more should have been done before release, he explains that the front-loading of the process is where the foundations are laid and you just put in the yards and get that right.
We’re very tough on ourselves, very tough on what we’ve done before so we don’t wanna repeat ourselves, obviously, and what’s happening around us, we don’t wanna do a song that Maybeshewill have band done, it’s like ‘oh it’s the same key, it has the same chord progression’ and that’s something we try to steer clear of. I think this record kind of has a Shoegaze influence, and that’s probably heavily due to Adam, so that’s got Adam and myself. Typically it’s still Solkyri but you know, it’s different.
What about the balance between progression and bringing fans along?
I think it’s equal if that makes sense. We want to progress, and I think the fans want to progress. If they want to listen to something that sounds like an old album, they can listen to that album, that’s fine. We’re always gonna make that progression, and we’re that tough on ourselves where we kind of don’t think of what the listener wants, because every listener wants something different. And we like to think that hey, we’re doing this weird thing already, if they’re liking what we’re doing, they should like what we do next, as long as we keep on changing, and I think that’s a critical thing.
It’s one of the things I like about art, and in particular music, because music is one of those things where everyone who hears it, hears it differently, and gets something else out of it, and every time you hear it, you hear it differently.
It’s funny you mention it, we were driving on the way down here, and I can’t remember what the album was called, but Nick was like, “I’ve never heard that bit” and I was like “dude, I heard that bit on the second listen!” he’s like “yeah, sometimes you’ve gotta listen in a different perspective, I’m a drummer, I listen to the rhythm, I wasn’t really listening so I heard it.”
And friends and fans come up to us saying ‘wow that song is so depressing’ and we’re like, ‘dude, we wrote that at 3am, we were stoned off our minds, we were so drunk and it just turned out like that!’ (laughs). It’s amazing where one’s imagination can think where it is.
People can have a problem distinguishing between truth and fiction sometimes in song lyrics, but the meaning or massage is often clear. But when there’s no words in a song, people can make up their minds about it, there can be a mood about the song but beyond that there’s very little guidance about what you’re supposed to think. For Andrew his taste has changed lately, from depressive music to cheesy music. It’s what keeps things fresh:
I just think cheesy kind of brings out balance. I need to listen to a bit of hip hop, a bit of Biggie, just to put me on par with everyone else. Otherwise you get trapped in what you are. I don’t want to kind of shit where I eat (laughs). I don’t want to be someone who writes this sort of music, but only listens to this sort of music, because then you’re not bringing that influence in. Like where you might have a big hip-hop beat, but it’s totally post-rock, or experimental. But that throwback gives us the kicks. I think for a track on our EP, Nick was listening to Fleet Foxes, a cool folk-rock band we love, the track Hunter, kind of the B section of it is really heavy, and it was like whoa, that’s like a folk movement we listen to, we love, but we translate it to something that we wanted to do, and it sounds nothing like folk but it gives us that edge.
People expect everything to be a carbon copy of what (influences it), which is kind of sad in a way, because you don’t want that, you want a band’s own take on it. And if their own take is that weird and far from the spectrum as it is, that’s brilliant, I think they’ve achieved what they want.
Solkyri now has a second guitarist, Ryan, who started rehearsing with them over a year ago and recorded the new album with the band, joining them live in September. It’s added so much depth to the live performance and he rocks out pretty hard on stage. He looks happy to be there.
I feel sorry for Ryan in a way, he’s had a lot of solo projects that he’s got bands in, he’s got session musicians in, and they’ve all kind of just fucked him over in a way and it’s like he’s always been left with the pieces. We’ve known him for ages and it just got to the point where it was like why don’t we just get him to join? Having him on’s been a different aspect, he’s tripped a lot of the writing too, so it’s been very much a collaborative effort.
The whole performance and the music from the new album seems more extroverted and out there than Are You My Brother?
Yeah, I totally agree. We wanted to make it more direct. Kind of gone are the, well they’re still there, but there’s not many, ten, twelve minute songs, because we were thinking, we’ve built this around live sets, and live sets are about banging through your songs and showcasing as much as you’ve got, as quick as you can. There’s still a lot going on in the five, six-minute tracks, there’s more going on in a shorter timeframe. We were listening to the old EP the other day, and we’re like cool track, we love it, but we really only showed a few ideas in eight minutes, it’s part of the progression really.
And the European tour with a spot at dunk!festival? How did that come about?
That’s probably a question for Mike Solo (Bird’s Robe Records). It’s quite funny, I called him up, I was driving to rehearsal, and I said, ‘hey man, we just finished this album, I’m gonna go to Europe next year, what does this mean for releasing this record, I don’t wanna release a record and then you find out we’re in Europe for two months’. And he just goes ‘you can play Dunk?’ and I go, ‘do they want us?’, and he’s like ‘we’ll soon find out!’. And um, he said, ‘Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, I can bill you as a double package, so if they take one they take the other.’ And that’s how it happened. So something that was just thrown out there, cause I’m going on a holiday, has turned into, ‘fuck, it’s now work!’ (laughs) It’s incredible! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. We’re so fucking pumped, we can’t wait. And for Ryan, like we were telling him the other week, ‘dude, your first show with a band was in Brisbane, it took us like four years to get to Brisbane, your fifth show’s gonna be in Germany, like, that’s fucked!’ (laughs).
It’s something I’ve had my eye on for a bit, I actually wanted to attend, not play, it’s something I want to see, from what I’ve heard it sounds like a fantastic festival. It’s got this professional standard, but it’s on these DIY kind of values, it’s amazing. It seems like a family effort. Like, the brother and the father do something, and the mother does tour sales, and the other brother drives them. So if it’s like what I’ve read, it seems like a pretty amazing place to be. It’s a shame we haven’t got something similar here, but maybe one day.
People love to talk about the industry, and how it’s dying, and everyone’s an expert and this and that. But what no-one talks about is the fact that people were making music before it was written down. People won’t stop making music.
Yeah, no way. I can’t see music dying. If something comes down, something will take its place. Like in Sydney, we’ve got a really big problem at the moment with venue closure, but what comes up in their places are all these DIY venues, warehouse shows, and they’re a big thing. It wasn’t like you go to a warehouse show and think, ‘ah, they play their amps really loud, nothing will mix’, but it’s like, this is a professional gig. There’s a sound a sound guy, there’s PA, there’s everything. It’s everything, without it being called a venue. So something will always take its place. Just like when Mogwai decide, ‘hey we’ve had enough’, someone will take their place. Just like if Sony said, ‘fuck it, we don’t want to do a record label anymore’, someone will take their place, and someone will do it differently. I think the underground scene gives you those values for the top bands, like you look at Keith Richards. He was totally doing that fifty years ago! He wasn’t born on a stadium arena, and only played that. So everyone’s been exposed to that level at some stage of their life.
with Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving
May 14 @ White Rabbit, Freiburg GERMANY
May 15 @ Dunk!festival, Zottegem BELGIUM w/ Caspian + The Ocean
May 16 @ Potemkin Bar, Bielefeld GERMANY
May 19 @ Huhnermanhattan, Halle GERMANY
May 20 @ Plan B, Ostrava CZECH REPUBLIC
May 21 @ Durer Kert, Budapest HUNGARY w/ And So I watch You From Afar + Mylets
May 22 @ venue tbc, Cluj-Napoca ROMANIA
May 23 @ Question Mark, Bucharest ROMANIA
May 25 @ venue tbc, Timisoara ROMANIA
May 26 @ Pécsi Est Cafe in Pécs, HUNGARY
May 27 @ Shelter, Vienna AUSTRIA
May 28 @ venue tbc, Brno CZECH REPUBLIC
May 29 @ Jukuz Baraka, Micheldorf AUSTRIA
May 30 @ Klub Liverpool, Wroclaw POLAND