Interview: We Lost The Sea
So, to see these people in real life, and we have people crying, and hugging us, and laughing with us, and all the whole spectrum of emotion. Kids at shows, parents bringing their kids, wearing our T-shirts, it was just amazing, amazing experience, we just want to continually tour Europe. It was such a lovely beautiful experience.
Five years ago Sydney heavy outfit We Lost The Sea released their second record – The Quietest Place on Earth. Since then the songs from the album have only been performed, as recorded, a handful of times, shortly before the loss of singer Chris Torpy only months later.
Electing to continue sans lead vocalist, the band went on to create album number three in 2015, the stand-out Departure Songs. After playing some tunes in a handful of support shows they undertook a couple of tours around Australia where they played the record right through. Growing online success led to a European tour earlier this year alongside Sydney quartet Meniscus, including a set at Dunk! festival.
I interrupted Matt Harvey as he was enjoying Friday beer o’clock in a pub to ask him a few questions about where the band is at the moment and what’s coming up. I can’t remember names but I love the stories behind them so of course I ask where his nickname “Turtle” came from.
Matt: Ha ha. That’s an old one. Apparently because I look like a turtle. I had a couple of green T-shirts at one point I think. It’s just from years ago in my first band, the boys came up with the nickname. Some of us had animal nicknames and others had stupid nicknames, and mine just stuck. People in the band scene in Sydney, they sort of know me as Turtle.
When Facebook became a thing, I was friend requesting people, they’re like, who’s this guy? I’d see them in real life and say, “Hey man, you have Facebook right?” They’re like, “Oh, is your name Matt Harvey? Fucking hell, I thought you were just Turtle.” They had no idea who I was.
It’s pretty indicative of what these guys are like. They wear what gets served up with a grin and don’t take themselves (unlike their music) too seriously. I ask Matt about the recent European tour, the crowds, how they got on with each other and get a response that tells a familiar story of Australian bands making their first trek over the ocean.
Matt: Yeah. People ask me this question and expect fall out, fights, and all that kind of stuff. I think we’re a pretty good unit. We read this top 10 do’s and don’ts when you’re on tour, and it was written by one of the guys from Swans, or one of their road crew anyway, he’s been touring for his whole life, and it’s just a no bullshit top 10 list.
One of them was, “Everyone on tour is bipolar, just ride the waves.” That was the best advice that anyone could have given us because when you crack it and you’ve got the shits with everybody or yourself … One of the other things was like, “If you feel like shit and you play like shit, maybe don’t drink as much, and that’s your problem.” And I was like, “It’s so true,” you know? If you feel bad because you’ve been punishing yourself with booze for 10 days in a row, then you’re going to feel like shit, and don’t put that one anyone else. All of us read that list and I think that was actually something that kind of saved us consciously and subconsciously during the whole trip.
But, yeah, there was no massive blowouts. We all had our mood swings and whatever else, and that kind of thing. Bands tour for longer, so it was a good litmus test, and we all worked really well together, it was the right combination of people. We had our good mate, Matt Sourdin come along with us who’s been our mate and in other bands for as long as I can remember, he came as our roadie and merch guy. The whole crew and all elements from everybody sort of just made it work. So, yeah, it was good. Next time we’ll probably try and bring less gear and pack lighter, but yeah, it was good.
E&D: It’s funny you talking about gear and everything, and I know, probably some of you more than others, are very particular about wanting to set up properly and take the time and make sure that everything runs smoothly and perfectly.
E&D: It’s very different from Australia where you get a whole week to prepare for the next gig because there’s no, you know, one town then the next.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely.
E&D: So, instead now you are playing for days in a row, how did you feel about letting go of some of that control and the things that you do as a routine to get perfection?
Matt: Yeah, that’s an actually really good point because I think that we learnt that as we went because we always pride ourselves at being a pretty proficient touring band, but every single time that you do it, you learn a new thing, small or big thing, it doesn’t matter, you learn something new. It was the first time that we’d played more than four shows in a row in our entire collective bands careers. We ended up playing 17 of them.
It feels like such a long time than what it actually is, and it’s just crazy. We learnt how to be, every night, a professional band. So, at the end of the tour, and people who came and saw us at our last show said that that’s the best time that they’ve ever seen us, and we were just a well oiled machine and we’d learnt how to give each other space on stage. We’d learnt how to, even if we feel like shit and, you know, reverting back to that list I mentioned, if we’d drunk too much, or we hadn’t slept enough, or we’d done something stupid the night before, it doesn’t matter because you’re in a new town and you’ve got to do your job. We realized we were working, it’s a job. You got to do your job. Get up on stage and do your job. If you’re going to die, die after. It’s not the audience’s problem, it’s your problem, so get up and do your job, be professional, smash the show, and then whatever happens outside of those hours doesn’t matter, you can work it out afterwards sort of thing.
To Meniscus’s credit, they were the ones that showed us up at first. There’s some shows that they deserved all the credit because they were just consistently solid every night and professional. We would mess around, sometimes one of our pedals would fuck up, or someone would be out of tune, or someone would come in early, or whatever, and we’re rubbish at covering it up.
We’d sort of look at each other, or scowl, or frown, or something like that. So, that was one of the main things that we did learn how to be, is that professional unit and, yeah, I can’t wait to do it again and see if that actually pays off because it took us a good 10 days to get into that routine.
E&D: Does that mean no more six hour sound checks for We Lost the Sea?
Matt: Yeah. I’d hate a six hour sound check, to be honest. It’s like, get the job done. Get on stage, get your shit sorted, get it done, you know? Mikey our front of house guy loves us to play as long as we can in sound check so he can get the best mix, which makes sense, but I think sometimes that’s something we could work on, be a bit more professional in that respect. But yeah, no more six hour sound checks, no.
E&D: Because that Sydney show where you did spend a lot of time sound checking was incredible, but I guess that’s the sort of special occasion type thing, isn’t it, now?
Matt: Absolutely. We had the choir there, so yeah. It’s draining too, after a long day of driving. Sometimes we miss sound check, or we have a line check or whatever, and that’s when it kind of gets a bit stressful, so kind of trying to find the balance.
E&D: You’ve just recently teamed up with Select Music, what does that free you up to do? What space does that give you?
Matt: I think a number of things. As you know, we’ve got a really good relationship with Bird’s Robe and Mike’s been our guy since we became a working band, when Quietest Place was released and we decided to be serious about things. He’s helped us a lot and I think what Select offers us is a bit extra bolted on to that support where they can represent us. Hopefully it opens more doors for us. That’s the idea, I don’t know, we’ve got to still be a good band for that to happen anyway, but you know?
E&D: Yeah, you can’t play shit and get popular.
E&D: I think that was one of the things that struck me about Mike when I first spoke to him years ago is how he just said, “Look, I’m all about helping bands at the beginning,” he said, “There’s nothing I want more than to see them go off to bigger labels and do better.” He’s passionate about seeing bands do well.
Matt: Honestly, I sing Mike’s praises because, in the odd way that he works, he’s very pragmatic and you need someone like that backing bands and creative people because creative people aren’t pragmatic a lot of the time, so having his advice and his input is always invaluable. Select’s booker who looks after us, Casey, also has a really positive outlook on nurturing artists. For a band like us specifically because we’re different to the other bands on the roster, we need people like that backing us, who believe in us and want to play the long game because that’s how it works.
E&D: One other thing I’ve noticed about Bird’s Robe shows and about your shows is that, you’re putting bands that traditionally you wouldn’t put together on a bill, and it actually fucking works, you know?
E&D: So you get completely different sounds and people aren’t getting bored with the sound by the main act.
Matt: Absolutely. It’s something that we intentionally try to do. We try to be eclectic with our choices. When we announce a tour, young bands write to us, “I’d love to play with We Lost The Sea,” and we listen to all of them, and it’s really nice to get them on the bill because I remember what it was like trying to beg for shows. We won’t put them on just because of that, but if the sound is cool and they’ve got a good thing going, it’s like, “Yeah, give these guys a leg up, put them on opening slot.”
The reason why Mogwai and Godspeed don’t have post-rock bands supporting them is, they don’t want people to sit through two hours of post-rock and then them play their music, they either play with no supports or they play with electronic or world music or something like that. It’s kind of that attitude. You curate the night. So, you give someone something of all different things and it’s not well out of people’s genre range, but it kind of is. It’s not like we’re going to put a tech death metal band opening, we might put an electronica band, but it’s kind of got those similar vibes and some of the vibes that we go to sometimes, or we’d like to go to sometimes. It’s cool, it’s inclusive as well. We sometimes get to choose bands with female musicians in them to be inclusive and spread the love around.
E&D: So, there may or may not in the future one day be an accordion and a banjo supporting We Lost the Sea?
Matt: Hey man, if it’s interesting enough, I’ll consider it. Run it though some delay pedals, would be an interesting result.
We get back to the tour and the crowds. We’ve all had those periods in life that we associate particular music with, both in happy and dark times. Having a chance to share that experience and emotion with the artists in person is pretty crucial to a lot of people. The last time I interviewed Matt he talked about how important it was to him to take time to talk to fans, and the European tour has seen him collect many more of these interactions.
Matt: Yeah, it was really a nice surprise, it was kind of unexpected. We knew people loved the record, but until you sort of stand in front of them and play it, and experience their emotion, I mean, because obviously, as you know, it’s a massively emotional record, it means a lot to a lot of people. Three years that it’s been out, it’s kind of, or two and a half, whatever. We’ve had people emailing us regularly with their stories, even people saying that, “You saved my life literally. I was about to jump off a bridge.” We’ve had those kind of messages. A person’s like, “I came home and listened to those songs and I feel better now.”
So, to see these people in real life, and we have people crying, and hugging us, and laughing with us, and all the whole spectrum of emotion. Kids at shows, parents bringing their kids, wearing our T-shirts, it was just amazing, amazing experience, we just want to continually tour Europe. It was such a lovely beautiful experience. I said to the guys, “We’ll tour again and it’ll be fun and special again, but not like this, not like Departure Songs special.” It’s the first time kind of connecting with those people after so many years of them listening, so much time listening to the record and really connecting with it. We connected with them personally and it was really amazing experience.
E&D: I guess it’s always good to know that, even with the fact that we can listen to music from all over the world all the time and communicate electronically, there’s nothing like that physical bond, is there?
Matt: No, absolutely not, no.
E&D: Is there a tension between becoming better known and playing bigger shows, and losing a level of that intimacy with the crowd where a guitarist knows the names of everyone in the front row. Do you fear losing that connection as a band, as a musician?
Matt: We think about that a lot. We had a conversation with Mike Solo about it. His endless pragmatism, it always cuts through the bone and he said, “You did really well with the last record and it really struck an emotional chord with people,” and he said, “Obviously and naturally that will fade, over time, not saying that you might not strike that again but this was a special thing so enjoy your time in the sun because in the end we all die anyway.” Or something along those lines!
That’s totally fine, that’s normal, but the emotional connection with us specifically from Departure Songs because of what it represents for us and to those people who take meaning from it, will always be special for that moment, whether or not that carries on for the rest of our records, it doesn’t matter.
We’re pretentious in our output in terms of, “Let’s get a choir and let’s do this and let’s do all this kind of over the top shit,” but we’re normal people at the end of the day, we’ve all grown up in the suburbs and we all have those roots and we want to do big things and awesome amazing things because we love those kind of things and we want to give everything that we can to this music, but that doesn’t shelter us or segregate us from our audience or people who want to connect with us, we want that to happen because that gives such a richer experience for everybody involved.
Yeah, it’s up to them, it’s up to our audience. We love our fans because they give us so much emotion and the European tour really solidified and justified why I do this, because I’m giving art to somebody and they’re appreciating it. That’s such a privilege, it’s like, “I’m giving you this music that I wrote and you are crying in front of me and we’re having this discussion about your dead friend or someone who’s passed away in your life, you’re grieving or whatever, and we’re helping you and we’re actually doing some good.” So, that’s the most important thing, and we came back and went, “Right, we have a responsibility now to these people.” We’re not just a bunch of dickheads playing ridiculously pretentious post-rock, we actually give a shit about what we do and we give a shit about our fans and they give a shit about us, so that’s it. So let’s fucking get back and write a new record and give everything again. It’s really important, one of the main things.
With the desire to extend their setlist beyond one album, WLTS are returning to a handful of small venues to play some of the songs from the Quietest Place on Earth along with a guest vocalist and some cracker support acts. I noticed that these are being described as a celebration of the album and of Chris, which seems like another phase in dealing with his loss after the themes and style of Departure Songs.
Matt: Yeah, I guess so. It didn’t really occur to us until we realized it was the fifth anniversary of the release. Honestly, we needed to tour again this year, so it was an easy way to package up a tour that wasn’t … because the last couple of times was, we played Departure Songs, and here it is again and this is kind of the last time. For a punter, not like you or Nick (my gig buddy – GP), or someone like that who would go to every one of our shows, and thank you very much, but to us it feels like we’ve played it heaps.
Other people are kind of like, “I only caught you at the Oxford Art show,” or “I only caught you at the Northcote Social show,” or whatever. We’ve played it 100 times and someone’s seen it once, but to us we’ve seen it 100 times, so it’s really hard to kind of gauge that. So we thought, “Let’s do something different, fifth year anniversary,” and yeah, I think we’ve all come to terms with what’s happened, we definitely have. It’s important and healthy to do that anyway, so it was a nice way to package up into something that meant something, you know?
When I was thinking about it, I did an interview today, with one of the guys from The Music and he asked me the question why we’re doing it, and I realized when I was saying to him, that when we released the album, we’d only played it, or toured it, very, very infrequently between then and when Chris died. So we actually hadn’t played it, we hadn’t done a proper tour, and we were a smaller band then, and playing at the Public Bar or something like that was like our first proper Melbourne show with Quietest Place. We didn’t play a big venue after that, that was it. We only got to Melbourne once. So it occurred to me that we haven’t actually played it that much at all.
Probably, I could count on two hands how many times we’ve played those songs live with Chris. So it was like, “Okay, well that’s why we’re doing it. Let’s play it, let’s do it, let’s tour it.” We’re going to drop in a couple of Departure Song‘s songs too because most of our fans now know it’s because of that record and that’s great. I’m sure they’ve looked on Spotify and YouTube and found older stuff and kind of gone, “Oh, there’s screaming, I wasn’t prepared for that.” So, we got to pepper the set with some nicer stuff so it’s not just all screaming, but yeah, it is a tribute, it is a thing, and it’s just a nice way to celebrate it and it will be good to play those songs again with vocals, you know? And we probably won’t play them again for another five years. We’re working on new stuff.
It was just a good opportunity to go, “We’ve played Departure Songs literally a thousand times, let’s dig up the old stuff, play some old stuff, have some fun, end the year, move on to the next record,” and then the next two years will be taken up with that. So, it’ll be a long time before fans get to listen to the old stuff, so it just makes sense, and it’ll be fun. I’m really looking forward to it.
E&D: I thought it was great when I heard about these shows, because I was at that Public Bar gig, and it was an incredible show and I can’t wait to hear those songs again live. Tell us about your guest vocalist – Jarrod. He was in The Amenta for a little while?
Matt: Yeah. He was also in my first band Omerata as a bass player, we’ve known him for years, great set of pipes. We asked him and he jumped on straight away, said, “Yeah I’d love to, I’d be honoured,” so here we are. It’s kind of nice, all friends doing it. So, pretty much don’t know anyone else that’s not our friend that plays music in Sydney because it’s such a small scene, so we’ve only got a few people to select from. So, it’s going to be good.
E&D: I did want to talk to you about your art. (Matt designed the art for Departure Songs and tour posters) What I see as the recurring theme is you’ve got above the ground and you’ve got below the ground, and there’s this thin crust in the middle and that’s where all this human activity happens. And we’re so tiny in the scheme of things, and we huddle together for warmth like penguins, but we also have this urge to get out there and explore those vast spaces. We’ve got this constant struggle between the safety in numbers and wanting to get out and shine. And it reflects what I think is often felt from your music.
Matt: Yeah, that’s a lovely interpretation, yeah. Take what you want from it really. I think, I like putting a small human element in the art simply because it gives perspective to the rest of everything. We’ve had this conversation before about my love of the earth and landscapes and all that kind of stuff and I’m definitely inspired by that kind of thing, but when you put a human element in there, it really makes it relatable, and it makes everything else outside of … in that environment relatable to you because you can put yourself in that little silhouette place in that environment and imagine it on a full scale.
E&D: The next album, is that likely to be theme based like Departure Songs?
Matt: Without giving too much away, I’m going to hold my cards close to my chest with this one, but yes. Even before I joined the band, We Lost The Sea’s always had thematic undertones. I really think Departure Songs was the perfect meeting point of those two things and it really gave those songs gravity and I’ve spoken about it at length before about all that simile between those two things, the music and the art and the themes and everything else.
And it’s really exciting to do that, especially as an artist, or a graphic designer, We Lost the Sea’s a perfect project for me because it’s all encompassing. It really gives extra substance and subject matter to what musically what we’re trying to do. We’ve already had people on Facebook ask cheekily, “What’s the theme of the new record? Does it have a new theme?” And I say, “Yes,” and they say, “What is it?” And I said, “No.” But, yes, there is going to be a theme and that’s all I’ll say for now.
E&D: Cool. Are you going to have a singer?
Matt: No, not as a main thing. We haven’t even really discussed it. Our attitude with that is, if something comes along or if we come up with a song idea that warrants and would carry vocals, we’d be up for it, but I think as a permanent thing, no. Eventually, I don’t know. I can’t really tell right now, but we’re not going into this with vocals in mind, no.It’s if one springs up, and it does, and the song’s great and it’s another ‘Forgotten People’, then great, but as a main thing, no.
E&D: Alright. Thanks for the chat mate, and I’ll see you at the Melbourne show.
Matt: Thanks a lot mate. Cheers Gilbert.
We Lost The Sea are playing just four dates in December. Check their website or Facebook for details.