Music

Exclusive: Behind the scenes of Violent Soho’s new album

Ahead of the release of their new album MATT SHEA hangs out with VIOLENT SOHO in The Shed to see what the boys from 4122 could possible do next. Lead image KATIE FAIRSERVICE. Studio shots by LUKE HENERY.  

Calling it The Shed was generous.

Darek Mudge’s studio space in the semi-industrial Brisbane inner-suburb of Windsor looks more like an abandoned scrap yard. Only the banks of air conditioners suggest that something might be going on here. Even then you’d wager street drugs, not rock music.

In winter it’s different, Luke Boerdam says after greeting me at the door. “If they filmed an episode of True Detective in Brisbane it would be here,” he says. “In winter the fog rolls in off Breakfast Creek and just surrounds the place.”

Inside, The Shed makes more sense. It’s chock full of guitars and road cases and the other detritus of a touring band come home to roost. A long table is scattered with water bottles and ashtrays and plastic bags. Over in the corner, a fish tank bubbles away, butting up against an upright piano.

Boerdam is the frontman and songwriter for the now iconic local band Violent Soho, and since late winter this has been their home.

To the left is the control room. Boerdam takes me inside. Guitarist James Tidswell squats on a low couch, strumming an unplugged electric guitar. Drummer Mikey Richards sits in the middle of the room on a chair, bare feet splayed in front of him, forearms resting on his thighs, hands facing upwards. Over the last couple of days, Violent Soho’s central focus has been tracking drums for a batch of new songs. Richards’ hands are covered in blisters; he has the feel of a man who if not exhausted is at least rationing his energy.

Otherwise, I’ve caught the band on a quiet afternoon. Bassist Luke Henery has been waylaid by parental duties. Bryce Moorhead, the band’s longtime producer, is missing too.

“Where shall we do this?” Richards asks, reaching for his shoes.

“We’ll head over to the bowls club. Grab a beer,” Boerdam says.

“Shall I drive?” Tidswell asks. Everyone laughs.

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They laugh because the walk to Windsor Bowls Club barely takes three minutes.

At 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon the place is more or less deserted, barring a few sunburnt old-timers. They don’t yet greet the band by name, but you sense it’s only a matter of a week or two.

Inside, Brownie, the club’s busy, friendly bartender, is playing Bring Me The Horizon records. He greets the band by name. I ask later if he knew who they were when they first walked in back in August. “Of course,” he says. “I was like, ‘What the fuck are you guys doing here?’”

It turns out Violent Soho are doing a new record here. The band’s task since August has been to deliver a follow-up to their enormously popular 2013 album Hungry Ghost, a gold copy of which is conspicuous atop the piano back at The Shed.

Brownie pours a round of XXXX Golds and we sit in the lounge, enjoying the breeze blowing in off the vacant greens. This is the way Violent Soho like to record. “It’s good to be able to go home at night and not be staying at hotels … If you haven’t noticed,” Boerdam laughs, pointing with his beer at the greens outside. “It aligns very nicely.”

Sitting with the band, you quickly get a feel for the different roles they play. The initially shy Boerdam does most of the talking, but also most of the laughing — at Tidswell, whose curiosity and (now beardless) ready smile casts him as the band jester; he’s continually asking if he can strike certain comments from the record.

Richards sits further back, reminding you a little of Lars Ulrich in Some Kind of Monster. Not because he shares a profession and a faint resemblance to the Metallica stickman, but because of his happy habit of philosophising on the greater arc of the band. Henery, when he arrives a little later, is much the same, although more conspiratorial and intense.

“You can tell immediately they go way back — that they’re friends first, a band second”

The foursome happily finish each other’s thoughts, or apologise for interrupting each other. You can tell immediately they go way back — that they’re friends first, a band second. “It helps you stay honest with how you operate,” Tidswell says. “And because we’ve done it with jobs the whole time we’ve always tried to make sure that there isn’t pressure. Because it’s music. The idea is to enjoy it and have fun.”

Tidswell mentions last year’s triple j One Night Stand in Mildura, which he had to pull out of at the last moment due to a family emergency, his place filled by Magic Dirt’s Raúl Sánchez. “Nobody flinched when I just said I couldn’t do it,” he says. “We never try to put pressure on one another.”

But a lot has changed for Violent Soho in the past couple of years. The day jobs are gone, for the most part. Boerdam is now married, and Tidswell, Richards and Henery all have kids. “Everyone’s been through a lot of different stuff,” Richards says. “I don’t think anyone’s the same person they were going into Hungry Ghost.”

For a band that’s bound together so tightly in their personal lives, you’d think that would inform the material that they write. But not really. “We’ve always had girlfriends. Whether married or kids we’ve always had this family-first mentality with everything anyway,” Boerdam says. “It hasn’t crept into it; lyrically, it hasn’t crept in at all.”

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Instead, friends and family are simply another source of comfort for Violent Soho. They’ve always been a comfortable band. Comfortably settled down. Comfortably from an anonymous suburb in Brisbane (Mansfield? Not even locals know where the fuck Mansfield is). They’re using the same recording studio as Hungry Ghost. Also, the same producer and in a broad sense the same techniques, with Boerdam presenting demos for the band to learn and interpret, rather than building them from scratch. Same. Same. Same.

Does that create any pressure to find a point of difference, particularly when you’re following an album that sold more than 30,000 copies in Australia alone? Again, not really. “Progression in this band is very natural,” Boerdam says. “I just don’t think, ‘Oh, I really have to get new sounds going for this song.’ It’s like it’s a part of what we do … James might discover some new guitar pedals. And Henery’s constantly looking at pawn shops for different pieces of equipment. You make it a part of your life to constantly be searching for new sounds anyway. So it’s not like this conscious decision to shift direction.

“It’s not like this conscious decision to shift direction”

“Will [Wagner] from Smith Street [Band] asked me the same thing,” Boerdam continues. “He was, like, ‘Since you’re big now, does it stress you out? Are you worried?’ And I was just like, ‘No, man, you just write what you write.’ And I follow my own advice. It’s completely true.”

The band credit coming into their success late as being important in keeping their feet on the ground. “110 percent,” Richards says. “The temptation to buy into why you’ve been successful isn’t as strong when you’ve been a band for 10 or12 years. You’re more used to failure, even on the occasions when you’ve put everything into it.”

Not that you should confuse comfort with complacency. Not anymore, anyway. Boerdam talks of his initial surprise at not finding the songwriting process any easier after Hungry Ghost. Originally the plan was to turn around an album’s worth of material in four months and begin recording in March. “That was just so stupid,” he laughs. “I’d tell these guys, ‘Don’t worry. Trust me.’ And then by March I had, like, two songs. I was like, ‘Well, that didn’t happen.’”

It’s a roundabout reason for the early release and tour behind recent single, ‘Like Soda’. “It had been a while,” Tidswell says.

“We wanted to take our time with the record and that was a way to do it,” Boerdam adds. “It was like we could split it up into two sessions: ‘Why not release a song and tour as well? We can play some of the finished new songs while we tour’ … It was pretty weird. I’ve never done that before … The best part was touring and then hearing everyone’s reaction to the new songs.”

Now that the band has an album’s worth of demos, it’s natural to ask about a release date. Boerdam and Tidswell smile across the table at each other, wondering if they should say. “We’d love for it to come out in March,” Tidswell admits eventually, before pausing. “I don’t think we should promise that, though. You just said ‘off the record’ doesn’t work afterwards.”

And does it have a name? “Not yet,” Boerdam laughs.

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Back in the studio, Mikey Richards is hard at work with Bryce Moorhead, laying down drums for a song tentatively titled ‘Waco’. “It’s a loose meaning,” Boerdam says, explaining the story of the infamous Waco Siege in Texas in 1993, which ended in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians. “They held it for [over 50] days [against US law enforcement officials] and then set themselves on fire. Or started a fire and it burnt. I dunno: it seems like a good word for hysteria. That’s what it’s alluding to. I mean, who wants to call a song ‘Hysteria’”?

“Muse,” Tidswell says.

Moorhead spins in his chair while Richards takes a minute to adjust his kit. Despite a couple of broken cymbals the session seems to be going well.

The rest of the band sit at the back of the control room. Henery fiddles with some camera gear (he moonlights as a photographer). Boerdam is teaching Tidswell the progressions to a new song. He tells me a story about the time they used Tidswell’s company car as a tour ride. “Free petrol and a Toyota Camry. I’d never had such a nice car,” Tidswell says. “Fit everyone comfortably. Bong in the cupholder, and off we went.”

I ask Henery if the process is any more painless this time around. “It’s almost been more painful,” he says, perhaps surprisingly. “We’ve got demo-itis. Luke’s got them sounding great in the demo and we’re chasing that sound. You think, ‘I don’t want to lose the character of that bit!’

“It’s scary, because management and the label can get demo-itis too,” Henery continues. “So it might take a bunch of plays before they realise what it is you’re trying to do.”

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Moorhead himself is a long way from the maniacal, school teacher-type producer — a steady, systematic kind of guy. While Richards fiddles with his snare drum he talks quietly with a ready smile. “This is an endurance test,” he says. “I’m not sure if you saw Mikey’s hands. The way he plays is 100 percent intensity all the time. So there’s an element of trying to reserve his energy, because we have quite a few songs to do.”

Unlike the band, Moorhead definitely feels the pressure. “I guess there’s a lot more pressure,” he says. “You just want to make it good. Better than Hungry Ghost, definitely. [But] I’ve recorded these guys more than any other band. They’re an absolute pleasure to work with.”

I go find Boerdam and Tidswell, who have decamped to a second room. It’s pushing on towards 6pm and the band will soon wrap up for the day, before heading home to their families.

And that’s the way they want it. “I don’t think not recording in The Shed ever came into question,” Boerdam says. “The main thing that we really, really get out of The Shed is that we can do it in Brisbane. That’s what I love most about it. It’s good to be able to go home at night.”

Violent Soho’s new album is due out early 2016 through I Oh You. You can see them playing Laneway Festival 2016.

FL presents Laneway Festival 2016

Singapore: Saturday, January 30 – The Meadow, Gardens By The Bay

Auckland: Monday, February 1 – Silo Park

Adelaide: Friday, February 5 – Harts Mill, Port Adelaide (16+)

Brisbane: Saturday, February 6 – Showgrounds, Bowen Hills (16+)

Sydney: Sunday, February 7 – College Of The Arts, Rozelle

Melbourne: Saturday, February 13 – Footscray Community Arts Centre and The Rivers Edge

Fremantle: Sunday, February 14 – Esplanade Reserve And West End