Something For Kate: “We’re trashing the old SFK and starting afresh”

In the midst of a Texas heatwave, SAMANTHA CLODE finds Something For Kate rethinking their sound from the ground up.

The decades old thermometer screwed to the doorway is no use. The air outside the non-descript brick building – a former funeral home and realtor – must be hitting 40°C, easy. It’s late June, and Dallas is sweltering. Inside Elmwood Recording, the self-built studio of producer John Congleton, Something For Kate are cool and calm, basking in the AC. In between vocal takes for track ‘Eureka’ they’re practising their best Texan drawls (“You ladies want a Coors light?” Paul Dempsey smirks), and arguing over Journey. Last night, you see, Dempsey and drummer Clint Hyndman sat up late outside at an uptown bar – wisely, bassist Stephanie Ashworth stayed in – and now ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is stuck in their heads.

Fellow soft rock connoisseur Congleton, who’s pressed record for recent releases by Bill Callahan, St Vincent and Explosions In the Sky, is busy triggering cat meows from his desk (once found sitting in the studios of Saturday Night Live), in between regaling the Melbourne trio about whether Robbie Robertson is an asshole based on The Last Waltz. We’re in the midst of a break: Dempsey’s trying to work out a final set of lyrics, unfortunately having no luck fitting in a few choice phrases. ”’Edamame’ and ‘puppet wardrobe’,” he grins. “I’ve been working on those for years.”

Six years on from 2006’s number one effort, Desert Lights, Something For Kate have travelled to the heart of Texas to record their long-awaited sixth studio album, Leave Your Soul To Science. Every morning on the way to the studio they drive past the derelict former home of Lee Harvey Oswald, while rare days off have been spent getting tattoos in Deep Ellum and shopping for antiques (that’s Hyndman anyway, who co-owns two Melbourne bars). They’ve visited a nearby rodeo in Mesquite, stared out the windows of the Book Depository building, and relived JFK’s fatal shots each time they’ve driven over the commemorate “x marks the spot” markings on the road.

Now, months later, Leave Your Soul To Science is here. From sparse, gentle lullabies (‘Begin’) to sharp, trance-y epics (‘The Kids Will Get The Money’) and sprawling, dirty rock drop outs (‘Private Rain’), Leave Your Soul To Science is the band’s most sonically adventurous and loose album to date. It also contains many of Dempsey’s best lyrical moments, covering themes of greed, domestic terror, romance; the singer “ready to try anything”. Having joined the band for a week in Dallas, FL sat down to discuss the album, and their expectations.

Originally, you were talking about recording this album at home in Melbourne.

Paul Dempsey: Yeah, that’s right. The original idea was to track it ourselves, and maybe go mix it with someone. After we’d written about half the songs we started talking about how to logistically go about recording, and we realised that if we did it ourselves it could take a really long time [laughs]. We wouldn’t have to stick to anybody’s schedules but our own, and that could get very loose. So we eventually changed our minds. Then it was a question of who. [John] Congleton was someone who’d been on my radar for a while – we actually spoke about doing my solo record, but the timing didn’t work. He’s someone who I’ve always admired, in terms of the records he’s done.

What was it about those records that made you take notice?

Dempsey: That it is completely obvious that he’s very, very versatile. If you listen to the kind of sounds he gets with Explosions In The Sky, and then you listen to the sounds he gets with St Vincent, or The Walkmen, Okkervil River … I mean, that last Okkervil River record he did I Am Very Far, I absolutely loved. And it changed so much from song to song too. I really liked that it seemed like he was someone who wasn’t going to use the same bass sound, the same drum sound, for each song… and that’s how it’s been here. Every single song is being treated as its own separate entity.

Six records in, what do you look for in a producer?

Stephanie Ashworth: This album is a co-produce, so there’s give and take. John and Paul hit it off – they’re practically the same person. We wanted to work with someone who’s making contemporary records we liked – not who had made records in the past that were good. Someone who had a similar music taste, and who was young, making important, gutsy records right now.

Clint Hyndman: John really enjoys what he does, and he’s a workaholic, in here at the studio before us every day. He didn’t know a lot about us before, either. The studio is fantastic – when we first rocked up I thought it was bizarre. Dallas is pretty beige actually, but ‘round here is basically … little Mexico!

Do you think that being away from your hometown makes a difference to the music – or should a recording location not come into play?

Dempsey: Being in a strange place you’ve never been to before, you have a tendency to not be your usual self. You feel a little bit freer; you can be anybody. And I think that does gets into the music – ‘cause there’s no one standing around reminding you of what you’ve done. I’m really enjoying the fact that the studio is in a dodgy suburb and it’s small: There’s no front desk, no assistants. Just us and John in a small room, in a weird sketchy suburb.

“We’d bore the shit out of ourselves if we did the same sort of stuff over and over.”

I’m surprised how clean-cut Dallas seems. Is Texas going to seep in, lyrically?

Dempsey: You know, I doubt it. I expected it to be much more “Texan” too. It kinda reminds me of Melbourne in some weird ways, in the way the different areas are arranged around the city, how it’s spread out. The Sixth Floor Museum was amazing, I really loved that. They’re building a huge natural science museum, but it opens just after we leave. I’m annoyed about that.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the studio is how light-hearted everything feels, which I’m guessing it hasn’t always been on other albums.

Dempsey: Oh yeah. Not needing the band as our income has made a huge difference as to how we approach it. It’s like, “Fuck, let’s just do this because we want to” – we have no idea how it [the record] is going to be received, because it has been so long since the last album. We know we have a very loyal fan base which we’re grateful for, and we know they’re going to be looking forward to hearing it. But in terms of having anything to prove…

Ashworth: It’s definitely not like it was when we were signed with Sony. That was quite stressful. There’s still stress now, but it’s a bit more relaxed. We just do what we do. Coming back to the band as three people who’ve been through a lot together and are all in different places in our lives, we still know how to enjoy being together. We still believe we’ve got something to give.

Paul: And also, it’s also just about getting older. I wouldn’t want to be 25 for anything. My 20s were just a struggle. I felt like I had things to prove. I worried about everything so much more, and I just don’t anymore. I turned 36 two weeks ago: A lot of people think rock’n’roll is a young man’s game, and maybe to some degree it is. But really, I don’t give a shit.

Hyndman: Me being a fan of the band, and being in the band, all I know is that there’s a lot there to get excited about. Paul’s lyrics first and foremost on this album are so good. As I said to Paul just last night: The thing I’ve noticed about this record is that the lyrics to every song are really, really interesting.

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