The Nation Blue: Protest Songs for the masses
“The Nation Blue: How to break bones and influence people”. This is a powering statement that is bold in articulation and stringent in delivery. Yet, think about it. Think about one Aussie band that can nail you down before a torrent of wailing riffs, guttural fervour and blindsiding whips to the kit annihilate your psyche with as much impact as a sledgehammer. It’s a combination to get the blood pumping!
The Nation Blue have re-emerged at Australia’s underground forefront with their third full-length in the form of Protest Songs. And it seems that Protest Songs has surfaced at a crucial moment in Australia’s music paradigm. Rather than becoming renegades of the current scene, The Nation Blue have risen to champion all that the underground so desperately needs. With one quick swipe of the play button, Protest Songs affirms renewed energy and complexity that is lacking in the general counter climate. Baring no restrictions or contradictions – Protest Songs has arrived.
“Finally!” bassist Matt Weston confirms as I emphasise the point that Protest Songs is being released within days of our conversation – three years since the release of second album Damnation. “I guess it’s just the rate we work at. We recorded the last one within this period from writing to the recording process and finally getting it out then touring your arse off it. I guess that in itself becomes a tedious process so as soon as that was up we were more than happy to kick back. Then, before we knew it, I think we rehearsed a couple of songs we had and we thought maybe we should book some time. I guess that’s it – time catches up with ya.”
As Damnation delivered itself as the pinnacle of The Nation Blue’s career, it was also an album that shot down any inclination to bend towards a boom in emotively driven punk. Exploding with aggression and uncompromised force, Damnation retaliated against formulaic trends. Protest Songs is therefore the anticipated follow-on in The Nation Blue’s tenacious course. “Damnation was definitely our reaction to the processes of the first record [A Blueprint for Modern Noise] and what happened after that… We laboured over it for so long and there was a lot of stress attached to it – you know, we were almost going to kill each other,” Matt laments. “Between doing that and touring really hard, it came to a point we’re we were like, we’ve been doing this for so long, nothing was really changing and we weren’t really getting paid for it yet. It came to a point where we wanted to enjoy everything we do. That whole experience has got to be fun. So when it came to recording we wanted to do something completely different and go somewhere in regional Victorian that wasn’t too far away and was different to what we were used to and locking ourselves away for a couple of weeks; not having the pressure of a studio, to remove that enormous pressure of being in a recording studio where you can’t nail it. I guess that’s where that came from.”
The opportunity to record at Michael Gudinski’s mountain retreat arose for The Nation Blue as well as to record with Matt Voigt (Cat Power; The Living End). The chance to reassess their formula and delve into an alternative frame of mind proved to be beneficial for The Nation Blue. “We were taking this different approach by taking a bunch of equipment into a house and also choosing Matt Voigt who we’d never worked with before, but we knew what he’d done for the Dirty Three. We wanted that similar approach of setting up some mikes and having that kind of ambience of the location to be just as much being a part of the instruments which was perfect – we had a couple of meetings, we got along well and we got a best mate out of the experience which was great. It was the first time we’d gone with someone who we let bring their experiences into the recording. I think we can hear [Voigt’s] influence all over the record as well.” The creative process invested in Protest Songs also opened unplanned doors for The Nation Blue. Brett O’Riley of Blacklevel Embassy as well as Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey appear in some of the tracks, notably ‘Copper’. “Part of the whole process was not to over-plan anything. We wanted to keep it open to what happened because we had time. It just so happened half way through the second week we had a song where it would be cool to have an organ or something like that. I rang Paul and asked if we could borrow his organ and he’s like ‘who’s gonna play it?’ and we said ‘we’re just gonna try and work it out.’ Then Paul said ‘I’d be more than happy to come up and play it if you want’ and it worked out well. It was a 24 hour turnaround.”
As Protest Songs reverberates the country’s foundations, The Nation Blue have now shared the stage with Helmet on their current Australian tour as well as embarking on their own run of dates. Not only have the shows with Helmet allowed The Nation Blue to re-emphasise their live strengths, they’re a chance for the band to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. “It’s one more cooler thing to happen when you’re playing the music you love and travelling around the country meeting new people and having cool experiences playing with bands that you’ve grown up on – bands who are your heroes. We’re all in our late 20s now but we feel like we’re 16 and doing bad covers of ‘In The Meantime’,” Matt chuckles. “I mean getting to play with Foo Fighters a year ago and now playing with Helmet – we can’t complain!”
Protest Songs is out now through Casadeldisco / Shock. You can check out www.myspace.com/thenationblue to view the band’s Making Of Protest Songs documentary.