Shepparton Airplane’s Matt Duffy on new LP Sharks: “People are often ‘sharks’… it touches on the darker side of humanity… particularly men are the worst sharks of all”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne’s Shepparton Airplane are about to unleash their best album yet into the world. Sharks sees the band stride confidently into a more noisy and in moments more punky and shoegaze-y territory than previous efforts that were rooted firmly in ’90s post-punk and ’80s oz-rock. This is a mature evolution garnered from years of playing together and the synthesises of true mateship. We spoke to guitarist-vocalist Matt Duffy to dive deep into the making of Sharks, and we also discovered his deep seated love for band, Fuagzi.

We’ve been listening to your new record Sharks a lot since we got the sneak peek a week or so ago, it’s almost time for it to be released into the world; how are you feeling?

MATT DUFFY: We’re really happy with it. We went to a bit more effort than we have with the last two [Self-titled and Almurta]. We’re happy with how it sounds, especially since we got the test pressings back and can actually listen to it on vinyl—it sounds awesome!

Did you have an idea for what you wanted it to sound like from the beginning?

MD: Yeah, we did. We recorded a lot of stuff. Before we recorded that album we had twenty-something songs, some were finished, some not. We went through all of our recordings from rehearsals and the ten that we picked for the record just seemed to work together really well as a full experience rather than a bunch of songs just slapped together.

The record seems a lot more shoegaze-y and noisy and punky as well compared to previous releases.

MD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on. In one way it’s all over the shop but somehow it all makes sense. The two albums before have certain feels throughout them and didn’t jump around a lot like this one. We jam a lot and come up with all kinds of things.

I think I like this one the best out of all of your albums.

MD: [Laughs] I think we do too! I know the band always likes their latest thing the most though! [laughs]. The first two albums we did all ourselves but this time we thought we should go to a really nice studio [Sing Sing Recording Studios] and get some cool sounds, record on tape and put it in someone else’s hands to get an outside perspective. I think that helped a lot doing something different.

You worked with producer Anna Laverty.

MD: Yeah, she’s awesome! Most of us have worked with her before, half the band is in The Peep Tempel and she’s recorded all of their albums. I did some stuff with them too even though I’m not in that band. We’ve got a good working relationship with her, she’s great to bounce ideas off and tell us when we’ve done something good or not good [laughs]. She’s really, really, really good at what she does and she’s a good friend. It made sense to do it with her.

I love album opener ‘Citrus’ it’s a beautiful song.

MD: That song came out of nowhere. Most of our songs come from the four of us bashing it out in the rehearsal room. We work on things on our own too though, that was one that Steve [Carter] our drummer brought in. He had it half-formed, he did a recording at home on this electronic drum kit and a bunch of synths and we just added guitars to it. Once the whole band gets into a song it usually changes into something even better. That song took on a few different forms, it morphed from a weird electro thing to a shoegaze-y thing. When we recorded with Anna she said it had an indigenous-feel to it, she said it sounded like percussion with sticks. We never had really thought of it that way. It had an English ‘90s shoegaze-feel to an Australian desert touch to it.

I put it on first thing this morning and it’s actually a really nice song to start your day.

MD: I think so too. It does get a bit chaotic though [laughs]. It was always going to be the first song on the album, it’s a cruisy instrumental.

What were the songs that you worked on by yourself and brought into everyone?

MD: The second one [‘Say What Again’] was one that I had started about a year ago just messing around. When I record something on my own I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a Shepparton Airplane song, I just do stuff for fun. I had all the music done and thought it could work well with the band; someone always brings something new to stuff and it really brings it to life! It’s quite exciting when that happens. There’s been a few on the album that was someone’s throw away song but together we’ve moulded it into something cool. The lyric ideas sometimes come from one of us just shouting things freeform and then someone else might get an idea for the lyrics. It’s great having freedom in the band where no one is calling the shots, we’re all in together.

Another track I really loved on the album is ‘No Stars’.

MD: That was an epic jam that came out of nowhere. At one point it was 16 minutes long, we kept chopping it down. Longer it was a little bit too self-indulgent [laughs]. We eventually got it down to eight and a half minutes.

What’s the song ‘Fear’ about?

MD: That just came together from jamming it out. Myself and Stu the bass player were both at the time talking about a bunch of documentaries we’d been watching on cults. We both had written a bunch of lyrics on that topic, we put them together and realised we’d written the same song! Music-wise it came together so organically, we didn’t labour over it too much. There’s bits in it… though it may not totally sound like it but, to us we can hear influences in it, there’s a Slayer bit, a guitar part that sounds like it, or an AC/DC part. Lyrically you may be talking about cults but you may as well be talking about government. We never try to write too topical though because stuff can often become dated. We don’t want to do what everyone else is doing too.

What kind of feeling do you get when you play?

MD: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of adrenalin, even in the quieter moments. The way we feed off each other works well. There’s a really good chemistry between us and I feel that’s infectious with the punters too, we all feed of each other. We have a party but it’s also dark and joyous too.

The new album is very much a journey.

MD: I’m glad that you said that, I’ve been trying to write bios and stuff and I started writing and used that word but thought it sounded naff coming from me but, I’m so glad you’ve said that because we truly do feel that! [laughs].

It so is! You put it on and your start with ‘Citrus’ and then you go through the rollercoaster of emotions in each song before ending with ‘Fleeting’.

MD: I’ve felt it too. We really made sure we captured that when we chose the songs, put them together – there’s three short, loud punk songs we chucked in the middle – to take you places. We thought the two instrumentals were perfect to bookend it all. It’s all really beautiful. We didn’t want to take things too far though and put on it everything we’ve ever liked; we all love hip hop but were not going to do a hip hop song on this record. We couldn’t pull it off convincingly.

We were just talking about how there’s lots of cool guitar moments throughout the record; what’s your favourite?

MD: ‘No Stars’ because there’s so much going on. We had a scratchy recording of it and we turned it around and created a Yo La Tengo sounding song and turned it into an epic journey. We had to learn it again because we just made it up on the spot. The guitar in that is a highlight of the album for me. It’s probably the cleanest guitar we’ve done too, a lot of our earlier stuff is driven and distorted. We don’t usually use loads of effects too, that song is a guitar plugged straight into an amp.

Until you guys got to this album I don’t think I ever would have used the word beautiful to describe your music.

MD: [Laughs] I certainly wouldn’t have either!

The album has a really nice feel.

MD: Yeah. Because we’ve been playing for a few years now we’re able to do a lot more things, we’ve developed and we sincerely mean what we’re playing—we own it and play it convincingly. We really wanted to make the album move around, some of my favourite bits are the most pleasant bits!

Anna has worked with Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine who are poppy and have a really slick sound; do you think she helped in getting you to the sound on this record too?

MD: Yeah, she’s done all kinds of stuff. One of her biggest qualities is that she gets what we’re doing. She saw us live a few times and always said she’d love to work with us. She worked well in terms of not getting in the way of anything, she let us do everything we wanted. She’s great for positive reinforcement. It was a pleasant experience.

Where did the album title Sharks come from?

MD: Steve threw that out one day, I was immediately “I’m in” because I’m obsessed with sharks [laughs], they’re incredible. There’s so many different ideas you can draw from the word sharks. People are often “sharks”. If there is an underlying theme on the record it’s that it touches on the darker side of humanity. Sharks are seen as big fearsome creatures whereas in real life they’re not. But people sharks, particularly men are the worst sharks of all. The art work plays into that too, people hunting a shark, this is the fucked up things that people do.

How did you first come to playing guitar?

MD: When I was a little kid around eight, my sister who is ten years older than me had a crappy acoustic guitar. She was learning it at school but didn’t do anything with it so I got it and when I was twelve I got my first electric guitar. I really got into it in my teens. I spent about ten years playing bass in bands then came back to the guitar. I’m not a virtuoso but I’m happy with that because it lends itself to more creativity. If you don’t know if things you’re playing is wrong, all you have to do is care if you think it sounds good. You can give yourself nightmares or you can bliss out! [laughs]. I love having the freedom to do whatever.

Anything else to tell me?

MD: A lot early on we were more conscious that we didn’t want to sound like anyone else. We’d come up with something we’d think sounded really cool and then listen back to a song and be like, that sounds exactly like Fugazi! We love Fugazi but we can’t sound exactly like them, otherwise people are going to think we sound like Fugazi [laughs]. This time around we were like, oh, that sounds like Hüsker Dü or that sounds like Sonic Youth and we’re like, fuck it who cares what anyone else thinks! We love those bands, why pretend we’re not influence by them. Freeing ourselves up from that was a real turning point for us.

Did you see Fugazi when they came to Australia?

MD: I did! They’re pretty much my #1 favourite band ever, still to this day! They’re incredible live. I can’t deny their influence on everything I have ever done really [laughs]. They’re one of those bands that are four people playing together that really feed off each other and improvise a lot and there’s a real connection that goes beyond people writing songs. It was in the late ‘90s more than 20 years ago! I saw them twice, two nights in a row. Steve our drummer and I went. I just remember being totally blown away. I have the recordings of those shows, because they recorded all of their shows over their career.

Yeah, you can buy them from Dischord.

MD: Yeah. I have a bunch of those, all the shows I’ve seen, you get to relive it! They were playing songs they hadn’t recorded yet – they played all my favourite songs off of all my favourite albums – I was like, what is all of this?! There was an interlude in the middle of the show and they were playing all this kind of stuff that I’d never heard them do. I was blown away. It was cool with everyone being there to see a band they love and hear all the songs they know but then Fugazi playing all this unheard stuff. I guess they just had the confidence to throw completely new things at us that was a real departure from their other stuff. I remember being completely impressed by that. Everything about them is incredible—there’s very few bands you can say that about.

Please check out: SHEPPARTON AIRPLANE. Sharks out April 17 on Wing Sing Records. SA on Facebook.

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