Dreamy Meanjin based post-punk Ancient Channels: “Time, Space, Ancient Worlds”

Original photo: Jason Cahill. Handmade collage by B.

Meanjin/Brisbane musicians Kelly Hanlon (Deafcult/Terra Pines) and Chris Preindl (Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges) take us on a sonic sci-fi expedition exploring ancient, ceremonial drumming together with shoegaze dream pop and cosmic themes to create a band that’s outta this world, Ancient Channels.

How did you two first meet? What were your first impressions of each other?

KELLY: I first met Chris through the Brisbane music scene. Our other bands have played multiple shows together over the years so we’ve been in each other’s orbit for a while. I’ve been consistently blown away every time I’ve seen Chris play with any of his bands whether its Apparitions, Leavings or Vestiges. He’s all over the kit with such deft and precision, technically brilliant but also insanely creative, I swear he’s got an extra set of arms hidden away somewhere. I remember thinking that I’d like to work with him sometime soon after seeing him play, and here we are! Dreams do come true!

CHRIS: Our first meeting is hard to pinpoint because Brisbane often feels tiny. I do feel like my first impression of Kelly is one-and-the-same with what would be the most prevailing impression, that she’s an incredibly talented songwriter and musician, and a really cool, calm and compassionate person.

You both play in multiple other bands. Kelly plays in Deafcult/Terra Pines and Chris plays in Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges; what inspired you to start Ancient Channels?

KELLY: I had wanted to start a project a little more pop-centric and beat orientated. I was also watching a lot of Ancient Aliens  at the time (for pure entertainment, I don’t actually believe Ancient Aliens built the pyramids) which resulted in the idea of combining elements of ancient, ceremonial drumming with more contemporary style song structures and the aesthetics of dream pop, shoegaze and post-punk. I wrote a few demos and sent them to Chris and asked if he’d be keen and lucky he was. We didn’t practice together before recording just winged it on the day and Chris wrote and executed his drum parts with such energy it was beautiful! The drums are really the forefront of this band in my opinion, almost like a lead guitar or something, well and truly up front.

CHRIS: Kelly reached out about starting a new project together in early-mid 2019 and I didn’t deliberate much; sometime after my band Leavings played with Terra Pines (for something like the third or even fourth time around Southeast Queensland) Kelly had written some incredible demos and after hearing them I was very excited at the chance to collaborate. She suggested it’d be more of a studio project from the outset which was super ideal for my other band commitments and life schedule. Dates were then set for roughly six months later to record with Cam Smith at Incremental Records.

You’re into sci-fi soundtracks of early film and television; what’s one of your favourites? What do you appreciate about it?

KELLY: Film soundtracks, particularly sci-fi soundtracks are so evocative and they overtly convey tension in a way that I love. The 1950’s had some really great film soundtracks full of creepy theremin tones that make my skin crawl in the best possible way. It Came From Outer Space 1953 is a favourite, also The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951. I tried to get a theremin-ish like tone in “Orbital Dance” with one of the synth lines, it’s not exact but it’s the best I could do with the tools that I have haha. I also love the original Dr Who theme 1963 by Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer. It’s such an iconic piece of music, “Carpe Noctem” was an attempt to do something big and dramatic in that vein. There is a great doco on Delia Derbyshire called The Delian Mode on YouTube that everyone should watch for a bit of backstory on her. I’m also big into Vangelis like everyone else under the sun.

CHRIS: I think this is more Kelly’s realm, at least as far as direct influences on this project go, but for me I can’t go past such iconic scores as: Blade Runner (Vangelis), Akira (Geinoh Yamashirogumi), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Richard Strauss), and more recently the scores of Drive, Ex Machina and Good Time… although some of those absolutely aren’t sci-fis.

You’ve recently released Moments In Ruin; what inspired the writing of this album? It seems pretty cosmic!

KELLY: It all comes back to Ancient Aliens haha I feel like I was thinking about it for a year or so before we even started writing, but mainly the idea was to just have a collection of songs that draw from many influences both concrete: Shoegaze, Dream Pop and Post-Punk and Abstract: Time, Space, Ancient Worlds etc… I think there was also talk about writing a record full of singles. The idea that every song on a record could be a single is a bit of a novelty but thought it would be a fun challenge.

CHRIS: Other than a partial embracing and full appreciation of engineer/producer Cam Smith’s drumming (in specifically Terra Pines), and the desire to serve Kelly’s demos sufficiently I embraced influences stemming back to when I first started playing drums. Essentially bands like Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and pretty much any DFA/New York City band from the mid-2000s.

I’ve heard that drums and percussion are the foundation of your sound; how do your songs form most often? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

KELLY: All the songs were written using Garageband to demo initially , and then Chris rewrote the shitty Garageband drum loops and made the songs infinitely cooler and more interesting. All the songs were written with the same approach though, built from the ground up, rhythm section, then guitars and synths (textural)  and vocals last. The vocals took the most amount of time to write because melody was really important, most of the songs on the record have alternate versions of the vocal melodies and harmonies. I think “She-Rise” had about 8 different versions.

CHRIS: Up until now it has been part recreating the beats mapped out by Kelly and part improvisation in the studio environment. The intricate layers that formed the first versions of the songs that became “Moments In Ruin” afforded me a lot of room for inspiration and, to a degree, experimentation so it’s been quite a thrilling and fun process; the approach with Ancient Channels is different to the more jam-based process of other projects I’m involved with.

We really love the song “She-Rise”; what sparked this song?

KELLY: From memory it was one of the last songs written for this project, there was a feeling the record needed something a little more driving and immediate. I’d read an interview with Grimes about her writing process, that she’d often write songs to scenes from films. I kinda liked that idea and thought I’d give it a go. I picked the Bride vs The Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill Vol1 and tried to write with that scene in my mind and often playing in the background on silent. Thematically I guess I projected myself into the role of the bride and sexist sound guys in the role of the crazy 88 (metaphorically speaking of course). It’s a clusterfuck, I’m not sure it works as a score to the scene but I was happy with how the song turned out.

CHRIS: For my part I really wanted the rhythms to be straightforward and blunt, as the song seemed to me to be one of the most propulsive and pounding. It embodies what is probably the most intense, menacing and bold energy and so I thought a rigorous and sweatily performed dance beat would serve the song best. An undoubted influence for me for “She-Rise” is the music of U.K. post-punk band Savages.

What most excites you about your new album?

KELLY: I’m excited that it’s out and we can move onto the next one.

CHRIS: Recreating the songs live, with additional members: Elise Clark, Imogen Kowalczyk, Kelly Saunders & Joel Saunders. We haven’t yet brought all the songs to life: as is the case for a lot of other bands (local and nationwide/worldwide) it’s been a difficult year to effectively showcase new music. Fingers crossed for the remainder of 2020 and the start of 2021…

I know that you love recording and being in the studio; was there anything you tried or experimented with while recording?

KELLY: Most of the experimentation came with the drums (different beats that Chris wanted to try and varying types of accompanying percussion.  Everything else was locked in by the time we got to the studio as we had Garageband demos with sounds and tones finalised etc…

CHRIS: Percussive layering felt like the most immediate example of studio experimentation. Usually I’m quite hesitant to contribute or sign off on drum parts that aren’t in the realm of possibility to perform live, but we both agreed that we could maximise some of the songs with overdubbed drum hits and cymbal swells. It also helps that Elise is also a drummer!

We love the vocals on the album, very ethereal, haunting and atmospheric; how did you approach doing them?

KELLY: I would say that we wanted vocals to sound that way for sure, ambience and atmosphere were important but also melody. A lot of time was spent trying to make the vocal melodies as infectious as possible, as mentioned before they were rewritten a hundred times over and vastly different from their first incarnation.

CHRIS: I can only dream of having had a hand in the vocal process, though it’s fun to watch agape and in awe from the sidelines for this aspect. I guess there’s always the possibility to harmonise live!

Your music is a collage of genres and I love how your artwork for your releases is also collages; where did the idea for this style of artwork come from? You do the art Kelly, right?

KELLY: My friend Jason Cahill (who did our video for “Footprints In The Dark”) is a great visual artist and filmmaker and he sends me art all the time that he thinks I might enjoy. He had an idea once of doing a collage film clip for one of our songs by animating a collage and in doing research for that idea I came across the collage hashtag on Instagram and fell in love with the otherworldly nature of it. It’s a format that seems like it has no rules and so much possibility.

CHRIS: I think Kelly’s collage art precedes Ancient Channels! I love how effective and evocative it is.

Is there anything else you’ve been working on that you’d like to tell us about, Ancient Channels-related or otherwise?

KELLY: Stay tuned to our socials for show announcements and news, we’ll probably start thinking about the next record soon-ish. Both my other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines have new records coming out next year and I believe Chris has a bunch of exciting stuff up his sleeves too which he can tell you about.

CHRIS: We’re excited by the prospect of working on new music as a six-piece band. In the meantime Kelly’s other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines are working on new material. My other band Apparitions will be launching its album in roughly a month’s time with Deafcult as well, so I’m really excited for that!

Please check out ANCIENT CHANNELS; AC on Facebook; AC on Instagram. Moments In Ruin is out now get it here.

Melbourne-based Indie rockers Dianas talk about new LP Baby Baby: “trying to navigate our way through life and love and defining ourselves as people, the sadness and hope in growing up”

Original photo by Tom Mannion. Handmade collage by B.

Dianas dropped a beautiful, dreamy sophomore album Baby Baby last month, it twists and turns through tracks as polyrhythms unfold, and their melodic interplay and charming vocal harmonies build around them. It’s dream pop, but it’s no nap, it’s a wild and energetic lucid dream. We caught up with them to explore their Perth-based beginnings, their move to Melbourne and the crafting of their new LP.

How did it all begin? How did Dianas get together?

CAITY: Nat moved into my house something like nine years ago and soon after broke up with her partner so we started hanging out a lot. Nat had been playing acoustic guitar for a while and writing songs, and I had stolen my brother’s electric guitar with the intention of learning to play but hadn’t got very far. We kind of just started playing together and tentatively writing songs whilst drinking a lot of cheap wine and generally annoying our neighbours. It’s kind of funny because I remember that as a really good time and Nat remembers it as one of the worst of her life, but either way that cocktail of boredom and heartbreak was essential to get us started because we’d probably have been too shy and awkward otherwise.

NAT: That story pretty much sums it up! It was definitely one of the worst times of my life but also the best, and the absolute best thing in my life has come out of it so it all balances out. Some of my fondest memories are learning how to play Best Coast, The XX and other extremely indie covers on bass and guitar together and just thinking it was the coolest. Also Caitlin taught me how to play bass!

What’s the story behind the name?

CAITY: We don’t have a good story behind the name. I’d love to say it came from the goddess Diana, of hunting and the moon, but actually it came from an op shopped Princess Diana portrait that had been tastelessly defaced for a party and was lying around our lounge room.

NAT: We were literally sitting in our lounge room naming stuff we could see so it was either Dianas or Sofabed. Fun fact we were originally called Undead Dianas but thankfully dropped the Undead before our first show.

What kind of musician would you say you are?

CAITY: A lazy one. I never had enough motivation to learn to play anything properly – despite the fact my mum is a music teacher who tried repeatedly to teach me piano – until Nat and I started playing together and writing songs. So maybe I can say a collaborative or a creative one – I’m never going to be a great guitarist but I love the process of turning ideas into songs especially when the input of other people makes it into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

 NAT: That’s a hard one! I’m all over the shop. I really enjoy trying to fit in with other people and what or how they’re playing, move with them while still trying to fit in whatever it is that I want to do or hear.  I think similarly to Caity I’m not really the kind of musician who gets great joy out of being totally technically proficient, but can take pleasure in playing with others and for others, trying to make something out of nothing.

Dianas are originally from Perth; what prompted the move to Melbourne? Nat wanted to pursue sound engineering, right? Was it a hard/big decision to move the band there?

NAT: I was always staunchly against the idea of moving to Melbourne, cos it just seems like the ‘classic’ Perth thing to do, but I also really wanted to get into sound engineering, and Melbourne was the best place for it. I didn’t really admit to anyone at home for ages that I’d moved out of embarrassment for totally flipping, and I planned to only come for 5 months but still here 5 years later! Caity and I initially did a long distance thing, flying between cities to play shows, but eventually she missed me too much and followed me over here

CAITY: I was staunchly for leaving Perth at some point so yes, I followed Nat here. I guess I figured I’d have at least one friend and something to do even if I couldn’t get a job!

What do you think of Melbourne now you’ve been there for a little? How is it different to Perth?

CAITY: It’s colder – I do miss the sun and the beach. But there’s a bit more going on culturally (sorry Perth) and in terms of the music scene there’s a lot more venues to play at and local festivals and things going on.

NAT: Quite a few winters in and I’m still not used to how goddam cold and dark it is. But I’ve also really loved getting involved in the music scene here, although there’s some similarities, it’s pretty different to Perth I think, obviously way more bands and venues, but there’s also this collective feeling of experimental space. Also being able to explore up the coast and make new friends all over this side has been amazing.

Photo by  Tom Mannion.

You recently released your sophomore album Baby Baby into the world; what do you love most about the record?

NAT: I just love how ‘us’ it sounds. We’ve put so much of ourselves into every aspect of it, from obviously the writing and playing together, but then the whole recording and mixing process to all the design and videos and releases. I’m not sure how I’ll feel in the future but I’m just honestly really proud of this thing that we made.

Can you tell us a bit about the writing of it; what was inspiring it lyrically? Do you feel there’s an overarching theme? I picked up on love, relationships, self-love and a mood of sadness.

CAITY: I think those are themes that are always present in our music and how they show up just shifts and changes depending on where we’re at personally at the time. The lyrics are usually pretty simple and direct but hopefully capture a specific mood or feeling that other people can relate to. The inspiration is mostly just our own little lives; trying to navigate our way through life and love and defining ourselves as people, the sadness and hope in growing up.

One of my favourite tracks on the LP is closer ‘Learning/Unlearning’; what sparked this song?

CAITY: ‘Learning/Unlearning’ was just me trying to tell myself not to have regrets about the past – a self-help song! I think a lot of women especially can look back and see that the way they thought about themselves and allowed themselves to be treated was ill advised and damaging, and it’s hard sometimes not to see that as wasted time. There’s a lot of bad ideas we internalise that take a lifetime to unlearn, so it’s really about going easy on yourself and allowing for the fact that you have to go through things to learn from them.

I also really love the piano, drums and bass combo in song ‘Jewels’; how did that song get started?

CAITY: ‘Jewels’ started with just the piano and vocals, which Nat and Anetta then added their parts to. We had a song on our last album that was just piano, bass and drums that we really liked so I suppose we were going for something similarly simple, but then we ended up adding lots of different vocal layers to the second part in the recording and it became a bit of a different beast. We really like this song though, possibly because it’s the newest and we’re not sick of it yet. We actually only had a chance to play it live once before all our shows got cancelled!

You recorded the record at Phaedra Studios, Nat recorded it; why did you decided to self-record? Can you tell us about the sessions? What were the best and most frustrating bits?

NAT: It sort of started off from a place of necessity, I’d dipped my toes into half recording us on our last EP, as the result of another tumultuous breakup leaving us without our usual recording engineer halfway through the recording process. I was a bit hesitant at first that I’d be able to do it but Caitlin said I should and I just do what she says. (Caity’s edit: not true)

Having the space in the sessions just by ourselves was really amazing. There was no pressure to try and fit in with anyone else’s views or notions, we could just be ourselves and get down and do it. In the past we’ve maybe struggled with communicating what we want or how we feel, but I think that we’ve learnt and grown a lot over the years and there were only minimal tears this time – a record! I think the hardest part was just trying to keep up the confidence and objectivity that what we’d done sounded good, I guess the flip side to doing it ourselves is we then only had ourselves to look to. I just had a really fun time mixing it too, I learnt a lot and had a lot of space to experiment. I think there was only one thing in the end that we had to compromise on (too many delays in a chorus vs not enough!), and I’m real happy and content with how the album sounds as a whole.

 Dianas harmonies are really cool; how do you approach making them?

CAITY: Usually one of us just starts singing and the other one joins in when they feel like it. We’ll keep going over things until we find something we like, but it’s not really planned out. At this point it’s just kind of assumed that we’ll both sing in one way or another on a song, rather than have a single vocalist. At least I’ll usually make Nat sing along with me because my voice is kind of weak on its own!

How did you first find your voice? Is confidence something that’s come to you over time? Do you really have to work on it? Are you still working on it?

CAITY: I don’t know if I would ever have got up onto a stage if Nat hadn’t encouraged (forced) me to – or even maybe sung at all. I tried to make her be the front person and just sing the songs I wrote herself but she refused, which I’m now thankful for because I really enjoy it. We’ve definitely become a lot more confident on stage than we used to be, which has just come from time and practice, but we are shy people by nature and can tend to be a bit too self-effacing at times. I think we’ve learned to own our voices a bit more and have hopefully stopped with the “what I don’t even know how to play a guitar hahahah” interview style/stage presence. But it is something we are constantly working on yes.

Baby Baby’s cover art is by artist Tamara Marrington; how did you come to her work?

NAT: We’ve known Tammy for a while (I guess since Perth days!) she’s one of those artists who just elicits a complete emotional response from me, I don’t think there’s been an exhibition of hers I’ve been to where I haven’t had tears streaming down my face. She was very patient working with us and our often indecisive natures, and we’re just so happy with how the record looks

You’ve made videos for the tracks off your LP (people can watch them all over at Baby TV) ‘Weather Girl’ is a favourite; what was the thought behind that one? I really love the fullness and chaotic-ness of this track!

CAITY: I just wanted to make a video about witches, but the kind of less cool TV witches of my childhood from shows like Charmed or Sabrina. The track was always pretty chaotic and only got more so when we recorded it so it seemed like a good fit for a narrative music video involving love potions and a stabbing (sorry spoilers).

 As well as doing Dianas Nat does Blossom Rot Records; what’s one of the coolest and hardest things about doing your own label?

NAT: It’s been really cool to just do things on our own terms, in our own way, and on our own time – not having to stick to anyone else’s schedule or run anything by anyone. I think the hardest thing has just sorta been having to write about my own band and trying not to sound too wanky. Definitely looking forward to working on some other releases! It’s also great working with Sophie, I feel like we balance each other out perfectly, she’s the boot to my scoot.

What’s next for Dianas?

NAT: I’m not sure about the others but it’s actually been a bit of a relief for me to be able to slow down, and not get too wrapped up in the constant next step motion. Having said that it will be really really nice when we’re able to play again, we’d love to reschedule the tour we had booked at some point but I’m not in a massive rush to do so until its super safe and would be enjoyable. I think for now I’d love to get back to our roots and sit at home together with some cheap wine and write some more songs 🙂

CAITY: Personally I have not found this time to be a relief at all, and I’m definitely looking forward to that tour. Looks like we’ll be waiting out the winter though so revisiting our roots sounds good – I think I’ll splurge on some nicer wine this time around though.

Please check out: DIANAS. Dianas on Facebook. Dianas on Instagram. Blossom Rot Records.