Naarm/Melbourne musician Nicole Thibault: “It’s good to feel real moments of sadness so you can appreciate the good things that happen”

Original photo: Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Thibault is a new indie-pop outfit from Naarm/Melbourne created by Nicole Thibault featuring contributions from Zak Olsen (ORB, Traffik Island), Rebecca Liston (Parsnip), Lachlan Denton (The Ocean Party) as well as Julian Patterson (from Nicole’s previous band, Minimum Chips). They’re getting set to release their debut album Or Not Thibault, a collection of songs straight from the heart, that are as beautiful, mysterious and eerie as the surroundings in which they recorded, near Hanging Rock; a spot made famous by the 1967 historic mystery novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Gimmie caught up with Nicole last week to explore the writing and recording of the album.

The black and white cover image on your record Or No Thibault is really beautiful; what inspired it?

NICOLE THIBAULT: It’s Hanging Rock! You can look at it from where we recorded the album up at Mount Macedon in Victoria. James Cecil recorded it in an old school. It’s a beautiful, spooky part of the world, it’s covered in clouds half the time. I think there’s one part of the mountain that doesn’t see the sun. We had this idea, it was a group effort, of cutting out letters hiding behind rocks, just the letters poking up. We climbed up to the top and hand a play around. Jamie Wdziekonski took the photos, he came out for the day, it was a really good vibe. He did some studio photos and we all went up to Hanging Rock, none of us disappeared! [laughs]. It’s a very eerie place.

Cover: Jamie Wdziekonski.

Did the environment inspire the sound of the record?

NT: Yeah. The actual studio is an 1800-1900’s school, that’s spooky enough in itself. There’s photos of all of the little children, which was eerie, but also quite beautiful. It’s surrounded by tall trees. Being away from the city is really, really nice. James has made it his own, he’s leasing it through the Council but he’s made it really homely. I stayed there at night a few times. It’s really just a nice place to be, that definitely had an influence. Time stands still somewhat, it’s a really dreamy kind of place.

You didn’t encounter any ghosts while there?

NT: I was ready for it! [laughs]. I stayed over night on my own twice, one time in a bell tent, and it was very Blair Witch! Not that I’ve seen the movie but, I’ve seen the trailers and was too scared to watch it. I was like, this is how I’m going to go, this is how I’m going to die! [laughs]. It was really fun.

James used to live in France for a little bit so he’d make us crepes and we were very, very spoiled. He makes really good coffee. It was five-star treatment for sure! It was really, really fun! It took about a year to make. I’d go out once every few weeks and James would fit me in between his other, more professional customers [laughs].

That sounds amazing! You’ve made music since the ‘90s and I know you took time off to raise a family; how did it feel coming back to music?

NT: It felt really good! I think I can’t not make music. I think I really committed myself to raise a couple of children and I was like; this is it now, this is what I do, I’m not Kim Gordon and I don’t have a team of people to look after my child while I stay up and party on to 4am. I have to become an adult and snap out of it. I separated from the father of my children and that was the best thing that ever happened to me [laughs]. Can I say that?

You sure can!

NT: I didn’t really have any family support, like grandparents or anything, so it was just 24/7 child looking after… which I’m not complaining about, but it’s good now because I have a little bit of time to myself ‘cause there’s shared parenting duties. I wish I had done it sooner!

Why did you feel it was time to create this new musical project, Thibault?

NT: I got encouragement from a friend of mine. I started playing solo, I had some songs that I had been twiddling around with. I hadn’t played live for a while but I always had fiddled around with some songs. I did a few solo shows but they weren’t great, let’s just be honest, they weren’t great. A friend of mine was like “let’s start a band; do you want some people to play with?” It went from there. I got people offering to play with me, I’m so lucky that they did!

Did you have a vision for how you wanted this project to sound?

NT: No. Am I meant to? It just kind of happened. I listen to music all day every day and I listen to the radio… it just goes in and it’s got to come out somewhere sounding like something. It sounds like what was inside me.

How did you first discover music?

NT: I was actually born in Tamworth and my mum had a piano, my sister was getting music lessons and I wasn’t really interested in it, but one day I walked up to the piano and could play the Mickey Mouse March by ear! I thought, this is fun! I started playing the trombone in high school because it was the only instrument left that no one wanted to play, it was that or nothing, so I played it. I wasn’t amazing at it but I went to university for a couple of years and studied it. I wasn’t really good at university either. I made some friends and I joined the band Clag. I met Julian Patterson at uni, he was studying architecture and then we started Minimum Chips. We all had a bit of a classical music background but we were more into My Bloody Valentine and The Cure [laughs]. I remember having a cassette of The Cure and being like, oh my god, this is amazing! We thought we were underground [laughs].

You mentioned that you went out to recorded bits and pieces of the record when you could; what about the writing for the album? Did it take a while to get this collection of songs?

NT: I think so. I didn’t sit down and go studiously, I’m going to write a song now! It was little ideas and then we were playing them live for a little bit. They had the structure, the melodies, all the parts and then taking them to James’ studio is where the magic happened; he had this array of old synthesizers and organs, a beautiful piano. We let the songs be free. We added layers upon layers. They evolved that way. I write very melodic songs, on their own they might not sound so great but when everyone came in, Zak came in with his guitar and he played a ‘60s twelve string; everyone was such great musicians. Julian Patterson played bass on the album and came up with all the melodies. Lachlan Denton played all the drums, he made all of the songs a hundred times better. It was a lot of experimenting—we thought we were The Beach Boys [laughs]. It was very free-form.

Photo: Jamie Wdziekonski.

A while back there was a post on your social media and you commented: we wanted to reassure you that we recorded a fair bit of tambourine on the record.

NT: Yeah! [laughs]. Tambourine is something that you either love it or hate it. It’s always too loud but sometimes it can be amazing. It’s such a contentious instrument [laughs].I just didn’t want to be too serious. It’s hard to play, it’s so hard to make it sound in time.

One of my favourite songs on the album is “Continuer” it’s very cinematic.

NT: Yes! I’ll let you in on a little secret, it used to be called “Morricone” as in Ennio Morricone [the Italian composer known for his movie scores]. He recently passed away. I’ve always been a fan, as is probably everyone on the planet. I came up with melody and we just went to town and went hard, and didn’t want to pretend we weren’t ripping of Morricone. It’s definitely meant to be cinematic and atmospheric and inspired by one of my heroes. I’m glad you like that one. It’s hard to play live. It’s such a slow song. The recording really captured a slow and moody piece of music. It’s hard to play it in front of people, I think fast songs are easier to play. You kind of need the Philharmonic Orchestra behind you to play it [laughs]. We ended up going, nah, we’re not playing that live anymore. I’m glad it’s on the album. I got everyone to sing on it.

Is there a song on the album that was hard for you to write?

NT: Yeah, all of them! [laughs]. Sometimes I‘d be having a pretty bad day and stupid stuff would happen and I’d be like, ahhh geez! I have to drive up to Mount Macedon. I’d be trying to keep it together. I’d be singing these lyrics, which are very personal and I’d written about something specific, I’d have to go on walks and gather myself. Some of them were hard to sing and play. Because James is a friend, we’re even better friends now, he’d just be like, “Go for a walk and then come back and do it.” It’s so good that you can actually walk through a forest, it was a nice place to have lots of meltdowns! [laughs].

Awww.

NT: In a good way though! I feel things and we didn’t shy away from it, let’s just put it that way. It’s all good. It’s really good to get over those… some were hard but it’s good to get over it and have done it!

Yeah. Kind of like that saying: sometimes you have to breakdown to breakthrough.

NT: Definitely! To not be afraid of mistakes too and to learn from them.

One of my favourite things about the album is your vocals, it’s really emotional; what did you do to tap into that?

NT: [Laughs] You don’t want to know! Being alive on this planet! Stuff happens to you. A person got me to sing some harmonies on their album and I couldn’t hit the high notes anymore… I think my voice has just lived. Your voice has to go through everything you do, and you can just hear it. We didn’t want to make it perfect and polished. We wanted to leave the emotion in it, I wanted it to just be from the heart.

When I first heard it, I was like, I just want to give this person a hug!

NT: A lot of my friends told me they cried when listening to it; why do you write such sad songs? I’m like, sorry! [laughs]. It’s good to cry. It’s good to have a time out, the world is not always a happy place… sometimes it is though! It’s good to feel real moments of sadness so you can appreciate the good things that happen.

Do you have a favourite piece of equipment you used for the recording?

NT: I reckon the Hammond organ, it had all these beautiful shimmery sounds. There was an old Yamaha organ and the piano James had was really beautiful. He had a few synths but I didn’t know how to play them so he played them. There was a little percussion instrument too that went “dooooiiiiig”.

The album is called Or Not Thibault; is that a play on words from Shakespeare?

NT: Yes, it is! I think Julian Patterson thought of it, it was a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke. I don’t want to take myself too seriously.

How is making music now fun and exciting for you compared to how you used to do things?

NT: I’ve just gotten over myself. I’ve run out of fucks to give. I don’t care what people think of me anymore. I believe in myself a little bit more. I’m around really supportive, positive people… I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced that [laughs]. This is nice. It’s really fun, so fun! I’m so lucky to have really beautiful, talented people playing music with me who aren’t just megalomaniacs from hell. It’s a good vibe now.

It sounds like you’re starting a whole new chapter!

NT: It is. It’s really nice to have this going on. I’m so glad we did it last year because I’m just sitting starring at walls now. I’m just like, oh my god, I’m so happy I achieved this album because I’m not very good in this pandemic, I haven’t been very inspired or productive. Some people are able to do things but I’m not one of those people…

And that’s totally OK.

NT: Yeah, you’re right. You just have to try and get through. It’s pretty bad down here. I haven’t seen anyone for so long, we can’t leave our houses. It’s pretty grim. Hopefully at the end of it everyone will appreciate everything so much more. I spend a lot of time by myself, I don’t have housemates or anything. I am getting myself some gear and teaching myself to record at home, that’s good and positive! I just have to do it.

Please check out THIBAULT. Thibault on Instagram. Or Not Thibault out September 4 on CHAPTER MUSIC.

Sydney Indie-pop Band Sachet’s Lani Crooks: “I was walking alone through Kyoto and found myself in a back street at a kaleidoscope museum… I felt nervous and clumsy… I imagined myself breaking them and being the museum’s worst enemy”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Sachet play dreamy indie guitar-pop. Their new album Nets is charming and spry with a little quirk and melody and harmony in spades. We caught up with Sachet’s Lani Crooks to explore the LP.

Where did you grow up? How did you discover music?

LANI CROOKS: I grew up in Sydney between Petersham, Marrickville, Surry Hills and Newtown. I was honestly pretty similar to how I am now. Not sure how much I’ve really developed! I was into English and acting. I had a nice group of friends, which was easy at the school I went to, but I guess I marched to the beat of my own drum. Music-wise, I shared some interests with my mum and step-dad who like lots of alt-country and some indie-pop and classic stuff. I properly got into music on my own when I was about thirteen and bought some pirated CDs in Vietnam that were all scratched and skipped in a million places, including that Beatles Numbers 1 Hits comp. After that I’d read a lot of forums and Pitchfork and stuff and buy lots of CDs. I loved Elliott Smith and spent every afternoon on that forum.  I first picked up a guitar at probably sixteen but was very bad at it and stayed that way for many years.

How did Sachet first get together? What did you bond over?

LC: My partner Sam [Wilkinson] and I have played in several bands together over the last decade. After our old band Day Ravies folded we started other bands and one of those was Sachet, with our friend Nick Webb. We were a three-piece for the first album. A year or two earlier I’d seen Nick playing in another band at a house show and thought to myself, “He’s a sick melodic guitar player. I’m going to play in a band with him one day.” He was just an acquaintance from the music scene when we started but now we’re really close. After the first album we got a new drummer, my friend Chris, and became a four-piece. Chris plays on Nets but he left a while back and now we have Kate Wilson. Kate and Nick are two of the best people on the planet. We bond over lots of stuff. Food,  booze, Brighton-le-Sands beach, bitching about posers in the Australian music scene, that sort of thing. The important stuff.

What influences your sound?

LC: I basically like lots of kinds of non-mainstream pop. Rather than a particular band or sound, melody is absolutely my driving force when writing songs. I start by trying to cement the best vocal melodies around the best changes that possibly I can.  Once the lyrics are done I try to squish in some melodic guitar parts and once I’ve taken a song to the band, Nick fits in his really cool melodic parts as well and Sam does a crazy amount of melody on the bass.  The first album didn’t have bass at all and now I feel like Sam’s playing is a big part of our sound. We all like pretty similar music and all worship the fuzz pedal but I definitely have that real verse-chorus-bridge pop focus. A few bands I love are The Nerves, Guided by Voices, Built to Spill, Sneaky Feelings.  I’m not great with stuff from the last couple of decades but I do like Cate le Bon a fair bit and I think that’s starting to show in my newest songs. And there are a few Australian guitar bands from the last few years that have really inspired me, especially The Stevens, Possible Humans and Treehouse.

Recently Sachet released LP Nets; what’s the album about?

LC: I’d love to write a concept album one day so I can definitely say “this is about xyz”. To be honest, Nets is basically like everything I’ve done before in that it’s just a collection of songs that I hope hangs together. But I am pretty happy with this collection! It has songs based on things I’ve felt, things I’ve read, lots of anecdotes I’ve heard where I take just kind of the emotional element of the story and exaggerate that and obfuscate and add details so the listener would probably have no idea what I’m on about, and often I don’t even know. I like the lyrics to sound kind of emotionally weighty but flippant at the same time.

What were your artistic goals when making Nets?

LC: The first album was recorded not long after forming and we were just a three-piece and it was my first time playing guitar in a band. So I think it was a little more basic and maybe had a few more garage-y sound-y songs. This time I had more time to practise guitar and felt more free to write whatever kind of song I wanted, and we had bass. So I think it’s a bit more developed and fuller-sounding, with certain songs being much more complicated in terms of structure and arrangement. My goal is always just to improve upon what’s come before, write a song that’s better than the last, etc.

You made a fun clip for the album’s first single “Arncliffe Babylon”; can you tell us a bit about the shoot? What can you tell us about guest star, Tuco?

LC: We have been pretty slack in the film clip department so far. There is just one other clip I made, using archival footage, for the track “Kaleidoscope Museum”. I knew we should do one but it’s not my department, so I kind of nervously pitched the dumb non-idea: “Are you cool if we get a hold of a dog and I walk it around Arncliffe wearing this vintage marching band outfit?” No one had any better ideas so that’s what we did. We couldn’t get a camera so we used phones, which I think turned out okay. The shoot was a few hours on a hungover Sunday about a month before the quarantine stuff. We were lucky. The dog Tuco belongs to my friend Joe. Joe was there just out of shot so Tuco kept whining and trying to reach him. It was great.

We love the album art image; who’s behind that? What feeling did you want the cover to evoke?

LC: Thanks. I’m hoping it looks good on the LPs when the package finally get to Australia, ‘cos that’s what it’s really designed for. It’s a photo of shark nets at Brighton-le-Sands. It’s a double exposure I took with 120 film in a plastic camera. I suppose it has a Loveless vibe and makes it look like a shoegaze album, which it’s not. So what feeling did I want it to evoke? I don’t know, that’s a good question. But the album is called Nets and they’re shark nets and, y’know…yeah.

What’s your favourite song on the LP? What’s the story behind it?

LC: To my mind the best-written songs are “Kaleidoscope Museum” and “Arncliffe Babylon”. I really like the bridges in both. I’m all about the weird key-changey bridge. “Kaleidoscope Museum” does have a little story. It’s about when I was walking alone through Kyoto and found myself in a back street at a kaleidoscope museum. They were closing in five minutes but they let me in and I had to have a very quick dash through and check out all of these super-fragile kaleidosocpes, some of which you could touch and look through and some of which you couldn’t. I felt nervous and clumsy but also privileged and awestruck. I imagined myself breaking them and being the museum’s worst enemy.

What was the process of recording Nets?

LC: Like the first album, it was recorded on four-track, except for vocals and a few overdubs. We just like that warm analogue sound and the no-fuss method. It was engineered by our good friend and neighbour Toby Baldwin, Sydney soundie extraordinaire. He was set up in our garage, talking to us through an amp, and we were above him spread out in different rooms of the house, playing live. He brought his skills in recording and also telling us plainly which takes were shit and which ones were usable. After we’d bounced it from tape I spent a lot of time on my own recording vocals and harmonies, and mixing those in. You probably can’t tell but there are a lot of vocal tracks. 

Your record was recorded in 2017-2018; how do you feel the band grown since this album was made?

LC: It’s very common in the music world for things to take a long time but I won’t lie, it does feel like a long time! I have almost another album written now and our live set has a lot of new songs. The drums are sounding really awesome and different now, with Kate bringing a really ’60s vibe to a lot of the new songs. I think Nets was more developed than the first album and the next one will be more developed again. The newest songs have a lot of sections in them some really prog-y bits. They’re kind of a headache to play but we’ll work it out. Sadly, quarantine means we can’t jam right now. It’s a bloody shame.

Are you working on anything new?

LC: Yes. But I like to have nice breaks from songwriting because the process gives me brain strain. Just as long as there’s a good pile of songs for the band to always be working on and we don’t run out.

What do you do outside of music?

LC: I’m an ESL teacher, Nick is a music label manager, Sam repairs coffee machines and builds fuzz pedals and lots of other things, and Kate is a science writer. Sam has his own bands Shrapnel and Uncle Pit. I also play in Shrapnel. And Kate plays in two other bands currently, The Holy Soul and Majestic Horses. We keep busy!

Please check out: SACHET. Sachet on Facebook. Nets available via Tenth Court Records.