Meanjin Grit Hop band Spirit Bunny: “We feel strongly about diversity and social responsibility, supporting community and grassroots art and initiatives”

Original photo: courtesy of Zang! Records. Handmade collage by B.

We love Meanjin/Brisbane Grit Hop trio, Spirit Bunny, a joyful explosion of noise from multi-instrumentalists Kate Thomas, Joel Saunders and Cam Smith. We’re super excited to bring you the premiere of first single ‘Paper Handshakes’ from their upcoming sophomore album on new independent label Zang! Records. Spirit Bunny’s sound is a perfect storm of circuit bent Casio noise and C64 synths with phat beats and whimsical melodies.

Firstly, congratulations on signing with Zang! Records. We’re really excited that Spirit Bunny has new music to share with us. We’re really digging your new song ‘Paper Handshakes’! Where did the song name come from? I’ve heard that Spirit Bunny songs often start with a title before music and lyrics are written.

SPIRIT BUNNY: Thanks! We’re super happy and excited to be able to share some new stuff again. ‘Paper Handshakes’ actually had a different, working title until right at the last minute. That’s pretty normal for us – a lot of our songs start off with working titles that are related to how the songs sound or what they remind us of. A good example of that is ‘Gold & Brown’ from our first album, which in its very early stages of being written reminded us in mood of the song ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers. Sometimes those working titles then inform the lyrics and themes, which are almost always the final part added to the song. So it almost always goes music, working song title, lyrics, and then sometimes a proper song title if we decide the working title is no good (or embarrassing). This song had an embarrassingly mundane and meaningless working title.

What inspired it both musically and lyrically?

SB: Musically we wanted something that was upbeat and really punchy. We started the writing of the album with a couple of more downbeat or weirder songs, and thought we should perhaps write a pop song. Which is what we did, or at least it’s what we consider to be a “pop song”. It was one of the first songs for the record where we started experimenting more in-depth with dual and duelling vocals, something we tried a little bit on the last record. Lyrically it’s about the sway that people with money hold over decision makers, and how that doesn’t always benefit the greater good.

How much did the song change from its beginnings to what we hear now?

SB: This is one of the songs that just kind of came out and didn’t need a whole heap of tweaking, it came together pretty easily (which can’t necessarily be said for the some of the other songs from our forthcoming album). The only significant change came right towards the end of recording, when we invited our friend Keeley Young (of Claude and Requin) to play saxophone on it. That’s something we experimented with on the new record, getting our friends in to replace our parts but playing them on an instrument that we don’t normally use, to try to get some new and often more organic sounds into the mix. So on this song, Keeley multi-tracked her saxophone to replace some of the chordal parts that Kate plays on Commodore 64.

What interests each of you in what you create as Spirit Bunny? I know you’ve all had many other bands and projects.

SB: It’s probably the most democratic and collaborative band any of us have been in, which can be challenging but also very much worthwhile. It’s definitely a project where if you were to replace any one of us you’d end up with a completely different thing. When we first got together we had an idea of what we wanted to sound like, but ultimately what came out is Spirit Bunny. It really pushes each of us in different ways, both technically and in what we’re comfortable with in terms of our roles in the band. For example, Kate is kind of the musical core of virtually every Spirit Bunny song and that’s not something she’s done in her other projects.

Photo: courtesy of Zang! Records.

It’s also very different from any of the other projects we’re involved with. Some musicians like to play in a bunch of bands that are all of a kind, but that’s not something we’re overly interested in.

Spirit Bunny shows are pretty special, there’s an amazing synergy between you; do you ever have trouble capturing the spirit you play with live in recording or do you see live and recording sound-wise as two different things?

SB: The first record was definitely a pretty close representation of the live version of the band. The new album is perhaps very slightly less so, although the majority of the record was still built around the way we would play the songs in a live context. We did try a few new methods of writing and recording this time, with a few of the songs being partially constructed in the studio instead of extensively hashed out in the rehearsal room. We also tried to incorporate a few more textures this time, and to give some of the songs a bit more space than on the previous album. We definitely try to capture the energy of our live shows, though. That’s really important, and I think both albums go pretty close to achieving that.

What’s something surprising that people might find interesting about the way you write or record?

SB: We’re all multi-tasking in this band, each playing multiple instruments at the same time. Kate plays two Commodore 64s, Joel has two of his unique circuit-bent Casios plus a bunch of noise boxes, and Cam has his looped beats alongside the acoustic drums. So everything can get pretty layered and dense for a trio, but that’s what we actually sound like. It was a bit of a focus on this record to strip that back a bit sometimes and give the songs some room to breathe.

You use circuit bent keyboards/Commodore 64 synths; where did your interest in using these come from?

SB: We like repurposing obsolete or outdated technology in a creative fashion, giving it a second life that’s perhaps outside its original purpose. It’s cool to make something that’s somewhat futuristic and hopefully forward-looking with elements that could sometimes be considered somewhat ‘retro’. Also, these instruments have inherent limitations and we like that those limitations can force us to come up with novel solutions. An interesting example of that is that the Commodore 64 has virtually no dynamics, and Cam came to Spirit Bunny from bands that were highly dynamic so he had to rethink the way that his drums were going to function in this new context, where if he played quietly he was going to be drowned out but if he played loudly he would drown everyone else out. The answer ended up being adding dynamics to the drums via the density of the playing, rather than playing softer or louder.

What can you tell us at this point about your sophomore album you have coming up?

SB: Firstly that we’re really happy with it. There’s been a lot of work to get to this point. It’s been good to welcome some new people into the fold to help us get the record to the finish line, whether it’s been various friends of ours adding their own flavours to the record sonically, or teaming up with Zang! to get the record out into the world. Listening to it now, it seems like real growth from the first album. The songs are simultaneously more extreme and also more accessible, more dense and also more spacious. It’s been a journey of discovery for us as much as it is for anyone else, perhaps more so. From within the band, everything we come up with seems to be greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

What bands/albums/songs have you been obsessing over lately?

SB: We’ve been listening to Deerhoof’s two new records a lot, always listening to lots of Deerhoof. We love the new Party Dozen album, in a way we feel like they’re kindred spirits in the Australian music community. Similarly with the new Wax Chattels. Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors is a record that weirdly influenced some of the sounds on this album, in terms of some of the mellotron arrangements and a kind of chamber-pop sound we attempted to incorporate in parts (with varying success).

We also listen to lots of local stuff, and there’s been heaps of really good local releases lately. The new Ancient Channels is fantastic, which some of us are involved with in some ways (Cam recorded it, and Joel now plays in the live band). Zang! labelmates Gold Stars have a fantastic debut album. Local Authority, Ultra Material and Relay Tapes all put out some great shoegaze and dream-pop records recently. Nathan John Kearney put out a lovely solo record, It’s Magnetic have a wonderful debut album. There’s new Grieg. We’re looking forward to the new Apparitions record. There’s so much stuff.

What’s something that’s important to Spirit Bunny?

SB: Musically we just want to make something that excites and challenges us. On a more important note, we feel strongly about diversity and social responsibility, supporting community and grassroots art and initiatives. We delved into some of these issues lyrically on the new album, which we also did on the first one but often in a more oblique way – this time we were a bit more overt in the presentation of some of these themes.

Please check out SPIRIT BUNNY. SB on Instagram. SB on Facebook. ZANG! Records.

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.