Heir Traffic: “Abstract and poetic… introspective meditations”

Original photo courtesy of Heir Traffic. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Naarm/Melbourne band Heir Traffic are set to release their debut album No Hearth on one of our favourite Australian labels Marthouse Records. Today Gimmie are premiering the video for the record’s first single ‘Smoke Taint’ which is giving major swamp rock, post-punk vibes. Heir Traffic’s Daniel Devlin and Zac Marshman tell us about the video shoot, their beginnings, and writing & recording the album.

Tell us, how did you end up on the path to making music? What led to Heir Traffic coming into being? 

ZAC: Luke [Morton], Daniel, and myself all started playing and writing music together when we were about 16. The three of us became friends through our similar musical interests, so it was pretty natural that we started jamming together. Eventually, after getting past our psych-rock phase, we started putting together some instrumentals which ultimately became early Heir Traffic songs once we started jamming with Hughy [Mitchell] on vocals in summer 2018/19. Later we shuffled around the guitar arrangements and had a bunch of songs with synth, and so Mike [Bradvica] started playing bass with us. 

What’s something that we might be surprised that you listen to? What do you appreciate about it? 

DAN: Joshua Tree by U2, 1116 SEN AM talkback radio, Slipknot self-titled debut album, the RRR Eat It market report, Soulwax FM GTA V radio.

What’s something that you’ve seen lately that’s blown you away? What do you look for in new music?

DAN: I recently saw Finnish death metal band Krypts while visiting Hobart this month.  I’ve always had a big admiration for metal musicians, and watching the proficiency of a band like Krypts was very inspiring. It’s hard to pinpoint what I really look for in new music, and it’s hard to say for the rest of the band as well [laughs], but I think there’s just this intangible feeling you get when you hear a great song. I definitely felt that during the Krypts set! 

What’s an album that is a big deal for you? Why is it significant to you?

ZAC: Devotion by Beach House is an album that we love and has its own footnote in the Heir Traffic origin story. Late in 2018, Hughy had written a few bedroom-dream-pop songs that were inspired by early Beach House. He worked on them with Luke, and then later Daniel and I jammed them as well. Once we finished a couple of Hughy’s songs, we pulled out some old post-punk instrumentals, Hughy wrote some lyrics, and we never looked back! 

Heir Traffic’s debut album No Hearth is coming out in August; what are the overarching themes of the record?

ZAC: The lyrics are typically abstract and poetic, but many songs address issues associated with ineffectual political leadership in Australia. Others take the form of introspective meditations. Some have characters and narrative. Musically, we tried to maintain a distinct brooding atmosphere which we could use to explore dissonance and tension in order to create some form of catharsis.

Where does a song most often begin for Heir Traffic? How does the songwriting process work between you guys?

DAN: Zac and Luke will generally bring fully formed demos to the group before we start working on the song as a band. It’s only recently that we have started collaborating on demos, or jamming out song ideas like we would have when we first started. There are probably a few exceptions to that, but usually, a decent demo will end up in our google drive, we will discuss the structure as a group, and then work on getting the song into a live set together. 

When you’re writing a record, what do you tend to do if you get a bit stuck for inspiration?

ZAC: I would often turn to other Heir Traffic songs, or songs off albums that we admire, and pick one or two simple elements that work really well and try to use those as the basis for something new. Novel things like one particular strange guitar chord, or a crash cymbal on a certain off-beat would often kick start a new part. Through the cycle of feedback, collaboration, and jamming, every part eventually morphs into its own unique thing, and every member imparts their own playing personality, and so a new song appears!

Any notable challenges making the album?

ZAC: Aside from all the re-scheduling and delays that happened because of covid restrictions, the album process was relatively smooth. We recorded and mixed with Paul Maybury at A Secret Location Sound Recorders, and he was awesome to work with and had a great feel for the sound we wanted to capture. The only thing we didn’t do in the studio was the guitar tracks, which we recorded ourselves in rehearsal rooms at Singing Bird Studios. Being our first time recording guitar properly, there was lots of troubleshooting and head-scratching going on, but it all worked out in the end and was a good learning experience for us. 

All photos courtesy of Heir Traffic.

What’s one of your fondest memories from recording No Hearth?

DAN: I remember when we began setting up on the first day of recording, we were really spoilt for choice with equipment and had a lot of fun playing around with different drum sounds and bass pedals. From a personal perspective, one of my fondest memories from the recording was getting to use some of Paul’s cymbals he had around the studio. Paul has this pretty amazing set of high hats that you can hear on a few of the tracks throughout the record. I think they were 15-16” and gave off a very distinct 60’s sizzle. It was amazing to see the amount of vintage gear the engineers and musicians working at a Secret Location have managed to collate over the years. 

We’re premiering the video for song ‘Smoke Taint’ which was shot on Super 8 at The Briars’ Historic Homestead in Mount Martha, Victoria; what do you remember from shooting the video? See any ghosts?

DAN: The Briars is really close to where we grew up, so it was a lot of fun going back there to shoot a video. It was a really hot day in February, so I definitely remember getting sunburnt [laughs]. 

We went into the video with a very loose idea of what we wanted to do, so it was great having Jenn Tran with us to shoot and help guide us with a lot of the shots and concepts. We all love Jenn’s visual art and professionalism, so working with her was probably the most memorable part of the experience. 

As for ghosts, I definitely got a chill when we went inside the old mill, which you can see towards the end of the video. That shot actually ended up being the album cover!

What sparked the idea for the ‘Smoke Taint’ lyrics?

ZAC: All the lyrics are written by Hugh. He works at a winery, so I guess that’s where the inspiration for an allegory about a winemaker came from. The lyrics were written around the time of the 2020 bushfire crisis, and the satire of the lyrics portrays the diminishing political integrity of that time. The story told by the lyrics is about a wine whose grapes have been tainted by bushfire smoke, and the deceptive misrepresentations of that wine that the sommelier uses to try and turn a profit. 

What’s the best thing about the video?

DAN: I really love the shot of Hughy having wine poured into his mouth. To me, it makes that chorus line “I’ll drink it all!” even more absurd. It was also just a funny scene to shoot because we kept having to refill the wine bottle with Ribena. By the end, Hughy was essentially drowning in the stuff, and had it all through his hair and shirt for the rest of the 30+ degree day haha. 

You collaborated with artist Jenn Tran on the video, they also did the album art as well as the art for your last release The Roman Road / The Bellows; how did you come to work with Jenn? How do you feel Jenn’s style compliments your songs?

ZAC: Jenn and Hugh both studied animation together. We really admired a lot of her experimental animation and collage work that we had seen, and thought it would suit the sparse and raw sound of the Roman/Bellows double single perfectly. For the ‘Smoke Taint’ video, we were super eager to work with Jenn again. We love what Jenn came up with when editing the video, and think she has captured the dark and anxious sound that we were striving for with the album.

What can you tell us about the No Hearth album cover image?

DAN: This was the final super-8 shot we took while filming the ‘Smoke Taint’ video. We had no intention of getting the album cover that day, but when we saw back the shots Jenn had taken we all really liked it. The actual image is of an abandoned mill sat next to what looks like an old farmhouse / shearing shed. My brother James Devlin did some additional colour grading on the super-8 still after the shots came back, which we ended up using for the artwork.  

What are you most excited about for the rest of the year?

ZAC: Aside from putting the album out and playing more shows, we are all really looking forward to getting back to Meredith Music Festival in December. We’ve all been going for years and have sorely missed the sup’ recently—a home away from home for us all. 

No Hearth is out on Marthouse Records August 26. Pre-order vinyl HERE. Find Heir Traffic  on Insta @heirtraffic and on Facebook