Grungegaze sludgepop trio Terra Pines: “Love, Burnout, Escapism” 

Original photo courtesy of Terra Pines. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Meanjin band Terra Pines are dropping one of the albums of the year and we’re premiering it! Dynamic arrangements, elastic overdrive, atmospheric production, sugary harmonies, melodies washing over you in pulsating waves, glorious crescendos—this is the stuff that dreams are made of. Gimmie caught up with Terra Pines to get insight into making album Downbeats

What’s life been like lately?

KELLY (guitar/vocals): Life has been pretty interesting adapting to this post-plague world. We are about to go on tour again and I’m definitely feeling the “Will everything be cancelled” anxieties.

CAM (drums/vocals): It’s kind of a weird time to be in a band. Getting some momentum into being active again has a been a bit of a challenge.

OWEN (guitar/vocals: I’m really excited that we’re finally getting to put these songs out. It’s been a long couple of years. 

Is there anything that’s been engaging you lately that you’ve been watching, listening to, or reading lately?

KELLY:I’m going through a phase of listening to a lot of music at the moment. Enjoying the new Sasumi record Squeeze. Also really excited for the new Gilla Band record- the two singles ‘Eight Fivers’ and ‘Backwash’ have been superb. 

CAM: Count me as another who is very excited about new Gilla Band. Also listening to the relatively recent Springtime and Infinity Broke records a lot. Low’s ‘Hey What’ is still getting a lot of play for me, too – such amazing production combined with Low’s usual quality songwriting. There’s been lots of really good local stuff, too, like the A Country Practice album from last year and the upcoming Renovators Delight album.

OWEN: Both Cam and Kelly’s other bands (Spirit Bunny and Ancient Channels) put out records semi-recently that I really enjoyed, and still listen to. The new Infinity Broke, Tropical Fuck Storm and Springtime records are all favourites of mine.

New album Downbeats is your second LP. You were putting finishing touches on it in January 2021; when did you start writing for it? How did you get into writing for this record?

KELLY: I’m always writing so I’m not sure if there was a point that kicked it all off. There are some songs on Downbeats that predate a lot of the songs off our first record. Songs like Sun Spells for instance (the album opener). It didn’t fit the first record and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with it or even if we would do anything with it for a while.

CAM: There was probably a little break after the first album before we started working on things as a band. There’s usually a pretty big backlog of unused demos and song ideas that we can work on, so it’s great to be able to cherry pick the best ideas that get us all excited. From memory we had the vast majority of the album pretty well planned out before we started recording, maybe there might have been a song or two that was added in late in the piece (and perhaps knocked some other songs off the record, I think we’ve got another three or four somewhat completed songs that didn’t quite make the cut).

OWEN:I think we started with 16 rough ideas, 13 of which were recorded. And as Kelly suggested, sometimes they don’t fit the general direction of the record. Hopefully they’ll get used later on. There’s still good songs predating the first record that haven’t fit either album.

How did the writing evolve as you went along?

KELLY: We basically wanted to pick up where we left off at the end of the first record. The final songs on that record had a lot more layers and textures and were a bit more stylised. We wanted to explore that a bit more, I like to think about ‘Downbeats’ as more of a studio record. 

CAM: We just wanted to push ourselves a bit more, try a few new things and experiment a bit more with song structures. A lot of the first album was us figuring out what we were as a band, so with this one we had that base already established so we could play around with things a lot more right from the get-go.

OWEN: There’s way more lead and less walls of guitar on this one, which left a lot more space for vocals and other things to come through. 

Did Covid or the pandemic impact Downbeats

KELLY: Definitely, we had mostly finished recording a few weeks before covid hit Australia. That absolutely messed with our momentum for a while with the stop/starting of the economy.

CAM: Yeah, things came to a screeching halt in 2020. We were almost finished with all of the tracking for the album, but weren’t quite far enough along to really get stuck into mixing etc. It took a long time for us to regroup and get things finished. Luckily once we restarted our enthusiasm for the songs was rekindled.

Did you have any ideas of what you did or didn’t want to do on your sophomore album?

KELLY: We didn’t want to make the same record again and we wanted to incorporate different sounds, ideas and atmosphere. Speaking for myself, I wanted to really cut the fat and have a really sharp record, all killer no filler etc. In order to do that we had to cut a few songs but I’m glad we did that.

CAM: Refinement and progression from the first record, really, with a few new twists thrown in. We wanted to try to add a bit more non-guitar instrumentation, which is something we started playing around with towards the end of making the first album. And as Kelly said, just making sure that songs didn’t meander or outstay their welcome, that they were always moving towards something.

Where does your love of melody come from?

KELLY: I’m a slave to melody so if there isn’t a nice hook I’m gone, bye! I’d say most of that comes from the music I’ve consumed throughout my life. Hooks are what resonates with me among other things. 

CAM: As much as we’re a noisy, shoegaze-punk kind of band, we’re also a pop band. We want to add as much beauty and catchiness as we can to the feedback and fuzz. That tension between the extremes is a major part of what makes the best Terra Pines music.

What kinds of stories are you telling listeners with your lyrics in this collection of songs?

KELLY: A lot of these songs were written in 2019 so most of the lyrics are in response to what was going on around then. Some songs are inspired by the bushfires (‘Pinos Altos’ and ‘Indoor Kid’). Some are about love, burnout, escapism etc… I like to keep things a bit vague, lots of imagery and metaphor. I don’t like to be explicit in what I’m talking about. Classic Pisces. 

Why did you choose Downbeats as the album title? 

KELLY: The title worked on a few fronts for us, the gloomy nature of the record but also as a musical reference. We thought it was cool.

CAM: We had the pseudo- title track ‘Downbeat’ for quite a long time, it was one of the first songs written for the record and I think the first one we started playing live regularly. We kind of liked it as an album title but thought it might be a bit much, perhaps a bit too blatant to call a moody rock record ‘Downbeat’. Making it Downbeats gave us the double meaning.

The record was self-recorded again by Cam at Incremental Records. Tell us about the process. 

KELLY:It’s such a privilege to have the engineer as part of the band. To begin with we recorded live demos in the studio in order to get the structure of the songs solid. Structure was something we thought a lot about this time around. When we got around to recording the songs we took our time and played around with sounds.It was lots of fun.

CAM: It’s also just practical. It allows us time and it saves us money, plus we felt like we hadn’t really explored the limits of what we could do in that context with the first album. The first record was recorded almost all live, at least in terms of the drums and guitars. There’s actually not a lot of overdubbing on that record other than the vocals, some keys and a smattering of extra guitars here and there. This record, while not necessarily being THAT much more layered than the debut, was recorded more piecemeal, building things up from the drums, guitars, vocals, etc. It was just a different way of working that allowed us a bit more time to focus on individual parts and sounds. We could take the time to vary the sonics a bit more.

How did you push the boundaries of creativity for yourself writing or recording Downbeats

KELLY: I think we thought about the songs a lot more this time, the first record was all instinctual at least from a writing perspective. This time around a lot more thought went into structure and tone. I also spent a lot more time trying to workshop vocal melodies.

CAM: For me, I came into the first album very much as just being ‘the drummer’ – all of the songwriting was done by Kelly and Owen back then and I was just support for their ideas. I don’t think I was even going to be singing at first, that really only came about once we started playing some shows and we realised that it worked better if someone could harmonise with Kelly’s vocals. It wasn’t until towards the end of writing and recording that album that I started collaborating on songwriting. With this album there was a lot more workshopping the songs as a band, the songs were often coming in a little bit more skeletal than on the first one and there was a lot more room for adding new parts and really playing with structures and melodies. We were able to do some cool things like on the song ‘Pinos Altos’, where none of the choruses are played the same way twice. Just cool little unexpected changeups where previously we might have played things a lot straighter.

OWEN: There’s always things in the original demos that we’re trying to recapture, which presents its challenges, especially if the part is off the cuff, like most of the guitar solos tend to be. 

What do you value about each other personally and creatively?

KELLY: I love the way Owen plays guitar, he doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard. The way he accents notes and his playing style is so out there to me! As for Cam, I love his ideas around structure and his extensive knowledge of music in general. I’m glad we all get on personally because that would be very uncomfortable if we didn’t.

CAM: There are definitely some brutal truths uttered between us when writing and recording! We’re all working towards the same goal though, to make something which excites us. I think we’re one of those bands where we’re really a mix of each of our musical personalities, if you swapped any of us out it would be quite a different thing. I think showing your musical personality can sometimes be a challenge when you play a style that’s hidden behind so much fuzz and volume. Kelly and Owen have such unique ways of playing and writing, generally I’m just trying to slot myself in amongst them in a way that holds it all together – in all of my other drumming projects I don’t really play drums the way I have to in Terra Pines, I’m usually a lot looser.

OWEN: They’reboth great singers, and I like that this record has allowed that to shine through. 

Downbeat’ was the first single released from the album back in October of last year; why did you choose this track to kick off sharing this album to the world?

CAM: It just seemed like a good indication of the record, and it has a good chorus and a cool momentum throughout. We’d been playing it live for a while and it had been getting a good reaction so we just went for it.

What influenced the album track sequencing?

KELLY: I think the sequencing selection happened organically, we all arrived at more or less the same conclusions based on flow. Certain songs just make sense as openers, closers and everything in between.

CAM: When we were listening to the demos we had a playlist order that over time became the album tracklisting. Along the way we added a few newer songs which meant that some others got bumped off, but for the most part that demo playlist stayed relatively consistent. I think for the most part there was mostly a consensus between us, and there were some songs that just seemed obvious, eg: starting the record with ‘Sun Spells’ and also starting side B with ‘Pinos Altos’. A couple of songs were maybe a little contentious in terms of their placement on the album, I think there was maybe a little bit of debate about closing the record with ‘Nightshade’?

OWEN: I’m pleading the fifth on this one hahaha 

How does the album make you feel? 

KELLY: Chuffed! 

CAM: Really proud. I think it’s a cool record, I still listen to it occasionally from front to back for my own enjoyment, even after spending hours and hours recording and mixing it. I think it sets up a real mood while still going to lots of different places, which can be a challenge with the style of music that we play.

OWEN: I’m super proud of it. It improves upon all the elements of the first one, and that’s all you can ask for really.

What’s one of your personal favourite moments on the album? What do you appreciate most about it? 

KELLY: My favourite moment on the record is Wiseacre. It nearly didn’t happen because I didn’t want to go there. It was an old demo we had lying around in the dark recesses of our google drive. The original demo was faster and more post-punk in nature, Cam had the idea of slowing it down and making it more doomy. I’m glad he convinced me because now it’s my favourite song on the record.

CAM: That’s happened twice now, I’m pretty sure Kelly’s favourite song on the first album had a similar story. I think my favourite moment is the changeup with the alternate chords in the final chorus of ‘Blood Moon’, I really like the way that it makes that song feel really epic. There are other cool moments though, like the outro of ‘Indoor Kid’, or the solo in ‘Downbeat’. ‘Wiseacre’ is indeed a favourite, we were trying to turn it into a bit of a slowcore song, like heavy Low or Codeine. It turned out really well, I think it’s my favourite song production-wise.

OWEN: Nightshade’ is definitely a highlight for me. Kelly’s vocals set such a mood. I really like where ‘Wiseacre’ and ‘Green’ ended up as well. Both of those songs changed considerably in the recording process.

Album art and single art features buildings and architecture; what was the idea behind representing these songs with this imagery? 

CAM: Kelly had been doing some collages, a lot of which combined superimposed images of architecture combined with these cosmic backgrounds. Owen and I both loved them, so we all went out one day and took a bunch of photos of some brutalist architecture around Brisbane and basically recreated the vibe of Kelly’s mockups but in a slightly higher quality. We just really loved that combination of the rough, monolithic feel of all of that concrete brutalism, juxtaposed against the inherent sense of craft and beauty. Taking that and combining it with the epic scale of the night sky seemed to work well as a representation of our music.

You’re heading out on the road for an Australian tour to support Downbeats; what’s the best and worst things about being out there?

CAM: The travel is sometimes the best thing and sometimes the worst thing. Seeing the beauty of the spaces in between the major cities is wonderful, but it can be gruelling, especially when combined with struggling through peak-hour traffic in unfamiliar cities. I’m not a fan of the lack of sleep that generally goes hand in hand with touring, I like my sleep. But on the flip-side you meet some really cool people, see some really cool bands, hopefully get some time to eat some good food (as opposed to roadside maccas). Probably the worst thing these days is being away from family, so if you’re going to go on tour you’d best make it worthwhile.

KELLY: The food is both the best and worst part of touring.

OWEN: Catching up with mates that we don’t get to see that often, and exploring different cities is always a lot of fun. Eating good food, not drinking too much and getting enough sleep is crucial. Roadside Maccas is acceptable if Lord of the Fries is shut. 

Terra Pines’ Downbeats is out tomorrow (Sept 2) on False Peak Records – order it HERE. Follow @terra_pines and find the on Facebook terrapinesband.

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.