Six-time Aria-Award nominated San Cisco just released its second full-length album last month, entitled Gracetown. The Aussie-based quartet—which has performed at elite international festivals including Lollapalooza, Reading and Leeds and which already completed a sold-out U.S. tour in 2013—refines its unique brand of indie pop/trip hop with 12 new tracks, produced by Australian producer Steven Schram on the new album. Pro Sound News spoke to singer Jordi Davieson and guitarist Josh Biondillo about “avoiding musical wank” as the band was gearing up for its next multi-city U.S. tour.
ON STORYBOARDING GRACETOWN:
Josh: We started working on new material just as we were putting our first record out. I was putting ideas together on my iPad in the back of the tour van, and we started recording it once we finished touring the first album at the end of 2013.
Our first record was really a big bag of stuff that we had carried around for ages, whereas the new songs were written specifically for this record. We were focused on creating exactly the kind of record we wanted to make—the vibe, the sounds and the styles. It was a lot more ‘hands on’, preconceived and mature, and we were able to really think through what we wanted from the recordings.
The songs on the new record are all very different sounding. The reason for this is that the process we use to write each song is different. Some of the songs were written on an iPad, other songs would be written by Josh or myself on guitar and then we would refine them. There are so many different ways we write songs, and we really strive to change it up every time. This ends up making the collection of songs sound much more exciting. If I am struggling to come up with an idea, I might change instruments and that will make the angle different.
ON KEEPING IT CLOSE TO HOME:
Jordi: In the past, we never recorded in our hometown. But this time, we recorded in a shed in Josh’s backyard and at a friend’s studio [Rada Studios] in Freemantle, which is about a five-minute drive from where we live. We found this was a much more relaxed way to record because we were able to go to bed at home every night and also found that we had a lot more time to work.
Once we had all the ideas down in the backyard, we moved to the studio in Freemantle and our longtime producer, Steve Schram, came over, listened to the demos and gave us very honest review of the music. He said, ‘this is good’, ‘this is good’, ‘this is crap, stop doing this.’ Originally, we weren’t going to work with him on this album, but changed our minds after he gave such an honest review of our work.
ON ‘THE BACKYARD TAPES ’:
Jordi: We ended up using quite a few of the original takes that we recorded from Josh’s studio. Quite often, what we found was that when we recorded something later, it just didn’t have the same charm and vibe that the original take did.
Josh: The studio is in the backyard of my parents’ house, inside a shed that my dad built maybe 10 years ago. The building is beautiful and I treated it as best I could. As far as equipment goes, I got a Universal Audio Apollo recording interface, which I ran into my laptop. For outboard preamps, I’ve got a 500-series rack with an Elecrodyne 501, a Chandler and an API. We also had a couple of LA2As, LA3As and most of the vocals were recorded using a Shure SM 7. For the drums, we used a combination of mics, including a Neumann U 87, Sennheiser 441 on the snare and a couple of old AKG 414s.
ON ‘IMPERFECT ’ RECORDINGS :
Jordi: I think the key to this recording was how we wanted to capture the vibe and the character of the takes as they came to us. On “Skool” for example, everyone was really tired one day, and I started recording in the toilet with my iPhone. I ended up putting that into Pro Tools and it just worked it up from there—the original track is still in that song. We didn’t want to perfect the songs; in fact, we don’t want anything to be perfect. We want them to be real.
Josh: We don’t pride ourselves as being overly competent musicians, so when it comes to the recordings, there are many imperfections. But this is OK.
ON AVOIDING MUSICAL WANK:
Josh: When it did come time to record the record, I realized very quickly that a lot of this technology could get in the way of ideas. I have so much gear, and I would be spending too much time trying to figure out synth sounds or silly things that actually took away from the actual songs.
Jordi: I call it “musical wank.” A lot of people get caught up in the technology and can end up losing the soul of the song. The listener doesn’t care if you used a $20,000 microphone or whatever—they want something they can relate to and that hits them right in the heart. It is all about the emotion—and as long as you can capture that emotion, you’re doing great. It’s hard enough getting a concise idea across, let alone letting all the gear get in the way.
Josh: There are not too many piece of gear I know of that can write great songs! I think the main thing for us at the moment is trying to figure out an interesting way to present the songs live. It’s never anything we’ve really honed in on, because we’ve only just done the songs as we’ve made them in the studio. But the songs are a lot more involved and there are many more things going on—so figuring out how to present them in a live show can be challenging.