Posts Tagged ‘Joe Russo’

The Pet Parade marks a milestone for Eric D. Johnson, who celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. In some ways still a cult band, in other ways a time-tested act, Fruit Bats has consistently earned enough small victories to carve out a career in a notoriously fickle scene.

While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and bandleading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America.


“This was definitely not a coronavirus record,” Fruits Bats’ Eric D. Johnson says of “The Pet Parade”, his indie-folk project’s ninth album. “What I mean by that is that I think everyone who writes songs is going to be coming out with a quarantine record at some point in the next five months, but about half of these songs were written before the pandemic. Then again, the record couldn’t not be informed by what was taking place, and a few of the songs I had already completed were weirdly prescient.”

Beyond colouring Johnson’s lyrical content, the pandemic certainly played a role in the process of creating the album. In early March, producer Josh Kaufman visited Johnson in LA for prep work, and the pair planned to re-group for some more formal sessions a few weeks later in Kaufman’s native New York. However, COVID-19 scuttled those plans and, when the two resumed work on the album, they did so remotely, enlisting drummer Joe Russo, The Walkmen/Fleet Foxes drummer Matt Barrick, singer Johanna Samuels, keyboardist Thomas Bartlett and bassist Annie Nero, who is also Kaufman’s wife, to record individual tracks from their home locales.

Though “The Pet Parade” marks the first time that Kaufman had produced a Fruit Bats record, the project immediately proceeded their collaboration with Anais Mitchell as Bonny Light Horseman.

Johnson is quick to note that while Thom Monahan had served as producer of his three previous Fruit Bats albums, 2011’s Tripper, 2016’s Absolute Loser and 2019’s Gold Past Life, that “Thom had gotten really busy as of late.”

“We’re always going to work together; he’s one of my closest friends and we already have plans for other stuff,” he continues. “So when I finished the Bonny Light Horseman record, I was like, ‘I want to keep living in this world. I would love to see what Josh does with some of my other original songs.’ I just wanted to see what his touch would bring.”

As for working with the personnel on The Pet Parade, Johnson likens the experience to “hiring a film director who has his own cast of actors. He brought in the Josh Kaufman Players, all of whom are friends of mine or became friends through Josh. Everyone was in a different room in a different city but, thankfully, all of them had home setups. Then there’s Josh himself. Some of the songs are just the two of us playing everything, which was fine by me because I adore the guy and he is an absolute monster of a multi-instrumentalist.”

The Pet Parade

Josh and I both independently had this idea that we should do a song that was a hypnotic invocation of some sort. We were thinking about Astral Weeks. Now I don’t think it sounds like that album, but the idea was something with two chords that we could float over the top of in some way. The song was originally conceived like that, and then it became something else.

Josh pushed to open the record with it, but that was a scary decision for me to make. I’m a guy who wants to top[1]load the record—not because it’s some Spotify thing but because, going back to The Beatles, that’s just what you do. So even though I think it’s a wonderful song, it’s seven minutes long, it’s slow, you can’t dance to it and it has two chords. But Josh was like, “During this moment in time, you can’t write a song where the first line is, ‘Hello from in here to all you out there/ It feels like it’s been years’ and not open an album with it.”

I realized he was right. With this record, I’m inviting people to be patient rather than giving them a two-and-a-half-minute banger at the start to suck them in. It’s kind of like telling people: “Do you trust me? Come on in.”

One of my great musical mentors, Jim Becker, plays fiddle on the song, which was a real joy. He’s an old Chicago pal of mine and probably best known these days as a member of Iron & Wine. He’s played on records of mine in the past, but he’s somebody that I hadn’t made music with in a long time. That’s him playing those gorgeous Cajun-y fiddles.

Cub Pilot

This is one of the earlier demos that I had written. I guess you could say it’s a pre-quarantine song. Originally, in a way, it fell into the lyrical thematic territory that I dug into on Gold Past Life, which was kind of like talking to someone and being encouraging to that person. In this case, it was kind of a love song, and as I was writing it, I was either going to be singing it to someone, to you, or I was going to put it in the third person. But when we were putting the song together, all the stuff was going down with the George Floyd protests. Now for better or worse, I’m not a topical songwriter. I love that other people do that and, although my music is on the side of righteousness, it typically exists outside of that in a different world.

So while this song is in no way about the protests, I changed the lyrics from “you” to “we” so that it became sort of a love song to the world. That sounds very grandiose but it felt weird, at that moment, to be writing to an individual. I didn’t want to be talking to just one person.


This is the oldest song on the record. A few years ago, before we had even conceived of Bonny Light Horseman, I went out to New York to work with Josh. I wasn’t really thinking of him as a producer. It was just an excuse to hang out and write something together. We did this song and it had mumble lyrics on it, which happens sometimes. I put it aside for several years but once Josh agreed to produce this record, I was like, “Oh, we should do that one,” because I always really liked it, although it was never finished.

Now, sometimes, mumble lyrics can be actual gibberish but, in this case, it was real words and the first line was “He has lived through another night and is quite likely to wake up again.” It seemed weird to have that first line in this moment with the spectre of death feeling close.

“Discovering” is kind of a song about isolation, but isolation in which you can take yourself outside. So it’s about walking around alone outside. I’m not trying to write about it in a romantic or starry-eyed way; it’s a little more like a neutral Zen song about just getting yourself outside and breathing in the air.

The Balcony

This song is about a dream location, which is the balcony of my grandmother’s apartment. We moved around a ton as a kid, but my grandma lived in the same place. She’s no longer with us but my aunt lives there now.

It’s an apartment on the ninth floor and it’s been in my life forever. I often dream about the balcony there, which overlooks a very mid-century stone rec centre. There’s an outdoor pool that is sometimes this lonely, drained thing in the Chicago winter, and then off in the distance is a sliver of the Chicago skyline. I found it to be a very evocative place when I was a little kid for a million reasons, and it exists in my dreams forever.

The song is not really about that, but somehow it just worked its way into the song. It’s a song about patience and it’s probably informed by the quarantine. We almost left it off the record but it’s the most legit up-tempo song we had. So it ended up getting back in, and I’m glad it did.

Here for Now, for You

“Here for Now, for You” is a pretty sad song with some references to suicide, having lost a few friends like that. It’s another one where I kind of spit out the first line, sort of as a mumble off the top of my head. It was, “I feel sometimes like I want to get off the ride, like, you know, that I’m getting called home,” which is a pretty dark line.

I wrote it a long time ago. The music portion of the song has gone through a lot of permutations. At one point, there was a crazy ‘80s pop jam in there, with Joe Russo shredding on drums, but it continued to evolve. It’s a sad song but it’s also about devotion.

On the Avalon Stairs

“On the Avalon Stairs” is probably my favourite vocal performance that I’ve ever done for one of my own records. Singing is always the most intimate and strange part of record-making. I’ve produced other people’s records, I’ve guested and I’ve been there for other people’s processes. It can be hard and I can be very self-critical about it.

I was a singer before I could play any instruments and I’m aware that it’s probably my strong suit. I’m not going to come guest on your record and shred lead guitar—that’s just not what I do. But I can come and sing harmonies and maybe something good will come of it.

In this case, it was very strange being in a room alone, kind of comping my own vocals. That’s the easiest way to get into a wormhole of your own brain; those sounds are coming from close to your brain. I did a couple of takes and I wasn’t feeling it, but then I did one take that was a breakthrough moment. I remember being happy with that vocal take and I don’t usually feel that way.

Eagles Below Us

This is a song about wanting to climb in someone’s head, which is something that we all believe we can do. It sort of sounds like a love song, and it is in some ways. But it’s also a platonic love song, which all of my love songs are—you can sing them to a friend. The great Annie Nero is on bass and Joe Russo is on drums.

When we were on the Bonny Light Horseman tour, we were driving somewhere in the mountains. There was a cliffside to the right and, when I looked down, there was an eagle flying 20 feet below us. I thought it was such a great image.

“Eagles Below Us” was also the working title for the album because I really like that notion. However, it ended up losing out to The Pet Parade, which kind of came in at the last minute and was more elemental sounding.

Holy Rose

“Holy Rose” might be the most direct song on the record as far as being about something. I wrote that one about the 2017 Sonoma County Tubbs Fire. It was one of the first songs we worked on and, as we continued from summer into early fall, these fires started happening again. My wife is from Sonoma County and it’s about her experience watching her childhood burn away.

I realized, after the fact, that each verse and chorus is written from a different character’s perspective. Some of the song is saying, “Get out of there,” and some of it is saying, “I’ll never leave.” I’ve seen the heartbreak of native Californians watching their lives burn. There’s a symbolic notion in the line about “the ghosts of everyone you’ve ever known.”

The original arrangement was going to be a soft sort of waltz, but Josh and Matt Barrick interpreted it as very angry, which I thought was cool. So it’s still a waltz, but it hits hard and kind of feels like a fire.

All in One Go

“All in One Go” was a late add. I wrote it all in one blast— which I may have had in mind when I was working on it—and then named the song.

It seems like all my records always have a song toward the end that takes the form of a gentle acoustic guitar track. I’ll sit down with an iPhone and an acoustic guitar and do something that’s sort of informed by the record as a whole. It’s a little bit of a denouement, which is how “All in One Go” ended up in that position as the third to last song.

Gullwing Doors

Sense of place is huge for me. In fact, that was one of the working titles for Gold Past Life and the original theme of that album. I’m nomadic. I kind of live everywhere and nowhere, too, but for the past 15 years, it’s mostly been back and forth between LA and Portland. When I leave one city, I always write a love song to the other.

“Gullwing Doors” is somewhat about the back[1]and-forth drive up Interstate 5 between LA and points north, which can be the world’s longest and bleakest drive. It’s a driving song, like my song “Absolute Loser” [the title track to his 2016 album], although that one was about driving between Portland and Seattle in the rain. This one is more about driving around Stockton at dusk.

There are also some thematic tie-ins to the other songs on this record. It has a similar theme to “Eagles Below Us” in that it’s a song about human connection. It’s also a little bit related to “Holy Rose” with that sense of deciding between letting go of a place or holding onto a place.

Josh brought a lot out of this one. At first, it was more of a double time, almost disco-y song, but he saw it as a half[1]time kind of epic thing. Josh laboured over all these songs, but I have good memories of him being excited about this one. He did a number on it in a good way.


Here’s my theory about the last three songs on a record. It’s different than the first couple songs on a record because there are a lot of different ways to look at those. You might put a couple of super jams up front to get people invested or, like in this case, put a floaty song up front so that you can get people in a meditative mood.

But while there are a few ways that you can treat the beginning of an album, I always see the end the same way. I feel like the second-to-last song is the last song because the last song is kind of like the epilogue. The album is done and now you’re watching the closing credits. So that makes the third-to-last song really the second-to-last scene. That’s how I’ve always envisioned it. The second-to-last song is really the end, and the last song is the closing credits.

“Complete” is just me singing and playing guitar at the same time in a room. There are no overdubs, I’m just playing to a click track. I tried to make it an invocation, a little bit of a prayer and a wish for everyone: “You shall be complete.” I know we’re all feeling like there are holes in us right now, so it’s a prayer for good, as best as I can say it.

Fruit Bats is back with their second studio album on Merge Records, The Pet Parade, out March 5th.

Produced by Josh Kaufman

News breaks today of a new album from Eric D. Johnson’s Fruit Bats. “The Pet Parade”, an album that emerges in troubled times, living within what Johnson refers to as the beauty and absurdity of existence, is due for release by Merge Records on 5th March.

Ahead of the album’s release, comes ‘Holy Rose’ a song that introduces itself as a ballad but soon blossoms with fuzzed-out guitars and organ. Johnson on this new song: “Holy Rose” is possibly the most “direct” song on The Pet Parade. I wrote this about the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and was finishing it up right when fire season was raging in California. My wife grew up in Sonoma County and just had to sit there and watch her childhood burn down. This is a love song to the native West Coasters.”

While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and band-leading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America.

At times upbeat and reassuring and at times quietly contemplative, The Pet Parade marks a milestone for Johnson, who celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. In some ways still a cult band, in other ways a time-tested act, Fruit Bats has consistently earned enough small victories to carve out a career in a notoriously fickle scene.

And Johnson himself—who has played in The Shins, composed film scores, gone solo and returned back to the moniker that started it all, and recently earned two Grammy nominations with Bonny Light Horseman—doesn’t take this long route of life’s pet parade for granted. “I’m still really excited to make records,” he says. “Lucky and happy and maybe happier that things went slower for me. I’m savouring it a lot more.”

From the album The Pet Parade, out March 5, 2021 on Merge Records.

Circles Around The Sun and revered drummer Joe Russo have come together for a four song EP simply entitled, ‘Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo.’ The electrifying collection stems from a completely improvised recording session at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn during Winter 2019.

Last year, Circles Around The Sun and Joe Russo (who had previously worked together with Phil Lesh, Cass McCombs, and others) released the collaborative Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo EP, and around that same time, CATS and Joe teamed with animator Thomas Lynch III (The Midnight Gospel, Deep Space 69, Cartoon Network) to make a video for the song “When I Was At Peace,” which is as trippy and mind-bending as the song itself. The video was shelved after founding CATS member Neal Casal‘s suicide, but — as Neal wished — CATS continued as a band in his absence and they’re now ready to release the visual, which premieres in this post.

“I was a fan of Thomas’s art and showed it to Neal,” Circles Around The Sun bassist Dan Horne tells us. “He liked it and we called him up to see if he wanted to do a poster. The poster idea ballooned into a series of posters and a video for a song we recorded with Joe Russo. But then Neal died and some time passed before I called up Thomas again and he was like ‘we’re still doing this video right?’ He finished the video, but the timing wasn’t right to release it so we thought we would save it for a better time. We recently decided this is the right time to share it.”

Thomas Lynch III’s storyboard describes the video as “a journey through the cosmos to view the creation of spacetime singularity. Referencing the lifecycle of a star as the framework for our journey, we dance through the cosmos and take an expedition past the event horizon. Here, all the rules of physics break down into a mind melting quest with a spacetime singularity, eventually leading the audience into a new quantum existence.”

Back when the EP was first announced in 2019, Neal Casal had said, “We thought it would be a great idea to do a project with him, so we met up in a studio in Brooklyn and wound up creating four songs in one day. The session had a true Circles Around The Sun in the moment vibe with explosive improvisation, double drums between Joe and our drummer Mark Levy, conversational guitars with me and Dan, and plenty of Adam Macdougall keyboard wizardry.”

Joe Russo added, “I was excited when Neal reached out about the possibility of this collaboration. Having played with Neal and Adam many times before over the years, and my time spent with Dan on Cass Mccombs gigs and sessions, it felt like a no brainer.”


released August 13th, 2020

Neal Casal – Guitar
Dan Horne – Bass
Adam MacDougall – Keyboards
Mark Levy – Drums

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s sophomore album Sideways To New Italy around the clock since it’s release earlier this month via Sub Pop Records. We even got to interview them about the record,  The Melbourne, Australia five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever released a new album, Sideways to New Italy, earlier in the month . Now they have shared a video for the album’s “Cameo.” Nick Mckk directed the video, which starts with the band’s Fran Keaney singing the song under a lone spotlight and in a black turtleneck, before the whole band eventually appears.

“This is a love song. It’s about reaching through time portals,” says Keaney in a press release. “The lyrics were pieced together over about a year like a little puzzle. I found the first pieces in Rushworth, and the last pieces in Darwin.” As for the video, Keaney says that Mckk shares their “vision for the earnest and the absurd,” adding: “This is our first video to feature skivvies, a wall of cardboard boxes, and a human-powered rotating stage.”

Mckk had this to say about the video: “Fran had the idea to separate each body part playing, disembodied like the famous Queen artwork. I think it was Tom who really wanted to dress like Molloy, the cat burglar from The Simpsons. White sneakers, black pants and a turtleneck. I was very for this.

“Because I’m a fool and I don’t know how to work a gimbal (stabilizer), I ended up shooting a lot of the clip on rollerblades, which let me zoom around the spinning stage. Set Designer Grace Goodwin and I created the big bricks that the band could smash through, representing the disintegration of memory and the rebuilding of recollection. I mean, it was that for me, I can’t speak for the band!”

Sideways to New Italy is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s sophomore album and the follow-up to 2018’s debut album, Hope Downs, also released via Sub Pop. 

Sideways to New Italy also includes “Cars In Space,” a new song the band shared in February via a video for the track co-directed by fellow Aussie musician Julia Jacklin with her regular collaborator Nick Mckk. “Cars In Space” . When the album was announced they shared another new song from it, “She’s There,” via a video for the single. Then they shared the album’s third single, “Falling Thunder,” also via a video for the track. Then the band released a video of them performing early single “Angeline” remotely and separately from their homes (the song is not found on either of their albums, but was released as a single back in 2013). Then they shared one last pre-release single from it, “Cameo,” .

Then the band teamed up with fellow Australian Stella Donnelly to cover “Deeper Water,” a 1999 song by Melbourne’s Deadstar. They did so in an empty cricket stadium as part of the six-part Australian series State of Music, put together by the state of Victoria during the pandemic.

The band features singer/songwriter/guitarists Tom Russo, Joe White, and Fran Keaney, as well as bassist Joe Russo and drummer Marcel Tussie.

The album’s partial namesake, New Italy, is actually a village near New South Wales’ Northern Rivers, which is an area Tussie is from. A press release announcing the album described the town: “A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pit-stop of a place with fewer than 200 residents, it was founded by Venetian immigrants in the late-1800s and now serves as something of a living monument to Italians’ contribution to Australia, with replica Roman statues dotted like souvenirs on the otherwise rural landscape.”

Keaney had this to say about the album in a previous press release: “I wanted to write songs that I could use as some sort of bedrock of hopefulness to stand on, something to be proud of. A lot of the songs on the new record are reaching forward and trying to imagine an idyll of home and love.”

In February 2019 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever shared a new song, “In the Capital”  released it as a 7-inch single via Sub Pop. The B-side, “Read My Mind,” was also shared in April 2019 via a video for the track , Neither song is featured on Sideways to New Italy.

The band celebrated father’s day with yet another clever music video, this time for one of the album’s (many) highlights, “Cameo.” It’s really well shot and does so much with a little, really highlighting the genius of the band even further for us.

It’s official: critics love Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s album Hope Downs. And they absolutely should—it’s one of the best guitar pop records of the year, strongly evoking both the literate pop of Australia’s the Go-Betweens and the intricate but rough-hewn rock that flourished in New Zealand in the 1980s. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are part of a brilliant music scene in Melbourne, Australia, that exhumes those college radio sounds for the streaming times of today. They have a much higher profile in America than their fellow travelers, if only because they’ve benefited from the promotional support of a large label in the form of Sub Pop, but that doesn’t mean the other bands in their scene are any less worthy of notice today. In fact, Rolling Blackouts aren’t even the best of the current wave of amazing Australian and New Zealand rock bands.

The five members of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have effectively just stepped off a plane. The band were on the road for over two months, sprinting through the festival circuits of America and Europe: Primavera Sound, the Great Escape, Coachella.

Now, they’re sitting bleary-eyed in a beer hall in Collingwood in their hometown of Melbourne. I’m speaking to each member one by one, which feels rather like speed-dating or maybe an inter-school sports round-robin. Vinyl copies of the band’s new album, Hope Downs.

The record sleeve shows a near-empty public swimming pool in the town of Gundagai: against an arid background, a slick of water is holding out against the heat. It’s a fitting image for an album that, after chewing through some hefty thoughts about a turbulent world, chooses to reach for optimism.

The band recorded Hope Downs a year ago, while holed up in a beautiful house near drummer Marcel Tussie’s hometown of Bellingen in northern NSW. As with Rolling Blackouts’ previous EP releases, the songs on Hope Downs have a wiry energy, propelled by the band’s three guitars and vocal melodies that are at once sweet and pinching.

Fran Keany, one of the bands vocalists and guitarists, was a drummer before he picked up guitar a few years ago. In Rolling Blackouts, he plays his acoustic with a percussive bent, adding to the drive of the songs. He says Hope Downs tells small stories about large, daunting themes.

A lot of the songs are about characters dealing with uncertainties. We only became conscious of it after we had finished writing. A lot of our songs involve characters, they’re fictionalised. Although on this album I think we’re far more personal than in our other songs — these ones are a bit closer to reality and ourselves.

The song ‘The Hammer’

is about fate. The “hammer” represents that — when the bell tolls, the death knell, y’know, when you die. The song is thinking about: “What have you done with the life that you’ve had?” It’s morbid in a way, but there is some optimism to it. A lot of the album is about that: being faced with the sheer enormity and uncertainties of the big, vast abyss, and trying to find some kind of certainty within that. But that only became apparent to us afterwards. It’s what we were all thinking about.

The album pushes forth Rolling Blackouts’ bright and sheeny guitar sound — the kind that is sometimes thought of as an Antipodean trademark and means that the band often gets pegged with Go-Betweens comparisons. Fran says the comparisons have weight: classic Australian guitar bands — as well as ideas about Australia as a place — loom large in their songwriting.

I think we all have wanted to make some something that’s particular to our place and time. There are a lot of bands from the UK and America that have a consciousness of where they’re from and when you listen to [their music] you’re sort of immediately transported to those places. It’s got this really galvanising feel to it — particularly UK bands.

So we’ve always wanted to do something like that with Australia. There have been a lot of great Australian bands that have done that, so we want to carry that tradition forward — sing about what’s around you, rather than sing about being in New York, or something. We don’t want to be too hammy or cliche about it, y’know, no green and gold type of Australia stuff, but we’ve wanted to have a particular Australian feel about it.

While it may not be immediately apparent amid the album’s musical buoyancy, many songs have a sharp political undertow, sparked by recent global shifts.

Up until recently there’s been no real desire to change things and break things much. It’s been a mediocre time. And now there’s been this jag against it more pronounced in the US and UK, but a little bit here. A restlessness that has shown itself in some weird political developments.

In a way it’s cool that things have been shaken up. Nothing should be set in stone. Nothing should be certain. Politicians need to get better at talking to the people that are not being looked after properly. The Weinsteins and the Cosbys … are getting their comeuppance and the corporate world is changing a lot. Everybody is thinking about all that stuff at the moment.

Tom Russo, another of the band’s guitarists and vocalists, was churning through similar thoughts when writing for this album particularly when he was on a holiday with his girlfriend, now wife, in Italy.

We went on tour and then had a trip to the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, where my dad’s from. I’d never been there before, but they’re these beautiful islands in the middle of the Mediterranean — surrounded by blue.

The song ‘Mainland’

came about because we were over there staying in a shack on the top of a hill and it was this kind of magical, enchanting time. We were away from everything civilisation. I was going in to town every day and reading the newspaper and having wine and good food, but at the same time looking at the paper and reading that the refugee crisis was happening literally 20 kilometres away. There was really horrible stuff happening.That song was me coming to terms with being in such a privileged position: being in love and on this island and having this amazing time, and then reflecting on the vagaries of fate meaning that other people, born in a different place and time, were having this life and death struggle. I guess it was me trying to make some sort of sense of it all.

He borrowed the song’s chord progression from the band’s bassist, his younger brother Joe. Throughout Hope Downs, the band’s three guitarists maintain their complementary but distinct styles. Tom says he favours a minimalistic approach.

I think of a melodic idea and I just try to hammer it in to the ground. Same with chords; I try to be as minimal as possible. I guess our styles kind of complement each other. Fran uses the guitar almost as a percussive instrument. He’s got really good rhythm. It’s used in conjunction with hi-hats and cymbals to tick through the beat.

I have this big heavy Gretsch. I’m not much of a technical player; I have a pretty heavy hand. I play leads and stuff, but I tend to do really simple kind of leads. I just keep banging on and on, kind of like Neil Young

really heavy one-note solos and stuff.I tend to like things that are clean and strong, whereas Joe White, the other lead guitarist, he’s probably technically a lot better than me and he can make things up off the top of his head and is probably a bit more wild and out there — a bit more nimble.

Rolling Blackouts maintain a steadfastly democratic songwriting process, perhaps aided by their long-time friendships and family ties.

We’ve all known each other for a long time. Fran and I went to school together and we’ve been best friends since year seven. Joe White is his cousin. And I’ve known Joe for a long time as well. We’ve written music together for ten years in various little, other bands all kinds of different versions of the same band in a way.

We all know what we like and we’re not precious about any of the songs. If someone comes up with an idea, we bring it to the group and we trust each other enough to develop it and everyone’s welcome to do something to it. I think that’s what makes our songs what they are — there’s all these different perspectives.

When it came time to record, the band were keen to escape the Melbourne winter. Drummer Marcel Tussie put the word out and found a spare house outside of his hometown of Bellingen. They temporarily relocated north, along with producer and engineer Liam Judson. Marcel says it was slightly challenging, but worth it.

It was a bit of a logistical — not a nightmare, but there was a lot more involved than just heading down to a studio in Brunswick for two weeks. We packed up the van with all of our equipment, drove for two days to get up there, organised for Liam who is from Sydney to be up there.

We had two weeks up there. We did probably 85 to 90 percent of it there and then did a couple of tracks in our studio back here and did some overdubs and vocal takes and bits and pieces.

The house is an interesting design it’s sort of built up into the trees. This particular room [where we recorded] is sort of separated from the main living space of the house in that it’s got a big long walkway that goes out in to one room. There were a lot books in there and a bed — we cleared it out and made it into our studio space. One of the walls of the house opens up completely, with a kind of pulley system, so we basically opened up the wall and looked out onto the rainforest and a creek.

I think at different points in the recording we all had our own individual moments of, “Holy fuck, where are we?” And I hadn’t been back there in 10 years, so it was really nice for me to go back there and be in that space, personally.

I remember Fran telling me about one moment when we were halfway through a take and he was feeling really good about it and then this kookaburra just came down and went flying right past in front he could have reached out and touched it — and he had this freak-out moment of “What’s going on?” So, I’m glad we did it there.

Marcel’s drumming is key to the propulsion of the songs on Hope Downs, but he says joining the band presented a stylistic learning curve.

I’d never really played in a rock band before this. I’d always sort of played in funk bands and Afro-beat bands and soul bands and more groove-based stuff, so it was a weird transition for me to be in a rock band. I didn’t really know what the fuck was going on — it was a weird adjustment.

I’d always listened to a lot of Midnight Oil growing up, so Rob Hirst is a huge influence. I started listening a lot more to him and his approach to getting the songs to drive when I started playing with these guys.

He describes the band’s writing process for the album as a typically “no-bullshit” affair.

It’s never tense. The focus has always been on what’s best for the song and really it’s quite remarkable how egos don’t even come close to getting involved in the way of writing the song or recording the song. Everyone’s really open and honest with each other — there’s no bullshit. If something needs to be changed, someone will say something and there’s never any arguments.

Joe White, the band’s other lead guitarist and vocalist, plays a “pawn shop Mustang”.

I used to have a Telecaster but it was stolen, from my car which I guess was my own fault. I had that for 10 years, and it was my favourite thing. I’m slowly working my to getting another one emotionally bringing myself back to playing a different Telecaster.

He agrees that throughout the band’s writing process, egos are set aside.

We have a collective consciousness when it comes to coming up with parts. I don’t really see myself as bringing my own personal style to it — we just try to make it a Rolling Blackouts song.

Joe’s guitar lines are the most intricate of each of the band’s guitarists. On many Hope Downs songs, his solos unfurl gleefully, such as on the album’s lead

As well as focusing on melody, Joe says he’s also interested in an “ugly” kind of playing.

I mean we all try and pick out melodies. I’ve also played a lot of music with Cash Savage,

which has got a bit more of a bluesy, loose style. I’ve been enjoying bending notes and less pretty type of things. I’ve been trying to bring that in. Trying to make it a bit ugly for a little while and then bringing back the prettiness.

He says Rolling Blackouts have influences that may not be immediately apparent — based on the functionality of two lead guitars. The Sleepy Jackson comes in a fair bit. It’s kind of easy to bring in those eighties Australiana bands, but it comes from everywhere.

The band’s bassist, Joe Russo, has fond memories of the album’s recording process. However, he says playing across a valley presented some unique challenges.

It’s an amazing part of the world; a good space to spend two weeks with everybody. The first couple of days we had this door of the room open. We were one storey up and playing to palm fronds that were waving in the breeze. Then, ’cause we were making so much noise in the valley, there was a ring around. It eventually got to the person who lived there, who was in Europe at the time, and they got in touch with Marcel and said, “Can you please keep it down?”

A famous neighbour made a subtle cameo throughout their stay. You know the movie Shine, with Geoffery Rush? The one based on [pianist] David Helfgott.

He lives next door and you could hear him at night playing Rachmaninoff and stuff while we were sitting by the fire. So it was a pretty beautiful place. We were super lucky to get up there.

After spending the past couple of years consistently touring, Rolling Blackouts have gained a reputation as a taut live act. Joe says the band wanted to capture as much of their on-stage energy as they could, so they tracked bass, drums and some guitar live. This comes through in the takes that made it to Hope Downs, which crack along at a manic pace.

We’re probably at the height of our game musically after doing a couple of EPs and just playing constantly. We seem to just be one organism at times. I think [the album] captures that energy. We did shitloads of takes of each thing and we picked the best one mostly because of the feel of it. So I think if we managed to capture that I guess it’s a very diffuse and hard thing to capture it’d be great.


Guitars, so much guitars. So much guitar goodness. At some points it almost feels like I’m listening to guitar riffs of The Mats, REM and Flying Nun laid over each other as Joe Russo (bass) and Marcel Tussie (drums) admirably keep the ship moving forward. But nope, it is Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White who in addition to weaving tasty guitar licks are also sharing the vocal duties as well. This seems appropriate for R.B.C.F., an Australian quintet that hit the ground running a few years ago. They released their excellent first EP Talk Tight on the Sydney-based record label Ivy League, then moved to Sub Pop Records for 2017’s The French Press EP. The former is a bit more relaxed and acoustic, while the latter cranks up the volume and pace. Together, they’re a thrilling introduction to a promising young band.

I loved their two EPs so to say I was hyped for the LP is an understatement. And Hope Downs delivers the goods from beginning to end. It is a dizzying and winding 35 minute trek of indie rock delight. The opener, An Air Conditioned Man brilliantly encapsulates my predicament of my day job, and wondering where my youthful dreams went.

Two tunes later, right after the excellent Talking Straight, was inspired by Tom Russo’s voyage to the island of his grandfather’s birth balanced with the struggles of refugees in Australia. Bellarine is an an absolute gem and that is followed by Cappuccino City, a tune that muses about a meandering day in a cafe. Lest I forget, the punchy closer The Hammer which bring the proceedings to a satisfying conclusion.

I love getting lost in these guys tunes and trying to pick out which direction each riff is headed. And as good as their albums are, they are so much better to see live.

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Sub Pop has something special on their hands with Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Yeah, this is surf rock, but RBCF sounds nothing like American surf rock bands. Each member of the quintet takes a turn on the mic and songs from the released The French Press EP were as great as we had hoped. Singles “Julie’s Place and “French Press,” with thick basslines, vocal harmonies and sticky guitar melodies.

In early 2016, the release of Talk Tight put Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on the map with glowing reviews from Spin, Stereogum, and Pitchfork, praising them as stand-outs even among the fertile landcape of Melbourne music. Chock full of snappy riffs, spritely drumming and quick-witted wordplay, Talk Tight was praised for the precision of their melodies, the streamlined sophistication of their arrangements, and the undercurrent of melancholy that motivates every note.” The band was born from late night jam sessions in singer / guitarist Fran Keaney’s bedroom and honed in the thrumming confines of Melbourne’s live music venues. Sharing tastes and songwriting duties, cousins Joe White and Fran Keaney, are brothers Tom and Joe Russo, and drummer Marcel Tussie started out with softer, melody-focused songs.

The more shows they played, the more those driving rhythms that now trademark their songs emerged. Since then, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have rode that wave from strength to strength. Touring around the country on headline bills and festival slots all the way to Bigsound, the entrenched themselves with their thrilling live shows while prepping their next release. The French Press levels up on everything that made Talk Tight such an immediate draw. Multi-tracked melodies which curl around one another, charging drums and addictive bass lines converge to give each track its driving momentum. Honed through their live shows, this relentless energy carries the record through new chapters in the band’s Australian storybook. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s songs have always had all the page-turning qualities of a good yarn and The French Press is no different. Somewhere between impressionists and fabulists, lyricists Fran Keaney, Tom Russo and Joe White often start with something rooted in real life – the melancholy of travel on French Press, having a hopeless crush on Julie’s Place – before building them into clever, quick vignettes. The result is lines blurred between fiction and reality – vibrant stories which get closer at a particular truth than either could alone. Blending critical insight and literate love songs, The French Press cements Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever as one of Australia’s smartest working bands.