Blank Realm are one of my favourite bands. Their latest record Grassed Inn was #1 on my unpublished and unwritten Top 50 albums list of 2014. The Sydney launch at The Square in January was also my #1 live show of last year. The crowd was in high spirits and I’d brought along my mate Caleb Goman, who was soon to move to Alice Springs, for a final night of revelry on the town. I wrote at the time, “It was a transcendent experience, a rapturous and mesmerising combination of krautrock and Australian pop that, for me, evokes some melodic memory of The Go Betweens.” Add onto this that Go Easy from 2012 was in my top few albums of that year. They’re a four-piece from Brisbane who’ve been playing live since 2008, containing siblings Luke, Daniel and Sarah Spencer, and guitarist Luke Walsh.
In a thankful happening, in which I had a bizarrely fortuitous involvement, they’re appearing at Sydney Festival this Saturday, January 24 at 11:59pm in the Spiegeltent at Hyde Park. Tickets are a mere $20 and available via sydneyfestival.org.au. I spoke to Daniel Spencer ahead of this weekend. For reference, he’s second from right in the photo above.
How’s the last year been for you guys? It’s been huge. You’ve played Glastonbury.
Yeah it’s been pretty crazy and definitely kind of unexpected. Travelling throughout Europe and next year we’re going back there and going to the U.S. again. But yeah Glastonbury was just insane, I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was kind of awesome but also really overwhelming, just the mud and zillions of people but, yeah it’s been a really fun year. All the shows we’ve played in Australia have been really good.
You’ve just played Meredith the other weekend too.
Yeah I’d probably say that was the best festival I’ve been to ever. Cause I’d never been before and I didn’t realise what it was like and yeah just a really good vibe and met lots of cool people. It wasn’t an assault to the senses like a festival usually is. It was good.
And out of interest, what time of day were you playing at Glastonbury?
I think it was about 5pm and on a smaller stage. But it rained heaps which helped to get people into the dance. I think the band after us were like a Smiths cover band and they had a much bigger crowd. It was fun. It was fun to play there and just a nice kind of atmosphere at Glastonbury. Although there’s so many people and it’s insane and there’s a lot of not great bands, it’s got this weird kind of medieval fair kind of atmosphere being in that part of England. We really liked that aspect of it.
I remember reading early last year, you guys had done an interview around Grassed Inn and everything, and you were saying that after Go Easy, you didn’t know if you had any more. “Turns out we did.” So where are you guys at now? Are you starting to think about writing more stuff, you’ve got ideas, I’m sure you do.
Yeah we’re in the process of writing it actually. We’re going to record it probably in February or March so it’s going to be ready fairly quick. We’ve got most of the songs but we’re just fleshing them out, and I think that it’s going to be a little bit … not really a return to what we did before but you’ll have more maybe ambient and abstract things, as well as some songs that are heavier in a way.
Well that’s cool to hear.
Yeah well we’re just kind of working on that at the moment. We want to get it out hopefully by June so it’s a bit of a rush. We definitely need deadlines to get anything done. So we’ve set ourselves a deadline.
It’s a bit of a naff question I guess, but how do you guys work in writing? Like is it all jamming together and it’s coming out all-together, or someone’s bringing in an idea? That’s a super naff question but …
No that’s a fine question. It’s always just all of us together. We’ve definitely tried like one person bringing in an idea or a song they’d worked on, on their own, but it doesn’t work at all. I dunno it just has to be the four of us playing. I guess our approach to writing is let’s just get in the room and just play, and then we’ll go back and say “Oh we like that one.” And then we’ll do it through again and again, and then maybe the fifth time through we’ll record it. And then that’s pretty much the record. We usually don’t play it through too many times before we record it because it kind of loses that energy.
Yeah well that’s awesome.
On this new one we’re going to go into a studio. So I don’t know how that will go but that will be our first studio album.
Yeah right so for real the last record, you guys would just play it half a dozen times, and not even demoing it, just put it down and see how it goes.
Yeah pretty much. I guess some of the songs we played live a bit. Like ‘Back To The Flood’ I think we played live a few times before we recorded it. But yeah most of them you’re hearing probably the fifth or sixth time we’d played it. And so one of them is, I’m giving too much away, but that song ‘Baby Closes The Door’, we never played that one. That’s the only time we ever played that one. It was just an improvisation that we put on there. We took out the vocals that I did when we were doing it, and put new ones in. And actually that song ‘Even The Score’, they’re actually kind of first takes I guess.
Yeah that’s great. A great way to work.
Yeah it definitely has worked for us not to lose that kind of weird energy of it.
What I like a lot about the last record is a lot of those tracks are kind of two distinct movements. Working together. You know like you’re going along on one and then it’s like you flip to the b-side of that track. You know what I mean? I really like that dynamic. Like you’re cruising along through the verse and then freak out.
I guess we saw Grassed Inn as a continuation of Go Easy in a way and we definitely did that. Had more of the traditional song segment and then a more intense, psych up segment for want of a better word. And that’s the way we have done a lot of those tracks. I think we’ll definitely still do that because it’s really fun to do, but it might change a little bit on the new one, that kind of dynamic.
You guys have kind of reached a pretty high level of renown or whatever in the Australian scene. You know the new record was in the top few records on the Mess and Noise thing, all that kind of stuff. And community radio, and Triple J apparently even are all over you guys. So you’ve got a fair degree of notoriety. Does that lead to you playing less shows than you would otherwise, or are you still, at least at home in Brisbane, doing more or less what you used to do?
Yeah we don’t play as many shows as we used to. I don’t think it has anything to do with the notoriety or … yeah, we definitely don’t think we’re too popular to play shows or anything like that. It’s just that I guess we need more time to work on our new stuff now. The way we learnt to even play was just playing shows and playing shows and never saying no to a show. I think one year we did like 100 shows and most of them were in Brisbane so people got probably pretty sick of us. So we definitely try to play a little less and at things that we really want to play or things that seem a bit special.
I got to see you guys at The Square when you played in January last year but before that the only time I’d seen you was playing somewhere in Marrickville in Sydney in 2009 with Wasted Truth and Kitchen’s Floor …
Oh yeah, Maggotville. Yeah I remember that. That was definitely a very different time for us. That was probably when we were kind of half way between an improvised experimental band and what we are now. I started off not playing drums at all. Which may account for my really crappy drumming, but I gradually started playing drums and originally I just played synth. I think at that stage I was just starting to do the drums. But yeah that was a weird point where we were transitioning into playing venues rather than improvised music events and art galleries and that kind of thing. I remember that night well actually.
Yeah it’s funny. I feel like I just have a few still images of that night from a few different bands. It’s right on the event horizon of my memory or something. As far as gigs go, as soon as I’m going that far back it’s really fragmented.
Yeah it was kind of a weird venue too. Like really dark and I can remember it being one of those shows where there were some people there for the show, and some people who weren’t, who lived there or just always hung around there.
In hindsight, that lineup stands out as one of the craziest lineups from that time period. The bands that were on there.
Yeah I think Naked On The Vague too.
Yeah that’s right.
And one of the first shows I can remember with Nic Warnock yelling at everyone at the front. Giving his running critique on everything that’s going on. You know you’re playing in Sydney if you can hear Nic Warnock yelling stuff, good and bad. But also that day I remember there was a show at a house, with Royal Headache and Kitchen’s Floor as well. And maybe it was the first or second Royal Headache show, so yeah that was a pretty crazy day.
And on Sydney Festival you guys are playing at midnight.
Yeah it’s a bit of a strange thing as well, kind of like Brisbane Festival, one of those shows where there are no supports and you pay to see one band. The bands I want to see are on at a late hour. I’m into that though, I like staying up late and going to see bands really late so that suits me.
I’m looking forward to it. Blank Realm tends to bring out those sorts of people who’d go to a Blank Realm show in Sydney.
Yeah I think we definitely attract the night owls so it should be fine.
Blank Realm are playing at 11:59pm this Saturday, January 24 at the Spigeltent in Hyde Park for Sydney Festival. Tickets are available via sydneyfestival.org.au. Nick Hollins presents Telepath on FBi Radio and did a Blank Realm retrospective in March, 2014 which you can listen to here.
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