Armed with a healthy local following, it all came together for Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus with the release of debut album, ‘This is the Warning’. After three years of solid national and overseas touring, the band returns with sophomore album, ‘The Catalyst Fire’. Killyourstereo.com sits down with bassist Stewart Hill to talk about the record, playing with the likes of Animals As Leaders and South African safaris.
Hey Stew, how are you?
Hey, I’m good Kane. How are you?
I’m going well thanks mate.
With the new album out this month and you guys about to hit the road on tour, how is this current period treating you?
We’re pretty busy. We’ve got heaps of rehearsals happening to get the songs nailed and we’re also shooting content for ‘Inner Circle’ [Facebook App]. So there is definitely heaps to do.
How much is it a case of almost being in band mode all the time when you mention rehearsals and preparing content for apps?
It’s a full-time, 24/7 job, which is good – it keeps you busy. It does make you appreciate the days off [too]. It’s great. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be when I first wanted to be a muso (laughs).
On that, when was the first moment with Dead Letter Circus when you noticed it had become a 24/7 endeavour?
Probably after recording the first album [‘This Is the Warning’] and that process of actually recording the album. You give it your life basically. From there we haven’t really had much time off. It has pretty much been writing, playing shows, anything band-wise really.
You were mentioning a moment ago working on content for the ‘Inner Circle’ app. Tell us about your experiences with the campaign for this album, specifically the app?
The whole premise of the ‘Inner Circle’ is where we release a bunch of content in the lead-up to the album to get people excited about it and show the work we did behind the scenes. It’s a bit of an insight into who we are as people. At the moment, it is projecting us to be a bunch of clowns (laughs). It’s kind of who we are. We are serious as well. There will be content for that [too]. The filming for all that has been great. It has almost been like a holiday because it has been so fun. It was good to have a break from the music side of things.
How important is it to see the individual personalities of band members? Sometimes there can be a divide between listeners and the band, but these behind the scenes videos allow us to see bands better and their personalities come through.
I know I like to see my favourite bands clowning around. It gives you something to relate to like, “hey, I’m a dickhead just like that guy” (laughs). We are just normal people.
What was the pressure and expectation like this time around?
I guess you always want to be moving forward. It was tough because we not only wanted to better it [‘This Is the Warning’] but also move in a little bit of a different direction. It’s a lot heavier this time around, but the songs have stepped it up. The pressure was definitely there, but I think we succeeded. I feel pretty good about it.
How was the song-writing process like with Clint replacing Rob?
We lost Rob and got Clint [Vincent, guitar] involved and this time around we had Tom [Skerlj, guitar, keyboard, percussion] and we [also] had another guy called Luke Palmer. So we had three guitars. Three heads are better than one I guess. It turned out pretty awesome.
That’s interesting with the three guitarists. How much did this affect the dynamic this time around?
It was similar actually. We’d go off and create these ideas on our own because we’re all quite pro-tools savvy. We’d bring them in and put them into this seed pool and go through them all, and see which ones we were into and then we’d grow them as a band together in pre-production. Then we’d go into the studio and that’s when we’d shine it up and add in all the tasty bits. We had three guitarists working on that rather than one – it was quite effective.
Another cool thing about Dead Letter Circus is your sound is quite versatile and expansive, which opens yourself up to tour with a range of bands. How much does a live performance vary when you are playing to metalheads as opposed to an alternative crowd?
When we were touring with Animals As Leaders because there were two other heavy bands on the bill – Intronaut and Last Chance to Reason – all three of these bands were really heavy, I guess that rubbed off on us. We just started playing harder and rocking out harder. That’s also carried through to this album I think. It definitely changed the way we perform I think.
Talking about Animals As Leaders, those guys are just off the chain with the things they come up with. How was it touring with them specifically?
Awesome man. They are all really cool guys as well. Just to watch them every night pulling that off was just crazy. They sound better live than on the album I think. It was very inspiring. It made me practice a lot more (laughs).
Another person on that bill was Evan Brewer. From one bassist to another, did you actively try and pick his brain, and discuss bass techniques when you toured with him?
We had a couple of conversations. He was actually interested in some of the stuff I was doing. I was like, “let’s do a trade off?” He showed me the three-finger thing, the double thumb thing. I kind of moved away from being too interested in the tech side of it and started thinking about the song writing over the last couple of years. All I could do was watch him in awe and go, “Ok. I don’t have the brain space at the moment to even start to begin to learn what this guy is doing.” (laughs). I just left it at that and kept it as inspirational. Does that make sense? (laughs).
Yeah, I can definitely see how you can almost over-complicate things if you’re not careful.
At the same time, he manages to do incredibly technical stuff and still manages to have structure to all of it. It was quite cool to watch.
Just on bands that you tour with generally, on top of watching them, how much do you try and draw knowledge and insight from how they go about it?
From watching them perform or listening to their albums, I interpret it in my own way and how they went about it, instead of asking bands questions. Unless I’m fully intrigued about a sound or something then I get the opportunity to talk to them. Most of the time, it is just my own interpretation of how I hear it [though].
What are the differences between touring Australia as opposed to overseas? Here you generally headline, while over there you’re commonly on the support bill.
It’s actually really exciting. When we first started Dead Letter Circus we got to watch it grow and there was always this excitement. It’s like it’s doing that again overseas. It’s really cool to watch it happen again. It’s quite refreshing and exciting. You’ve just got to do your thing. It has always been positive feedback [overseas] so far. We haven’t had any bottles thrown at us or anything yet (laughs).
‘This is the Warning’ charted high on the ARIA Charts. What’s going to be the measure of success for ‘The Catalyst Fire’?
I just want people to enjoy it. How it charts – it will be cool if it does well, but I just want all the guys that got into ‘This Is the Warning’ to get into this and enjoy it as much, if not more. That’s satisfaction for me, that’s success for me – writing an album people like.
I saw on your Facebook page you had a link to article about supporting the ‘Save the Palace Theatre’ campaign. How do you view the local live music scene at the moment?
Wow, that’s a heavy question (laughs).
It is a bit of a loaded one.
I reckon the local scene is great. Wherever you go it’s always going to thrive and continue to grow. It sucks that venues are getting taken away for whatever reason, but I think no matter what, it’s always going to thrive because of the music. People are always going to want music, people are always going to want to play music. I think it’s going to be ok.
You guys are touring South Africa later in the year. A lot of bands remark that’s a place they want to play. What are you expecting from that?
It’s pretty different, ey?! It’s pretty exciting. I don’t know what to expect? All I’m going to do is go over there and have fun, and hope everybody gets into it. I know they’re organising a safari for us.
That sounds pretty cool.
Yeah, the organisers have set-up a safari in a gaming park. I’m excited about that as well (laughs). It’s in Cape Town. I’ve seen a few videos of Cape Town and it looks really nice. It just actually looks like a normal coastal town. Apparently Johannesburg can be quite scary – you’ve got to have your wits about you. I guess you’ve got to turn that fear into excitement. Hopefully we’ve got some security guards with AK-47’s (laughs).
It will be an experience one way or the other.
Yeah, I watched this doco, I think it’s a NOFX doco called Backstage Passport. They go around playing all these crazy, bizarre places and Johannesburg is one of them, and they full get ripped off (laughs). It made me paranoid, like, “are we getting set-up here?” (laughs).
I must admit I haven’t seen that. The only documentary related to Johannesburg I’ve seen is the Louis Theroux one.
That was heavy wasn’t it? The gangs and everything…hopefully it’s not like that while we’re there (laughs).
This might be another loaded question, so I apologise if it’s hard to answer briefly. You’ve been doing this for about eight years. Music can be quite fickle, was there a moment earlier on where it could’ve easily gone the other way financially and logistically, and you thought you might have had to give it up?
I don’t think we ever thought about giving it up. It has always been hard financially. It is almost like we’ve just become comfortable with having no money (laughs). I guess all of us individually have been through that moment where you have to choose a path. It just got to a point for me personally where I’d gone too far and had past the point of no return, and felt I had to keep going forward. It was almost like there was no other choice but to try and succeed. That wasn’t too heavy or anything?
There’s definite crossroads you come to. I just keep choosing to go forward.
One of your musical peers in Karnivool just released their new album. What are the early thoughts?
The other guys are well into it. I haven’t actually sat down and listened to the whole thing yet, but I know the singles. I’m excited about putting that on and having a few beers and listening to that all night on repeat (laughs).
And albums in general this year, what have you been listening to?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Justin Timberlake (laughs). Also, this electronic guy called Active Child. Nothing really rock at the moment…which is a bit gay of me (laughs).
I guess when you play rock ‘n’ roll it’s good to have a change of pace. Otherwise, it’s just listening to one and the same all the time.
Yeah, that’s right. It’s all the same, just covered differently.
Where would you like Dead Letter circus to be in 12-18 months time?
We’re going to get straight into writing as soon as we can just so it doesn’t catch us by surprise. We can be a lot more prepared for it and keep touring. Hopefully there’s more travelling overseas including getting back to the US again. We’re just going to keep it rolling and not get too comfortable. Maybe take a week or two off somewhere along the line (laughs).
Appreciate you having a chat with us today Stew and I’ll catch up with you guys when you hit Melbourne.
Yeah man, for sure. Cheers Kane.
You can read Killyourstereo.com’s review of ‘The Catalyst Fire’ here.