Three years in the making, Melbourne sextet Harmony are preparing to release sophomore album ‘Carpetbombing’ this week. A collection of gloomy, haunting gems, the album’s a balancing act between ethereal and downright menacing. Ahead of the album’s release, we catch up with frontman Tom Lyngcoln.
You’re about to put out your second album with Harmony, ‘Carpetbombing’. You produced the album yourself, was that decision a creative necessity? I feel like, with your music, getting the mood and atmosphere right is pretty important, and that’s something you might want to be in control of as far as production is concerned.
Yeah, spot on. Music’s a pretty hard thing to talk about, you know? Conveying what kind of vibe we’re going for, that’s a pretty subjective term too. To set the mood, and to actually articulate that mood and put it into practice you kind of have to go against a lot of what people who actually know what they’re doing in a recording studio would otherwise do. Everything they tell you not to do is how we create that mood. I think if we attempted to go into a big studio and recreate that record it would sound artificial and polished. We like to keep it rough and ready, and everything’s first take.
You’ve spoken about how on the first album, the additional vocal harmonies were something that maybe wasn’t too thought out. I feel like that’s different on this album, how much more planning was put into the structure and composition of the vocals? They feel a bit more on ‘Carpetbombing’ like their own entity, while also juxtaposing the other half.
It was a happy surprise on the first record. Now, we kind of treat it like East and West Berlin. There’s these kind of two bands within the band, and the way we use those vocals, they’re a whole other thing. It’s really important to us that it’s treated that way. When you see us live, the girls are as loud as anything else on stage, and that’s where the wall of sound comes from. So, when I had to write for it, that’s how I thought about it. I really simplified as much as I could so it would not clutter up, and give them plenty of space to wail away. It doesn’t diminish the power, if you can give them that space.
The album opens with a spoken word performance courtesy of Don Walker. How did that come about?
I’ve got a really bad habit in that I will just contact people unsolicited. It’s punishment, I just punish people until people do things that I want. It’s a really bad habit, and it’s one that I was attempting to reform until Marc Ribot, Tom Wait’s guitarist, agreed to play on the first record. All my inhibitions were washed away and I became a complete asshole about it. I just sent him an email, introduced myself and he was right up for it, having not heard too much of anything or being particularly interested. It was purely an email chain. Since them, I’ve met him a bunch of times. He’s a lovely bloke and I can see why he did it, but sometimes I fail to understand why he’d do it for a jerk who just fucking cold called.
Lyrically, what kind of themes were you trying to convey with ‘Carpetbombing’?
It’s primarily about either death or bad dreams. With a name like ‘Harmony’, everything has to be pretty gloomy, but I don’t know if I could write a happy song if I tried. There’s one song on the record, “Wailing Widow”, which is meant to be essentially a love song for my wife, and she outright rejected it. She thought it was a heinous idea, she disowned it. These are the things that preoccupy me and that’s the way it come out. It makes me able to perform in a day-to-day society as a more positive person so I can get this shit off my chest. It’s all pretty negatively geared and morose.
The band has quite an impressive pedigree, you come from The Nation Blue and Jon played in McLusky. Do you think the songwriting experience from those bands carries over to Harmony at all or is something separate entirely to you?
I’d say it definitely plays its part. In terms of our outlook on our music and how we think about performing it’s all kind of integral. It’s not really even a progression, I don’t see it as that. It might even be a regression, like a bit of a paring back of how those two bands behaved. I can’t separate it, though, I don’t see it as two different things. When I sit down and write I know exactly where the things I’m working on are going to. For me, it’s all part of one big clusterfuck that I’ve got to unravel.
Something that I’ve always felt quite strongly about your band, as well as Hoodlum Shouts from Canberra, there’s this real kind of “Australian-ness” to it. There’s an unapologetically Australian drawl vocally, as well as sonically capturing lots of earthy tones of like, vast desolate outback environments. Is that something that’s a quite conscious element?
I think it’s something that’s unavoidable. I grew up in Hobart, and all the people I grew up with down there who went on to birds like Sea Scouts, Bird Blobs, Stickmen, Mouth, they all sang with Australian accents so I kind of took it on. On top of that, I was a bogan from the eastern shore, so I’ve already got a pretty heavy… it’s not even an affectation, it’s just the way I talk, but I tried as hard as I could to keep that when I sang. That can be tough, because tonally it makes singing in key a lot harder. I’m completely tone deaf, so that doesn’t really make any difference – I can kind of get away with it. As far as how that works with the music, I think they go hand in hand. By creating bigger room sounds, keeping things open and gritty and leaving the space, I think these are all convict heritage, you know? I don’t think I’m capable of making perfect records, I prefer there to be a lot of mistakes and trouble in there and I think that’s definitely something that’s inherent in Australian history throughout the years, so it sits a lot more easily that way.
You’ve been sitting on this album for a while, and playing some of it live throughout the past year. How have the new songs been going live? I feel like it’s something that, especially with this album, would take quite a while to get kind of precise for a live environment?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think we’re only just starting to play the old songs from the first record correctly. We’ve given ourselves plenty of time to learn these songs. We’re about to embark on a new batch, there’s probably six songs that we can’t play off the new record that we’re going to start having a go at. It does take a long time, because you can imagine trying to sing three-part harmonies while having three other instruments cluttering up the stage. Sometimes foldback isn’t great and everything s a bit of a challenge when it’s got to be precise. When we’re good we’re really good, and when we’re bad we’re the worst band you’ve ever seen, and that’s largely dependant on foldback really and how we perform. It’s something we’re really conscious about, so we’ve been playing them for ages. It feels like the six or eight songs we’ve got currently we can play the absolute crap out of at the moment.
I was reading that the album comes with all 15 songs being covered by the likes of Adalita and Mick Turner. What made you want to do that, and what’s it been like hearing the songs reinterpreted in that way?
For me, having recorded and mixed the record, it’s actually breathed a lot more life back into the songs. I’d heard these fucking things maybe 500 times and I kind of get nauseous when I hear it now, I’ve just heard it so many goddamn times. You still pick out little things that you probably should have paid attention but you couldn’t be bothered fixing. As far as the idea, I just thought it’d be interesting to see what other people did with them. I probably got to the point where I was bored with the songs, spending so much time trying to mix them, and essentially handed them off to other people to see what they’d do with them. We gave people open slather. They could literally take a single milisecond or they could remix it totally or essentially play whole other songs. It’s been fascinating. I reckon I had everyone pegged pretty well for the most part. When I gave them songs, I had an expectation, and for the most part those expectations were met. I kind of knew which way people would go, but I was always delighted by those expectations being exceeded by the end product. People did some pretty amazing things with them. We’re even starting to perform some of the songs with little things that other people have put into them.
Wrapping up, last year was pretty big for you guys in terms of touring and stuff like that – what have you got planned for this year?
We’ve got an album tour planned for April. I’ve already started writing songs for the next record, and we’ve got an idea of how we’re going to do that. Having worked on ‘Carpetbombing’ for three years, we’re looking to getting the next record started pretty soon. We’ll play as much as we can and hopefully do some more touring at the end of the year, and continue doing what we did last year. We’re looking at some stuff overseas as well, hopefully we can keep on the trajectory we’re going. We were meant to take last year off and it ended up being our best year.
Thanks for taking the time to talk.
‘Carpetbombing’ is out Friday, February 7 through Poison City Records. It’s available for pre-order here.