Sydney’s Slowly Building Weapons are back from the dead, and they have an eerie and vivid new ‘blackened hardcore’ LP to show for it – ‘Sunbirds’. Speaking to us over email recently, guitarist Adam Preston talks about the band’s upcoming new record, their 2007 debut ‘Nausicaä’, the band’s current vision in their reformed state, working with Australian label Art As Catharsis, their sound, lifestyle changes, and more.
“‘Nausicaä’ the debut album by Slowly Building Weapons – acclaimed by the critics, praised by their peers and a devastating commercial failure” reads the Bandcamp description for your debut album, ‘Nausicaä’. That ‘devastating commercial failure’, was that the reason for SBW’s initial disbandment all those years ago or was there other factors at play?
Failure was kind of the reason. I mean we weren’t actually expecting ‘Nausicaä’ to be a commercial success – I was just taking the piss when I wrote that! But I guess there is some truth to it. We worked hard on that album, and we were hoping it would help push the band into a better place. It got some nice feedback, but never really found momentum and it definitely didn’t climb any charts. So afterwards not much had changed for us, and then it was time to start writing a follow-up album. We got a few songs into that and ran out of steam. I guess the lack of support for Nausicaa was a factor in that decision. Also, we had been a band for about 7 years by then, so we probably needed a break from each other too.
Fair enough! Now, in the ten years since the release of ‘Nausicaä’ and ‘Sunbirds’ upcoming release, has anything changed for the band in terms of your lifestyles and your overall creative visions for your music?
Lifestyle wise, yeah, a bit has changed. Mainly just boring adult stuff, but one decent change would be that Nick lives in Japan now. As for creative visions, I think we always tried to push things creatively, but our concept of what is creative is hopefully a bit broader now.
I can see that with some songs on this new LP. Also, regarding ‘Nausicaä’, was the title derived from Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, or is that just some strange coincidence?
Not a strange coincidence, it was taken from the film. We all like that movie, but Nick, in particular, is a big fan. The opening sample is taken from the soundtrack, and in the last track, we even tried playing a tune from it. We never got approval for that actually, but luckily Hayao wasn’t one of the 17 people that actually heard the album.
I think he’d hate it, sadly – seems like something he’d dislike. Anyway! On the topic of titles, why the name ‘Sunbirds’ for this new LP? Obviously, the Australian sunbird is the Honeyeater but with the exception of giving a shout out to local bird species, what does that title invoke for you and band in terms of emotions or deeper meaning?
When we started working on it, I was living in this apartment with a nice little sun room in it. I did most of my writing in there, working away on these dark sounding tunes… but a lot of the time it was nice and sunny outside and birds were chirping away. I liked the contrast of that, so I called one of the tracks ‘Sunbirds’ as a working title. From there the contrast idea grew and we ended up basing the album on this ‘darkness and light’ concept. Sort of playing around with the idea of both options existing closely together, or cycling back and forth. Anyway as we got further down that path, the name Sunbirds seemed to fit the album as well as that song. Honeyeater could have worked too though.
It could! As for the actual cover of the new album, why did you feel that Craig’s photo of that dead bird worked for the record? Was it simply because the album is titled ‘Sunbirds’ and it’s a photo of a bird?
I think Craig was originally drawn to the image because it looked peaceful in a strange sort of way. And as the concept of the album developed more (life/death, light/dark, order/chaos – these ongoing cycles) we saw it more as a something that symbolised the transition between these states. Like a poor man’s phoenix at the end of a cycle waiting to be reborn.
I wanted to touch on the genre term that’s given to SBW’s sound – ‘blackened hardcore’. One: do you think that’s a silly title or one that’s at the very least, apt for your band? (I’d say so, personally). Two: do you at all care for genre ideals and norms? As tracks like ‘Sunforest’ and ‘Horses’ show off more than just a “blackened hardcore” sound and show that experimentation that made your debut such a solid listen.
Lachlan from our label, Art As Catharsis, wrote that in our bio, I didn’t know that’s what we were until then [laughs]. I think it fits pretty well. As for genres, maybe they are a necessary evil. Like if having that written down helps someone find and listen to your band, then that’s a good thing. In general, though, I think genres are pretty confusing things.
Yeah, it can get stupid sometimes. Yet with your style, the actual production and mix of the new record fit this “blackened” sound very well, Tim Carr and Mell Dettmer nailed the right tone for such music I think. Now, was that ever the original sonic intention back on the debut record or was it a matter of just writing whatever you wanted and letting what came out stick? Also, did your budget, time constraints etc. affect that album’s sound?
Yep, it was good to work with Tim again on this, he did great work and really helped us pull it all together. And yes, Mell did such an awesome mastering job. Together they helped us find the sound we wanted this time around. I think for ‘Nausicaä’ we were going for something different. We prepared a lot more prior to recording that album. We had all the songs finished, had played lots of them live and had an idea of the sound we wanted. Then it was more a case of just heading into the studio and coming out a fair while later with a recorded and mixed album. ‘Sunbirds’ was a really different process to that.
Well, that being said, I really do think that ‘Sunbirds’ is a great follow up release to your debut. But do you feel you and the band have done just that? Are there any things you would change about this new record?
Thank you for the kind words! I think overall we are happy with it. Like I said, ‘Sunbirds’ was a different process. Initially, Craig, Max and I just started jamming together for something to do. At that point, we hadn’t decided Slowly Building Weapons were getting back together or anything. It was good writing with Craig again, and Max bought this new element of blasts and other interesting beats and ideas. So we were just messing around with that. Then after we had a few songs together, we sent them to Nick to see if he would do vocals if we ever recorded. Nick was keen, so we pushed on with it.
At some stage when we had more done, we went into a studio with Tim and recorded the basic instruments over two days. Just banged out 10 rough tracks live. After that, we sent the tracks to Nick in Japan and started building them into songs from there. He added vocals and keys, we messed with the structures, sent too many emails, posted hard drives back and forth, and went back into the studio with Tim a bunch more times. We got a bit obsessed with it and somewhere along the way when it all started to come together, we realised we were actually making a new Slowly Building Weapons record. All of that was before we even got to mixing and mastering. So it made it a much longer, confusing and frustrating experience. But all that time did give us the chance to do what we wanted, so we have to be happy with that.
As for things we would change, there are always some. Like I mentioned, we tracked all the main instrument parts pretty quickly. Then after that, we got a bit carried away and did all that extra work on it. So sometimes I wished that we spent a bit more time in that initial tracking phase, you know to make sure we actually played some of the parts in time. The flip side is all the little mistakes and stuff adds to the overall vibe I think.
Again on the actual sound of SBW, I’d say that your music fits perfectly under the Art As Catharsis banner. Was Lachlan someone you wanted to work with originally or was it he who made the first contact for your pairing for this new record?
We knew Lachlan from back in the day, and when we announced we were coming back he reached out to us. It was a good fit and we’re really stoked to be part of what he’s doing, so much great and varied music going on under the AAC banner.
Very true, that label is really diverse. Specifically, why I personally think that SBW fits so well on AAC is that your music, like all of the releases that label puts out, is music that’s meant to be thought about and carefully ingested. Is that how you also see it or does that just make me sound like an overly pretentious wanker?(More so than I admittedly am).
I think we all love a good pretentious wank. But yeah, I think you hopefully got it right. There’s definitely plenty of AAC releases that fit that description, and it would be cool if ‘Sunbirds’ does too. There’s a fair bit going on in the album, plenty of detail buried in there. And we tried to keep it changing and moving around, so hopefully, it’s something you can listen to all the way through. So I hope people give it a decent chance and get something out of it.
The band’s that seem to have influenced SBW the most would definitely be Oathbreaker, Converge, and Burzum, among a few others. Both you and the label seem to embrace such comparisons, but do you think that such comparisons may limit what people come to expect of your music? Or do you think that has the added bonus of you possibly surprising people with this record?
It’s similar to the genre thing. The ‘sounds like’ part of your bio can help people discover you, so that’s a good thing. And obviously we do have influences, so it’s true. But it still feels a bit weird. Like, I wonder what a genuine Burzum fan would actually think of Sunbirds? I guess surprised would be one word
Hopefully, you get to find out one day. Finally, what’s the intention for SBW now in 2017? To write and release music and just play the occasional show or to give it a stronger, harder go than you once did a decade ago?
It’s one step at a time for us. For now, we’re just keen for people to finally hear the album and hope that they like it. From there I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s a situation where we emerge after 10 years to release a new album, only to disappear again. I really hope not anyway.
Cheers for this interview Adam, wish you the best for this new album. I really dig it. Thanks again!
Thank you, Alex! Really appreciate your support!
‘Sunbirds’ releases on October 3rd, 2017 via Art As Catharsis. Pre-order it here.