Dan, Kris, one thing I love about the new Listener record, ‘Being Empty : Being Filled’, is the framing device of how the themes and lyrics are inspired by all of these different inventors. I also really like how the band co-opts those inventor’s works to talk about your own experiences and life on the road, as well as their own lives in the process too. Like how ‘Add Blue’ talks about a relationship eating away at you and slowly killing you; much like how the radiation killed inventor Marie Curie from her tireless and important work in nuclear physics.
Dan Smith [vocals, bass, lyrics]: Yeah, exactly! Thank you. The whole idea of the record been about inventors was just a vehicle for us to try and write songs in. That song specifically, it was about Marie’s life and the colour blue, radiation, and so on. The songs just took a lot of inspiration from these people’s inventions and their lives, as well as their impact on the world.
I doubt it was the intention but I found it to be a very educational listen too. To look up the lyrics and research what these people did with their work. Like ‘A Love Letter To Detroit’ and how it ties in with Robert Ettinger and his work in the field of cryogenics.
Dan: That’s really cool!
Krys Rochelle [drummer]: That’s super nice!
Dan: Certainly, we didn’t wanna make it off-the-bat educational. As you’d just get lost. I wrote about humanity and relationships, and things that I found out about these people. When you dig deeper, there is it. These people dedicated their entire lives to making a thing happen and you never know what ripple will go out from that; from any invention or life given.
Would that also be the parallel to Listener as well? That you guys have spent years making this thing work and exist?
Dan: It’s not intended but I do feel that way sometimes. I’m very happy to do something like this for a job and I can’t believe I get to do it. You spend so much time at your job doing what you do. And we spend so much of our lives out travelling, meeting people, hanging out with friends, fans and family – just playing loud rock’n’roll shows. Even making records, you don’t know where those records will go. Like, it blows my mind that we’re talking to you, someone in Australia, right now because of our records. And now we’re coming down to play shows, which is so cool.
Right on, and I’m so happy that you dudes are finally coming down to Australia too! In past interviews, you’ve spoken about older albums like ‘Return To Strugglesville’ and taking in what you see in others to talk about your own lives. So with this latest album, where did that first spark ignite to talk about these specific inventors?
Dan: It was an idea for a while. I was watching a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper motor [Flash Of Genius, 2008]. Greg Kinnear played the lead actor. He made this invention, he built them all over his home, and his family had to live around these tools and boxes and products. He was going to all of the major car manufactures in the States with this idea. In the end, which is the tragedy of these people, was that Ford or another big company just took his idea and tweaked their motors to do the same thing. He had a point in the movie where one of the companies were going to buy his idea for a small amount of money but he wanted the royalties forever. He held out and he got nothing in the end. It’s sad. Which was the tipping point for me. That there are all of these things made in a world, from bombs to clothing, and when you dig into these people, their ideas that changed our world. In the last hundred years, our population has doubled multiple times. Because of revolutions and inventions, which I thought was very fascinating. All Listener records have been concept records and this was the vehicle to write; to put myself into other people’s minds and tell a different kind of story.
Well, I think it’s a very good story-telling device to use, honestly. My favourite example of this concept being ‘There’s Money In The Walls’. Just as it’s so heart-breaking with all of the effort that Diseal put into his engines and he didn’t get to see that grow, yet his work lived on and changed so much. His song went on when he couldn’t, as the lyrics suggest.
Dan: Cool, thank you man!
No worries! So another interesting song on the album is the second song, ‘Folded Little Fingers’, which is about parents; about mums and dads creating life. So guys, have your own folks taken anything from that song?
Dan: I sent the song to my mum, I don’t know if she listened to it though. She recently read about what the song was about and said, “Oh, I didn’t think you saw me as brave“. It was really touching. I don’t think she sits down and listens to our records.
Kris: I can almost guarantee you that our CD is in my parent’s car right now. They’re stoked. My dad speaks for a living, so he always listens. He’ll text me or bring it up over text. My parents don’t like weird, modern underground rock music but they love me and love that I’m in a band. So it’s cool.
Aw, that’s so rad! Kris, you said that your dad speaks for a living. What does he do if you don’t mind me asking?
Kris: My dad’s been, for over 30 years, a Baptist Preacher. He’s retired now though. He’s into metaphors and digging through it all. Especially when it’s all about life and just how fucking weird and hard a sentient being is. He’s really into all that stuff.
Cool! Does that pay a big role for yourselves and Listener now in 2018? It’s spiritual music at times, for sure, but do the religious backgrounds of your lives and family play into it these days?
Kris: I’ll speak for me, I’m not a religious person.
Dan: For me, I’m sorta religious. But Listener has never really been about one sort of religious or spiritual band. We’ve met people from all kinds of walks of life and faiths that have gotten something out of our music. Word-wise, I guess I’m the one to blame for any kind of religiosity and getting that idea from us. As I like to ask those kinds of questions. I was raised in Christianity. Once you put something out into the world, you never know where it’s going to go. We’ve certainly played shows in places or in arenas that are more religious, but that’s usually because we couldn’t find any other place to play. But it’s mainly about making good art, as it has been forever.
Right on. With the line-up changes of Listener over the years, this really seems like the strongest iteration of the band thus far. Which I think is why this latest record has worked so well; the people within Listener are just in-sync and connected inter-personally.
Kris: We’re all stoked on who is the band right now. For this record, it was really interesting, as it was just Dan and I. We wrote the whole thing. So it was really nerve-wracking, for me at least, as it was the only time that I’d written all of the music for Listener. So if people hate the songs, then it’s kinda on me. [Laughs]. I will say that as much as we tour, we’re just really lucky that everyone in the band stands each other, but that we also really like each other. We all hang out when we’re not touring too.
Dan: I’m just so happy to be able to play in a band with musicians and people I like. It’s been a “thing” for a while now, but for quite some time, Listener was just me and was almost a different project altogether. There were some line-up changes early on that were being tried out on tour. There’s only really been one big line-up change in our modern era. Kris has been in the band for little over six years now. We also added another guitar player live just last year, and that’s been really cool to have someone else on-stage with us and realizing the songs live than we ever have before.
That’s so great to hear. Making me doubly stoked for this Australian tour. It’s been a long time coming!
Dan: Yeah! One thing that has been so cool about this band, in particular, was last year we played shows in Russia, Ukraine, Israel, and all over Europe. It’s just so cool to be asked to come and play these shows and make it all work; experience new cultures and meet new people from all over the world.
Oh, Isreal? What was that experience like? As it seems like anytime a big artist goes to play there, like Radiohead, there’s always a lot of interest and backlash to such performances surrounding the government there.
Dan: Well, we did get some online responses about why we’re playing that, and I guess the people who didn’t care or didn’t message us were just fine with it all. So the last time Radiohead played, the night after that show was when we played. They opened up for us in a way! [Laughs]. That band said that there are atrocities happening in a lot of places and that they wanted to play for everyone; that they make music for people anywhere that can lift them out of where they are. It’s like a therapy. That’s what I got out of it, that energy of not demonising a place entirely.
Kris: Yeah, you’re just playing shows. We weren’t playing anti-Palestine shows, you know? We tour the U.S. two or three times a year and America is fucking awful to other countries. We don’t support building a wall. Our tax dollars go to a bunch of bullshit I wouldn’t want any part of. We’ve played Russia and Northern Ireland and it’s not like the crowd we were drawing were crazy, wild tyrants or anything. I think that people just get riled up, and rightfully so – I do get riled up myself at times. But we weren’t supporting the Israeli government; we’re just playing music.
Exactly! Just cause you’re playing in Australia doesn’t mean you support the Labour or Liberal party nor our nation’s refugee crimes. You’re just playing music. And I think with that dudes, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for your time today. Best of luck with this upcoming Aussie run!
Dan: No worries man, thank you.
Kris: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day, Alex. See you there!
Reverse K Touring presents LISTENER
2018 Australian & NZ Tour w/ Treehouses:
THURS 27 SEP – BLACK BEAR LODGE, Brisbane
w/ Wildheart and Requin
FRI 28 SEP – SMALL BALLROOM, Newcastle
w/ Paper Thin and Grim Indiana
SAT 29 SEP – THE LAIR, Sydney
w/ Whatever Forever and Amends
SUN 30 SEP – YOURS & OWLS FESTIVAL, Wollongong** (SOLD OUT)
TUES 2 OCT – WHAMMY BAR, Auckland. NZ**
w/ Mice On Stilts and Yor Cronies
WED 3 OCT – VALHALLA, Wellington. NZ**
w/ Yor Cronies and New Age Leper
FRI 5 OCT – TRANSIT, Canberra
w/ Signals & Symbols and Leftie
SAT 6 OCT – REVERENCE HOTEL, Melbourne
w/ Lincoln Le Fevre and Nothing Really
SUN 7 OCT – CROWN & ANCHOR, Adelaide
w/ Mandurah Green and Pemberton