Recorded live over two summers in Kyneton, Victoria, The Nation Blue now have two new albums sitting in the barrel, ‘Black‘ & ‘Blue‘.
Working with engineer/mixer/High Tension guitarist, Mike Deslandes, the trio will release these two new full-lengths into the wild come October 14th via Poison City Records. With a total of 29 songs between the pair, and with a handful of upcoming live shows locked in, The Nation Blue are getting ready to kick-start the band’s next noisy chapter. But not before they look back on the footprints they left behind with their last album, 2009’s ‘Rising Waters‘.
“I think that Rising Waters was four albums worth of material and it was pretty much all of what any of us had done” reflects Matt Weston. “I joined the band in 2000 and it was just this high-school band that Tom and Dan had put together in ’96 – I actually hadn’t played bass with another drummer at that point. Now, that’s a long time to be exclusive to something and tempers can really rise and fall when you’re in your early 20’s.”
He continues, “After Rising Waters, it felt like we had achieved nothing new or fresh, and while we never wanted to break up, I was keen to move on from touring, to focus on other bands and film projects. I was almost ready to sell all of my gear but Karina [Utomo] hit me up, saying that she was starting a new project, which would eventually become High Tension.”
While Weston moved onto filming & directing (most notably behind the Cosmic Psychos’s doco, Blokes You Can Trust) and playing in Melbourne hardcore outfit, High Tension, guitarist/singer Tom Lyngcoln went on to play in Harmony with his wife, and drummer Dan McKay played in a host of bands, ranging from King Cannons and Adalita’s band, among others. With all of these other projects taking up their musical time and energy, The Nation Blue was thrown on the backburner, with the band playing the occasional low-key show.
“We would pop up once a year for a benefit show, but we would never make that big of a fuss out of it. But by the time we really got back together in late 2014, we still had a few songs left over and it really felt like The Nation Blue Mark 2.0 – fresher and trimmer. We’re operating at our own pace now.”
I think the fact that the band spent almost two years working on not one, but two new releases is all evidence that “The Nation Blue Mark 2.0” is most certainly operating at its own pace. Having other projects to work on since, Weston was able to compare the different workflows and vibes of his first, life-long love with his latest band; High Tension.
“With High Tension, we’re planning for album three, we’re writing and booking things for next April, and coming back from serious tactics. It’s not a business, but it’s a very involved, well-oiled machine that everyone is pouring into. Whereas The Nation Blue feels like the old dad club going for a ride up the mountain on the weekend. That’s how we keep it fun”, he cheekily states.
“Old dad club” or not, the trio are back and as overused as this phrase is when it comes to bands, they’re just as good as they ever were, if not better! But with so much time between releases and with so many months poured into these two new LP’s, it can be hard to step back and appreciate everything happening in the now, something that Weston knows a lot about.
“It’s strange. I feel that there’s a transition period from laying down final vocal tracks and getting it mixed, that it still feels like a work in progress. Then the final mix happens and it’s two months where you transition back to it as a listener. It’s like if you’re building a house. Someone says to you how great it looks but all you see is that one little decision; you see a door handle and think, ‘Yeah but was that the right gold to use?’, the bassist laughs.
Everyone is their own worst critic, but despite the personal insights and critiques of their own art, the band is in a much more excited and inspiring position this time around, and the songwriting has followed suit.
“It was a fresher approach this time. With the old records, a song wasn’t finished until you had put everything you had into it. Now, it’s more about what was the fastest way to get to the coolest part. With the majority of these songs, you’re in and out by two minutes. The earlier stuff had its moments in time, but this is a lot stronger.”
Well, as for those older songs, an all-time favourite of mine by The Nation Blue was ‘Damnation‘, which to this day is still a killer punk rock jam.
It was actually the first ever TNB song I heard, and I have Channel [V]’s old punk playlists to thank for that. Ah, those were the days. Back when Channel [V] was still a big deal and when they catered to other styles and demographics of music than just pop, indie, and EDM.
But with ‘Damnation‘ being one of the band’s oldest singles and also sharing the same name of one of their glorious 2004 record, the track nearly always gets a mention in their sets, but sometimes, not in the song’s original form…
“There were about two or so years where we played it [Damnation] at half or quarter speed, and it was like a doom metal song. It’s a really cool breath of air when you’re in the set. It’s good to freshen things up. When you building a record, you’re picking tempos and all that and we’ll only do three or four takes of a record. We’ll pick one version or maybe pick a front-end version of one and the back end on one, and if we need to go back and clean ‘em up, we will. But once you’re doing a set, back to back, you start to think of everything being at least ten percent faster. It makes it a lot more fun, instead of just playing the record live.”
You know, that’s what makes going out to a show that much more interesting than just bumming around at home with the record playing in the background. This “doom” version of ‘Damnation‘, found below, is just such a far cry from original intent and version, and that is by no means a criticism! As someone who has listened to the song hundreds of times over the years, this version is like hearing a whole new song entirely.
Following on with the nature of fine-tuning their set lists, which is always tricky when your band now has about 90 bloody songs to their name, the bassist states that, “You can’t be dicks and say that you will only play new stuff. But in saying that, there is a bunch of songs we want to put on the bench, even though we may not have ever played them that much.”
Now, at the time of our chat back in early September, the band has wrapped up one gig under their recently re-buckled belts, by appearing at Melbourne’s Weekender Fest ’16. It’s also interesting that the members time away from the band and the time between their releases have altered the perspective that Weston has towards their music. All of that time has sealed up the “wounds” they once saw certain songs as having.
“I actually listen to those old records as a listener now; because I don’t feel like I played on those songs. There are definitely some songs you cringe over but them you think ‘Hang on, why do I hate that song? Why do we hate this song?’ So some songs are making the extended setlist just because time has healed whatever wounds we had originally projected onto them.”
One thing I’d like to point out here is that that self-analysis of one’s own art isn’t quite as common as you’d think. Having being fed so much utter bollocks when interviewing other bands over the years myself, this was all rather refreshing to hear.
Now, while the band is dropping album five and six within the next two weeks, both of which are great in their own right, the intent isn’t that these be thought of as two big conceptual records. Rather, they are two separate albums that you can enjoy as individual pieces, as back-to-back experiences, or a mixture between the two. But regardless of how you digest the music, of which there is a lot of, there are definitely two distinct vibes to these songs, as Weston points out.
“There are two different camps of songs here. A chunk of those happen to be on Black and have been around since 2012. There was the 12-month break between recordings in which Blue came out of. So basically, we recorded the first album more or less, sat on it for a year, and when we went to finish it Tom had written a lot more songs. We hadn’t even released the fifth album but we had gone and recorded the sixth album. If we were smart, we’d sit on one album for a year then release it. But if you want all of it, it’ll all be available. It’s a pretty hefty ask to sit someone down and give them 29 songs in one go. So as a listener, if you look at as a piece of vinyl, there are two sides and it’ll probably be easier to digest because of it.”
One thing some may notice across the band’s discography is that their album artwork always features these dilapidated structures, typically void of any current human influence; as if these places were all simply abandoned. The covers for ‘Black‘ and ‘Blue‘ are no different, really.
The cover of ‘Black’ (which you would have scrolled by already) depicts a twisted version of Parliament House in Canberra and is solely black and white; showing a house divided and in complete disrepair. With a such a depiction of our nation’s political nucleus, the band gets a lot of things off their chest with their scathing views on Australian politics and culture, with tracks like ‘Australia Day‘, ‘I Have No Representatives‘, and ‘Great White Death‘. As such, a lot of the songs here also take on a more “punk” vibe, not just in their song lengths, but in both their timbre and in their musical delivery. Tracks like ‘Come In Stringer‘, ‘Australian Of The Year‘, and ‘Erectile Dysfunction‘ are great examples of this. However, it’s not just loud, brooding punk rock tunes on offer, as songs like ‘Rendition‘ and ‘Be That Man‘ are dark and haunting tales and break up the flow of ‘Black‘ nicely.
Now, as for the sister album, ‘Blue’ is void of man-made constructions in its artwork, which shows a bleak, haunting wilderness inspired by the hills behind Hobart, Tasmania (found below). The downward rolling nature of the art also echoes their debut release, 1998’s ‘Descend‘ and that’s fitting as both pieces were created by the same artist – Nick Dombrovskis.
The songs here are more melancholic, but that doesn’t mean that they are these quiet, slow, droning tunes. It’s actually quite the opposite as they’re rather uplifting at times, in an interesting juxtaposition. The title track is a fast and, dare I say it, upbeat track and the very same can be said for the likes of ‘Rotten‘, ‘Paranoia‘ and ‘I’m An Ape‘. On the flip side, ‘Blue Bloods‘, ‘Baby Blue‘, and the epic finale of ‘Black Light‘ do indeed fit with the album’s namesake and aren’t quite conventional punk rock songs with their tempos, melodies, and overall mood.
So, when asked whether or not the band’s artwork is necessarily a reflection of the music or vice versa, the answer I get was more or less a yes and no.
“It’s not intentional, it’s just what…comes out. It’s easy to post-rationalize these things but this is what sounds pleasing to us. If you’re into heavy-ish music, there’s something about that tension and that awkwardness of the general public saying, ‘How can you listen to that stuff?’ For us, it’s like, how you can you not!? That kind of discordance, those darker sounds just feel so sweet to us”.
Well, intentional or not, you can definitely pick out which tracks belong on which record.
Going further with this train of thought, the darker and dissonant imagery of the band’s art also moves into the music video realm. Over the years, the re-occurring use of isolated, industrial shots void of any inhabitants is apparent, save for the band’s performance shots. But despite Weston’s affinity for film and directing, these visuals are more a reflection of Lyngcoln’s lyrics than anything else.
“95% of the lyrics are written by Tom”, states Weston. “He had gone from working in factories in the middle of nowhere in Tasmania to being trapped in Shock Records in Melbourne packing boxes throughout the 2000’s. I guess it was all to do with that view of working class, of frustration. Having that from an imagery standpoint, sometimes having a story can be quite distracting, but those visual cues help things unfold.”
“There’s also the practicality of it. Even when you’re pulling favours, you’ve gotta get done what you can get done in a day. Those kinds of industrial places are quite visually stunning when no is around, particularly at night.”
He also adds, “With the Wild music video, it was the freedom of the having 29 songs to work with. There’s a list of six or seven songs that I’d love to do music videos for and I live on six acres that back onto a national park. I can’t see any neighbours, it’s the middle of nowhere, and this is where I walk the dogs and it feels like its miles away from anybody. That feeling of cutting off from the world, of how do you get off the grid and being self-sufficient. So as simple and as potentially boring as the video is, just when you’re ready to give up, is when it starts to make sense.”
What he refers to there is the slow tracking shot from behind Lyngcoln, as he makes his way out of the rural Victorian woods. As the camera pans around, it shows military jets flying overhead, conducting bombing runs on the surrounding wilderness, essentially saying that you can cut yourself off all you want; you’ll still encounter the bullshit our world has to offer.
But as far as the Australian rock and punk scene goes, The Nation Blue almost seem like the ugly duckling of the lot. Which is only to their advantage, I feel. They provide a dissonant, darker sound for our local punk rock scene. But the band don’t really know how to classify their music, except for maybe calling it ‘noise-rock’ or at least ‘post-punk’. However, they’ve come across a couple humorous descriptions over the years, two of which Weston shares with me.
“We don’t know what our music is, and no one has really topped this description of The Nation Blue. This was overheard in WA, back in 2002 or 2003, by Dean from Magic Dirt. He’d gone to the bathroom during our set and he’d heard someone at the urinal saying to a mate about us that “This is suicide music, and I don’t wanna die tonight! The second best one was someone in Adelaide when we supported the Foo Fighters. They said that we were “a bunch of labourers covering Gyroscope songs”.
Okay, those are actually fucking great descriptions, even if they are a little harsh. But as we share a good laugh over the phone about punters describing the band’s music, I am then let down when I ask about the band supporting Midnight Oil, which was an utter lie as it turns out.
“I regret to tell you that that was just a Photoshop job I did. It was a little joke we talked about doing, which I inevitably did. It was quite reassuring as many said that that was the perfect lineup. But look, they haven’t said we’re not playing and they haven’t announced any venues or supports. It hasn’t not happened yet, but for all we know, we could be on their radar. Or they could say ‘No, fuck those guys, we’re not giving them a chance”.
He apologises once again for letting me down on what would have been a truly sick live show.
Weston also takes the time to bring up the rather odd nature in which social media can work when jokes like that reach such a wide audience.
“We put up a fake poster saying that we were playing with Midnight Oil and it reached something like 30,000 people on Facebook. But then when you announce a few weeks later that you’ve spent a couple years working on new albums and you only get a few thousand interactions – it’s funny. Of course, we chose to let it out there, but we’ll probably become the band that cried wolf, eventually.”
Well, save for playing in the car park at a Midnight Oil show or as an actual support (one can dream, I suppose), the band do have a small handful of shows lined up for this month in support of the two records.
As we begin to wrap up our long chat, the bassist states that what was once a mere chore for the band has now become a reinvigorating experience for the trio. The personal growth of each member and the time apart has meant that ensuring this is fun is now the top priority and that the band may very well continue for a long time.
“I don’t think that we’ll ever put it to bed. In our nature, we have had a great run, but we are quite pessimistic people. So if nothing else happens, then we’re very thankful as a band. ”
He finally adds, “I also don’t think that any of us had this much fun or enjoyed the process as much as we have now. It kinda felt like a chore six or seven years ago, but it is really good to be back now!”
So as for what the band’s next movements are, well you nor I get a say in it, really; it’s entirely up to Weston, Lyngcoln, and McKay. We’re all just along for the ride.
‘Black’ & Blue’ are out October 14th through Poison City Records. Check out the band’s upcoming live shows below:
Fri Oct 14th – Factory Floor, Sydney
With guests Mere Women, Burlap
Sat Oct 15th – Crowbar, Brisbane
With guests Six Ft Hick and The Cutaways
Fri Oct 21st – The Gasometer, Melbourne
With guests Miss Destiny and Batpiss
Sat Oct 22nd – The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
With guests Treehouse and Pure