Bassist Tim Byles & guitarist Mitchell Grace of Sydney’s Far Away Stables talk with us about their killer debut album, ‘Between Rage and Serenity’, working with Sonny Truelove, playing longer sets, and on getting it just perfect.
“It was something we wanted to do right,” Mitchell Grace explains to me over the phone. The Far Away Stables guitarist of is referring of course to the band’s stellar debut album, ‘Between Rage and Serenity’.
Formed in 2011, Far Away Stables caught my attention with their debut EP, ‘Behind the Bookcase’. Right from their inception, this rock band have proven they have a great knack for writing songs that are just tearing at the seams with the right kind of energy and dynamics. Their choruses are simply huge, their pacing is excellent and the sheer atmosphere and brilliant sonic worlds they create with their instruments are somewhat breathtaking. Please see the best examples of this with new cuts like ‘Phantasm’ from the latest record and “oldies” like ‘In My Head’ from ‘Atlantis’. Along with fellow Aussies Young Lions and We Lost the Sea, these guys are easily one of the best bands in Australia as of this moment and that’s a fact that I can prove mathematically.
But I don’t want to get bogged down in my ramblings about the band – I save that for my reviews. I want to let them speak for themselves and tell me and you all about their grand new record, ‘Between Rage and Serenity’ and the journey they went through to create it.
“This is the album that we’ve been writing since the inception of the band,” bassist, Tim Byles jumps in, giving context on just how long this project has been building beneath the surface and behind the scenes. “We had this title, ‘Between Rage and Serenity’, ages ago and it was originally going to be our second EP,” he informs me.
“It just didn’t feel like the right time for us to be releasing the album,” Grace explains. “We wanted more experience on the road and with touring and songwriting. And we did that with our second EP, ‘Atlantis’, and were able to take that on the road and learn from that. All the while continuing to write this album behind the scenes.”
And rack up those experiences they did, with ‘Atlantis’ being a brilliant release on its own terms! See, Far Away Stables are a band that don’t believe in filler. With this album being an ongoing development behind closed doors and secret bookcases, they still poured everything they had into that EP. And ‘Rage and Serenity’ was no different, as Grace talks about the relentless process of demoing the record over the years. “Some of the demos for this record were done before ‘Atlantis’ even but they just weren’t up to scratch. It was a lot of scrapping ideas from songs and rewriting them and making them the best we thought they could be and were happy with.”
Though don’t think that there are a hundred versions of these new songs sitting on a hard drive somewhere – time is just something that the band utilised to the fullest extent. “We’re a band that writes relatively slowly,” Byles admits with a sense of pride. “We hear about people and bands being able to write forty songs then picking their best ten. Jesus, we couldn’t do that!”
Grace was keen to expand even further on Byles‘ comment, adding that, “We don’t really like to say that we write one song as quickly as possible and then move on to the next until we have forty songs. We believe that every idea and song can be fulfilled. We don’t like the idea of wasting songs. If we write something we don’t like, we don’t scrap it; we change it. We turn it into something we like. Something is usually there, to begin with.”
However, it hasn’t always been so for the Sydney band with their first EP, ‘Behind the Bookcase’ being somewhat of a quicker process.
“We really spent more time on these songs. Our first EP we just kind of did to put something out there. We wrote five songs and thought ‘Wow, we wrote these we must be amazing!’ and that was it. But for this record, we took a lot more time and were a lot more critical. Being able to say ‘this doesn’t one hundred percent sit right with me’. It just had to be perfect. We took more time with our approach to songwriting and structure.”
“Being a child of those “golden days” I really believe in the whole idea of the album prospect and releasing a killer debut album. Making a statement with that record. You only get one chance with the debut album!” Byles exclaims.
And a statement did they make! The record opens with ‘Caldera’, a forceful and powerful track if there ever was one. With crushing guitar tones and chords accompanied by a brightly lit string section, the song’s aggression has a far deeper meaning than one may initially think.
“We wanted to do a spectrum. We like heavy bands and we like soft bands and we wanted a bit of both.” Byles says matter-of-factly. “So the theme is duality. Yin and Yang. Soft and Loud. Hopefully, the music matches the themes. And ‘Caldera’ is about that; using the rage in a positive way. About having a fire in you and using that to propel you and not actually cripple you. We have [that song] which starts off the record is probably the most aggressive and then the outro song is the most serene; in the lyrics especially. It’s not a direct line from rage to serenity though.”
Grace explains however that that wasn’t always going to be the case. “We had the initial thought of doing it like a linear progression. Every song would get slightly softer and smoother, heaviest to something totally beautiful and soft. And it wasn’t that it was restrictive, we just found it a bit more challenging to do that.”
But as Byles went on to tell me, they also dropped a bit more than just a linear progression idea of rage transforming into serenity. “It’s a not a theme in the sense that it’s a story like ‘The Black Parade’ was [what a record], but it’s more of an idea like ‘The Alchemy Index’ by Thrice. [Again, what a record]. It’s conceptual but not a concept. The ideas all set a main theme for the album but it doesn’t make one big story. That was what we were going to do originally but we realised we were way in over our heads with that. I think we’re gonna have to learn how to do that as it’s a monumental task.”
Despite what could have been, ‘Between Rage and Serenity’ nevertheless succeeds as a much more complete body of work than their previous EPs. With more songs and a longer run time, the band now have time to explore new ideas and more concepts than before and that’s exactly what they did. There’s a lot of the duality to the record as Byles put it – there is a yin and yang in the songs that makes them feel alive and organic. Yet with more room to experiment and branch out, there must also come more room for error and critique, no?
“It can go both ways,” Grace begins, seeing the silver lining of a much larger release. “There are more songs for people to hate but there are also more songs for people to love. It going to be exciting to see the reactions to the other songs. It’s a little scary. We wanted this to be perfect from start to finish and so there were a lot more gaps to fill in for that; not just two or three songs to make an EP, we needed at least ten songs for this. It’s a lot of pressure but it feels good to bring ourselves up to that level.”
To help bring them up to said level and aid in capturing the vibe of the record, the band enlisted Australia’s own Sonny Truelove to handle production of the album, and Byles had nothing but praise for Truelove and his skills. “He was so great to work with. He was really professional and taught us so much. We went in there thinking we knew everything but he brought us down a peg which is always good. He did it all in house; the mixing and the mastering. [Truelove’s] always moving onto bigger and better things it seems. We might not be able to afford him next time!” Byles laments through laughter.
“With additional engineering by Evan Lee as well,” Grace adds. Hey, credit where credit is due!
Despite having a great chemistry with the engineer/producer, the band initially weren’t going to dive all the way in with Truelove. They needed to test the waters first; to see how they worked with him and him with them. Yet as we know, the relationship is one that took shape beautifully and helped to mould the record into what it is.
“We recorded the first track with Sonny just to see how we vibed with him,” says grace. “And that track was ‘Caldera’. We were so over the moon with how that sounded! So we booked in another week for two tracks. We had these ten demos and went in with the two we thought were most exciting to us.”
“The bangers,” Byles confirms. Grace laughs in agreement with this before continuing. “Then we did the next four songs that really excited us in two weeks and so on like that it went until it was done. We only had those ten or so songs that we were really writing on. We just wanted to bring them up to a better level.”
And that they did! Tracks like the aforementioned ‘Caldera’, ‘Phantasm’ and ‘Sunshine’ are simply massive songs that will fill out any room the band finds themselves in. They show a maturity and a better understanding of how to approach this style of rock music with an ear for dynamics and real motion. The latter song beautifully showcases the duality of rage and serenity with the soft and soothing vocals of Brendan Sheargold gently guiding the melody over staccato and overwhelming grooves and riffs below.
Even with such growth, the band haven’t just evolved in the way they write melodies and structure songs but also in what timbres and instruments actually go into said songs. With such additions like the strings on ‘Caldera’ and the drum machine and synths of ‘Phase Shift’, the band have found themselves blossoming into an array of new styles and sounds.
Grace opens up about these added sounds. “We went a little harder and more involved with the production on this record as we had a bit more access to sounds and plugins and things that we didn’t even know were going to be on the songs until we got there and got into the magic of the studio. We had those inspirational moments in the studio where you try and something and it works perfectly. That is our sound,” Grace says adamantly.
Yet when it comes to translating these new sounds into the live setting, the band have no shame with the use of backing tracks. Grace talks further on this topic that some bands would have no business dealing in.
“It’s not like we didn’t write or record it – we did! And they’re the parts we want in the songs and they are a part of the song. Playing without it might not be that big of a deal but we always prefer to play with it. That’s the full experience, the full song in its most complete form. If we were the biggest band in the world then we would hire people to play all those individual parts. We did just upgrade to an in-ear system where we can play along to the click and just start and stop songs as we need. But the strings and the piano are a big part of our sound so we really wanna use those!”
Byles also went on to explain they do have a limit when it comes to backing tracks, however. “We’ve had some people be a bit iffy about it but there aren’t any instruments that we can play live on there. We don’t put vocals or guitar or bass or anything on there [on the backing track]. Maybe we’ll have a chorus of people yelling but no harmonies or anything.”
Of course, with the additional material an album brings, so does a longer live set and stage show.
“This run of shows we’re gonna be playing the longest we have yet just so we can fit more songs in”, says Grace, before affirming “Not because we can but because we really want to.”
“We’ve played so many shows over the past five years and right from the start, ‘The Art of Madness’ from our first EP has been a staple of the set. We’ve played that song thousands of times! So having these new songs to play really breathes some new life into us and gets us excited. We have that energy about it; that not only the crowd is going to hear them but that we get to play them. It’s still really exciting to us. It’s not that the old ones aren’t exciting, it’s just that these new ones are more exciting.” It’s looking about 80% new stuff then one or two songs from each EP. ‘Art of Madness’ will probably stay in there and then I guess ‘What Are You Waiting For’ and another track from Atlantis.”
I can fuck with that!
‘Between Rage and Serenity’ is available now and I just cannot recommend it enough! Turn down the lights, get comfortable, put on your headphones and get lost in the wonderful world of Far Away Stables and their stellar new album.
Far Away Stables will play Bang! in Melbourne on Saturday, June 3rd before returning to their native Sydney to play Red Rattler Theatre on the 9th.