Talk to any muso, and they will tell you that your dreams will never just simply fall into your lap; you have to work hard, make sacrifices and push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to find any sort of success. However, when people talk about hard work, very rarely will they be referring to a decade of constant grinding, networking and DIY slaving in order to make a mark. Then again, those people probably weren’t talking about Endless Heights.
It seems like Sydney’s Endless Heights have been in existence for the full duration of the Australian DIY hardcore scene. Whether it be a show at a local youth centre, a small club, a charity gig, or supporting a national or international buzz band, Endless Heights have flown the flag for local Australian produce for over 10 years now on every bill they’ve been apart of.
In their decade-plus lifespan, this much-loved band have been carving out some sort of career playing music that has had next to no commercial or popular support. Now, however, mere weeks before band release their dense and darkened sophomore release, ‘Vicious Pleasure‘, the band seem set to move out of those smaller support roles and take their place on the main stages, proving once and for all that they can hold themselves among the best on the world stage – not just within the domestic locals. So much has the buzz built around this band that even the ABC seem to be getting in on the fun.
“The first time we got played on Triple J, it re-awoke up a lot of dreams from my youth and opened all these doors”, says frontman Joel Martorana, who was kind enough to give a first-person account of the bands long, yet triumphant, rise to the upper echelons of Aussie alternative music. Because while fans seeing Endless Heights finally getting regular rotation on the radio by no means validates a band representing a scene so proudly self-sustained, it marks a desperately needed morale booster for a group who’s been pushed to breaking point due to the demands of being in an independent, DIY scene for so long.
“If those doors hadn’t opened… I don’t know how long this band would have lasted. Now we sit down and very strategically think what Triple J listeners might want to hear – we still care in that respect and try and push things the way any band would trying to get a career from what they do. We don’t need it though, we know we’re not selling out. You’re allowed to want your songs on the radio.”
To many, such accolades will be long overdue for this hard-working band, but while the journey of Endless Heights has shown a thrilling evolution and maturing of both sound and theme, what seems poised to be the most exciting chapter almost didn’t eventuate at all.
“We were really burnt out from touring constantly, and Jem [Siow, guitar], who along with myself had been the main creative force, was like “What’s the point? What are we doing?” We were driving to Melbourne for a show and I remember thinking ‘I would feel so cheated if we didn’t do one more record’. There are so many things we haven’t done yet as a band that we want to do, like tour America and Japan and we always assumed that would happen, and suddenly, I thought ‘Shit, that might not.’ I managed to cull them into doing one more record, Jem reluctantly so, but we just weren’t writing fast enough.”
Such a stall is all too common for bands, particularly in the modern era where touring becomes the main form of income, often squeezing the artistic drive out of artists due to the ‘grind’ nature of the touring circuit. But the band pushed through this rough patch and went for broke.
“It [the writing] went from reluctant to ‘let’s put everything into it because this might be it.’ If you felt uncomfortable, you were on the right track. Even being a band felt uncomfortable. That’s what I love about the band; it’s just raw honesty and rogue chat at times, but it’s so real.”
For many, the appeal of Endless Heights, like much of the heavy scene, has always been the upfront honesty of the lyrics helping many (myself included) process the strain of every day, facilitated by a band of normal, everyday dudes. Anthems like ‘Dream Strong’, ‘Honest Life’ and ‘Mosaic’ helped and continue to help listers to face their troubles with a little bit of extra strength and fire, showcasing the sheer positive power of this band’s music.
“We want to be a transformational band and help people overcome stuff in their life” echoes back the vocalist at one point.
Such was to be the case for the band themselves, with Martorana even admitting that “I used Endless Heights quite selfishly at times to process stuff that I avoid.”
“I’ve always been brutally honest with any lyrics I’ve written – that’s just who I am. I think when I approached ‘New Bloom’ that was cultivated through growing up listening to anthemic hardcore, like Have Heart. That gave me the licence to sing about whatever was real to me. ‘New Bloom’, that was hidden under more imagery, but on this one, I just decided to rip the band-aid off.”
The singer continues, saying “There were a number of taboos in my world that scared the shit out of me: temptation, lust. Even in my family, there are taboos like affairs and miscarriage that I wanted to sing about in a tasteful way, and that was really terrifying. I wanted to write something that would be quite cathartic to listen to, and I wanted it to be uncomfortable. As the music became more… poisonous, it gave me more boldness, allowing me to scare myself.”
In what is by far the band’s most personal collection of songs, Martorana explains how his own demons were well and truly confronted and exorcised via the lyrical themes of ‘Vicious Pleasure‘.
“’Paralyzed’ scared the shit out of me when we wrote it. Jem and Christian [Hrdina, guitar] spent hours locked away in a room working it out, and they sent it to me and I basically went into a room by myself, sat down and cried my eyes out. It was this deep-rooted heartbreak, woven in this web of lust. It’s easy to hide heartbreak and stress by sexualising someone – hiding in pleasure. It was so powerful for myself to hide my grief by entangling myself with someone in that way.”
A similar strong moment of moving vulnerability on the record comes with the penultimate track, ‘Run’, in which Martorana describes as having its roots buried in a family tragedy all too familiar today.
“’Teach You How To Leave‘ was about my father’s affair and divorce; this song was inspired by that and this pregnancy in the family which was a sign of hope to bring the family back together again, but the child passed away. Still, it brought hope back to the family. I wrote a poem about this a while ago which became the song ‘Run’, about the concept that a miscarriage is just the soul of a child going back to heaven; the resolution is angels telling the soul to run inside the gates of heaven.”
Though never being one to shy away from the more confronting aspects of the day-to-day, ‘Vicious Pleasure‘ will see the darkest aspects of the band well and truly laid bare in a moment of musical vulnerability, something the frontman mentions to us.
“If you looked at it [the record] through the eyes of logic, you’d think ‘oh you sick puppy, what’s going on?’ I’ve just tried to heal through this record.”
A culmination of all things he and the band needed to say before potentially hanging up their collective boots, Martorana explains that, despite almost not happening, ‘Vicious Pleasure‘ is the record Endless Heights needed to write, representing a real milestone in their history together.
“I’ve always been super ambitious and saw myself performing for a long time, but I didn’t think we’d never have a member change. I’ve known Matt (Jones, bass) since we were five, so we’ve known each other for 20 years. Those guys know the ins and outs of a lot of things in my life that are so hard to talk about. We’re actually the inner circle of each other’s lives. Sometimes the last thing in the world you want to wake up to is those dudes on a friends floor in another state, but it’s also the best thing ever.”
A decade on, Endless Heights are stronger yet also more fragile than ever, and with such a high level of openness comes an immense risk for a band well and truly throwing all caution to the wind now.
“There are a number of things still on my bucket list. If this album enabled us to tour some of those countries, I’d have to write more. We just play every day by ear with this band, but our vision is just to keep doing this for as long as we can.”
Honestly, we hope that Endless Heights won’t be leaving us anytime too soon. Not when they’re writing such powerful music like ‘Vicious Pleasure‘.
PC: Jennifer Poon.
‘Vicious Pleasure’ is out February 16th, 2018 via Cooking Vinyl Australia.