All Good IN THE 'HOOD
IT TOOK A HOT MINUTE, BUT THE PREATURES ARE BACK AND MORE BADARSE THAN EVER WITH THEIR SCORCHING SECOND ALBUM, GIRLHOOD.
It certainly doesn’t feel like three years have passed since they dropped their head-turning debut, BluePlanetEyes, though. The Sydney indie rollickers have smashed out milestone after milestone since 2014, touring everywhere from Sweden to South Korea with an ever-growing arsenal of chart-smashing hits. So when it came time for the crew to start thinking about its follow-up, they were at a crossroads: how the hell would they replicate that early success, and how could they do it in a short enough span of time that they’d retain relevancy?
The answer came easy. With a mid-2016 one-off single (“I Know A Girl”) to keep fans at bay, The Preatures slipped into a deep hibernation and buckled down on making Girlhood the masterpiece it deserved to be.
“The fact that we toured for three years straight on the back of [ BluePlanetEyes] kind of… I wouldn’t say it wore us out,” opens bassist Thomas Champion, “But we ended up going, ‘Okay, we need to slow down.’ That led to us taking a year and a half off to make this record, which was so beneficial for the band. We hadn’t been doing anything else – we played a few shows here and there, but our philosophy was mainly just, ‘Let’s buckle down and get this thing done.’ And y’know, we blew through a couple of deadlines, but we did what was necessary. After we blew through the first deadline, we stumbled upon two songs that wouldn’t have made the record if we forced ourselves to rush things.”
Those two songs are “Magick” and “Something New” – incidentally, two apt descriptors for
Girlhood in itself. In tinkering their sound to fit a new era, The Preatures took a step back to reexamine what it meant to coalesce as a unit – a move that was triggered by the departure of guitarist and co-vocalist Gideon Bensen.
“I think it was a process of elevating everything for us,” says lead guitarist Jack Moffitt. “Obviously, having a member leave any group is going to change the way things work, but we ended up learning things that we wouldn’t have learnt any other way. We had to figure out what the band meant to us at that point, and how we’d work as, essentially, a three-piece.”
“It was actually quite nice because it meant that we kind of had a clean state,” Champion butts in. “We could reinvent the dynamic. I mean,we’ve always had a very close dynamic between Jack, Luke [Davidson, drums] and I as aunit, but this time it was kind of like, ‘ We can dowhatever we want!’”
Though somehow still managing to kick the energy up a notch, Girlhood is instantly tighter and more refined than its predecessor. Upon first listen, there’s the impression that the now-quartet must have banded together to hone their sound. And in a sense, that’s true – Champion played guitar on the record and Moffitt whacked out some synth, for example – but as Moffitt tells us, the album’s sonic restraint came more from their decision to focus on songwriting individually.
“It was an attitude shift that you can hear in the playing on this record,” he says. “What’s so great about BluePlanetEyes is that it’s sort of like a little Meccano set and it just fits together in this
“IF THE SHOW DOESN’T WORK IN A HALF EMPTY 200-CAP ROOM, IT’S NOT GOING TO WORK IN A 1,500-CAP THEATRE”
way that we never really tried to explain because we were always in the midst of doing it. But with this record, we’d start with songs on our own and then bring them into the group – as opposed to writing songs as a group and then working them outwards – and that meant we each had a new approach to certain things. Like, there’s a couple of slower tracks on this record, where the command of them is within our own space as musicians.”
In tensing up their sound, the band embraced a minimalist approach to their gear collections. Though plenty of toys were passed around in the studio (namely, a few vintage Strats, the odd Gibson acoustic, a Rickenbacker 335 and more analogue synth than Thom Yorke could handle), Moffitt and Champion settled on a total of four guitars across a weighty 11 tracks.
“If you’re surrounded by too much stuff and you don’t have an intimate relationship with what you’re working on, it’s like a sinkhole that you end up getting trapped in,” Moffitt admits. “You end up spending five hours trying to get this one guitar tone right because you keep jumping between different guitars and amps. It pays to just go with what you know.”
When the band take Girlhood on the road come September, fans can expect a more lowkey – but still as powerful as ever – performance. “With all respects to Gideon,” Champion says, “Not having an extra voice or guitar in the mix has sort of opened up an air around everything else that’s happening in these songs. Everything sounds a lot less constricted now, so it’ll be really cool to see how that works in larger venues like the Enmore in Sydney and the Forum in Melbourne. That’s a lot of people to impress with just four instruments, which is a really exciting challenge.”
Despite being their biggest domestic tour yet, the band are adamant on steering clear of any gratuitous bells or whistles. They’re tackling sold-out theatres with a pub show attitude – if you were lucky enough to catch their secret Lansdowne show back in June, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. “It all starts here,” Champion says, pointing to the Lansdowne’s band room behind us. “If the show doesn’t work in a half empty 250-cap room like this, it’s not going to work in a 1,500-cap theatre.” Worth noting, too, is that what punters hear on
Girlhood won’t exactly be what they hear in the pit. “We’ve stripped a lot of things back,” Moffitt says of the translation from LP to amp. “We’re taking a really old-school approach of taking only the best parts of what we do and amplifying them out. All of the parts need to be strong and everything needs to be tight – if it doesn’t stack up from the stage, it’s not going to work in the crowd. That’s one of the best things about where we’re at now: we have a certain understanding about what that takes and what we need to do to make our songs sound their best.”
“I’m trying to summarise two or three guitar parts into a single performance, and I love that challenge,” he continues. “It’s doing my head in, but it’s fun. There’s something special to be found in playing things that you’ve recorded and not performed live; there’s always a way to pick up a line that you wouldn’t have realised in the studio because you’re not doing it for like an audience. Like, some guitar solos may be a little tame in the studio because they work for the record, but then you get up onstage and feel like everyone is looking at you and waiting for you to do something, and that’s when it gets exciting.”