Australian Guitar - - Feature - BY MATT DO­RIA

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 a›unit, but this time it was kind of like, ‘ We can do›what­ever 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


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.”

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