GET IN THE ZO ZONE
CLOUD CONTROL HAVE STEPPED OUT OF THEIR DREAM CAVE AND MELLOWED INTO THE ZONE. FRONTMAN ALISTER WRIGHT RIFFS ON THE JOURNEY THAT MADE LP3 A WHOLE NEW BEAST FOR THE REGIONAL ROCKERS. BY MATT DORIA
To say the return of Cloud Control was eagerly awaited would be one hell of an understatement: sans a few one-off shows to show they still existed, the Blue Mountains indie staples had spent three years in hibernation before announcing ZONE, during which time they lost founding bassist Jeremy Kelshaw and returned home from their short stint as a UK-based outfit.
Against all odds, the now-trio’s comeback was met with as much fan adoration as they’d indulged in before slipping away. “I’ve always had the feeling that we’re one of those bands where when people get into us, they stick around,” says frontman Alister Wright, shrugging off any doubts that LP3 may have fallen on deaf ears.
Producing the album themselves, Wright and co. took their sweet, sweet time piecing ZONE together. Mostly, it was an effort to let the album come together as naturally as the final product sounds. And, keeping in line with its occasionally left-field sonic narratives, the record came to life in a few decidedly interesting locations: an abandoned shopfront, their high school principal’s cottage, and a rented house on the regional coast of Forster, NSW – to name just a few.
ZONE marks a new chapter in the still-unfurling story of Cloud Control, and as Wright tells us, its production was filled with new experiences for the band.
ZONE is the first self-produced Cloud Control album. How did you find the process of adapting to that position, where you had to be objective about your own work?
It was hard to adapt to that role and still be in a band with people that I’d known for over a decade. I would feel awkward about being their producer, because, like, they know who I really am. So everything was intensified. I think it would be easier to be objective if we did it again, but this time being the first time that I’d taken the reins, I didn’t really know when something was good from a technical aspect. We all knew when we were just ‘into it’ as fans of music, but how do you go, “This song is great, it’s ready to mix!”? With no real experience, having the confidence to know for sure when something was recorded well was difficult.
Did the departure of Kelshaw have much of an impact on the writing process for ZONE?
Cloud Control has always been a mixed bag of writing situations – it could be Jeremy and I, or Heidi [Lenffer, keyboards] and Ulrich [Lenffer, drums], or all four of us, or any combination, really. We lost all of those combinations with Jeremy and had to replace them with other mates. Jeremy and I used to write a lot together, so him leaving definitely had a big impact on the writing.
With how synth-driven this album is, how did you approach writing for the guitar? Were you structuring your riffs around the electronics?
Yeah, I guess most of the guitar parts were written as overdubs – we’d track our guitars into the MIDI files, directly over the song, and it was usually the last part of the process. That doesn’t sound super exciting, but you can fit all the parts of a song together really well with that method. Y’know, when you’re just jamming in a room, it’s harder to be accurate with everything that’s going on. It’s super obvious that a part isn’t working when you’re recording, but in a jam room, everything just sounds kind of cool.
What did you do on ZONE that you’d never done as a guitarist on previous records?
I tried autotune once. Has anyone else tried doing that? I didn’t have much success. It just didn’t sound dramatic enough – it wasn’t an obviously cool effect. The ‘steppy’ vocal effect didn’t translate and it just kind of sounded like a shit guitar tone.
What was some of the key gear you were riffing out on in the studio?
I was playing bass guitars into guitar amps. I got rid of all the sub-bass crap and went back to basics – low mids, you know what I’m talkin’ about. My favourite pedal is the ZVEX Super Hard On: it just brings things to life, man! The more you use it, the more you can’t live without it. And the Boss Chorus is good too. About halfway through the making of the album, I bought a white seven-string Ibanez, kind of like #7 [Mick Thomson]’s guitar from Slipknot. I put orange strings on it and changed the pickups to mellow it out a bit; that was going to be my new thing, but the day after I had finally set it up, someone broke into our studio and stole it! I think it would have been a sensation. Everyone just plays Teles these days – myself included – or cool ‘90s guitars, like Jags. You could pop a volume knob and this thing would switch to a single-coil mode – that’s innovation! You can’t do that on a vintage Fender. The indie-rock scene needs a shakeup. Everyone’s living in the past.
What made you want to record this album in such unconventional locations as an abandoned building in Redfern and your old high school principal’s cottage?
It mostly came down to the budget. We wanted lots of time to write, learn, record and experiment, so we had to look at a few weird places. Moving around wasn’t ideal, but we did see some nice surprises.
Any highlights in particular?
Redfern was great! We had some really good parties there. We had some decks set up, and people would come over after their nights out to have a boogie. Forster was really beautiful; it was a tiny house on a hill – isolated, but a short drive to some amazing beaches. We were pretty lucky to have the opportunity to work there.
For just ten songs, you guys spent a pretty insane amount of time working on ZONE. How drastically did the album change between those first ideas and what we have now?
It definitely ended up sounding more hi-fi than we thought it would at the start. Call me unimaginative, but I can’t imagine the songs we released sounding any other way. What happened is exactly what needed to happen – there were so many forces at play that it sometimes didn’t even feel like we were in control.
Will we ever hear some of the material that didn’t make the cut?
Yeah! There are still a few rippers floating around.