Australian Guitar - - Feature -

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.

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