DEAD LET­TER CIR­CUS

BY SELF-TITLING THEIR FOURTH AL­BUM, DEAD LET­TER CIR­CUS HAVE MADE A POIGNANT STATE­MENT. SARAH COMEY NOO­DLES THROUGH ITS IM­POR­TANCE WITH AX­E­MEN LUKE PALMER AND CLINT VIN­CENT.

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

The Bris­bane proglo­rds are back with their most metic­u­lous and dy­namic LP yet.

Three years af­ter bring­ing the Aus­tralian prog scene to a stand­still with Aes­the­sis, the fre­netic fret­board mas­ters in Dead Let­ter Cir­cus have re­turned with what might just be their mag­num opus. The self-ti­tled fourth al­bum shines a rawer, more hon­est light on the five­some, high­light­ing vir­tu­osic in­ter­play be­tween ax­e­men Luke Palmer and Clint Vin­cent, with front­man Kim Ben­zie belt­ing out some of his most strik­ing vo­cal per­for­mances to date.

The de­ci­sion to self-ti­tle the LP came early in the mix, when the band de­cided that, as they reach their 14th year of time-sig­na­ture de­fi­ant rif­fery, they were due for a mi­nor re­birth. It’s their first record on a ma­jor la­bel, and the first to see them truly shed their pre­con­ceived (and per­haps mis­guided) con­cepts of what it means to write and record as a band. Dead­Let­terCir­cus is the band’s most dy­namic and au­then­tic record yet, and to fig­ure out how they made that so, we dug into the philoso­phies of the two gui­tarists be­hind it.

On the im­por­tance of go­ing back to ba­sics...

“I think we ap­proached this al­bum in a sim­i­lar way to Aes­the­sis,” Palmer ex­plains, “In that we all got into a room and jammed the mu­sic out – y’know, what a nor­mal band would nor­mally do in a nor­mal process – whereas pre­vi­ously, be­cause we’re all en­gi­neers and pro­duc­ers in our own rights, we’d just record ideas on our own and then share Pro Tools ses­sions with each other. It was a bit like a cor­re­spon­dent writ­ing process, and it was very dis­con­nected – we never re­ally got too much of that vibe.

“But I think with this one, we very in­ten­tion­ally set out to write the songs in the same room as each other. And the way that played out on the record is that there’s not a lot of pro­gram­ming or synths or any pro­duc­tion tricks go­ing on. This one is very much a rock al­bum by a rock band – y’know, just five dudes play­ing their in­stru­ments.”

On us­ing pro­gram­ming as a tool for cre­ative ex­pan­sion, not a cheat code...

“We love us­ing Axe-FX be­cause you can be smash­ing out the heav­i­est part of the song, but then you take your head­phones off and it’s dead si­lent,” Palmer says. “There’s some­thing about that where if you need to take a break while the bass player and the drum­mer smash out a sec­tion, you can do that, and you don’t get as fa­tigued as you nor­mally would from a mas­sive day of jam­ming and be­ing in a blis­ter­ing loud room with a band thrash­ing out.”

“But we’re mu­si­cians first. Y’know, I grew up us­ing real amps and record­ing ev­ery­thing with ana­log gear, but I think it’s all about util­is­ing the tech­nol­ogy to your ad­van­tage. It’s not about cheat­ing – and you can to­tally cheat things like tim­ing and all of that stuff, but we don’t edit any of our gui­tar parts. “We’re not chop­ping ev­ery­thing up and mov­ing it around with Pro Tools. We’re all about cap­tur­ing the per­for­mance, so we don’t delve into that side of Pro Tools where you’re just fak­ing your groove, but we def­i­nitely will utilise el­e­ments of the dig­i­tal realm that help us to im­prove our play­ing – like Axe-FX and dig­i­tal re­verbs and de­lays, and all sorts of plug­ins.”

On be­ing a re­al­is­tic gear nerd...

“My main gui­tar is a Fen­der Tele­caster,” Palmer boasts. “It’s a 2012 US Deluxe in black and gold, and it’s re­ally, re­ally awe­some. It’s got noise­less pick­ups and it just has a very modern sound to it. I also have a Gretsch Duo Jet – it’s sil­ver and sparkly and it’s got a Bigsby on it, which is pretty rad; I’ve prob­a­bly only used it once or twice on the record. And then I also have a Fen­der Jazzmas­ter that I used on one or two lit­tle bits.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am a com­plete gear nerd – I have epic amounts of gear – but at the end of the day, it’s all about the per­for­mance. I think so much of a player’s tone is in their fin­gers, and it’s im­por­tant not to lose sight of that. Y’know, the gui­tars and ef­fects and what­not are def­i­nitely help­ful tools, and you’ve gotta use good gear to make your play­ing sound good, but the tech­nique al­ways comes first.”

On writ­ing songs, not just riffs...

“I al­ways thing about a song on a song­writ­ing level be­fore I think about it on a gui­tar level,” Vin­cent ex­plains. “Once it comes to track­ing the gui­tars, I’m in gui­tar world. But in the lead-up, I’m al­ways like, ‘Okay, what songs are we go­ing to write? How are we go­ing to make this an al­bum full of amaz­ing songs?’

“And then once you get in there for the pre­pro­duc­tion and you’re re­fin­ing your parts, that’s when you go, ‘Cool, now I can ex­plore the space on a gui­tar level.’ We’re al­ways ques­tion­ing each part along the way, and we’re al­ways try­ing to go, ‘Have we done that be­fore? What’s new? What’s push­ing us to play some­thing fresh, rather than just re­solve back to the tricks we know we can do and we’ve done be­fore?’”

On be­ing se­lec­tive with your im­prov skills...

“When we write, it’s all im­pro­vi­sa­tional – we jam to jam,” Vin­cent says. “But when it comes to per­form­ing, the live show is pretty much us play­ing what we set­tled on in that jam. I would say live, per­son­ally, there might be three per­cent im­pro­vi­sa­tion on my level. Like yeah, I might tweak a lit­tle bit here and there and change some bits slightly, but it’s only ever that slight amount be­cause when I get on that stage, I know what the best way to play the song is.”

“In the writ­ing process, be­ing that it is so or­ganic and jammy, and it’s about us com­ing up with the ideas, im­pro­vi­sa­tion is a big part of it – we’re fig­ur­ing out the best way to build the song struc­ture – but we’re not look­ing for the best bits when we’re play­ing live, be­cause we feel like we’ve al­ready found them by then.

When I’m track­ing gui­tar parts, I’m not just track­ing a bit and then look­ing to Luke and go­ing, ‘Cool, ex­e­cute it.’ We’re there, we’re analysing it, we’re go­ing, ‘Okay, how ‘bout we try this?’

“Even if a part is 90 per­cent done, some peo­ple might say, ‘F***, that’s awe­some,’ but it’s like, ‘No. I know it can be bet­ter, let’s push it.’ And so once we feel like we’ve got a song to the level where it’s good enough to be on the record, there’s no point ex­plor­ing it any­more by the time we get to the per­for­mance stage.”

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