WHARVES’ previous releases have oscillated between smouldering mood setters like Pollyanna and the riff-driven swells of All My Dreams. Their latest helping resonates with a more energetic vibration. Born atop a mercilessly infectious groove, single It’s You establishes the new group’s intent in carving out a dance-friendly rock sound. Looking to learn a little more about these four Northern Rivers denizens we caught up with frontman Matt to talk about the genesis of the band, taking things up a notch in the recording studio and the musical influences driving WHARVES’ core dynamic.
Rabbit Radio: Having only formed in April last year, WHARVES are still a relatively new proposition. How did the group initially come together?
Matt: We met in Lismore through university and we’re based around Lennox Head, Byron [Bay] and Lismore at the moment. Mike Scott and I were in a band called The Familiars for a couple of years until our drummer moved away. We were at this point where we thought it was a good excuse to start fresh with a bunch of new music and fresh sound. We built on a little bit of the momentum of our previous project, we felt we had already established as songwriters and then we added Fraser on the drums…
RR: Do you feel growing up in the country-meets-coastal area of Northern Rivers and Byron Bay has had an impact on your music?
Matt: Definitely. I think just moving here and growing up here has had a massive effect on our songwriting. There are some really good venues in Byron, like the Beach Hotel and The Northern. They host a lot of touring musicians which we go to see pretty regularly. Along with the big festivals like Splendour, Bluesfest and now Falls, we’ve been exposed to a lot of great music.
RR: What is it do you think that characterises WHARVES’ music? Is there a common thread which gives the band its identity?
RR: It’s a tough question!
Matt: I think what we have is this shared interest in the rock genre. Despite our individual tastes, we all love bands like Queens of the Stone Age and The Arctic Monkeys. I think the common thing is this handful of bands that we share as influences.
RR: Both of the acts you mentioned have been kicking around for a little while now. What is it about groups like the Arctics and Queens of the Stone Age that has had such a lasting influence?
Matt: I remember when the Queens of the Stone Age won the MTV Music Video Awards a while back. They said that the style of rock and roll just goes around and around, yet the one constant is that it’s always cool. Neither of those two bands has ever really stagnated.
RR: You mean in the sense that they keep moving forward creatively?
Matt: Yeah! With their albums it’s always something new. They never sound like the same band twice! They’re always going for or trying something new. I feel that what sets them apart from other groups is that every time they’ve kicked goals. They take risks but they pay off.
I feel that’s where we’re at. It’s a real motivator for me to feel like every song is improving from the last. “Is this song better?” isn’t a question I’m asking myself. But I look back and think (sigh of relief) “this song’s better than that!” We’re always trying to do it better.
RR: You’ve cited the sombre post-punk of City Calm Down as a having a strong influence on for you. How does it feed through to your music, is it reflected in your vocals?
Matt: It has kind of, I don’t know whether it’s intentional but they’ve given me more confidence with my baritone. I can say that our next single will have deeper vocals.
RR: So there’s more leeway for the group to push into more depressive territory?
Matt: The ability to go there gives a bit more range to band as opposed to always being at maximum energy. That said you can still channel those moods into an energetic song.
RR: The latest track you’ve put out, rhythmic indie pop riffer It’s You, seems to be a little bit of a jump in energy from the slow burning melancholy of earlier material like Buildings and Pollyanna. Is this a conscious decision to take things in a slightly rockier direction?
Matt: I think it is. That was kind of what we were going for. We worked with a pretty big producer called Steven Schram who has recorded some cool bands like San Cisco and I Know Leopard. We approached him with It’s You song, saying “Hey, we want a more danceable track, something a little more upbeat.”
RR: What form was the song in when you approached him? Did you have a demo?
Matt: It was actually one of the first songs we had written as WHARVES. We had been playing it live too and recorded it a couple of times ourselves. We performed it for him in the studio to give him the essence of it. We’d been playing it for so long, but he looked at it with a fresh perspective, asking things like: “What if you did this? What if you made this a little shorter? What if you took this section out and put it there?” He took us out of that mindset of just thinking about it the way we had normally played it.
RR: He’s a producer who hasn’t just worked with prominent triple j acts like San Cisco, but also older acts like Paul Kelly and Roland S. Howard….
Matt: (Laughs) Yeah! He actually took time out from a session with Paul Kelly to come work with us on It’s You!
RR: Was it the first time you worked with an established producer?
Matt: With our old project we had a friend who helped a little with the recording, but with WHARVES it was the first time we’ve done this. It was a big learning curve; he’s an absolute gun on the sound engineering side of things. But at the same time he’s got a good feel for songwriting. You learn so much just being in the room with him.
RR: Did you work on a few tracks or was it more of a one off sort of thing?
Matt: It was a one off, but just about two weeks ago we recorded with him again at a studio in Burleigh Heads.
RR: What’s next for the band? You’ve been working on these new tracks up at Burleigh…
Matt: The plan now is a single release in about March next year and tour with that.
RR: Do you have an idea of which single you’ll be releasing?
Matt: Yeah! It’s…actually I can’t say right now! In the short term, this hasn’t been announced formally yet either, but I’ll say it now. We’re playing Falls Festival in Byron Bay! After that we’ll be playing maybe January-February and hopefully be doing another Rabbit Radio gig!