Latest release: The Catalyst Fire (UNFD/Warner)
Dead Letter Circus bass player Stewart Hill is incredulous when he’s told that among the many, many CDs lining the walls of the Loud office is an EP called ‘Horizon’, a little 2002 release from a band named Ochre that featured he and current bandmate Kim Benzie.
“How much are you selling it for?” he asks with a laugh. “Sometimes our sound guy will play that while we’re sound-checking. It reminds us where we came from. It helps to keep us grounded a bit, I think.”
Hill and his band shot to the #2 slot of the ARIA chart with their very first album back in 2010. This is the Warning went on to be accredited as a Gold Record and won fan plaudits as one of the best albums ever thanks to a Triple J Hottest 100 poll. That’s the sort of reaction to their music that might at times give any band reason to find something to help keep their feet on the ground.
“That’s not something that we could have really expected,” Hill says to the reception their previous record received. “When you look at all the amazing bands and albums that are out there, for people to think that we’ve done something that puts us in the same league as them is just mind-blowing really.”
Following up an album with an impact of that magnitude has been such a burden for some bands that it has sometimes proved insurmountable. As far as Hill and Dead Letter Circus is concerned however, it’s all just a matter of attitude.
“We tried not to focus on that too much at all, to be honest with you,” he says.
The big success of This is the Warning and the demand for them on the touring circuit both here and overseas allowed the group freedom to take their time leading into another recording, but along the way they had to adjust to the departure of guitarist and founding member Rob Maric. Maric, also a key songwriter, had struggled with personal issues throughout 2012 and made the decision to finally leave the band early this year while The Catalyst Fire was still in production.
“We had a lot of time to think it through and take our music in a different direction”, the bass player explains. “We lost Rob our guitarist and so we were working with two new guitarists – we actually had three guitarists working on the album. We had a session guy come in and work on some of the tracks with us.”
The opportunity was there to re-evaluate their style and musical direction, ending up with an album that many critics have already praised for its cohesion and striking progression from previous efforts.
“When we go in to record, we don’t have songs so much as a bunch of ideas and themes that we build into songs in the studio,” Hill says of the creative process. “We knew we wanted to have some more textures and layering and we knew we wanted it to be darker. So we already had all the ideas about what we wanted the album to be like. But I don’t think it was ever a question of, ‘How will we top the last one?’ It was more that we knew the sort of album we wanted and the kind of music we like, so that’s what we did.”
Dead Letter Circus is one of those bands falls under the wide umbrella of music labelled progressive rock. In their case, it’s probably apt, but the word ‘progressive’ is one that tends to find itself attached to a growing number of musical artists whose music isn’t so much progressive as merely different in some way to other bands in the same genre. Hill laughs when he’s presented with the idea that some bands being marketed as ‘progressive’ at the moment are far from it, though he’s quick to nominate one that is.
“I think Karnivool is a band like that,” he says. “They’ve always been a band that really moves forward and changes with every new release. Sound Awake was different from Themata, and now they’ve done this monster [Asymmetry]! It’s amazing to see what some of the other bands around you are doing and what they’ve capable of, and I guess it sort of keeps you on your toes as well when it comes to what you want to do in your own band too.”
Now currently on tour around the country, Dead Letter Circus is well into the next stage of their journey, with an oversea tour announced since this interview was done that will see them going through North America with Periphery, Born of Osiris and Twelve Foot Ninja.
“It’s our first tour with the new line-up and all the new material and it’s always fun to see how the fans react to everything live,” Hill says of the Australian leg with Closure in Moscow and Sleep Parade. . It’s going to be a fun tour I think.”
Brian is Loud‘s editor and hosts The Annex Radio Show on Wednesday nights from 10 on 89.1fm.
Dead Letter Circus are touring with Closure in Moscow and Sleep Parade:
4/9: Canberra Uni, ACT
5/9: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
6/9: Waves, Wollongong NSW
7/9: Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
12/9: Kings Beach Tavern, Caloundra QLD
13/9: Spotted Cow, Toowoomba QLD
14/9: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
19/9: Prince of Wales Hotel, Bunbury WA
20/9: Metropolis, Fremantle WA