City Calm Down are not ones to rush their craft. It’s been three years since they released their debut In A Restless House, which itself was a product of months and months of recording. Now they’ve got a new record in their hands, and it’s every bit as meticulously concocted as their previous efforts.
Strewn with dramatic melodies, gorgeous instrumentation, sleek production and a chilly disposition that is so synonymous with the Melbourne four-piece, Echoes In Blue is an excellent record.
Recorded in part across two sessions at studios in their hometown, then finished off in snatches at home Bakehouse Studios in Richmond, every element of the record is carefully considered, expertly formulated, and emotionally charged.
We caught up with City Calm Down vocalist Jack Bourke just before the release of their brilliant new album, Echoes In Blue.
Hey guys, how’s it going? How are you feeling in the lead-up to the release of Echoes In Blue? Such a great record!
Thank you! Feeling a little nervous with the release coming up so fast but will be happy when it’s out. Feels like so long ago that we recorded it.
So you opted to work with Malcolm Besley for the album, who produced In a Restless House. Obviously there’s a great working relationship there. How does he influence your sound and the way you record?
Yes, Malcolm is a great producer and a good friend of ours which makes it really easy for him to slot into the band dynamic. He always knows when to sit back and let things happen naturally but also if he has an idea, he is not afraid to put his voice in the mix and push for it.
Malcolm is also very open to trying a lot of different things sonically when it comes to tracking and I think that’s a great quality. Sometimes I find myself stuck on one sound or one idea and it can be a struggle to pull yourself away, but it’s often that Malcolm will say let’s try this broken snare or strange organ, which can lead to a lot of new and exciting ideas.
Reverb is so integral to the vocals on the album. How do you approach vocal processing and effects the studio?
Mal really handles this but generally the vocal channel will be run through EQ and compression before being routed to an FX bus which has a 1/4 delay going into a spring or plate reverb.
The recording process was pretty fragmented this time around right? I read that you tracked a lot in bits and pieces at home studios over six months or so. Tell us a bit about your home setups?
It was a very different process than the first record. We decided early on that we wanted a little more air in the recording process to let some of the tracking we had done in our first sessions to settle so we could take it in and make changes.
After [we] completed a majority of the record, there were some parts that still needed to be done at home. One part in particular, the bass part at the end of Echoes in Blue, we used Bakehouse Recording Studios – we used a very basic setup, RME Fireface, Radial DI and an RE20 to do it. Most of our home studios are very basic, using small interfaces like the Audient i22 and Apogee Duet, a MIDI keyboard and our computers.
How did this kind of staggered recording process impact the final product?
I think mainly in a positive way. I find you can come up with a lot of ideas in a very short space of time when you’re in such a secluded and creative environment. Having that time to get things right and to revisit parts helped us get the album to sound how we wanted it to. Thinking back to some of the parts we redid I would be horrified if they were on the record still…
I feel like the keys play a more important emotional role on the record that on In a Restless House. Did you take a new approach to incorporating synths into the new compositions?
I think the synths have a much darker feel than IARH, but we didn’t really approach them in a different way. Maybe this is the product of the music we have been influenced by during the writing stage.
What synths featured heavily the album? Anything that you hadn’t worked with before?
We mainly used the same synths as last time but with a few additions – the main one’s we used were the Juno 60, SE Code and the Moog Voyager. Scattered throughout we used a ARP Solina String Ensemble, Yamaha SK II, Prophet 6, Hammond Organ and a grand piano.
Dynamics play such a big role too – big builds and epic releases. How did you approach this in the studio?
First we would generally decide on the direction we would want the dynamics to go during a certain section and then we would develop them around that. A majority of this is going to come from the performance of the parts themselves, but you can influence it more through slight tempo shift and using effects like long delays and reverbs.
At the start of In This Modern Land, the intro is a few BPM faster than the first verse. This provides a differentiation in intensity and helps support that dynamic shift.
The ‘City Calm Down’ guitar tone is quite distinctive – such nicely rounded clean tones and warm distortion. Can you tell us a bit about your guitar rigs?
We will generally work up guitar tones song by song. We used a bunch of guitars on the record, including Will’s James Trussart Steelcaster, a 12 string Rickenbacker and Fender Stratocaster. The studio we recorded a lot of the guitars at, Soundpark, had a big selection of high-end valve practice amps (which are perfect for the studio environment because they can be cranked to get the intended tone), so we would just mix and match with those until we were happy.
Modulation plays a big role – I like how you use chorus quite subtly on tracks like Decision Fatigue then more intensely on tracks like I Heard Nothing From You. What are we hearing on those songs?
The chorus in Decision Fatigue is being produced by a Roland Jazz Chorus. I think we used a Hofner bass on that song. On I Heard Nothing From You, we ran Will’s Steelcaster into an A/B/Y so we could split the signal and then we split it again through a stereo delay pedal.
Essentially, from one guitar performance we were able to create 3 different sounds, which we blended with each other to get the tone we wanted… One sound is the guitar going directly into a Great River pre-amp with FX in post, one is the Roland Jazz Chorus and one is a Strymon Blue Sky pedal through Fender Hot Rod Deluxe with the reverb turned up.
Echoes In Blue is out now via I OH YOU. Check it out on Spotify.