Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2014, Melbourne’s Lowtide have carved a name for themselves in Australian rock with crystalline grace. Lowtide was defined by chasmic guitars, elegant melodies, and a rare capacity to be simultaneously cinematic and sincere, and it’s these hallmarks that the band have since carried with them with complete authority.
Four years later and we finally have a new record from the band in the form of Southern Mind. Partly recorded at Melbourne’s The Aviary in the depths of winter in 2016, then chipped away at in the months proceeding, the album is a sonic gem that only time and craft and patience could coax into existence.
Densley layered and bursting with iridescent melodies, Southern Mind is every bit as charming as their debut. The interplay between the twin vocals of singers Lucy Buckeridge and Giles Simon is delicate yet dramatic, and Gabe Lewis’ guitar work is drug-like in its mesmeric intensity. It’s by no means the same album though. The songs are inspired and the production seems even more focused, more considered.
Fresh from its release, we had a chat to Gabe about Southern Mind, how it was crafted, the task of balancing density and clarity, and the gear that shaped the album.
Density and clarity: chatting with Gabe Lewis from Melbourne shoegaze band Lowtide about their brilliant new album, Southern Mind.
Hey Gabe, really digging the album. How are you feeling now that it’s out in the world?
Thanks so much! It feels great to have the album out after working so hard on it. The feedback so far has been really positive, so it’s nice to know people seem to be enjoying it.
Can you tell us a bit about working at The Aviary? What’s the space like?
It’s a really nice, airy space with lots of good sight lines across the room and booths. We mainly used the studio to track drums. We kept some guitar and bass parts. I re-recorded most of my guitar parts again at home. Vocals were all done at Matt Hosking’s house.
Who did you record with? How did they influence the sound of the album?
Matt Hosking recorded and mixed the album for us. We had previously worked with him on the Julia/Spring 7” and he achieved the sound we were imagining so effortlessly. He has a really great control over the density of sound and the interplay between parts. Nothing feels swamped, but nothing feels exposed.
I really love the treatment of vocals on tracks like Southern Mind – obviously heaps of reverb and delay happening. Was this all in the box or were you using outboard gear or other hardware?
Matt had a bunch of rack gear, mainly pres and compression. All the reverb/chorus/delay on the vocals was done in the box.
As I mentioned earlier, our focus in the studio was to capture live drum takes, everything else was DI’d or mic’d up in other rooms, so there was no spill to control. I re-tracked my guitars at home so I could spend some time refining sounds and ideas and then we re-amped them at Matt’s home studio.
So everything ended up being tracked in a fairly isolated state.
Delay, reverb and chorus are obviously such a huge part of the Lowtide guitar sound. Can you tell us a bit of what are you using and how you use it?
These days I’m trying to use as little as possible. I’m running three guitar signals, so that can get out of hand pretty quickly on a pedalboard. I’ve never had particularly good gear and I’ve grown kind of fond of the limitations of lower end effects and how the shortcomings just become part of the overall sound. These days I have a bunch of Zoom Multistomps. One Zoom per channel, a fuzz, and a volume for the swell.
What other pedals were you making a lot of use of in the studio?
On my board I make do with smaller pedals, but recording meant I was able to bring out some of the bigger ones. All fuzz, pretty much. A clone of the fuzz circuit from the Roland Double Beat fuzz/wah, a Big Muff with a RAT and SuperHardOn built in, a CivilWar/FuzzWar clone in the same box, and a tall font EHX/Sovtek Big Muff. We layered lots of fuzz in the mix to achieve different textures.
I also saw you’ve been playing a Tiesco Spectrum 5 – damn cool guitar. Why is this your guitar of choice for Lowtide? How does it influence your sound?
Yeah, they’re great. So annoying to see the prices these days. I picked up my first Spectrum 5 in 2004 when I was working on solo music and trying to figure out how to have more control over my sound… how to layer and divide sounds. The Teisco is great because of the stereo (dual mono) split pickups. So having the ability to run totally different effects via the bottom/top three strings into different amps is awesome. I play it in open D minor so I can barre chords and (try to) play melody lines at the same time.
A lot of the more atmospheric moments on the album are very synthy (like Olinda for example). Did you guys dabble with any synths on the record or was this all guitar?
It’s all guitars. Matt didn’t do an Eno and add a bunch of DX7 pads to the album. So, basically, it’s all Zoom MS pedals which can have up to six effects chained within. Generally I’ll have a bunch of stacked reverbs with choruses, delays, and/or fuzz interspersed for the synth pad sounds.
I saw you guys live a little while back and noticed that Jeremy was using a Fender VI in place of a rhythm guitar. Is this just a live thing? How does it affect your sound?
That actually started when Giles was in the band. Initially he played bass but more recently had a F-VI made for him. It was an amazing addition to the sound as it gave him more room to move musically. On bass he was playing more melodic parts up the neck, while Lucy’s bass held the roots down. The F-VI now bridges the gap between the bass and the guitar really nicely.
The drums feel like they’re more present on this album than your debut – the snare sounds fatter and crisper in a lot of places. Was this a conscious decision? Is there any gear that really shaped the drum sounds?
It’s funny that you should mention that. I lived with Matt a few years ago and we’d always stop to comment on the snare sound in recordings. So perhaps there was an unspoken understanding of what we both appreciate. I’m not sure what snare Anton used in the sessions. I have a feeling it was one of the studio snares. I agree though. There is somehow still so much air and presence around the drums, even through the haze of the guitars and vocals.
We’re really looking forward to hearing the album live when you take it on the road! Has it been quite a process moulding the songs for your live show?
Not at all. The majority of the songs are written and fleshed out in rehearsals, so they come together into a fairly live-ready state from an early stage of the process. It was probably more of a process to disassemble my parts for re-recording.
And lastly, is there any gear you’re really hanging out to buy at the moment?
I’ve just got my hands on a Zoom Pedal Interface made by a guy in Brisbane. It’s a breakout box that can control patch switching, effect parameters, and global tap tempo over multiple Zoom pedals via MIDI. So, I’ll be very excited to get that up and running on my board.
All photos by Jamieson Moore.