DEEP SEA ARCADE: 'BANDS AND MUSICIANS SHOULD WORK TOGETHER'
It was almost five in the afternoon as I approached the chill poolside atmosphere in a classic Palermo boutique hotel, where I saw to Nic McKenzie and Nick Weaver from Australian psych-electro-rock band Deep Sea Arcade, enjoying the Buenos Aires spring air with a cold beer, jeans, boots and unbuttoned psychedelic shirts.
SPE: Tell me a little bit about the gig yesterday, how was it?
NIC McKENZIE: It was a lot of fun, it was a very short set and it was part of a music industry conference. It wasn’t like a big party, but we had fun. We’ll come back and do something else.
SPE: I wanted to ask you about Visions, the festival you are producing in Australia.
NIC: I’m the curator. I’ve been doing it for three years. We have a festival, in Sydney, as a part of another festival called Vivid, and we also do a national circuit, between Brisbane, Melbourne and Sidney.
SPE: Do you try to find new bands to fill the lineup?
NIC: Yes! That’s right! That’s exactly what we do [interrupts me excited]. But we also do existing bands. Jay Watson from Pond and Tame Impala, The Preaches, lots of really really really good australian bands. But then, we’re also supportive of ingrown talent, nurturing young bands to be able to have a guaranteed audience, you know? So when they tour in Brisbane or Melbourne, they don’t turn up to an empty room.
SPE: The decision of creating this festival, did it come from a place of you guys being musicians and wanting to showcase different music?
NIC: Absolutely. We were in London for about six months, and discovered that Rhys Webb from The Horrors has a hot night called Junk Club. We were like ‘wow, that is such a great idea’. We should move into an industry were bands and musicians work with other musicians. Maybe there will be less industry in the future… I guess this is our way of being a part of what we love in Australia.
SPE: You took your time to record your last album, do you feel these songs have different sound from each other, because of all the time between the writing?
NIC: They are kind of bookmarks in our lives. You know, when you smell something, and it reminds you of your grandmother? It’s kind of an album like that to us, because it’s scattered moments. The reason why it took so long it’s because i was so overwhelmed by wanting to do work as a promoter, and Nic had a job as well. We kind of got together and made music when we had time to do it.
SPE: How was the recording? Did you work on your own studio, were you involved in the production of the album?
NIC: It was a collaboration between me and a guy named Eric J Dubowsky. I spent a lot of time recording, working with him in terms of creating a palette. This was to me like learning to fly: how we wanted it to be different from the first album, how we wanted to learn about all the soft synths and analog synths and all the job replacement programs. It was like doing an audio degree. And then, I do work as well in film composing, so it was a learning curve, incorporating all this knowledge into the sound that we wanted. Nick would normally come to my studio, we’d record stuff, I would do a rough mix and post programming and then I would give it to Eric J for him to mix it… We got a little bit close with our mixes but he actually brought our sound.
SPE: Did you record anything in a weird or particular location? Like vocals in a bathroom or a garage, a guitar in an attic, etc?
NICK WEAVER: Drums are the thing you can’t do at home. But everything else you can do at home, it brings more personality to the record itself. In that way you can take all day to find the right sound or whatever and it doesn’t matter, i think that’s really good for a lot of bands.
NIC: I got this space in a place called Chippendale, where I have my studio at the moment, it’s actually also an Airbnb… like an Airbnb for bands, that is also a studio.
SPE: Are you telling me I can book an Airbnb that has a studio in the apartment?
NIC: YES! Don’t touch anything [laughs]. There’s a basic setting, I don’t leave all my gear around. I’d normally leave only a few things and it’s all set up so you can bring your own laptop and plug in the whole thing. It’s kind of a loft and it has a room upstairs, that has a really beautiful sound, so we recorded a couple of things there. We also had this other room that was above a pub, and we did a lot of recording in there too. So it is a little scattered: some sounds from here, from there.
SPE: Do you have any club sound that filtered into the recordings?
NIC: Actually, it’s funny that you say that, because at the pub [starts laughing and can’t complete the sentence] there’s this pokies, like we called them in Australia, gambling machines [mimics lights and sounds]. So you can hear often in vocals, you know, a bling! and all the machine sounds.
NICK: I didn’t know that! [laughs]
NIC: There’s this guy, this awesome guy named Nathan, who worked at the pub, and every time he walked passed the studio he used to sing this song he really loved, I can't remember now [they both hum and try to remember but it's useless]. So I was recording my vocals, and suddenly heard him singing on the street and… ok, I can’t keep that take. So yes, that did happen.
SPE: When you are recording an album you always create this kind of rituals around the routine of recording. The coffee place, the little spot with cheap food for lunch, etc. What kind of memory like this do you recall from the Blacklight recording time?
NIC: Yeah, a few places… well, obviously the pub downstairs. There’s another pub, that had a lot Australian bands recording there, for example the band called DMA’s. They were recording there and it became kind of a cultural hub, but it got sold, unfortunately. I was also thinking about when we had that house in London [oh, yes! Nick interrupts] and we were recording…
NICK: Money was so hard for us, I was working at a call center, making money and trying to do gigs and make an album. And there was this deli that sold this potato thing for like… two pounds. Basically half the band lived on those.
NIC: Oh! Guess who our neighbor was! Chris Webb. He was recording synth parts and everything, you could hear the metronome through the whole block.
SPE: Well you could’ve started recording! That would’ve been a crazy type of featuring [laughs]
NIC: Ft. Chris Webb’s metronome!
SPE: Could you recommend five underground Australian bands we should definitely hear?
NIC: There are so many… I made a playlist just recently, and these are the top five. I Know Leopard, Ocean Alley, Phantastic Furniture. Do you know Julia Jacklin? It’s her band. She’s also a solo artist, amazing. Jack River, Laura Jean, Amyl and the Sniffers! Another great new artist, from the same friend group of the Tame Impala guys: Stella Donnelly. She’s really really good, and she’s a really big feminist icon in Australia. I spent two hours yesterday at my hotel room making this playlist, I hope you listen to it, and then your audience listens to it, that would mean a lot to me.
And then the recorder went off: the interview was officially over. We shared a cigarette and kept on talking about streaming platforms, money, industry: in other words, the basic survival struggle of every musician. We discussed the need to destroy the romantic idea of the starving artist and the unreal figure of successful rich artists. ‘The ones that are making money are in a kind of cloud, the Rihannas and Drakes of the world. Artists don’t fly on private jets and all that, I want all my friends to be able to grow old and keep making music’, said Nick. It’s a constant angst, a constant struggle. ‘Spotify system is not working. You pay to get into a platform and then get cents for every song reproduction. We should develop a sort of voluntary paying system, or something like that, like a tipping option after ten reproductions or so, to help the artists you hear on repeat’.