eep in the heart of Brisbane, something has been brewing, cooking away in a tin shed studio. Two years on from the release of their surprise breakthrough record, Hungry Ghost, Mansfield’s own Violent Soho are slowly chipping away at crafting its much-anticipated follow-up. When we catch guitarist James Tidswell on the phone, the band are halfway through the process and about to take a little time off.
When the Queensland four-piece dropped Hungry Ghost in 2013, they changed the face of Australian rock music as we knew it, bringing sweaty, ‘90s alt-rock and grunge screaming back into the forefront of our independent music scene. Crashing the top end of the triple j Hottest 100 with irresistibly catchy headbangers like “Covered In Chrome” and “Dope Calypso”, their wall of fuzzy guitars and whiney vocals seemed to be just what the doctor ordered, drawing together punks, hipsters, stoners and even young hardcore fans. With the album earning Gold status within a year and no sign of a slip in enthusiasm from their rabid cult fanbase, from the outside it almost looked as if the band could have kept touring Hungry Ghost forever.
|“That’s exactly how it felt!” exclaims Tidswell. “Which is kind of weird for us, because when we released Hungry Ghost we thought we’d do just one album tour, which was what we booked, and we were kind of just planning to go back to work and keep going on with our lives for a while but the touring just kept going!”A string of sold-out headline runs and big-scale festival appearances at Splendour In The Grass, Falls and Big Day Out led to the exponential growth of the band’s profile. Soon enough Tidswell and co. realised that if they didn’t put a stopper in things and force themselves back to the drawing board, no one would.“I guess we knew it was the right time when we got offered a certain festival spot this year which was like… the most amount of money we’d ever been offered for anything, and for us to say no to it felt kind of strange, but we kind of felt like we’d played to everyone, and we didn’t want to overdo it. We were so appreciative of all the support we had been given in Australia and we just didn’t want to take it for granted. So I’m really pleased we turned it down because now we’re working on a new album, and we’re actually really lazy so it could have taken forever if we just kept touring!”But with the phenomenal success of an album like Hungry Ghost comes great expectations from those outside the band. One does not simply conquer the eclectic and notoriously picky Aussie charts without creating an annoying buzz of ‘What will they do next?’ And that noise can get pretty loud if you don’t know how to block it out.“We had a quick chat about it before we started working on the new songs, about what we wanted to do, and we just wanted to make sure we weren’t putting any pressure on ourselves at all,” explains Tidswell. “I think after being a band for like 12 years, and in that time only having one year where there was a dramatic increase in our fanbase, we’re kind of used to playing to fewer people and having fewer fans, so we just wanted to make sure we were reverting back to that mentality of being okay with whatever happened.”It’s the constant reminder that things haven’t always been this good that keeps the band firmly grounded and their priorities in check.|
|“The best way to put it is that on the album before Hungry Ghost [2010’s Violent Soho] we felt like we had put just as much work into that as we did on Hungry Ghost, and we were just as happy with it at the time – it wasn’t as if we finished Hungry Ghost and went, ‘Fuck yeah, we’ve finally done it right, this is it!’ it was just that people happened to latch onto that album a lot more! We took that into consideration a lot on this new one – we’re the same dudes and we’re happy to still play music together so that eliminates a lot of pressure. We’re just focussing on making sure we like it!“To be honest we are not good travellers – we didn’t even tour Hungry Ghost overseas! Like I said, we’re a bit lazy,” Tidswell laughs. “But we really like Brisbane and the energy that seems to be up here. There are a lot of people that are really involved in the music industry up here, so you can work with people who are solely thinking about the music and not be influenced by what people are into or what other people are listening to. We find it’s like hiding away from people up here; it’s relaxed and there’s plenty of sunshine. Plus, we get to go home every night and we all have wives and kids, so it’s a lot easier.”
Fortunately for the band, their producer of choice is stationed right there in their immediate locale. Bryce Moorehead has become a staple of Violent Soho’s catalogue, manning the desk on all but one of their records, and his humble residence, The Shed Studio, is exactly what it sounds like.“It really does look like a big shed that you’d see in Wolf Creek or something! It’s pretty creepy to look at, especially at night. But you go inside and they’ve done so much to the inside – even more since we last came here, so this record will probably sound heaps better. But the thing about Bryce is he doesn’t work like other producers. When we recorded our first EP [2006’s Pigs & T.V] and our first album [2008’s We Don’t Belong Here] with him, at that time he owned a studio called Zero Interference, and that name speaks for itself, that’s his philosophy – you bring the songs in and he just captures them,” says Tidswell.“For the self-titled we ended up getting signed to a US label and the list of producers they suggested was a dream list, honestly. We recorded that one with Gil Norton, who has made some of our favourite albums – a bunch of Pixies albums, Foo Fighters’ The Colour And The Shape, Jimmy Eat World… he’d made all these records we loved, but we came out of that wishing the record was a bit more ‘us’, and we knew the only person who could do that was Bryce, which was why we chose him for Hungry Ghost and again this time around. We found people really vibed off our live energy and we wanted that to be on the record.”
|“A big thing for us is that it really helps having all of us be there in the studio even when only one of us is actually tracking. If you take everyone out of the room and you’re there on your own, you don’t play the same way as you would when your bandmates are there watching you.”As we round off our chat, there’s one other (ahem) burning question on our minds, one that has eluded many a musician since time eternal but one we feel the openly herb-loving Violent Soho might be able to answer: what’s the secret to staying productive and on track in the studio when you’re smoking a shit-ton of weed?“Oh god, that’s hard to answer,” chuckles Tidswell. “To be honest the easiest way to stay productive is to make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing – then it’s just easy. Come to think of it, I don’t even find pot stops me from doing stuff, because I only ever do stuff I want to do anyway!”|