Opening Up sees us talk to musicians about the opening track from each of their studio albums. Our next guest is Tom Busby, the lead guitarist and co-founder of Tassie’s prime export Luca Brasi. After nearly 15 years in the game, the band are on the verge of delivering their strongest, sharpest and freest studio album to date: The World Don’t Owe You Anything, their sixth overall.
“Do you wanna see my baby?” Tom Busby – known primarily by his last name – is in the back seat of his car as his wife drives the family up to Toowoomba for a wedding. His nine-month-old is finally asleep, as seen through the Zoom window. With his son’s birth, Luca Brasi officially became an all-dad band – something the rowdy St. Helens boys that started the band in the late 2000s could have never seen coming.
“It’s been an absolute whirlwind,” the guitarist confesses. “Nine months into being a dad, I’ve felt like the world has gone past at a million miles a minute. Having a new album coming out doesn’t feel real – I swear to God, I haven’t even had a second to think about it. It wasn’t until Danny [Flood, drummer], got in the group chat this morning and hit us with three simple words: ‘Seven days, boys’. It lit a fire under the rest of us – it made us all realise how hard we worked on this thing, and I really think everyone absolutely killed it. We’re even talking about doing a champagne breakfast again on release day!”
Before we get to The World Don’t Owe You Anything, however, we’re taking a look at Luca Brasi’s story so far through each opening number. In the lead-up to the interview, Busby has been thinking at length about his favourite album openers. He can’t decide between which track-one from The Hold Steady – his longtime favourite band – is better: ‘Stuck Between Stations’, from Boys & Girls in America, or ‘Constructive Summer’ from Stay Positive. “They both just come in hot,” he says. “You can hear them both open a show and set the place alight. You’re straight out of the gate; you’re there, and you’re ready to go.”
‘Beacons’ – Extended Family (2011)
With its dissonant lead line and burst of urgent drums that follow hot on its footsteps, you’d think that a track like ‘Beacons’ was designed specifically with an album intro in mind. As Busby reveals, however, the band’s debut album Extended Family was original forged with hopes that ‘Splitting Trees’ – the eventual track six – would be its opening moment. “It was actually Andy [Hayden] from Poison City who gave us the feedback on the track-list,” the guitarist reveals.
“He was saying that because it was our debut, we should come in with a little more energy – as ‘Splitting Trees’ was a little more subdued with its intro. I was like, ‘you’re in A Death In The Family, we’ll do whatever you want!’” The track had already appeared on the band’s 2010 demo, Sleep with the Fishes, but was re-recorded alongside ‘Isaac Bowen’ and ‘Theme Song From HQ’. Busby recalled writing the riff sitting in his bedroom in West Launceston, inspired by extensive listening to Polar Bear Club – specifically their own debut album, 2008’s Sometimes Things Just Disappear.
“I think the song just really captures where we were at that time – just some blokes in their early 20s, trying to figure out what the fuck we were gonna do,” he continues. “Some of us wanted to go to uni, some of us wanted to get a trade, and all of us wanted to knock off and get to the pub in time either way. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we had each other and we took care of each other. We look back on that song now in our mid 30s, and it feels like it all worked out.” Don’t expect the band to pull it out at a live show anytime soon, though: “It’s too hard to play,” Busby laughs.
‘K.D.R.’ – By a Thread (2014)
Once again, Busby’s guitar is the first thing you hear on a Luca Brasi album. He’s in what’s commonly known as the American Football tuning – a non-standard guitar tuning popularised by Mike Kinsella of the titular emo outfit. He’s quickly joined by frontman Tyler Richardson, who sings in praise of his mother Karin Denise Richardson – it’s her initials that form the very title of this song, after all. Busby views the senior Richardson as not only a matriarch of the band, but of the east coast of Tasmania entirely.
“Anyone who’s from here knows the Richardsons,” he says. “They’re a big part of all of our lives – Tyler’s obviously one of my best mates, but his brothers are too. They’re all such legends, and a big part of the community in this part of the world. I’m glad Tyler wrote this song for her.” For his part, Busby notes the musical side of things came pretty organically after drawing inspiration from a semi-obscure source.
“Remember that band Elway?” says Busby. “They were one of those bands that were always halfway down the poster of a [American punk festival] Fest line-up. On their second album [Delusions], it opens with this short song called ‘3/4 Eleanor’, which has this kind of sway to it before it kicks into the second track [‘Passing Days’] that’s really rocking. I had really sunk my teeth into trying to curate a similar vibe with ‘K.D.R.’, having all these different elements quickly build up over a short runtime. Sometimes, you don’t need much more than an idea or two to get a song off the ground. Does it sound cool? Great! You got a song!”
‘Aeroplane’ – If This is All We’re Going to Be (2016)
Not only does the propellant ‘Aeroplane’ open If This is All We’re Going to Be, it also served as its lead single almost a year before it came out. Needless to say, the band had a lot riding on this one – pun very much intended. Some of the earliest feedback the band received was from their longtime friend Craig Selak – now the bassist in Loser, but at the time playing in Poison City labelmates The Bennies. “He said that song was exactly how he thought a Brasi album should start, and I reckon he was right,” says Busby with a grin.
“It did pretty well for a song that just started with us mucking around at a friends house while we were on tour for By a Thread. We were all excited about the riff – to us, it sounded like something Hot Rod Circuit would do. It even felt a bit like a pop song, which was something we’d never really gone for before either. We used to even sabotage songs if they felt too accessible back in the day – like, Tyler and I would change a lyric because we realised it rhymed with the one before it. We weren’t trying to be arrogant, or smug about it. We were trying to be Hot Water Music!”
As the trajectory of the band changed and their tastes evolved, Luca Brasi weren’t as reticent to the idea of creating a song with a degree of accessibility behind it. “What’s wrong with it?” Busby reasons. “We all love that stuff now anyway – and that influence resulted in one of our best songs, with one of our best riffs.” Busby laughs as he realises so much of the story behind each song comes back to the guitars – at least, from his perspective. “If you were talking to Tyler right now, he’d be telling you something completely different,” he says.
“He wrote the lyrics to ‘Aeroplane’ after reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. He was originally so inspired by the book that he wanted to write an entire album about it. Thankfully, he quickly realised that was a bit crazy – so he just went ahead and wrote this song instead. I can’t comment on the book, because I haven’t read it. I have seen the movie, though. That’s probably Tyler and I in a nutshell right there – I mean, we’re named after a character from The Godfather because he loves the novel and I love the film.” Busby laughs upon the realisation. “That’s perfect, actually.”
‘Stay’ – Stay (2018)
In a moment of serendipity, the creation of Stay’s title track was directly linked to playing ‘Aeroplane’ live. During rehearsals for a national Australian tour with Pianos Become the Teeth, Busby suggested an extended intro to the track in order to build up to it. It began with a new riff he’d been toying with, which stemmed from a new set-up that included new delay and reverb pedals – “That’s where my love of Caspian and sleepmakeswaves was really starting to kick in,” he says. Patrick Marshall, the band’s other guitarist, added to the riff with a new discovery of his own: The E-bow, which generates a sound that plays electric guitar strings almost like a violin.
“It came together really quickly,” says Busby. “That’s how we opened the set for a little while, and I think playing it every night made us want to capture it in some way for the next album. I thought it would be really cool to have it transition into the first song the way that it had on the tour – the only problem was that ‘Let It Slip’ was in a different key.” How did the band resolve this issue? “Well, ‘Let It Slip’ has a capo on the second fret – so Pat and I just put a capo on the second fret and moved the whole thing up a step.” Busby laughs and winks. “Bit of boring music theory stuff for your readers!”
The World Don’t Owe You Anything is the first album released in 2023 for all members of Luca Brasi except Busby – he formed a post-rock side project named Follow with Brasi’s original drummer Saxton Hall, which released its debut album Old Haunts back in May. Busby is asked, then, whether laying down an instrumental track to open Stay ultimately served as the gateway drug to making a full post-rock record of his own.
“Definitely,” the guitarist responds. “This was the start of my love affair with that sound and that kind of music. That influence really started to shine through on that album – especially on the last track, ‘The Calm and the Ease’. A lot of it is caked in tropes, but they’re tropes for a reason. I couldn’t help but to just jump right in.”
‘Never the Right Time’ – Everything is Tenuous (2021)
While “Stay” may have been indebted to post-rock, the opening number of 2021’s Everything is Tenuous was indebted to a completely different but equally important rock subgenre: Dad-rock. Up on the vision board were 90s pop-rock acts like Gin Blossoms (remember ‘Hey Jealousy’?) and Del Amitri (remember ‘Roll to Me’?), channelled through the band’s ocker pub-rock lens for good measure. “We’re all fiends for that sound, me especially,” says Busby.
“I was playing the guitar one day at home, and I just happened upon this riff. I don’t think we were even thinking about a record properly yet at that point, but I already had this feeling it would be a cool way to open one. It’s one of the few songs on Everything is Tenuous where not a lot changed from the original demo to what ended up on the album. I guess it all just fell into place. It was all there.” Busby goes on to note that ‘Never the Right Time’ was essentially his attempt at writing Luca Brasi’s version of the Gin Blossoms’ 1996 hit ‘Follow You Down’.
“Have you seen Ted Lasso?” Busby asks. “There’s a great scene where the two coaches are talking, and Coach Beard says that Ted is acting like his favourite Gin Blossoms song: ‘Hey Jealousy’. Ted is like, ‘No, ‘Hey Jealousy’ is their best song; my favourite Gin Blossoms song is ‘Follow You Down’. That’s exactly how I feel about it – like, it’s the absolute correct choice.”
‘The Entry Ramp’ – The World Don’t Owe You Anything (2023)
At one minute and 38 seconds, ‘The Entry Ramp’ is the second shortest Luca Brasi album intro – beaten out just slightly by ‘Stay’ at one minute 36. There was an alternative timeline early on in the album’s development, however, where it was their longest opening song by a considerable margin – and the album’s title track didn’t even exist. As Busby explains, ‘The Entry Ramp’ was originally the first part of a larger piece of music: “It had a build-up, a big rock-out moment, dipped down again and then closed out with this really heavy section at the end,” he says.
“It didn’t really have a normal structure, but it felt like a really cool and really different way to open an album. It comes back to Polar Bear Club again, actually – I was really inspired by the way that ‘Pawner’ opens up Clash Battle Guilt Pride. This is where it gets interesting, though – the heavy section I was referring to is actually what ended up being the main riff of ‘The World Don’t Owe You Anything’.” The separation between the two tracks – in the same way that ‘Pawner’ transforms into ‘Killing It’ – came from the album’s co-producer: Ben Stewart, best known as the frontman of Melbourne emo darlings Slowly Slowly.
“Basically, he took that heavy bit and turned it into the whole song,” says Busby. “It eventually became this fully fleshed-out idea by going back and forth between Ben, Pat and myself. It kind of works better as these two separate entities – I think it makes ‘The World Don’t Owe You Anything’ come in a little heavier. It definitely feels heavier than anything on Everything is Tenuous, and ‘The Entry Ramp’ feels a little softer than anything on it too. I like the idea of someone pressing play on the record and immediately noticing those differences.”
Busby stops and smiles to himself. “Of course, I’m sure there are some people who reckon that every Luca Brasi album sounds the same,” he laughs. “Which is fine! We made a very cool, interesting record that’s got everything from pop songs to weird, moody emo songs to faster, meaner songs. I’m really proud of it. Everyone worked their arses off. I’m looking forward to showing the fruits of our labour… and then having everyone yell ‘play ‘Gravy” at us for the next three years.”