Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Share The Bush Magic That Led To Their Debut Album

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Fran Keaney and Joe White had only just touched down from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s huge European tour that morning, when I met them to chat about the release of their debut album Hope Downs (out today). Their jetlag was tangible but as soon as we started talking about music the pair were instantly full of life.

The Melbourne five-piece opted to record their debut in the bush of northern New South Wales instead of a typical recording studio. They described an idyllic escape from dreary August to a leafy getaway of rooms on stilts with walkways between them, almost like a treehouse. With their recording studio opening up to the luscious canopy of the forest, the band could shred their guitars into the trees. Joe describes one such instant where “this kookaburra flew past like this far away [he gestures right in front of him] during a take.” I’m told we might even be able to hear a few bird noises in the final piece, but that’s not the only hint of Australiana in Hope Downs’ ten tracks.

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever draw on a rich tradition of Australian guitar pop. Citing bands like The Church, The Triffids, Go Betweens and The Clean (NZ) as influences, the band makes the most of having three guitarists to weave intricate and often hypnotic tapestries of sound. Though it wasn’t through intent, but more through osmosis that the band fit naturally into this timeless part of the Aussie soundscape. “We love filling our songs with as many catchy hooks and melodies as we can, and we only use guitars to do that,” Joe, who inevitably plays guitar every day, explains. From the tightly wound melodies in second track ‘Talking Straight’ to the dipping and diving lead guitars in closing track ‘The Hammer’, it’s clear the guitar is a vital and constantly revitalised part of the Australian sonic palette.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the history of Australian music, Hope Downs will still show you its true blue colours. With lyrical references to Jacaranda trees, dust, air-conditioning and locations like Bellarine, the Cappucino city and Sydney Road dropped throughout the songs, there’s no mistaking the band’s home. Joe agrees that the songs are written from an Australian perspective, and the characters within the songs are Australian, but “That’s just because I’m from here.” There’s no pretention to the songs which ring with an Aussie twang, neither hidden nor exaggerated but just natural, like it could be sung by your mate from the pub if he knew how to hold a note or two. “We always wanted to be a band that says something about where they’re from,” Fran adds. It’s clear this collection is from Melbourne and not New York or anywhere else cool to write about. There’s grit and there’s beauty, roads, trees, weathervanes, fire, lightning and despite all this, a genuinely relaxed vibe that makes even the ache of tracks like ‘Sisters Jeans’ still feel laid-back.

Indeed Hope Downs takes its name from a sprawling open-cut mine in Western Australia. The feeling of standing at the edge of the big, vast abyss unites the tracks, which tell stories of small characters with enormous worlds that are baffling and confusing.

Time In Common’ was influenced by one such baffling moment, being in the acropolis in Greece and overhearing an Aussie contiki trip at the next table talking about the 2000 Essendon Football Team.  Sitting with his girlfriend against the ancient Acropolis, Fran felt they were two flashes in the pan in the grand scheme of time. He describes the upbeat but reflective track as “A morbid love song,” which captures the bittersweet nature of each song on the album.

Joe’s favourite track ‘Exclusive Grave’ is similarly oxymoronic. He described how the riff-based tune sounds like a party, but is really about evil political leaders eventually finding themselves in a grave, because that’s where everyone ends up anyway. “Even the crap people die,” Fran added, and the two chuckled about the optimistic fatalism of the track.

This sense of the world being dark but hopeful permeates the album, which is full of angsty, but beautiful and far-reaching melodies. Compared to their previous EPs, the sound on Hope Downs is “widescreen” and “cinematic”. The ten tracks are gentle but urgent, examining the short-sightedness of humanity, but finding reassurance in the small things.

Hope Downs is out today and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are launching it with a free show at Old Bar (Melbourne) tonight before returning to Australia this September for their biggest national tour yet.

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Words by Hayley Franklin.

‘Hope Downs’ is out now