Megastick Fanfare: The Art Of Delay
The fresh faces of Megastick Fanfare are crisp pickles in the colourful ever-expanding salad of Sydney’s new psychedelic pop movement – all glittering stabs, echoed Panda Bears and rhythmic pizzazz. Speaking to JON TJHIA outside Melbourne’s Empress Hotel in late November, the group - Danny Keig, Shaun Grevler, Adam Zwi and Sam Goldsmith (absent fifth member Adam Connelly had already left on a tram) – talk about their beginnings, motivations and soon to be released recordings recordings recordings recordings recordings. (Sorry, somebody forgot to turn their delay pedal off).
You've just played the last date of your tri-state tour, which is the first time you've left Sydney to play in other states. On this tour, you have with you a 7" to launch called 'Brain Tooth'. Could you tell us a little bit about what the band has been doing up to this point?
Adam Zwi: We played our first gig as Megastick Fanfare at the Sydney Uni band comp which has lots of great bands [competing in] it every year. People saw us through that and we got exposed to some great bands, and we got some gigs off the back of that. Since then, we've just been playing lots in Sydney, more and more shows. We've been recording an album for the last six months or so, and we got a bit of exposure because triple j selected us to play at Parklife [in October, 2009] for the Sydney “Unearthed” thing. So we just decided to release a single off the back of that, take advantage of the opportunity.
Sam Goldsmith: The album has been so long in the making, or at least it's felt like so long, that we wanted to at least bring some of it to fruition in other peoples' ears. So we pushed that one out.
Danny Keig: We wanted to get ourselves excited to finish the album by giving people something to get excited about.
So how long has the recording process taken, and what have you learnt about yourselves as a band in the process?
Danny: We’re inefficient. [Laughter] Ah, yeah. Disorganised.
Adam: The recording process - when we get into it, when we get motivated - is very enjoyable, and we can experiment and just have a lot of fun. We've been re-recording one song for the last couple of weeks and it's just been heaps of fun, and we've got to experiment with heaps of percussion and stuff. But there have been big gaps in however long it's been since we started the album…
Sam: ...which is the negative side of home recording. We've set up in Zwi's back room. Our really good friend is engineering and recording us, and although it's great to be able to just show up at Zwi's house whenever and do some work, it's also just as easy to not show up Zwi's house and do no work. So that's why there's been plenty of inactivity as well as a couple of bursts of recording.
Danny: And also, I think, definitely a challenge for us in this period has been kind of deciding what gigs to take and not to take, because we want to finish the album but we want to do gigs as well. And if we take gigs then we have to practice, and we lose weeks of recording and stuff.
Sam: None of us are lucky enough to be able to devote all our time to music. Several of us are studying full time, and those that aren't are working significant amounts of the week. Obviously that's a challenge everyone encounters but if it weren't for that we'd be recording every day.
And it's true that you guys met a very long time ago and started playing music together in high school?
Danny: Yeah. We should have started recording the album then. [Laughter]
Adam: In high school we played Belle & Sebastian and Of Montreal covers and stuff, and we only started playing original stuff when we got out of high school. In fact, we wrote songs for that band comp, our first gig pretty much.
What are the other artists that inform the kind of music you make together now?
Sam: Well, apart from stuff overseas that we listen to, we really have a lot of respect for, and are very inspired by, a lot of the stuff that we hear in Sydney - a lot of our friends' bands that we work with and play with such as Seekae, Ghoul, Bearhug and Danimals...
Shaun Grevler: ...and Kyü…
Sam: ...who are our good friends as well, to name a few. Also, Sherlock's Daughter. So, yeah, it's nice that artists that are so inspiring are so accessible, and often taking the stage immediately after us.
“Everyone has input into every decision that's made and there's really no ownership or ego behind any of it.”
It seems like in the last six months to a year in Sydney, there has been a burgeoning psych pop scene that has seen people taking to song forms with a munted knife, and carving out something that is quite different to the kind of music that has flooded the city for a long time - that kind of polished indie rock melded with electronic, dancy elements. What do you see as the defining characteristics of the bands that you play with, and do you see yourselves as part of a particular scene?
Adam: I think there is a bit of a commonality among bands who all have pop sensibilities in a sense, but are willing to experiment with sounds and with structures and things like that, and change it a bit, and often take advantage of electronic stuff, but not in that polished way. That's been a part of Sydney over the past couple of years.
Onstage tonight you invited Parking Lot Experiments to do a song with you. You've obviously formed a very strong bond with them in a short amount of time. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you've come to associate with them?
Sam: Well, it started with a MySpace ad, as so many good band friendships do. We'd never seen them or heard anything apart from what's on their MySpace until this tour. But Skinny Jean, who were also on this tour launching their album, were the ones who put this tour together. We played with them a while ago in Sydney, and they got back to us a couple of months later asking if we were interested, which we were - very much. And like I said [about Parking Lot Experiments], besides MySpace recordings and that kind of thing, we were very limited in terms of what we knew and liked about them, but what we did know and like about them, we liked a lot. Obviously in seeing them live and living at their houses - and having them live in our houses...
Danny: ...we're engaged!
On stage you swap instruments a lot, and it's very clear that you all have very strong creative input into the songs that you play. How does that dynamic work and how did it begin? how did you arrive at this fairly egalitarian mode of playing together?
Sam: Well, practices and writing sessions are either one person bringing one section of what might eventually be a song, or there's no base and we just jam and muck around. And from that point onwards, everyone has input into every decision that's made and there's really no ownership or ego behind any of it. I think we're all very willing to take on other people's opinions not least because we have so much respect for each other's creative abilities.
Shaun: I also think it's significant that when we started writing songs, none of us had really been writing music before that. So we all started writing together, and it's always been collaborative like that.
Sam: I think we all believe that we're better off for having such a shared input into every band decision, every musical decision, that's made.
You have a lot of delay units in your band. Just how many delay units do you have in your band?
Sam: Two per member.
Danny: I've got two ... no! I've got three! I've got three.
Sam: I've got none.
Adam: Sam's keyboard, every patch has some delay effect - it's so annoying.
Danny: Yeah - stereo delay.
Which counts for two, right?
Danny: Yeah! And Adam [Connelly]'s probably got three, something like that. Plus extras, just in case. Sitting around in the practice room in case we feel like putting delay on something else! It's just … so … beautiful. [Everybody laughs the terrible guilty laugh of owning too many delay pedals.]
What can people expect from the album once you finish it?
Sam: We don't know!
Danny: I guess it'll kind of represent maybe not the most current thing, but I guess the first stage of Megastick Fanfare.
Sam: Yeah, so - there's a nine month period, more or less, that these songs were written across. But those nine months ended nine months ago. They have been changing all the time since then, being refined, because we don't really ... we often revisit.
Shaun: Being refined? That doesn't mean they're good. That doesn't mean they're better.
Sam: Sorry - changed! So, as Danny said, it's not the most accurate representation of where we're at now, which does concern us slightly. But it will definitely document our first period of Megasticking.
And what will be the things that define that period for you?
Sam: Learning how to write music!