Brisbane eight-piece The Good Ship recently announced their return with new LP, the aptly-titled The Seven Seas. The album, recorded at Gasworks Studio in the band’s home state, was inspired by the band’s sell-out hybrid musical theatre show.
Following the success of the show, the band undertook a long collaborative process which saw them turn the 10 stormy songs into their latest album, unveiling a new single, World Spin Round, and embarking on a North American tour, which included a set at Austin’s famed South By Southwest.
Currently riding The Seven Seas wave, singer and guitarist John Meyer took some time out to chat to Music Feeds about what’s been happening in The Good Ship camp since the release of the album.
Music Feeds: Hi, John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! The Seven Seas was largely made possible because of an Arts QLD grant, had you not been awarded the grant, would we still have seen The Seven Seas come to life in some way?
John Meyer: We are so grateful to Arts QLD for helping us develop the show. It gave us the money to do things a band can’t usually do, like pay a director and producer! That really allowed us to move beyond just playing a set of songs, to making it a real show, with plot and some acting (possibly badly) from the band members. I think we would have done the show regardless, but it wouldn’t have been as well thought out and developed. It’s absolutely vital that governments invest in emerging artists to take chances and do unusual things. There should be more of it, I say.
MF: Can you describe the process behind turning a collection of songs into a performance piece? Did inspiration come solely from the music itself?
JM: We had a couple of songs already that seemed to tell the bones of a story, so we started fleshing it out until we had the basic plot. Then we thought about which parts of the story should be told through narration and which parts deserved a song. For example, we skip over a number of years in which the main character achieves power and greatness because it’s more interesting to concentrate on his internal conflict and personal relationships when he decides to return home. We tell the story from first, second and third person viewpoints to mix it up and provide different perspectives in each song.
MF: How does performing the songs as part of a play compare to performing them as part of a setlist? Is curating setlists any different now — how do the songs sound in the context of your greater discography?
JM: It’s definitely a completely different beast to a “normal” show, which for us is usually pretty rambunctious and filthy. In an average set we tend to play mostly upbeat songs partly because that’s what the audience demands, and partly because we just really enjoy it; it’s hard to contain our energy when we’re on stage. But for this show, many of the songs are quite sombre and slow. We have a captive, sit-down, theatre audience so we get the opportunity to really get the story across and get a bit introspective. There are still a few crackers though. How many of these songs end up in our normal sets remains to be seen. All new songs are like puppies, scrambling for the best teat. The teat being a chance to be played on stage! Only the strongest prevail.
MF: What lead to four vocalists appearing on the album? How did the band decide who would sing which song and why did Kat Cooke decide to make her vocal debut on The Seven Seas?
We’ve always shared vocals around between three singers, mostly based on who wrote the song. But with this show and album the choice of singer was more about what served the story best. So one person sings the early songs, another the later ones, and the narrator Sandro Colarelli finishes off the show. Kat sings the opening tune which is from the perspective of the main character’s mother. She wasn’t too pleased about being the mum, although we reckon she’s a bit of a MILF.
MF: How did North American audiences react to The Good Ship and when is the band heading back over?
JM: We played a handful of full band shows at Canadian Music Week in Toronto and some cutdown acoustic spots at South by Southwest in Texas back in March. Seems so very long ago now! We were super chuffed with the reaction, particularly at our last show, which was a last minute addition, completely virgin crowd, no one knew who we were. The room was absolutely packed and the energy was incredible. It’s the best feeling when you can win over a new crowd. We’re heading back to Canada next July for a summer tour; looking forward to not having to wear six layers of undies to avoid frostbitten genitals.
MF: What did you guys learn from touring in the States and how would you compare it to touring in Australia?
JM: I wouldn’t call us international touring experts just yet! But what we saw seemed pretty familiar to our experience here. You have to work hard, be good (in the playing sense, not morally) and not take anything for granted. The upside is places are closer together, so you can play major cities night after night. It’s the same in Europe where I’ve toured a number of times. You can actually play every night if you want to, whereas in Australia the distances are a killer.
MF: How will the upcoming live dates work? Will the performances be conventional or will they be taking their cue from the theatre performance?
JM: We really wanted to perform the full show everywhere but the realities of touring an 8 piece band plus director plus lighting and sound plus all the equipment and props was just impossible at this stage. So we are doing the full show in our hometown Brisbane at the Powerhouse, then for Sydney and Melbourne we’re playing two sets. The first will be the new album in full, but without the “theatre show” bit, so people get a chance to hear the new songs live. Then we’ll punch out a big party set afterwards, all our greatest hits!
Watch: The Good Ship – World Spin Round
MF: What was the process behind the World Spin Round video? Was that a concept Brett Harris came up with? How much input did the band have?
JM: Yes, that’s all Brett’s work, talented devil that he is. With a band this big, it’s sometimes great to let one person run with a concept rather than our usual process of 1001 opinions. He incorporated this young guy Julian into the video; he’d “won” a cameo through a crowdfunding campaign we did last year. It just looks amazing, with the projections from the show playing across this kid’s beautiful but sinister face. Really creepy shit. And Brett also managed to convince Kat to stand in the ocean for hours while he filmed her being all sad and moody. Kudos.
MF: Can you describe the extent of Josh Tuck’s influence on the recording process and the final album?
JM: Josh is a fine young engineer who has great things ahead of him. Everyone loved working with him, he’s really patient and quiet and willing to keep powering through to get the job done, a very calming influence. He has his own band, Bandito Folk, and you can tell from everything he does that he really respects the true sounds of instruments and voices, he’s always looking for honesty in capturing both the sound and the performance. So what we ended up with for the album was something that sounds like it has no artifice, no tricks, bells or whistles (OK, there is one whistle). It’s natural and beautiful and a little rough around the edges, just like us.
MF: The Seven Seas was recorded at Gasworks Studios, do The Good Ship prefer to keep things to close to home base when recording?
JM: We did the first two albums (2010 and 2012) mostly up at Mt. Nebo with Neil Coombe at White Room Studios, and for those sessions we stayed at his house and crammed a lot of work into a few days. That’s a great way to record. But for this new album it was much more sedate and relaxed; we took our time and tried things out. This is also a great way to record. I think on balance I like taking my time, it’s just too hard to predict when people are going to be “on” and able to give the best performance. People aren’t machines.
The Good Ship are taking their ‘The Seven Seas’ tour up and down the east coast this month and next. Details below.
The Good Ship ‘The Seven Seas’ Album Launch Tour
Friday, 15th November 2013 (All Ages)
The Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane
Tix: Via The Powerhouse Theatre
Saturday, 7th December 2013
Tix: Via OzTix
w/General Pants & The Privates
Sunday, 8th December 2013
The Toff in Town, Melbourne
Tix: Via The Toff
Friday, 13th December 2013
Festival of the Sun, Port Macquarie
Tix: Via FOTSUN