With their debut album The Peaceful Atom is a Bomb having seen the band propelled into national fame, getting named triple j album of the week and the boys going to tour the country, playing some of Australia’s premier festivals including The Big Day Out this year, Regular John have a lot to live up to with their follow up. Despite this, the band remain undaunted, standing fast in the face of audience expectation and line-up changes, focussed on the new album that sees them taking steps into new genres and styles.
We caught up with the band to discuss their new direction, their ongoing working relationship with The Church’s Tim Powles as producer as well as when we can expect the bloody album.
MF: So you guys are working on the new album; how does it sound compared to your earlier work?
RJ: It’s still us. It’s still guitar heavy, psychedelic rock. There’s a lot of different styles but overall there seems to be this arching, space machine, desert country, kraut hard rock thing going on. It’s a struggle to describe and I think that’s a good thing for now.
MF: You have always been known as a pretty raucous and rough band; is that still the vibe with this one or are things softening up a little?
RJ: It’s still heavy and in some respects it’s a lot darker this time. It’s a different kind of heaviness though. More love, less hate kind of heavy. The roughness hasn’t been taken away, we are still very much recording live takes of the band in all of its ragged glory.
MF: You’re working with Tim Powles again on this; is he sort of your Sir George Martin now?
RJ: I believe Tim Powles is actually a descendent of Ghandi. For real. He definitely brings a calm presence to the chaos, but I also get the sense he fuels the chaos too. He knows how to achieve the sounds we want and he knows how to get us outside of our boxes into strange territories. If I said I didn’t love him I’d be lying.
MF: What’s it like working with him in the studio; is he a big part of the creative decisions or does he serve more of a facilitator’s role?
RJ: We’re all onboard this rocketship and he steers the beast and makes sure we have the controls set for the heart of the sun.
MF: I know you guys are big fans of your analogue gear; are you using anything special this time around?
RJ: Ryan is using a lot of cool stuff. He’s spent a few years now collecting and mastering analogue synths. He’s using an Omnichord, which is a neat little electric harp of sorts, and lots of old sampling keybords. Miles has been employing the aural qualities of a Roland Space Echo as well, the one that still uses tape. There’s lots of hidden sounds on the album, different textures, messages and layers bubbling under the rock ‘n’ roll lava.
MF: There was a bit of a line-up change between Peaceful Atom and this one; what happened there?
RJ: At the end of the day, we tried to keep the line-up together. We were rolling along at the top of our game and to have something like that happen really pulls the rug out. We had to explore different songwriting methods and kind of build our sound again from scratch. Miles is worlds apart with his guitar. He and Brock are both great players, but it’s a totally different approach.
MF: How has working on this album been compared with the first?
RJ: It’s been a pleasure. We’ve been doing small batches of 11 or 12 hour days, bunkering down in Tim’s studio. It’s a strange and splendid state of mind you get in when you’re being creative for 11 hours a day. The first album we had all the songs written, rehearsed and ready. This one has been much more collaborative and experimental. There’s been lots of weirdness, but it’s been good weirdness.
MF: Are you feeling much pressure to live up to the success of the first album?
RJ: Nope. Playing music should always be about the play. Like the way kids play games. Pressure is counter productive to playing. We say no to pressure.
MF: You guys have always struck me as a band who really like to keep out of the industry bullshit; has there been more of that this time around or with the success of the last album have you been able to dodge it more?
RJ: We have very little to do with it. To be honest, our label has pretty much left us alone and we appreciate that. It’s actually a really good relationship; they stay out of everything until the album’s finished and then we’ll work on things together. I think we are fortunate to have that. It’s accepted that there’s an element of promotion that comes with a new album. I’m cool with that as long as there is some art in it or I can say things like ‘grow mushrooms’ in an interview.
MF: You’ve been playing the new stuff live at a few select shows around Sydney so far this year; how have the crowd been responding?
RJ: No pun intended but the feedback has been really encouraging. A lot of friends who hadn’t seen us in years came out, which was in some ways more nerve wracking than playing to Motorhead’s crowd. It felt really good to rock out in a pub again and shake out the cobwebs. The new songs went down very well, as we’d hoped they would.
MF: When can we expect to see it on shelves and when are you planning on playing next?
RJ: It’ll be wound up by the end of January 2012 and out shortly after.