Between top 5 ARIA album chart placements, sold-out tours and an international profile, Dead Letter Circus have found themselves as an establishment within Australian music. Countless tours, festival dates and even the occasional arena cameo means that if you haven’t seen Dead Letter Circus live, looking to your left and your right at any given show means you’ve spotted someone who has. Even with all of this in consideration, now is a perfect time to be introduced to the Brisbane natives if you weren’t paying attention previously.
The band has spent the last eighteen months and change on a path of reinvention. An acoustic tour, a first for the band, brought rave live reviews and an appearance on Triple J’s Like a Version that resulted in one of the most talked-about and divisive covers that the segment has ever seen.
Following that, a national tour ended out the year by putting their previous LP, 2013’s The Catalyst Fire, to bed for good. Fast forward to now, and a new single from the band, While You Wait, has just hit the airwaves, and, once again, gotten people talking.
Ahead of a tour in support of the single, as well as ahead of another very special release, we spoke with lead vocalist Kim Benzie about the evolution of the band’s sound, shifting personnel and how 2015 feels just like starting over.
Listen: Dead Letter Circus – While You Wait
Music Feeds: We were originally supposed to be speaking earlier today, but something came up at the last minute…
Kim Benzie: Yeah, you could say that. [laughs] My wife’s just about to pop out a cherub. It looks as though it’s going to be happening some time tonight. It’s me and my wife’s first, so we’re really happy.
MF: Mazel tov! We could always call back if now’s a bad time…
KB: Not at all! You’re actually helping to kill time here.
MF: Very well, then. The last time most people saw you guys was on tour at the end of 2014 with Sleepmakeswaves and Voyager. At those shows, you announced that you were about to head into the studio to record your third album. What’s the progress report? Is it done?
KB: It is! I actually recorded my final vocals for it yesterday. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that there’s more stuff to do, but as it stands right now, the coast is clear.
MF: How did you find this recording process as opposed to the two previous albums? Do you have a stronger comprehension now of how the band works while it’s in the studio?
KB: This time around, we kind of inverted the process. A lot of songs began as vocal ideas, whereas in the past we’d create a piece of music and the vocals would be matching the emotion of the song, just placed over the top of what was already created. There was a hope that, the band being the band, we would be able to create something different and something fresh by changing up how we made the songs.
I think it really worked for us. It ended up being the most positive experience we’ve had in the studio. It was the most fun, we had the best vibe between us. We just laughed and had fun for three months.
It’s a very diverse album. There are still tracks that have our signature sound in them, but we discovered some really interesting new ways to do heavy rock. It felt like there was such a full rejuvenation of our love of music – why we love music, why we love playing music with other people. It really made us appreciate this band more than ever before.
Watch: Dead Letter Circus – Killing In The Name Of (Rage Against The Machine Cover)
MF: One of the big changes for this record has been the guitar personnel. The band started with Rob as your primary guitarist, who was later joined by Tom after This is the Warning came out. Clint joined to replace Rob; and now Luke is in the fold replacing Tom. How much of the studio experience was influenced by the fact that this was your first album with this new line-up?
KB: Luke’s been working with us here and there in the studio for awhile now. He played a lot of guitar on the last album, and even parts on This is the Warning. He was always reluctant to make a full commitment to this band, though, which is understandable, when you think about it. It’s a hard life, being a touring musician, in this, or any, country.
You’re away from your loved ones a lot, and it’s hardly living like a king. He was not really into the idea of being away from everyone for months at a time. He chose not to come on the road when we toured The Catalyst Fire, but he came on the acoustic tour that we did and he got such a taste for it.
I remember one night, toward the end of that tour; he just came up to me and was like, “Man, this is awesome. This is way better than I could have ever imagined.” We took him on that tour with Sleepmakeswaves and Voyager in December, just to give him an idea of what properly being in this band is like. About halfway through that tour, he made the call and he was in the band full-time. He’s emerged from behind-the-scenes, and I’m so grateful that he has.
Have you ever had a musician friend that you just find to be incredibly talented, all the potential to be a star, and they were just never interested in it? That was Luke for me. He’s one of the most phenomenal guitarists I’ve ever seen. I felt the world should know about him. Between him and Clint, I wouldn’t exchange those two for anyone. The way they’ve come together on this album is incredible.
It really pushes the sound of the band in a whole new way.
MF: Fans have already heard the album’s lead single, While You Wait. Was this track the obvious choice when it came to selecting a lead-in? Is it an anomaly, or is it telling of the rest of the album?
KB: If I’m honest, I always had that song in mind as a second single. I wasn’t really involved in that decision. That song’s pretty different to what we’ve done in the past. The group of people that we’ve shown the album to so far all really reacted and responded to that song in particular. They said it was worth getting it out there first. It’s different, yeah, but it was a chance to show people what else we can do. I do like the song a lot, I should stress. I just wasn’t sure how people would react.
Watch: Dead Letter Circus – I Am
MF: What, then, can we expect from the rest of the album?
KB: This one’s more of us doing…[pauses] “big” rock. There’s less electronic elements and less density. Normally, we fill up every space with layer upon layer. We liked doing that, but this time around we ended up making a big rock record. It’s a guitar record. Heaps of vocals. Massive hooks.
We used to add in the electronic parts, the synth and the sequencer stuff, at the end. Everytime we did that on this record, we just felt like we were cluttering it. We’ve definitely got our normal frantic style on there, but I’d say it’s a little more straight-up.
MF: What inspired that direction? Was there a particular song you were working on that opened the floodgates, so to speak?
KB: None of it’s really thought out. We really just chase a song to the end. I still feel like we’re just a vessel for these songs. We never plan in advance; nothing has to be a certain way. Good songwriting is adjusting to what the song itself wants as opposed to what you want; listening to and responding to that.
I’ll tell you what did happen, though, our producers, when we were working on some stuff early on, stepped in and said “Guys, you’ve done this before.” We had quite a broad palette of ideas, about 26 songs, and some of those ideas just felt like things that we’d done four times over in the past. It was good to clear them out of the way toward the start of the process.
MF: Is that an important thing to the band – to not retread old ground and maintain a progressive attitude to the songwriting?
KB: Absolutely, man. Especially because the music dictates what the lyrics are going to be like, as well. When it gets to my layer, it becomes really obvious to me when we’re doing the same thing – the same themes start popping up in what I’m writing.
It reflects badly on both sides. You don’t want to keep telling the same stories over and over. You can tie in between tangents and connect the dots between some of our songs, but I don’t like repeating myself. Some bands are good at cementing the same sound in their albums, but that’s not something that’s of interest to this band. We wouldn’t get anything out of that.
Watch: Dead Letter Circus – Reaction
MF: Recently, we spoke with Karnivool regarding the ten-year anniversary of Themata. It raises an interesting point because early on, you guys would often talk about how stuff like Karnivool and Cog made you want to play this type of music to begin with. Has it been interesting for the band, both as musicians and as music fans, to watch Dead Letter Circus go from being inspired by that wave of heavy rock and alt-metal to being one of the defining acts of it in the current Australian music climate?
KB: Yeah, man. If you ever asked what I feel proud about when it comes to this band, one of the top things would be being a part of this distinctively-Aussie sound within that side of music. When we go overseas, we’re always told that the Aussies just have this sound. It makes you glow.
I don’t know what it is, what spawned it. I know that Cog, for me… they changed my life and changed my perspective on music. They showed me what music could be. I feel very privileged to be a part of that, and having been a part of that for so long. I didn’t get to go to the Themata tour, but that and The New Normal… what a time for Australian music. If that scene and that wave of music had ended there, we’d still be talking about it to this day.
MF: The tour is set to come through most capital cities this July. A lot of the rooms are considerably smaller than what the band has become used to here. In a lot of ways, it’s a back-to-basics approach; playing the kind of pubs and clubs that would have been frequented by you guys in the pre-album days, circa Disconnect and Apply.
KB: I know! It’s awesome. We had a little meeting about it with the team, and the term ‘rebirth’ kept coming up. Let’s pretend we’re starting out again. Let’s go right back to those size rooms and see where it ends up from there. We love those up-close-and-personal shows. No fancy lights, just you and the music. When you’re starting out, those are the fondest times of your career. We can’t wait to recapture that.
Dead Letter Circus kick off their national tour at the end of the month. Grab the deets below!
Watch: Dead Letter Circus – Disconnect and Apply
Dead Letter Circus National Tour Dates
Tickets on sale now.
Thursday, 28th May
The Hoey Moey, Coffs Harbour
Tickets: The Hoey Moey
Friday, 29th May
Woy Woy Leagues, Central Coast
Saturday, 30th May
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
Saturday 11th July
The Zoo, Brisbane 18+
Tickets: Dead Letter Circus
Thursday, 16th July 16
Newtown Social Club, Sydney 18+
Tickets: Dead Letter Circus
Friday, 17th July
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne 18+
Tickets: Dead Letter Circus
Saturday, 18th July
Adelaide Uni Bar, Adelaide 18+
Tickets: Dead Letter Circus
Sunday, 19th July
Rosemount Hotel, Perth 18+
Tickets: Dead Letter Circus