Austrian author Hermann Broch’s 1945 novel The Death of Virgil recounts the Roman poet Virgil’s last hours. During this time, he pleads with the Emperor to allow him to destroy his own life’s work. The narrative centres largely on the binary of falsifying reality in the pursuit of beauty.
It is with this sentiment that Australian group Spookyland reveal plans for their debut album Beauty Already Beautiful. Recorded over three weeks in Omaha, Nebraska at Conor Oberst’s live-in Saddle Creek compound; brothers Liam and Marcus Gordon, along with percussionist Nathan Mansfield and bassist Nic Malouf are heading to Texas’ own musical circus that is SXSW in Austin for the first time.
“We’ve heard it’s pretty crazy, but in a good way…” says vocalist/ guitarist/ songsmith Marcus “…we have five showcases to play, and then we head over to support Jake Bugg for a few dates in Chicago and New York.”
Their 2014 EP release Rock and Roll Weakling cemented Spookyland firmly on the radar of tastemakers (Pitchfork, Stereogum et al), a since then a wider form of collaboration has shaped the upcoming album sound and feel.
“Being open to the channels of the talent around you will always get you a better result. Even if you thought you knew what you wanted in your own head, allowing others to take it up and move pieces around is really important. I think you have to either decide to be a soloist backed by players, or a group. In our group there is no authoritative leader, it’s a collaboration an all ideas come out that way.” guitarist Liam reflects.
“Marcus might bring the skeleton of a song, and everyone will add their parts from there. So it’s really important to be able to have that trust in the people you’re playing with and know that the end result will be better than the sum of its parts.”
Defining a group’s sound is usually as difficult as it is limiting. With influences spanning rock to blues and gospel, folk-revivalist to country and contemporary, shoe gaze to nu gaze, Spookyland are hard to firmly pin on the wheel. There are the strong song writing sensibilities and poetry of Dylan and Young, the collaboration smarts of Bowie and Eno peeking through the cracks of retrospective modern indie polish a ‘la Bright Eyes.
“If you get labelled as ‘shoegaze’ or ‘punk rock’ or whatever, there will always be a prescriptive or purist view about what that should sound and look like, and I don’t know what to do with that all the time…” quips Liam. “What if you want to take something bluesy, but drench it in reverb through a Marshall amp. What do you have to call that?”
[include_post id=”452988″]Transition from local stage to big stage seemed to be an easy slide for Spookyland, who fondly recount their 2015 Lollapalooza debut (a bill which also counted Aussie heavy hitters Peking Duk, Alison Wonderland, DMA’s and Tame Impala among the roster.).
“Well the first thing you notice is the stage is very very big, and your guitar leads are very short!” smirks Marcus “Also the quality of sound on stage is incredible so there’s no guessing what you sound like…but there’s something nice about sharing a small stage where everyone is a bit tighter, we’re more sued to that.”
The all-too-familiar tale of a local indie band receiving airplay, tour demands and record sales overseas, whilst drifting just to the periphery of local recognition, has seen Spookyland already amass an impressive following in the UK and US.
Part of that comes by the very nature of fishing in a deeper pond, partly also the cultural difference often noted by local bands making their maiden voyage overseas. Spooklyand are a group well versed in playing the undercard to international bills, having supported the likes of Cold War Kids, Gary Clarke Jnr, The Lemonheads, and Band of Skulls.
“The first time we arrived in Chicago (supporting Lord Huron) to play a ‘sold out’ show at The Metro, we though “wow this is great [for Huron]…it wasn’t until we stepped out on stage to a full room that we realised the difference…people make a point to catch all the acts on a bill, not just the headline they’ve paid to see.”
Having more than a few tastes of overseas touring (joining local faves, such as The Rubens, Bad//Dreams, Dune Rates and Little May on the coveted CMJ bill in New York 2014) has steadied the group for a solid tilt at SXSW, and the possibility of a UK/European tour drawing ever closer.
A few tips from Spook’s for young players heading overseas for the first time:
“Just stay true to the energy and have faith in what you’re doing. Try and bring that feeling you have in the rehearsal space, and not worry too much about what’s going on around you. There’s a real comradery among the Australian bands when you’re overseas together too, there’s not a lot of ego & everyone is supportive.
Also – have fun, but remember to stay healthy enough to play that next show in three hours!”
To keep updated on Spookyland’s movements at SXSW, stay locked to the band’s Facebook page.