Everyone’s got to grow up sometime, even punks. Entering into their mid-20s, Western Australian rockers Sly Withers found themselves reflecting deeper about life, and looking towards an uncertain future.
That’s why it felt apt to follow up last year’s album, Garden, with the album title Overgrown; not quite an acknowledgement of a quarter life crisis, but at least a wry nod to the four boys realising they still had a lot of working out to do in their lives.
“We’ve spoken pretty openly about how we feel that Overgrown is a sequel to Gardens, hence the relationship between the titles. Our songwriting is a bit of a subconscious journaling process, so when we write we talk about what’s going on in our lives at that point in time,” Sam from the band tells Tone Deaf.
If Gardens was about adjusting to the challenges of adulthood, Overgrown became a continuation of that, with more focus on “consequences, responsibilities, and a bit more looking to the future.”
With a title like Overgrown, were their lives a little ‘messy’ going into making the record? “A little, maybe, but just in the way that everyone’s life is always a bit messy I feel,” Sam says. “The title feels like more of an acknowledgement of the constant need for maintenance in life. Keeping yourself in check and understanding that there’s always gonna be work to be done.”
There are notes of increasing maturity evident in the music, too. Many of the tracks are prettier, more melodic, less rawly punk than before; with Dave “Parko” Parkins, producer of fellow WA band Spacey Jane’s massive indie rock record Here Comes Everybody working behind the scenes, this turn makes a lot of sense.
It all comes together to form a striking third album from Sly Withers, one that cements their position as one of the most exciting bands to emerge from WA in a while.
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You can read the rest of Tone Deaf’s interview with Sam below. Sly Withers are also about to embark on their biggest tour of Australia to date this weekend, beginning in Adelaide tonight (see full dates here).
Sly Withers’ Overgrown is out now via Dew Process/UMA.
The length of this album feels noticeable. It never feels overstuffed despite containing 14 tracks. Was it difficult to trim the album down to this amount? Did you have far more tracks ready during recording?
We didn’t go into it intending to release a 14-track album, but by the end of tracking them all we felt that every song had its place and provided something to the record that the others couldn’t. So we asked our label if it was ok to release all 14 and they said “yeah” which was really exciting for us.
I think the fact that all the tracks feel like they have a place came from the approach we took of asking ourselves “what doesn’t the album have yet?” throughout the process as we constructed all the songs. That led to the diversity, I think, and it’s that diversity that led us to feeling like all the tracks we recorded here deserved to make the final tracklist.
There were maybe five or six tracks that we were considering recording that we didn’t touch in the end, purely because of time constraints.
How was it working with Dave Parkin? That must have been cool.
It was so awesome! Parko is an absolute legend of a human and we all had an absolute ball working with and learning from him.
He really pushed us to “be brave” in our choices, and he also would always be leading the conversations about “what does the album need”, which had a massive impact on how the whole thing turned out. It was really cool to feel pushed but also so supported and empowered at the same time throughout the process.
Overgrown still feels like a punk album but a lot of the songs are melodic and genuinely pleasant to listen to – was this the effects of Dave’s production or an intentional thing on your part?
I think it was a bit of both here. We actively wanted to take things a little “prettier” than we have done previously. Incorporating more acoustic guitar, piano and strings, for example, was something we were super keen on doing.
Parko’s encouragement to be brave and to not stick to the same old tricks we’ve always used also helped here. He’s a wizard when it comes to pulling sounds and building up the layers in a track, and I think he was very excited by our openness to trying new things which fed a lot of the sonic exploration.
Even a track like ‘Tongue’ feels melancholic. Were you all getting pretty self-reflexive while making this record?
There’s absolutely a lot of self-reflection happening throughout the record. A track like ‘Tongue’ was basically me processing my hopes for the future. Will things in life work out? Am I going to be able to own a house or have kids? Those kinds of questions.
I think that my songwriting is pretty consistently focused on self-reflection to be honest. My tendency to overthink anything and everything probably feeds into that quite a lot haha.
What themes did you want to explore on Overgrown that weren’t present on Gardens?
I wouldn’t say we deliberately set out to explore different themes here. We just write about what’s going on in our lives, so in that sense I think this record has a far greater focus on the mid 20s experience vs Garden’s focus on the early 20s experience.
That might sound like a cop out but I really do feel that there is a significant difference between those two time periods in life despite how close together they are chronologically. One is a time of figuring out how to be an adult, the other is figuring out how to sustain being an adult.
I was curious about your songwriting process because the lyrics feel so personal a lot of the time. Does one of you handle songwriting duties or is it a shared thing?
Jono or myself will write a song and then bring it to the band. Most of the time if we’re singing it, we wrote it. The splitting of the songwriting duties just comes down to output, but we do actively try and keep things pretty even in the final tracklists of our releases. Seven songs each on this one!
What other bands were you listening to during recording that influenced the sound of Overgrown?
During the writing process I was pretty much exclusively listening to Phoebe Bridgers so there’s a lot of her in the songs themselves on my end (even if it doesn’t seem that overtly obvious). Sonically we didn’t have a lot of specific reference points, it was more just a bunch of conversations about what we could try out.
The amount of acoustic guitars on the album was inspired partially by Green Day’s album Warning. There’s a lot of acoustic on that record and I really love the percussive layer it adds, without it going to the typical “folky” place that the instrument often goes.
The intensity of the song ‘Something’ was fuelled by a love of the latest Turnstile record, and the energy of the title track came from us listening to a bunch of blink-182 and PUP in an attempt to try and inject a bit more of that spirit into the album. Previously that song was a laidback ballad that never quite felt right to us.
It feels like an interesting time for punk music. There’s so many old-timers coming back into the fold – NOFX, Bad Religion, and blink-182 of course. I wanted to get your thoughts as a younger punk band – do you think their return is a positive thing or a distraction from the scene growing more?
I think that as long as there are opportunities being afforded to emerging artists, the old guard can do whatever they want. These bands are why we’re here. They built the road that we’re now driving on, you know?
Nostalgia is important and exciting for people. It brings comfort and joy and I think that’s as good a reason as any to be stoked about stuff like Tom being back in Blink. Even if they’re never gonna write another record like Take Off Your Pants and Jacket again.
How has the fan response been to the album since it came out?
So great! We’re so lucky to have such an amazingly supportive fanbase who are there cheering us on every step of the way. We feel incredibly lucky and also incredibly relieved that people are digging the record as much as they are.
Are you excited for this upcoming tour? Is this your biggest tour to date?
It’s gonna be great! We’re hitting up every state and territory in the country which isn’t something we’re seeing a lot of other bands doing at the moment, so that’s really exciting!
It will be our biggest tour to date in terms of venue sizes for sure. We’re really looking forward to playing in some beautiful theatres this time around, like The Astor in Perth and The Princess in Brisbane.
Most artists I speak to these days say that touring is a very different beast post-pandemic. What are you guys expecting from these shows?
The shows are the one thing that’s stayed the same for us I think. People always have and always will love live music, so we can’t wait to get back out on the road playing some shows for the lovely crew of people who dig our tunes.
In terms of how things have changed post-pandemic, the cost of touring is pretty cooked at the moment to be honest, especially for a band like us based in WA. That’s the main change and it sucks.
Not that it was ever cheap beforehand, but it really is that little bit harder now. I hate to think of the emerging acts who aren’t as lucky as us with the budgets they have access to, trying to break into the industry at the moment and being faced with these horrendous operating costs. Poor buggers.
Are you all still based in Perth? How has WA’s music scene been this year so far? It feels like the music industry is opening back up slowly but surely.
We all live in Perth’s northern suburbs. The scene over here is awesome and it always has been. I think the isolation we face being so far from the rest of the country, breeds a lot of creativity and maybe even a bit of a chip on everyone’s shoulder that helps rev up the motivation levels.
Some of our local favs at the moment include our sweet angel bestie Noah Dillon who just put out an incredible album called Kill The Dove that you should drop everything you’re doing to go listen to right now. Crew like Siobhan Cotchin, Pot Plant House Party, and Mia June are doing incredible things too.
I could spend all day listing off bands from over here that are crushing it. We really are spoiled for choice with the amount of quality local acts we have kicking about!