[MUSIC: Interview] The Laurels
It’s all too easy to assume that a musician dude in his early 20s will be monosyllabic and unexpressive, grunting his way through life. Doubly so for a musician dude in his early 20s who’s in a shoegaze band. But The Laurels’ co-frontman, Piers Cornelius, is one of the most thoughtful, eloquent musicians I have ever interviewed. Maybe it’s just that he’s more willing to actually talk about his band’s creative process than other, older, more guarded artists – but whatever the reason, out of our conversation emerges an image of a Sydney band determined to be around for a long time, not just a good time.
It has taken The Laurels six years to release their debut album, but not for want of trying. They originally planned 2011’s Mesozoic EP to be a full-length, but it took too long to record – and by the time they were done, it was dated. “We originally recorded 12 songs because we wanted it to be an album,” says Cornelius. “But after we recorded those 12 we realised that, because the recording took so long, we hated half the tracks – they were so old, and we didn’t want to sound like that. So we completely scrapped those, and just used the other six as the EP.”
But now, finally, a Laurels’ LP has hit the shelves, recorded with producer Liam Judson (who also manned the console for Cloud Control’s Bliss Release and Belles Will Ring’s Crystal Theatre) in just seven days. The recording of Plains was blitzed through partly because, as an independent band, The Laurels can’t afford to muck around in the studio – but more than that, after the never-ending story of the Mesozoic sessions, “we just wanted to knock this one on its head, and get it out of the way.”
Cornelius and I spend quite a bit of our interview talking about change, about the natural evolution of a band’s sound, and discovering that sound at your own pace. He’s adamant that even if major labels had been throwing money at them, The Laurels would have remained independent. “Control is always more valuable than money, and even when money lets you have control, it’s usually not for long,” Cornelius says. “So although we didn’t plan on it taking six years, I think we always wanted to have everything down pat first; to be able to do our own live thing, and to know what sound we were going for on record. I can think of nothing worse than putting out something I really hate.”
It’s important to note the distinction Cornelius makes between the “live thing” and the records. Nearly every review of their EP mentions just how astonishing The Laurels live shows are; towering walls of sound that completely overwhelm your entire psyche. They’ve become the local poster band for psychedelic/shoegaze rock, and have toured in support of some of the international stars of that sound – The Black Angels, Low, Swervedriver, Wooden Shjips and Tame Impala to name just a few. But as Cornelius explains, the ‘shoegaziness’ of the live shows is more a product of limitations than an explicit choice. “Because there’s only two [guitarists] and most of our songs are really layered with guitar parts, instead of trying to replicate all those it’s usually just easier to play really loud with lots of feedback, and try to blow everyone’s head off.”
Listen to their new single, ‘Changing The Timeline’, and you’ll notice a marked shift in their sound. They still exist in a bit of a psychedelic haze, but there’s less ambient guitar noise, with a real urgency and drive to the guitars. It’s all much clearer, which Cornelius reveals is precisely what they were going for. “We wanted to record these songs like all the records that we enjoy listening to. Not a record that you’re going to struggle to listen to, where you can’t make out the vocals or what one guitar is doing because there’s some guitar in your other speaker channel giving you tinnitus,” he says. “We kinda wanted to do a record where not too many guitars sound the same, and lots of them are clean and have gentle tones that you can listen to any day of the week, rather than the one day where you just feel like listening to The Jesus & Mary Chain or something that rips your head off. We wanted a more gentle and smooth record … the sort of album where there’s a lot of space left between everything, and everything is given room to move and breathe. And because of that more things in the song stand out, and the song itself stands out, rather than just the sound.
“But I’ve certainly been inspired by, for instance, Joy Division. If you listen to live Joy Division bootlegs they sound like The Stooges or something, and they’re really distorted. But if you listen to the records, because of their producer experimenting in the studio, it all sounds kind of alien and clean,” Cornelius says. “And I suppose we’ve always wanted to have a dualism, between the live band and the recorded band, that makes up the whole.”
What: Plains is out through Rice Is Nice
With: Witch Hats, East River
Where: The Annandale Hotel
When: Saturday September 1
More: Also playing with Band Of Skulls at The Factory Theatre on Friday July 27.
Posted: July 18th, 2012 under Brag 471, Music, Music - Interview, New.
Tags: Band Of Skulls, East River, Hugh Robertson, Piers Cornelius, Plains, Rice Is Nice, The Annandale Hotel, The Factory Theatre, The Laurels, Witch Hats