To an outsider, catching up with Hunting Grounds at the Melbourne city campus of RMIT on an early Wednesday morning probably looked more like a bunch of confused and blurry-eyed first years trying to find their way around than an interview taking place.
No, wait… “tell the readers that when you first walked into the bar, the dark smokey bar,” lead singer, Michael Belsar coos in a husky voice, “you saw us in the corner wearing aviator sunglasses with cigarettes and we were really mysterious.”
So scrap the confused campus scene and let your mind dream about mysterious rock and rollers in dark smokey bars.
Some of you may know Hunting Grounds by their former name, Howl. Howl was the name that they had when they won Triple J Unearthed High in 2009, and when they released their first two EPs. It was also around when they landed roles as supporting acts to big name Australian tours with the likes of Children Collide, Grinspoon, and Philadelphia Grand Jury. Hell, it also got them through their last adolescent years.
However, as the band grew, the problems associated with the name ‘Howl’ became more apparent. Primarily, there are just so many other bands across the world with the same name, and it was confusing for people in the industry and fans alike. In fact, the situation became so bad that one time the guys were meant to play with Skybombers in Melbourne, however a mistake was made and the wrong Howl was organised to play. “It would have been such a fuck around to keep it,” reasons guitarist Tim Street.
Of course changing an established band name is not without its own challenges. After the name changed, the guys went into lockdown for 12 months to concentrate on writing their debut album. It wasn’t until the first single released under the name Hunting Grounds, “In Colour”, did people start to realise who they were. Though, annoyingly enough, “people are still grasping the fact that we are the same band,” says bassist John Crawford, mentioning that someone had even asked his girlfriend if “Howl and Hunting Grounds are friends?” cue the sounds of crickets chirping.
Despite their insistence that they are the same band, simply with a different name, the boys have promised some exciting new changes in their musical style. Their debut as Hunting Grounds, In Hindsight, due to be released on July 6, “is such a dramatic change to what we were.”
“The whole album is really spacy” Balsar describes, “which is different to what we originally were, I mean, we were pigeon-holed as this punk band which we didn’t necessarily want to be – we were just expected to be that band.”
“The production value is heaps better as well,” guitarist Lauchlan Morish pipes in, “we had a lot more time – we didn’t have to rush into it like we did with our EPs.”
The first single from the album, “Flaws”, now on rotation at Triple J, nearly didn’t make it onto the album. The guys felt fairly indifferent about it – “It was originally this really simple rock song” Belsar confesses, “but when we brought it into the studio Woody [Annison, the producer] had these crazy ideas to make it this tripped out pop song,” so that’s what it became.
“It’s a personal song, It’s really weird to hear it on the radio” Belsar explained, “It’s about identifying what’s wrong with you and how to make it better – its like a conversation with yourself.”
Their fans have, so far, approved of their new sound and there has been little negative feedback. In fact, the guys could only come up with one criticism between them – from a punter at Golden Plains earlier this year, who’d tapped on Belsar’s shoulder while he was experiencing “the greatest moment of his life” during the Bon Iver set and exclaimed, “Oi, are you from Hunting Grounds? You guys suck now!”
Despite this one, probably intoxicated individual’s opinion, the overwhelming positivity attached to Hunting Grounds’ matured sound makes the prospect of the new album that much more exciting. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have already witnessed a Howl/Hunting Grounds live show will already be well versed in their onstage antics. Everything from swapping instruments to each of the six guys jumping on the drums to Street putting a bin on his head while guitar-slinging. So it’s exciting to learn that these antics are only promised to be bigger and better on their upcoming headlining Australian tour. “We’ll make it better,” promises Tim: rubbish-wearer.
“After we toured with the Living End we decided to make our show a real experience” Belsar explained, “rather than us just being pissed and being like, ‘this sounds awesome!’, then listening to it later and being like, ‘this is so shit!’” Morish added.
As our chat wound up, the boys left us with some wise parting words, “life’s a rollercoaster, embrace it” Crawford proclaimed.
“Life’s a rollercoaster, and everyone’s tall enough to ride it” Belsar laughed in response.
“You never know you are on top until you are coming down…” muses Street, “and you don’t know that you are on the bottom until you are coming up… It’s better to be on the bottom of the ladder you want to climb, than half way up one you don’t.”
“Hey now, be an all star” Morish says in all seriousness, with fellow bandmate Crawford finshing the Smash Mouth couplet, “you never shine if you don’t glow.”
Belsar interrupting, “If you wanna see a rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
It’s doubtful if this University campus, dark, smokey bar, has ever seen so much wisdom.
In Hindisght is out July 6 through Redcat Sounds. Hunting Grounds head out on their national ‘In Hindsight’ Tour in August. Full dates and details here.