Isolated in a dank Annandale house, Simon Starling began writing songs to find hope. Those songs have been transformed into Semaphore, an album featuring some of Australia’s finest musical talent.
Starling spent six years living in Melbourne before relocating back to his hometown of Sydney. In a place without the distraction of television or the internet, he wrote music without an idea of where it was headed, “It came about quite unexpectedly,” says the man for whom is new outfit is named after.
“I didn’t go out on a mission to write an album, it just happened that way. I was living in a mouldy house in Annandale and it was winter and quite depressing and I was miles away from my friends so I had time to sit around doing not much at all and I started writing these songs.”
Starling surprised himself, “It happens as a writer when you think maybe I’m onto something here because I haven’t done this before and I’ve never had a song that sounds like this.” He wasn’t the only one taken aback, “I started sharing them with Wesley (Gregorace) and he was excited too.”
They toyed with the idea of creating a ‘little indie album’ themselves but fate took them in a different direction. “It just so happened he was on tour with The Church in America and he played Steve Kibley these demos and he pricked up his ears.” Kibley enjoyed them straight away and within no time was on board to produce a full-length LP.
The thrill of having a man of the musical calibre of Kibley interested in the music he’d made didn’t escape Starling, “It was very cool. I don’t really understand it myself. I was surprised by the songs when I wrote them and so was Wes and so was Steve. It was this chain of surprise but they [the songs] all have a little something that lights up a listener’s ear.”
Starling and Gregorace have been making music for years, originating in a punk band in Melbourne called Colt 45.
While Starling has kept a relatively low profile, Gregorace has been touring and teaching guitar with big name bands, “he’s made friends with hundreds of people so all the connections on this album are his,” explains Starling.
Those high flying rock and rollers have come in handy in the creation of Semaphore, which features Kibley and Tim Powles of The Church, Sparkadia’s Jorden Brebach, Davey Lane, pedalsteel star Jason Walker, ex-Faker member Damien Cassidy, The Jones Rival drummer Shaun Gaida and guitarist/producer Craig Willson (*phew*).
Although he wrote these songs in a personal space, handing over the production was easy for Starling, “I was happy to let go of things and have faith in the people who were playing for me. I didn’t feel worthy of their brilliance as it were and thought I better let them do it.”
With such a close confidante in Gregorace leading him through the process, Starling was actively involved in changes and structures as they happened.
On Kibley’s input, Simon’s respect is clear, “Steve is kind of a musical genius and as we’d go along he’d come up with instant ideas and put it down in two takes and we’d have something I would never expect. I can still listen to the album and hear things and be surprised.”
The concept of Semaphore didn’t just come from human signals, but from an earlier time in Starling’s life; a child rummaging through his mum’s record collection: “We had a couple of Beatles albums and one of them was Help.”
“As a child I was very curious and you know these four guys are standing in a funny way and I thought there’s a reason why they’re standing like that.” He asked his mum and was introduced to semaphore – a way to signal to ships off shore with flags.
Starling will play two launch shows for Semaphore in Starling’s hometown, and also Melbourne.
Getting back to Melbourne for the Sydney based musician will be something special, “I lived in Melbourne and fell in love with it. I wish I could go back but my whole family lives here [in Sydney]. I guess [if I hadn’t moved back] I wouldn’t have this album so perhaps it’s a blessing.”
Starling has a special show planned with supports from Restless Leg and Head Honcho respectively.
Also joining them on stage will be Steve Kibley in a spoken word set, “I saw him a couple of weeks ago at an Afghan Whigs concert and he asked ‘What do you want me to talk about?’ I said ‘I dunno you’re the genius blogger coming up with blogs every day you can talk about whatever you like’ so he was happy about that.”
Having had songs that were written in a dark place in Annandale transformed into a stunning album featuring some of Australia’s best musicians, it’s tough to fathom what could be next for Starling and the band. “We’ll have to wait and see but the next one is likely to be a bit different because of all the people on this album.”
“Wesley is the only one in the live band. It’ll be something for the future – once I’ve got the songs I’ll just bring out another recording I guess.”