Spitting them out at a furious rate, Perth has provided us with a seemingly relentless barrage of auspicious rock bands in recent years. Favouring fuzzy riffs and fierce beats over the wailing guitars of some of their notable fellow Western Australian exports, Sugar Army is bursting forth from the pack and taking charge.
En route to a rehearsal session, frontman Pat McLaughlin chats about what makes music so fascinating, how money may not be the biggest hurdle for budding bands, and why an oxymoron makes for a killer album title.
“It doesn’t mean a direct thing; it’s just a feeling,” muses McLaughlin on the name of their sophomore LP. “We like putting two opposing words together to create a new mental image, and Summertime Heavy is what it feels like to us. It doesn’t make sense in a literal way; it just feels right. Todd (Honey, guitars) came up with that for a song when we were jamming because he thought that’s what it sounded like, and it kind of just summed up everything we were trying to do.”
It has been more than three years since the Perth boys released their 2009 album, The Parallels Amongst Ourselves; a debut that drew considerable attention from critics and fans alike for its crisp production, intelligent lyricism, and hooks so huge and inescapable – they virtually became harpoons.
There was a restless energy and mature determination, a synergy of brooding basslines and angry tribal percussion that provoked a powerful alt-rock assault and demanded multiple listens. The new album is shaping up to be just as thrilling.
To record Summertime Heavy, the band kissed goodbye to peaceful Perth and warmly welcomed the bustling streets of Sydney. “The recording process was great. It was a bit different to our first album, because it was just the three of us,” says McLaughlin.
“We had a lot more time to think about what we’re doing and we could reflect a bit on what we’d done. We wanted to attack this one from a new angle and make it fresh. It was pretty invigorating, actually. It’s a brand new thing for us and we’re really happy with what we’ve made.”
With 2011 marking the departure of bassist, Ian Berney, along with the looming prospect of recording their second album, the band had to adjust their approach. “The dynamic didn’t change dramatically, because we still had a way of working. It just meant that the three of us had to delve into each other parts a little more. Before, there was a lot more a lot more ego involved. This time around, we just wanted to work together,” explains the singer.
The introduction of two new members into their live band (Chris Simmons on bass and Ben Pooley on keys/guitar) has allowed many opportunities for the expansion of their sound. “The old songs still sound like the old songs, but some of the details are just a little bit different.”
Different how? “Todd often writes three or four guitar parts and sometimes he’ll only use one or two in the recording, but there are others there that he would have liked to use. Having an extra player means he can explore that. It means we can elaborate a bit more, which is kind of cool,” responds McLaughlin, “It keeps the songs fresh.”
Drummer, James Sher, directed the video for the first single from the new album, “Hooks For Hands”. A visually striking attack of creeping stop-motion vines, the clip adheres to the distinctly Sugar Army aesthetic; contrasting bright pinks and reds with sinister, twisted shades of grey and black.
“It took a lot of work and it was pretty arduous at times,” admits McLaughin, groaning in reminiscence of the difficult task, which saw the band committing eight hours every night over a period of three weeks. As grueling as it was, he admits they’re more satisfied having done it themselves. “When you give it to somebody else, they’re going to interpret it in their own way. When you do it yourself, it’s more direct. It’s just an idea we’re going to run with and we’re not going to compromise on anything.”
Simultaneously a unifying force and the instigator of profound personal experiences, harsh and beautiful, music ensnares us all. Why it captures us isn’t easy to pinpoint. “I think it’s the possibilities,” McLaughlin theorises. “When you start thinking about it, you can do anything. The actuality of that is a bit different,” he chuckles.
“You could have an idea and think ‘this is going to be amazing’, and then you have to go through a really long process of trying to figure out how to actually make that come to life,” ruminates McLaughlin, “I think that’s the exciting thing, and that never really goes away. We’ve already started writing for the next record, and the thought of that is really exciting for us, to just keep going and to delve into something completely new and different.”
While financial struggles plague most musicians, McLaughlin claims the bigger challenge is just getting people to listen. “I think everything about it is a challenge, but that’s what I find really appealing. Just because you decide to sit in your room and create something doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to give a shit about it. But when you create it, you think it’s worth something. Convincing other people of that is the challenge.”
According to Sugar Army’s website, attendees of their upcoming East Coast tour can expect to receive a free print of the beautiful “Hooks For Hands” art, as an apology for the extended absence. Elatedly, McLaughlin affirms “we’re really excited about the tour. We’ve got a bunch of new stuff to play, and we’re keen to get it going.”
– Lara Moates
Sugar Army are currently on their ‘Hooks For Hands’ tour and play Sydney’s FBI Social tomorrow, Friday 29th June then at the Tote in Melbourne the following night, Saturday 30th June. Summertime Heavy is due for release soon but you can watch the stop-motion video for single “Hooks For Hands” below.