Album Walkthrough: Spacey Jane break down their debut album, Sunlight
On their long-awaited debut album, the homegrown heroes of Perth charade sombre lyricism with bright-eyed indie-pop.
Header image by Daniel Hilderbrand.
There's something remarkably special about watching the country fall in love with an act you've seen grow and grow over the years, and Spacey Jane are one of the most special of them all. Emerging a few years ago now, the Perth four-piece initially became a cult-favourite of Perth's rich alt-rock-meets-indie-pop live music world, and in-demand act in the local touring circuit known for their ability to pack out a venue despite only a song or two under their belt at that time.
In the time since, however, Spacey Jane have emerged an entirely different beast. At this point, they're national juggernaughts whose next venture is overseas; a go-to festival favourite whose bright-eyed, heart-pulling singles over the years translate perfectly onto the live stage where they thrive – sold-out shows and festival shows littered by support slots for some of the country's biggest indie-pop heavyweights – and continue to thrive some three or four years into their career.
Listening to how their work has evolved and grown over the years, it's not too hard to work out what exactly draws everyone to Spacey Jane. Their earliest work – such as their 2017-released debut EP No Way To Treat An Animal – paired gritty alt-pop with lyricism that would be difficult to pin down; somehow both upbeat and sombre at the same time. In the time since, they've only grown and grown; each track out since deepening their sound and enrichening a discography that highlights both quality and quantity – two EPs, a bunch of singles and now a full-length album, all high-tier and released within the last three years.
Released today, Spacey Jane's debut album Sunlight is essentially an aural showcase of how damn far Caleb, Peppa, Ashton and Kieran have come over the years, encapsulating what makes Spacey Jane who they are in the most delightful and charming of ways. On a surface level, Sunlight feels perfect for a Perth summer, with beachy guitar melodies and sun-lit and shimmering vocals coming together like comforting waves that crash over you, enveloping you in that signature Spacey Jane mist that's near-unexplainable, but just so much damn fun.
Deeper, however, is where Spacey Jane shines. Sunlight's jangly, wind-swept choruses and festival-ready guitar charades lyricism amongst the most potent for a debut album within this sound, disguising intimacy and personal lessons and learnings of the group over the years as they tackle everything from mental health to relationships. "The album makes me feel vulnerable," says the band's lead vocalist Caleb Harper on the track, and in a way, that's what makes Spacey Jane who they are – something that as we said, shines more strongly on Sunlight than it ever has before.
In many ways, this sense of vulnerability is what underpins Spacey Jane's charm. At times, Australia's rock scene feels claustrophic, trapped between lyrics on smashing beers, smoking bongs and going for surf that may be fun as hell to dance around to and singalong, but that's all there is to it. People need something to bite into and find themselves – especially in times like these, where everyone feels so lost and alone coming out of isolation into global civil rights protests – and Sunlight provides exactly that; an opportunity for you to look beyond its rock-y guitars and say "hey, I feel this and it's nice to have song that helps me work out how I feel about it."
It's a feeling that across Sunlight, almost matches the euphoria that comes from their sun-soaked melodies; a balance that's been worked on and refined over the years and now, with their debut album, they're finally getting the room and time to show it all off.
Here, in a track by track walkthrough, Caleb Harper walks through Spacey Jane's debut album Sunlight, and what went into its sound and lyrics one song at a time:
The album was written and recorded over 12 months or so in short patches of intense periods. It was our first venture into trying to build an album from the ground up, before this we’d only worked in terms of singles when it came to the writing and recording process. Sonically, we wanted to create an album that felt to people like it was evolving and transforming as they listened – despite the fact that the same 5 people wrote it, it would feel like they were changing through the songs.
The album makes me feel vulnerable; there’s a lot of dealing with personal failure in the breakdown of relationships and striving to be better. There’s also a lot of despair that is the result of feeling helpless under the weight of mental illness. Over time I think it will sound like an apology, I hope it serves as a lesson for the future.
Good For You
Good For You was quite left of field in relation to most of music we’d written since the first EP and so I was unsure about how it would be received. Despite being different territory, musically, it came together quickly as we erred on the side of simplicity. Lyrics and melodies proved a greater challenge for me with close to 10 revisions before recording. I ended up dropping the final revision in favour of an earlier version on our producer’s advice, it definitely came out with more excitement and energy as a result and fans have loved it.
It’s easily the most fun for us to play live and is currently closing out the set.
I don’t think Head Cold ever felt like a single when it was first tracked, I always imagined it as an album track. We sat on it for several months and over that time it become a huge favourite for the band and fans have loved it more and more since release. We recorded an old Casio keyboard sample beat and time mapped it to the track, it’s mixed quite low but adds real depth to the sound. Head Cold was recorded quite early in the piece and I think that first foray into new sounds opened the door for a lot of experimentation on the album.
Kieran was keen to explore percussion options for this song and it really paid off. We messed around and tracked a bunch of tandem beats on congas and picked a few favourite bars which we looped in the track - the result is amazing. The fade out at the end (our first ever) was really just an answer to trying to figure out how to end the song but doubles up to leave it kind of open and unresolved.
Skin is about learning to protect yourself at the cost of knowing how to let people in, it’s an attempt to be satisfied with the trade-off, but falls short with the realisation that more damage is done shutting the world out.
Good Grief was a really important song for us in a few ways. It’s the first album single we put out but also the first song we recorded and released after our first 2 EPs. We learnt a great deal about song writing and especially about writing music for both ourselves and an audience - not just stuff we thought sounded cool. That shift in thinking first allowed us to write and create outside of our own taste bubble and taught us that not everything we think is great is going to be…
For me and Ashton, that was manifested in our most complimentary style guitar playing to date, we tried to leave lots of space and write in terms of what the other riff and band members were doing. It was the first single triple j put on rotation and a lot of amazing things have come from that. The song is a about a break down in family relationships and learning that seeing things from as many perspectives as possible is the easiest way to fix things.
Wasted On Me
Wasted On Me is a deeply personal track about failed relationships and admitting fault.
When the dust settles and anger and hurt subside, there’s always so much guilt about my part in something. The feeling of failing someone and myself is the resounding sentiment and that’s captured in the line “You must feel like you wasted your life on me. I know, I feel the same”. The song was initially rooted in the verse guitar riff which I wrote kind of mimicking 90’s post grunge stuff, it sounds like Powderfinger to me (haha).
When we got to the final week of touch ups for the album I felt like the song hadn’t reached the level I had hoped for when I first wrote it and that was really disappointing because I had such high
hopes for it. At the midnight hour we rewrote the bridge/breakdown and final chorus chords to be what they are now and they’re now my favourite parts of the song. Someone told me it sounds like a U2 breakdown which I’m pretty happy with.
Booster Seat is easily one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s quite slow and spacious by our standards and feels just as complete played on an acoustic guitar on its own. Ashton’s riff is unlike any he’s made before, I really love the delay he uses and it’s one of my favourite parts of the song. The premise is a kid sitting in booster seat that mum or dad had to put them with their feet dangling about the car floor and having basically no control, completely at the mercy of the people they love. It’s a metaphor of for losing control of yourself in love through anxiety, and relying on the person you love to protect and keep from harm.
It makes me cry when I listen to it sometimes, I hope people are able to find something as moving in the content as I am.
Love Me Like I Haven’t Changed
This song is really simple in so many ways but was probably hardest to record. It’s the only song off the record we road tested for a whole tour and I think those shows gave us an insight into what the song could be in the right environment. When we went back to rework it after those shows, we ended up chasing the right sound for quite a while. Ashton found it hard to get the riff’s vibe to match the live energy he had been creating, so that took some time to get right.
The song is about getting to know yourself better, coming to grips with all the shit parts of yourself and wondering how anyone can still love you. In the end, the people who love you usually know you better than yourself and have always known about yet love you despite your failings.
Kieran and I fleshed this song out together in a jam one day with the goal of writing something “different”. We were at the pointy end of writing for the album, Kieran had been listening to a lot of Phoenix, I had bought a space echo pedal and we came out with this swung, reverb-soaked idea in about 20 minutes. During production for the song, we were open to all ideas that might cement the track as unique for us and things such as the synth arpeggio in the pre-chorus, a lack of discernible riffs and Kieran’s doubled up/delay kick in the outro go some way to help.
In some ways the song is an experiment for the band, a test to see how ready we are to expand beyond the indie based guitar music we’ve been making for 3.5 years and to see how fans are going to react and grow with the change.
Straightfaced was written just before a breakup that lasted almost 6 months, it was a powerful reference point for me during the ensuing 6 months of heartache, a good consolidation of feelings in amongst a wave of emotions. It was actually the first time Icompletely recorded a demo and sent it to the band before I’d played it for them in a jam.
Everyone loved the song and got onto writing parts so when we came together we more or less had a complete song straight away. Ashton’s rolling slide parts out of the first chorus are so great and I wish they appeared more throughout the song, unfortunately that progression only appears at that point in the song.
This song was inspired by the Stella Donnelly song Beware of the Dogs. I was learning the song on a bored afternoon and really loved the chord shapes simple metaphors she writes so well. Trucks sounds nothing like the song, but I appreciated her song writing so much in that moment I tried and embody it and write something of my own. I was playing Ashton the song in the studio one day and he pulled out this free synth app on his phone and started playing basically the final parts you hear on the track. I recorded a single take vocal and guitar track demo and programmed a drum track, Ashton recorded the synth bits and the song felt finished. That structure and the parts didn’t change from the demo in the final recording, Kieran recorded drums exactly to the programmed beat, I overdubbed a few guitars to add body, Peppa added bass and we were done.
Trucks is just about being really bored on a Sunday afternoon when it’s too cold to go anywhere.
Hanging is about two people in the throes of mental illness trying to keep a relationship together. It’s so hard to support someone with huge emotional needs when your own is barely above water, there’s some anger and frustration in the song and a deep desire for things to just feel normal. The song took a lot to get it right. A lot of work went into getting the balance between the drums and guitars right, in certain sections the guitars are quite small and the drums are busy and intense and vice versa. Ashton and I ended up changing guitar tones drastically and Kieran’s drums are a blend of triggered samples and the recorded acoustic drums.
I wrote the Sunlight riff in the studio - Parko our producer loved it and pushed for me to track something. I recorded a quick demo and threw some melodies over top without any words, the structure and most of those melodies stayed in the final version. At first, we were unsure if it would make it onto the album, so all our parts are relaxed and easy which I think you can hear in the song. Peppa’s bass line is probably my favourite part of the song, she almost makes the track something else entirely which is beautiful.
Sunlight is a metaphor for love in this song, a pot plant is likened to a relationship and the idea is that you can have all the sunlight in the world and a plant still won’t thrive. Sometimes you feel like you care for something more than anything in the world but if you don’t know what it needs, it will die.
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