Dolce Blue’s Sweet Melancholy

Dolce Blue’s Sweet Melancholy

On their sophomore album, Sweet Melancholy, Perth four-piece Dolce Blue dig deeper into the bittersweet feeling of young adulthood, navigating love and heartache with a bluesy touch

Image credit: Nick Valentini

Dolce Blue have always been drawn to the intoxicating mix of sorrow and wist.

It’s an emotion that takes centre stage on not only their new sophomore record, Sweet Melancholy, but their mantle itself. Under a fusion of ‘Dolce,’ the Italian word for sweet, and ‘Blue,’ the reflective sadness that strikes bittersweet, vocalist Veronica Zurzolo, bassist Daniel Taylor, guitarist Lachlan Casey, and drummer Brody Honey explore coming of age with a sharp eye and understated emotions.

Hailing from Kalamunda, just out of Perth, Dolce Blue’s arrangements conjure the simmering Australian summer, tales of estrangement and growth backed by a windswept blues. In the wake of Sweet Melancholy, we spoke with lead singer and songwriter Veronica about the making of the record, musing over the past, and making the most of “the sentimental feeling.”

Dolce Blue first convened — without the name — in high school. “I had grown up with a musical family,” recalls Veronica, busy packing for the band’s show in Margaret River. “My parents had always been very supportive of me playing music, and listening to music, and having an interest in music, and so it was always something that I did.” Veronica’s self-starting creative process didn’t fully embrace collaboration until it was thrust upon her by an unwittingly influential music teacher. “The other guys were actually in my music class, and our music teacher said, 'Veronica writes songs, you guys play great, go into the rehearsal room, you're a band now,'” she remembers. “We all kind of had that interest in music and wanting to play music, but it was the music teacher that was a catalyst… and put that structure on us.”

Their shared musical passions fused with a common identity, one informed by their upbringing in the outer suburbs of Perth. “Kalamunda is the Perth Hills region, so it's east of the city, like a 30 minute drive from the Perth CBD… a generous 30 minute drive,” she says with a laugh. “It's beautiful, it's very bushy, like a very natural environment.” There’s a dust-swept tinge to the guitars that sing out on Sweet Melancholy, and an oft-languid pace that reflects that contemplative natural setting. “It was a lovely place to grow up, just because you have so much freedom of being in the bush and being in nature,” she recalls. “It's beautiful up there, but it was also quite isolating.”

Kalamunda may be in their bones, but Dolce Blue had to push out beyond their semi-rural horizons, pressing into a Perth music scene that once seemed too distant. “The first album, I kind of treat that as a bit of a demo,” explains Veronica, “because we were in a spot where we were just starting to play live gigs, but a lot of venues didn't know who we were, or what we sounded like.” That 13-track project, buoyed by single New White Sneakers, proved an invaluable exemplar of Dolce Blue’s laidback rock palette. “It's very raw, very what we sounded like at the time, so it was essentially a good demo album to give to venues,” she remembers. It was an introduction, a foot in the door, a useful document that laid the foundation for something more substantial.

It’s been four years since Forever Is Too Long, and in that time, the group has honed a solid sound that underwrites their quasi-self-titled collection. “This time, we worked with a local producer, Michael Strong, to really create just a bit more of a polished sound,” says Veronica, that newfound sheen bursting forth on catchy cuts like Talking With The Sun and Dream Catcher. “The process this time definitely took a lot longer, because we were trying to get something that sounded a lot more professional, a lot more high quality, that showed the growth that we had experienced over the last few years.”

It's taken about two years to record it, let alone writing it all,” says Veronica. “It's been a very long process, but I think it needed to happen because we're all just in that early-20s kind of period of our lives,” she explains of the long journey to the LP. “We're in uni still, or just finishing uni and starting full-time work for the first time, so while we were very dedicated to the project, there were a lot of things that got in the way.

The busy schedules that had proved such catalysts for growth became an obstacle to the group, who had to embrace an unorthodox approach to laying tracks. “Instead of us all being in the studio together, we kind of segmented sessions,” she begins. “I would record at home my scratch track, which was essentially just the guitar and the vocals, and then I'd send it to the producer Michael. I'd book a session for the drummer to come in, and he would do drums for like three tracks at a time. Then the guitarist, Lachie, and maybe myself, would go in and do guitars for three songs at a time. The bass player Daniel would go in and do bass for three songs at a time, and then I'd go in and do the vocals.”

It’s a complication that could’ve proved insurmountable, but Dolce Blue found solid ground in their long standing friendships. “I think because we've known each other for so long — the three guys have known each other since primary school, I've known them since high school — that we just kind of trusted each other to go into the studio and do something that was going to represent us all well, that we could all be proud of,” says Veronica, grateful. “I would have loved to be in the studio with everyone at all times, but it just wasn't feasible with our timetables.”

In spite of the decentralised sessions, Dolce Blue crafted a sun-tinged rock record that speaks  to their eponymous mood. “I think sound-wise, all of these songs had that Dolce Blue or sweet melancholy feel to them,” says Veronica of the record’s title. “They were all kind of sweet with that really blue and melancholic undertone throughout the whole album, and it also had a really diverse range of just genre and style,” she adds. “I think that really represented who we are as musicians, and who we are as a band.”

Things start intimately on album opener Grow, which pulls from a personal falling out witnessed by the band. “When I'd just moved out of home, I was living with my second cousin Erica, who I'm really close with,” explains Veronica. “She had a really close friend who had a holiday home in Augusta, so we'd often go in the uni break with a group of mates to just get away for a week or two weeks.” Veronica and the rest of the band spent time at the house down in Augusta, a place that came to be associated with relaxing getaways and aimless respite. “We just had the most wholesome time just having drinks, watching the sunset, going for walks through the bush, watching the water, watching people kayak up and down the stream,” she tenderly recalls, those memories already tinged with sadness. “I think the last time we went, my cousin and a friend were having a bit of a falling out,” she explains, “and it was the last time we went because of that.”

That transitory moment, recognised in the setting sun of that final day, stokes both reflection and regret. “That's where the song kind of takes its meaning from: it’s like, you guys are growing apart, maybe you just need some time apart to grow so that you can come closer together,” she poses, “but then it's also that sweetness of, ‘we have so many good memories here, and we're still having a fantastic time, we just don't want this holiday to end, because we know when we get back to Perth, everything's going to be different.’”

Few things are more melancholic than change, the ever-present shifts with which we must learn to contend. That force hits on Goodbyes, the sombre mood served straight; no chaser. “That's the only song on the album that's just pure melancholy,” she says of the dedication to a passed parent, recalling the task of eulogising them. “Everything else is sweet melancholy, but that one's just… scrap out the sweet.” The flipside of this downbeat is, ironically, band favourite Problem. “I feel like 'Problem' is a love song in a weird sense,” explains Veronica. “It's just the sweetness of having a crush on someone, and that early phase of like, 'I like you, I think you like me, is this gonna be a thing? Let's see!'” The track’s as giddy as her eager explanation. “It's a happy song that's also upbeat, instead of a sad song that's upbeat!

That affinity for measured pep and bluesy licks is nothing new, with Veronica recently reconnecting with her musical foundations. “Some of the songs I did write quite a while ago, so it's kind of been like influences I've had over my whole life,” says Veronica of the band’s creative touchstones. “I feel like I've almost returned to my roots a bit, because I grew up listening to a lot of blues and a lot of jazz, and playing in the Kalamunda Youth Swing Band,” she says with a little laugh. “This more bluesy, swing kind of sound, and that's something I've just always loved.”

Veronica mirrors those moods in her lyrics, fiercely internal and often confessional. “I do spend a lot of time thinking, and overthinking,” she clarifies, chuckling. “I guess that leads into that theme of discovering who you are as a young adult, and just dealing with new situations that maybe you've never come across before, dealing with people that you've never met before, and learning about the world and what exists within it.” Those trials are a fount for creativity, with interpersonal relations the fuel to the band’s bluesy fire. Lyrically, Veronica’s keen to explore “what can go wrong, and what is going wrong, and what is right!

In the pursuit of these truths, Dolce Blue are taking their new record on the road. “This is the first time we've done a proper tour, but we're definitely a band that does well live,” explains Veronica. “We've had a lot of really successful shows where we've been either supporting someone or just doing some random event,” she continues, “and people just walk past and it's like, 'Wow, like I've never heard of you guys before, but I'm a fan.'”

Sweet Melancholy has posed some interesting live challenges, with the studio arrangements exceeding their scrappy guitar-based makeup. “We're only a four-piece band, so we don't have a piano or a synth on stage,” says Veronica, “it's just two guitars, a bass, and a drum kit.” It’s meant not only retrofitting the denser tracks for the band setup, but also for Veronica’s solo performances, a task she’s taking in stride. “It was really difficult coming up with a set solo, let alone just with a four piece band, because there's so much going on in a lot of the songs and you miss a lot of those basslines or guitar riffs when it's just one person playing.

Still, those heartening live response has driven Veronica to take her music to more stages, venturing to the East Coast to play some solo sets. “It's really cool to have this first tour and be getting out of Perth, and just showing wider Western Australia and wider Australia what we can do,” she says, excited. The next stop is Margeret River, but soon enough Dolce Blue will be venturing out of their hometown for the first — but surely not the last — time.

Dolce Blue Sweet Melancholy Artwork

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