Sputnik Sweetheart Are Changing

Sputnik Sweetheart Are Changing

On their second EP, ‘Far From You,’ Canberra four-piece Sputnik Sweetheart sound better than ever — and more ready to follow their whims wherever it leads.

Image credit: Claire Warren

It’s mid-morning sometime in early June, and I can’t seem to keep warm… still, it could be worse.

I'm in chilly Canberra, out in the middle of nowhere in Hume, in a little Harry Potter office underneath the staircase,” says Malcolm Newey, lively in spite of it. He says he’s “doing the thing,” that offhand remark betraying the nature of his job — being a member of Sputnik Sweetheart, one of the country’s most exciting indie rock outfits. Alongside bandmates Nette France, Josef Pabis, and Zac Bailey, Mal has circled the national festival circuit, shared stages with groups like Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers and The Grogans, and embarked on a headline tour, selling out The Tote off just an EP, a string of singles, and a healthy helping of acclaim.

In the lead-up to their sophomore EP, Far From You, Sputnik Sweetheart have been going from strength to strength. Lead single Lindy Hop proved a fan-favourite and Triple J staple; the acutely personal Heavenly boasted one of 2022’s best music videos; and their new single, Something More, came complete with a triumphant return to a Canberran stage. In the midst of it all, Sputnik Sweetheart have been contending with an unlikely obstacle: 700 kilometres of distance.

I'm in Melbourne right now,” says Nette, one of the few who could claim to have moved to a warmer climate. “Joe moved down in 2020, I moved down in 2021, and then we've had a few headline shows in Canberra,” she recalls, casting her mind back beyond their recent single launch. “The one that we just played, it was the first time in a couple of years actually, and it was really great to get back!” As if the distance alone wasn’t enough, the quartet saw through the pandemic in strictly demarcated states, with Nette and Joe adjusting to their new home in mandated two-hour-a-day exercise blocks.

Their recent Canberra link-up, then, felt nothing short of miraculous. “I think Canberra is still very much our hometown,” says Nette, reflecting on their show at new capital nightspot The Shaking Hand. “The Canberra music scene is changing a lot, there are lots of new artists that were doing super well, and it was really great to see them.” They dipped further into the scene for their show at Groovin’ the Moo, a slot that revisits one of the group’s formative musical experiences. “It was awesome,” enthuses Nette. “It was obviously a festival that, growing up in Canberra… and especially because it's all ages, it was the first big festival that I went to.” Playing that staple was “sort of a 'pinch me' moment,” but attending at all was a treat in its own right.

In a way, it's good to play an earlier set,” offers Mal, “because you get the whole of the afternoon as well to just enjoy being at a festival. You're not stressing about your set coming up or anything like that.” That recreation was a rare comfort for the band, so often pulled between the poles of Melbourne and Canberra. “There's not many of those days that we get to have all together as Sputnik Sweetheart, because everything that we do is kind of few and far between.” Groovin’ offered them the chance to attend as punters, but also the opportunity to celebrate the official arrival of a longtime live staple, Something More.

It's one of those ones that had lots of iterations,” says Nette of the track. “Relatively early on, we worked into a live set, and I think it's just such a fun song to jam and to play,” she remembers. “It almost plays itself in a way,” adds Mal, that ease breaking through once the band “had that moment in the jamming of that tune where we were, all of a sudden, just like really, really happy with it.” A song comprised of “Franken-parts,” as Mal puts it, Something More shifts from tense, acrimonious verses to the yearning chorus, pushing past the bitterness with the want for something truly beautiful.

Lyrically, it's… not as pointed as some of the other songs are,” Nette explains, struggling to “describe that feeling you get when you're just like, 'Oh, this is not it.’” Where other Sputnik singles spin stories, Something More conjures a sentiment, with Nette’s assertive self-worth underpinned by heavy riffs and hand-brake shifts. The screaming crescendo that closes out the track is a mighty rendering of ‘setting boundaries,’ a hot topic in the current age of self-reflection and personal wellness. “We were… happy to leave it a little bit vague, and just focus on how it sounds, and how it all flows together,” she says.

That flow, marked by jarring tempo shifts, speaks to more than just the song itself. “I think almost every tune on the upcoming EP… they're all so different, they all have such a different kind of narrative or sonic profile to them,” muses Mal. “Some of them are really stripped back, some of them are really dense.” The latter is epitomised by Something More and Lindy Hop, the breakout single from the EP, which Mal describes as “‘slap-you-in-the-face’ kind of tunes.” A softer side crests on Still Water, a piece of indie-rock pep to pick you up off the floor, and cut ties, a melancholy reflection on a changing relationship.

We've been working on these songs as a group for really quite a while now, and during that time, there's been a lot of change, for each of us as individuals and as a group,” says Nette, invoking change as the only constant — and the surest thread running through Far From You. “When I was working on some of the lyrics for 'Still Water,' for example, a lot of what bled into that was, you're in a new city, and you kind of have this new chapter in your life,” she explains, that rendering tinged with optimistic opportunism.

The shifting sands of change reappear on Heavenly, where a tender memory grows distant as time marches on, and again on Lindy Hop, as a chaotic relationship is “moving at the speed of light.” Cut Ties is a closer in more ways than one, with Nette’s subdued severance suggesting all the unbridgeable space that’s come between. It’s a melancholy reminder that change comes for us all — not with a bang, but a whimper. “We didn't necessarily write the songs to have that throughline,” says Nette, explaining “it was the first one that kind of jumped out” when the time came to title the project.

It was a particular moment,” begins Mal, sinking into an excited storytelling cadence. “We were in the studio, we'd taken a break from the day, it was late in the night. We're all sitting around outside, having a whiskey or something post-studio day, talking about the EP… and we were talking about the name for the EP.” The group were unwinding and ideas were flying, but none seemed to wholly encapsulate the six tracks within. “Out of nowhere, sitting quietly in the corner, Zach Bailey pipes up… in his mind, I think he was just scanning down a list of all of the lyrics of all the tracks that we had laid down in the studio… and he just picked it straight out.” A fragment of the chorus from Heavenly, the phrase “far from you” originally spoke to the inexorable march of time. Emblazoned on the cover of the EP,  it becomes so much more, conjuring growth, upheaval, and bitter estrangements. “It was an immediate consensus from all of us,” says Mal.

On one hand, the EP spells the end of a particularly wild ride; on the other, it marks the beginning of a new relationship with the music itself. “I feel in kind of two minds about that with this release,” explains Nette, speaking on the familiar feeling of relief that comes with handing off well-worn tunes. “I think we're definitely keen to explore new songs, but I think, especially for some of the tracks on the EP, it's like we’re rediscovering them as we're nearing release.” The band took strides in the studio under the guidance of Jack Nigro — “one of the best guys you'll ever meet in your whole life,” gushes Mal, repeatedly — whose keen ear took their live jams and turned them to luxe, layered arrangements. “We totally took the liberty in the studio to just make it, we threw everything that we could at it, and then it's like, 'Okay, we'll figure out how we do this live kind of after the fact,’” says Nette. “It's still kind of coming to life.”

When something comes to life, it so often takes on a life of its own, a freewheeling lesson embodied in the photograph that jumps from the Far From You cover. “I've got a nice little Canon AE-1 film camera that we have been bringing with us pretty much every time we play a show or are on the road,” says Nette, calling that habit “something just for us, to document the times of our lives.” “One of the first trips I brought it on was when I went to Dark Mofo ages ago, and the photo that I took when I was just walking around was the tree, which is the focal point for this EP artwork.” The split-second snap, intended as little more than a loose memory, has become something of an anchor for the group, who have lifted details for each of the single covers as well as the greater EP art. “You never know where those little pockets of beauty come from,” meditates Mal.

When it comes to what’s next, Nette and Mal are even handed — they can hardly pitch a perfect plan after all these ruminations on change. “In retrospect, you can always look back and say, 'Of course, it makes sense that we kind of wound up where we are because of these things,'' ponders Mal, “but I feel like the journey is never going to take you in the way you think it's going to. Far From You, and the years devoted to it, are proof enough. A sharpening sound doesn’t necessarily mean a tighter vision, and as Sputnik Sweetheart hone in, the road opens up before them, their knowledge less limiting than liberating.

All of us in the band come from a reasonably diverse musical background, and we all have a different experience that informs how we go about things right now… some of that's in a purely creative way, some of it's in like a practical way,” explains Mal. “For me with Sputnik, I've always been kind of surprised,” he admits, quickly correcting: “not surprised, but the journey's never as straight arrow as you think it's going to be, and sometimes you find opportunity in places that you never thought you would."

Beautiful potentialities aside, there’s no doubt that Sputnik Sweetheart’s journey is about to take them on the road. “We've got an EP tour that we're working on, which will be our biggest tour to date,” says Nette. “At our Canberra show we played the whole EP,” she adds, confident. “That was the first time we played every song on the EP, and that was really well received.”  There are a few support slots in the mix, and a want to return to the studio — “we've been working on a few other tracks as well,” she admits — but ultimately, Sputnik Sweetheart have surrendered to circumstances beyond their control.

It’s not a defeat, but more an acceptance, one delivered with bright eyes and wide smiles. “Onwards and upwards, really,” says Nette. Even in the midst of change, some things seem a sure shot.

Sputnik Sweetheart's new EP Far From You is out now

Far From You EP Cover

12 August - Canberra - supporting Teenage Dads
19 August - Melbourne - Leadbeater Charity Event
9 September - Gold Coast - Beer and Cider Festival
21 October - Melbourne - supporting Old Mervs
25 November - Canberra - Spilt Milk

Follow Sputnik Sweetheart: Instagram / Facebook

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