Album Walkthrough: Angus Dawson dissects his debut LP, Looking Over The Red Lights
The Perth-based musician explores the beauty of folk-electronica in a long-awaited debut album, out now.
Header image by James Killan.
It feels like a debut album has been a long time coming for Angus Dawson. The Perth-based indie-electronica musician has been a favourite of the west coast - and Australia as a whole - ever since his introduction back in 2014, where he initially grabbed our attention through a combination of stirring, stripped-back tunes centred around detailed and intricate songwriting. Since then, however, he's constantly evolved and furthered his sound, incorporating new elements and textures into singles that have littered the years since, right through to EPs in 2017 (Ellesmere Street) and 2018 (Camouflage).
His journey has been long-winding yet fruitful; Angus Dawson's music is a constant source of escapism and grace in a time where it's often needed most, while for the musician himself, it gives him the opportunity to dissect reflections of his world through the beauty of creativity, sparking a drive that hasn't fizzled out despite a lengthy, seven-year journey to this point.
Today, however, things change. Today, we're incredibly proud to welcome Angus Dawson's debut album Looking Over The Red Lights, which with its newcoming release via AWAL, cements Angus Dawson as someone synonymous with Australia's subtle indie-folk world, and the beauty that lies within it. Spanning 12 tracks, Looking Over The Red Lights is a winding journey through a relationship's end, capturing the highs and lows of a falling out and the emotional complexities that often surround such a difficult time for one's self.
Across Looking Over The Red Lights, Angus Dawson brings the album's central theme to life in a way that actually feels like an accurate representation of the time, rather than one full of clichés. On one side, it breaks down the pitfalls of the relationship's end by encapsulating the potent emotions that circle around such a time; this side of the album being darker, with more reflection and sombre intensity. On the other half, there's upbeat bursts of sunlight - the other side, per se, also represented amongst Looking Over The Red Lights. It's an incredibly accurate reflection.
"Ever since I started making music I’ve always wanted to do an album," he says on the journey to this point. "Growing up that’s how I listened to music, you save up your pocket money and buy a CD that you thrash until you can’t listen to it anymore. There’s an intention behind an album as a whole and that’s the way I enjoy listening to music. That is also how I want people to listen to this album, ideally. I know it’s a bit of a dying art form but the sequencing is designed to take you on a little journey and I hope that comes across."
Continuing, he breaks down the themes of the album more: "Thematically, there are two ideas for the album as a whole. There’s a pretty steady lyrical theme around the end of a relationship and even though some of the songs are written years apart from one another, there’s a central yearning to be more at peace by myself and to not measure my self-worth off the opinion of others," he says. "The other idea is more to do with the way the tracks are constructed. I love music that stops you in your tracks and evokes something within you that offers a sense of escapism. That’s all I ever try to do with my own music.
"The title Looking Over The Red Lights is more literal than you might think. It’s about raising your eye-line beyond the minor stresses and frustrations that we’re presented with every day. More so than ever we live in a world that is constantly demanding too much of us; making us feel, look and act a certain way. Music has always acted as a reprieve and I hope that this album can do the same."
It's a brilliant moment for Angus Dawson that closes a chapter of his life and career while simultaneously opening another one, and you can take a dive into the record below alongside a track by track exploration of its themes and creation, broken down one song at a time. Also, be sure to catch Angus launch the record at The Rosemount on April 10th - more information and tickets to that one here.
The introduction to the album is a bit of a Frankenstein track. The vocal ‘hmm’s were made years ago and lived in a different song for a long time but they weren't connecting. I decided to make a track of off-cuts from existing songs and this is what I came up with. The track features my good friend and longtime collaborator Luke Minness on Sax. The strings were arranged and recorded recently and really tie all these forgotten elements together.
Thematically, this album has two concepts and the first is that many of the songs were written around the ending of a relationship, hence the line ‘I don’t know how to be by myself, I’m finding it hard to say that I’m well’.
This track is crudely titled around the options when relationships get difficult or reach a turning point. That is where I was at, either change or end, both would be difficult and the lyrics talk about where I was at with that decision. There’s a line in the track that came from my mum, I was confiding in her and she was saying that there was ‘so much to fight for’. Breakups are hard but when they affect the people around you as well it gets even harder.
Although it may sound crazy, this is one of the first and only songs I’ve written in a conventional manner…at a piano. I was in Sydney on tour and spent a bit of time in a studio, I wasn’t getting anywhere sitting in front of the computer so I gave myself an hour to see what I could come up with at the piano. This is what came out of that. To me, this track is hopeful. I was lucky enough to work with Tom Iansek (Big Scary, #1 Dads, No Mono) on this track who co-produced and mixed it. It was written about feeling low and as if the world is stacking up against you. In times like these it’s important to remember that this feeling is temporary. It’s just the atmosphere that you’re in.
4. FOUR WORDS
Four Words is probably the least electronic track I’ve written in a long while. The song was born in a writing session with my good friend Tim McArtney. Most of the song was written in a day and then I went away and layered the rest of the elements, which turned out to be a lot. My buddy Ricki Malet played the Flugal on this track alongside Luke Minness on Sax and was again joined by the lovely string section. While the four words themselves have a direct anecdotal significance to me I’m not sure I’ll share them, I think I’ll leave a little mystery.
I’ve never written a track like this before and I’ve also never quite enjoyed my own work as much as I do this song. I was staying at my cousin's house in Sydney that overlooked the harbour in Darling Point. I was next to the window on my laptop and opened a new session to see how far I could get in a night. I think I stayed up for most of the night working on this track because it was like a book I couldn't put down. That momentum in music-making is something that we all chase and I remember trying to take advantage of it.
Sydney leads down a slightly different path than most of my other music, far more ‘electronic’ and, dare I say, ‘dance-y’ than the rest of the album but it’s a path that I had a lot of fun travelling down.
Well, firstly, the sign means ‘less than’ and you probably learned that in Year 8 Maths. Lyrically, I guess it’s about unrequited love, something I’m sure we can relate to. More specifically though it was about a time where I was feeling a little overwhelmed by being alone and trying to meet someone when the single-world is dominated by technology and douchebags. This is a time where I really leant on my friends and I ended up getting a lot of them to sing on the last chorus alongside my mate San Solis who sang backing vocals. It’s very different from the track that precedes it but I like it just as much, I hope it’s not too disconcerting on the ear. This track also functions as the end of the first part of the album.
Light was probably one of the first finished tracks for the album. It’s about shedding emotional weight, it’s about going through some form of adversity and coming out stronger on the other end. I co-wrote this one with my very good friend Andy Hopkins who makes music under Hauskey. He is a bit of a regular collaborator and really helped me organise this track into what it is today.
Ironically the making of this track was similar to its meaning. I over-layered the whole thing and the song only really started to knock when I started taking elements out and trusting in the song a little more.
8. LOOKING OVER THE RED LIGHTS
The second theme for the album is about finding small moments of peace and beauty in everyday occurrences. I was stuck at some traffic lights one day, stewing about something or someone but then I raised my eye-line above the brake lights and traffic lights to a spectacular sunset. It's moments like these that give you perspective and pull you out of the tiny worlds of stress we create for ourselves. I’d be honoured if my music has that effect on people. This song is an attempt to encapsulate that feeling. My housemate makes music under the name Slow State and he crossed the hallway into my studio one night and we made this song. I was shooting for a cinematic and uplifting vibe with this one, hence the return of the strings and my choir of mates.
To complete the theme of collaboration with this one, it was also co-produced and mixed by a personal hero of mine, Tom Iansek (Big Scary, #1 Dads, No Mono).
9. HERE AT THE END OF ALL THINGS
This is another rogue favourite of mine from the album. Conceptually the song looks at loss and acceptance so I thought I’d tip my hat to J.R.R Tolkein with a Lord of the Rings reference for the title. Even when you feel like you’re drowning, you’ll always have your mates to lean on. I want people to have a little journey when they listen to this track. I think I hope that with all of my tracks but that’s what I feel with this one. That is also part of the reason why I don’t want to give too much away and colour people’s experience of the music.
You know those meaningless fights you have with loved ones that just stop mattering once you give each other a little space? That’s more or less what this one is about. Perspective.
This is one of the older tracks on the album, and was written with sleep and rest in mind. The title is the Ngoongar word for sleep or laying down. I listen to a lot of piano music and music for strings for the sole purpose of relaxing. This track is pulling those influences together in a song designed to evoke a reflective state of mind. I’ve been progressively adding to it over the years. There are wind chimes and crickets recorded from my parents house that soundtracked many lazy afternoons for me in my childhood, backing vocals from friend Stella Donnelly and Flugal from Ricki Malet.
You guessed, the title means ‘greater than’. I wanted to wind up the album in a more positive way than I started and while I don’t think that feeling down or going through your own little adversities is inherently a bad thing, I do think that it is important to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s a pretty accurate summary of this track. Also, to me, this track is an abbreviation for the concept of the album as it talks about being present and mindful in the everyday moments of life.