Album Walkthru: Huntly - Sentimental Still
Melbourne/Naarm-based electronic pop genre-melders take us through each track on their stunning new sophomore album
Four years on from their debut album of synth-pop abstractions, Huntly are back with album number two, the mesmerising & magical Sentimental Still.
With productions embracing everything from drum & bass, ambient, UK Garage, breakbeat and a combination of all of that, Sentimental Still sees the duo further hone in on their unique melding of pop and r&b meets underground dancefloor flavours.
With Sentimental Still out now, vocalist Elspeth Scrine was kind enough to take us deep into the world of Huntly’s second album - have a listen and get to know below!
I wrote 'Sentimental Still' across 2019-2021. The record serves as a commitment to care and intimacy in the context of rupture, grief, and loss across global and personal lines. Outside of my life as a musician, I am a therapist and academic in the field of music therapy. This means I spend most of my time thinking deeply about the therapeutic affordances of songwriting and what it means to process and express our inner worlds through music. And still, after working as a music therapist and even after doing a PhD in this area, I am continually surprised by what music can do for us personally and as a community. Music has the capacity to hold a mirror up to our emotions, to evoke them and name them, to help us feel connected to others, to light up our brains, and enrich our memories by encoding them in a way that lasts for the rest of our lives. I witness this in all aspects of my life, whether I'm on the dancefloor, sitting at the piano, singing with the community choir that I run, at work supporting clients to process their experiences of trauma through music, or in the studio writing and recording.
For me this album is a dedication to the types of connections and milestones outside of those we are taught to prioritise as the most valuable. It's an homage to queering the norms of adulthood and a tribute to platonic intimacy. There are many different types of grief and heartbreak explored in these songs, but not related to the ending of a romantic relationship. Each of the songs are my own intentional therapeutic process of exploring different forms of connection and separation with intention and care. It's a collection of songs exploring my inner world, in the context of global precarity, chronic forms of separation, new forms of anxiety and harm, where we are taught that people are disposable and that accruing personal wealth and a white picket fence is the best we can hope for. Making them over these last couple of years alongside one of my best friends, Andy, was the perfect way to solidify my reverence for friendship and my commitment to interdependence.
I wrote Undertage when I was overseas before the pandemic hit, in a steamy Berlin club that the track is named after. It has samples I recorded on my phone, outside the club and from hazy uber pool rides (remember those?). Undertage is about that energy you get from a crush when you meet someone and wonder if you might end up together… when it's all open and full of possibilities. The girl I wrote it about also was the person who showed me Erika de Casier's music, when she had just released Essentials and played her first show in Berlin. It was fitting to start the album here with this track, because it was one of the first ones I wrote - years ago now - when I was searching for inspiration. Erika's music was so influential to me in 2019 when I was thinking about what Huntly's next album could sound like. So the opening track is a bit of a dedication to her and the little pocket of cute and sexy music that she's carved out in the last few years. Undertage is a dedication to cute and sexy girls everywhere!
It's You I'm Here For
It's You I'm Here For is a track about being in love with your friends. I think I grew up with the assumption that my teenage years were the ones I'd be obsessed with my friends, and then I'd "grow out" of that and get married and live with a partner. But with every year that passes I just want to be wrapped up in the intimacy of friendship. I want big nights, quiet nights, sleepovers, I want to hold each other up, I want it all. I think the world around us isn't really built to quench the thirst I have for big, intimate friendship. This song is about that.
Congratulations is about the grief I've felt growing up and saying goodbye to those big friendships as your life paths separate and you begin to feel like you live in different worlds. I wanted to capture the feeling underneath those words we offer for those milestones, when deep down you know the words are hollow, because all you can feel is the rug being ripped out from under you. While It's You I'm Here For is that feeling of ecstasy in being wrapped up in your friends, Congratulations is the ache you feel in the pit of your tummy when you feel your lives moving further away from each other. It made sense to open it with these improvised vocal parts. If we hadn't have been in the middle of the pandemic, I would have got a choir together to record them, but it actually fit so much better with the loneliness I wanted to capture in the song - just me alone, recording 10 or so different "ooh" parts, on my iPhone in the middle of winter in 2020.
Be Here til I'm Not
I wrote this song when I was really, really lonely in 2020. It was during lockdown, in winter, and it was capturing that feeling when you're completely single and you realise that you're not really anyone's "person" and you kind of just have to face life and death alone. My best friend had left the city so I couldn't even see her, and all of my other friends had intimate partners, so I would just walk around the Merri Creek alone, thinking and crying. To me that period was a really stark reminder of the ways we prioritise and place value on romantic relationships versus all others. The other thing I did during that period was invest a lot of time in the studio, making music and practicing my production skills. I usually write the chords and song structure in our songs, and add samples and instrumental parts, but I rarely have a go at drum parts because that's definitely Andy's expertise. But I started this track with the drums and was so excited when Andy said we should keep all the drum parts I wrote, and that they didn’t really need any more work. So this song was the intersection of all of these things, during a time that was very scary and lonely. When I hear it now, I still feel my chest tighten, feeling incredibly proud of myself, as well as really sad for that version of who I was/am.
Shame was written at the point of grieving a relationship when I was really struggling to work out where my apologies should end and the other person's should begin. I think we tend to place much more emotional care and attention towards relationships ending when it's an intimate partner, but for me this was a shift in a friendship that felt like it changed me just as irrevocably as a romantic connection would have. This song was my attempt to integrate all of the shame I felt in not being able to "fix" how they saw me, and come to terms with the pain I felt about our connection ending. I genuinely write so many songs just as a diary entry, for me to read over and over and try to process and reach some point of catharsis. Musically Andy and I worked painstakingly on this track, trying to underpin the R&B/pop song structure with more of a drum & bass instrumental sensibility. We both just really wanted the production to match the way the lyrics "hit" - to invoke the right balance between shame and hurt alongside this sense of "release".
Make You Proud
Musically I began this song inspired by the way Erika de Casier uses orchestral instrumentation in her song No Butterflies No Nothing - with sparkles of woodwind instruments and orchestral percussion like timpani. The other major influence for this track is Destiny's Child. While you may not hear it straight away, the vocals and production was inspired by their track Bills Bills Bills - with the chopped up synthetic harpsichord and syncopated drums that make it sound kind of disorienting. The song itself is about reaching a point of desperation with someone you love, where you feel like you've done everything you can to try to repair things and it just isn't working. Again, it's about a friendship rather than romantic love, and the kind of crisis that you reach when you realise that the other person just isn't committed to the relationship in the same way that you are. I am really into transformative justice principles of generative conflict and accountability and have spent the last few years reading about and sitting with these ideas. So when I was faced with a conflict and real relationship breakdown, it surprised me just how much it hurt. Like you can read and listen to as many podcasts as you like about accountability and repair, but if the other person isn't up for it, you kind of just have to accept that you might not work it out, you might not ever be validated by the other person. That's what this song is about.
Still Be Someone
This song is the interlude on the album, and it's essentially an affirmation to myself about still being a person of value even if I don't ever end up in a romantic relationship. Through my twenties I feel like I've witnessed this shift where someone's romantic status becomes linked to their sense of worth and growth as a person. It feels like there is this subtext behind the way we engage with people's romantic life, as though the ultimate goal is to be partnered, progressing to the stage of living alone with that person - and as though this trajectory is an indication of how much love they have in their life. Throughout the few years of writing this album I was totally single, and I found myself building the most nourishing world of love that I've ever experienced - in friendships and community. We don't live in a culture where people will be congratulated or celebrated for things like building an amazing sharehouse, practicing mutual aid, or sustaining friendships that feel like the love of your life. They will never be celebrated the same way they would when you meet your new crush, or move in with someone, or get married. So this track is a meditation on those ideas, a commitment to valuing my relationships differently and not through this hierarchy. Throughout the track you can hear samples I recorded of my Dad and I walking through the bush in the Northern Rivers/Bundjalung Country. I added these samples alongside a bunch of orchestral instruments like oboe and clarinet and strings to create this thick texture that is rich and beautiful. I wanted the sound to reflect how "single life" can feel - rich and lush and FULL - even though we're continually taught that it feels the opposite.
Hit It Hard
We created this track intending for it to be the fun, simple pop song of the record. I wrote it when I was in Europe, trying to party my existential angst away. It's kind of about being desperate to escape yourself, and hoping that taking yourself away will fix your pain or repair whatever's broken. But ultimately as we all know, "wherever you go, there you are". In the end, producing the song to its final state was actually incredibly difficult, we went through so many different stages of what we thought this track would/could be. I still feel really unsure of how listeners will hear this song, but I'm really proud of where it's ended up - it's a marker of this period of my life where I think I was dying to be hedonistic and “cool” and ultimately it was just a total failure, haha.
The title track from our first album, Low Grade Buzz, is one of my favourite songs I've ever written and one that I never get sick of playing. My Limits is kind of the follow up track to Low Grade Buzz, stemming from the same location: the feeling I describe as the Sunday arvo blues. It's sentimental, nostalgic and existential, which I guess are my top three moods. It's just a raw journal entry really, capturing me figuring out my limits - the limits of what I'm capable of, how much I can give, how much I can take. I wrote it years ago when I was in Berlin, on the same trip when I wrote Hit It Hard and Undertage. My dear friend Roy and I blew all our money on a fancy Airbnb that had a magnificent old piano - there was only one bed, but I was happy to sacrifice a bed for a piano, and I slept on the couch for weeks. I sat in that beautiful apartment and came up with the melody that repeats through the chorus of the song, and I just played it over and over and over on the piano, while I wrote in my notebook about what was in my head and heart at the time. A few weeks later as a band we flew over to Italy to play a music festival there, and we spent a day jumping off the rocks straight into the ocean in Sicily. I recorded the sounds that day on my phone and really wanted them to be part of this song as another way of representing the nostalgia I was already feeling about that time. You can hear the ocean from the moment the track starts, and the sounds of kids splashing around yelling to each other. Just like Low Grade Buzz, it was a really important "project" of a song for me, in that it distills all of the highs and lows of the whole record - and of my life really - into just a few minutes of a song.
- Elspeth Scrine, February 2023