Huntly interview each other on their debut album, Alanis Morissette and jazz music
The Melbourne electronic trio share their debut album - Low Grade Buzz - today, ahead of shows this May.
Header photo by Phoebe Schmidt.
We've talked a fair bit about Melbourne trio Huntly over the years, whether it be back in the days of their debut EP, 2016's Feel Better or Stop Trying, or the consistent run of top-tier singles they've put out on the journey to their first album, Low Grade Buzz. Over the last twelve months, the three-piece have stepped forward as one of Australian electronic's most versatile and dynamic acts, switching between sounds and textures as they move from single to single, putting as Stereogum aptly-described as an "artful spin on mainstream pop." There was Drop Gear, a drum-and-bass-inspired twist on subtle electro-pop that combined the soothing vocals of Elspeth with a thick production lush with percussive layers; Wiggle, a bright and upbeat pop tune that oozed with an unexplored polish and slickness that since release, has proved almost addictive; the title-track, Low Grade Buzz, a warped, glitching slow-burner built fundamentally around Elspeth's soulful groove; and Giving Circle on top of that too.
Now, Low Grade Buzz arrives in its full glory and with it, brings even more versatility. The soft, album-opener SMU is almost a capella, stripped right back to its most haunting and emotive. Reckoning brings together gospel choirs and bubbly R&B in a shimmering, three-minute-thirty masterclass. Wait (37 degrees) shifts the focus away from Elspeth with twisted low-octave vocals meeting a spiralling and dominative drum-and-bass loop, while Dusk's two parts range from gleaming R&B to rough, industrial techno. Low Grade Buzz is essentially a look-in on one of our electronic scene's most masterful and perhaps over-looked names, giving dynamism and range while creating something intimate and personal.
"The feelings driving these songs range from the unsettling and existential, to the hopeful and emancipatory, to guilt, rage and pain," says Elspeth on the release, doubling down on the band's mantra to make "doof you can cry to." "They tell stories of queerness and identity, of relationships shifting or dissolving, of trying to do good in the world, of navigating emotions, power and responsibility." It's a remarkable album and with a pair of album release shows planned for Sydney and Melbourne this May - more details below - there's no better time than now to familiarise yourself with what may just be one of Australian electronic's most surprisingly brilliant albums for the year. Do so, while you read an interview between the trio's vocalist/lyricist Elspeth and percussionist/producer Andy, who interview each other on jazz, first impressions, and Pitchfork reviews.
Andy: What was the first music you heard that made you think 'I want to make that?' And when did you start to think this was actually achievable?
El: That is so easy. ALANIS MORISETTE - JAGGED LITTLE PILL and HANSON - MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. They were my two first CDs I owned and they still go off. I wanted to write a breakup song as angry as You Oughta Know by Alanis, even though I was like seven years old. And I wanted to write a song that captured existential angst like Hanson’s song Weird, even though they were like seven years old when they were singing it. I didn’t really ever think it was achievable though, because I spent most of high school and uni thinking I would only ever participate on the sidelines of music.
El: My turn now! So, we wrote We Made It in the living room of our house on George St in Fitzroy, at the beginning of 2015. Aside from being this song about our bestie who was moving away to go to acting school, it was kind of our first official ‘release’ as Huntly, and when I finally figured out how to get our tracks up on Spotify, it did really well. What do you think it is about that song that made people want to listen to it, literally MILLIONS of times?
Andy: While being an oh-so-coveted “chill beat”, it’s also incredibly euphoric and affirming. And so relatable - anyone can repurpose “We made it, we made it, we made it” for literally anything (haha). I remember some friends saying they sung it all together once after a huge hike up a mountain.
El: Haha yes they sent us a video of it :’)
Andy: Also the classic Huntly manifesto of days past, where we’d introduce an entirely different new section at what should probably have been the end of the song, it really paid off with We Made It - chill beats become off-kilter techno, and the euphoria really kicks in.
Andy: Your approach to songwriting sometimes involves frequent complex chord changes, because you LOVE JAZZ (?!). What is your favourite chord progression on this album, and what emotions does it evoke? Also, how did you find it experimenting with minimalism in terms of chord progressions during the writing of this album?
El: OMG cool question, thank you for this - gonna go to the piano and play through some of them to confirm the answer, BRB...
Ok, so one hilarious thing I realised is how DIFFERENT Wiggle turned out from the original - the chords I wrote originally make it sound like a jazz-lounge-piano-bar kind-of song! I’m really glad we stripped that one back so much. My favourite low key simple progression is on Low Grade Buzz, the track. It’s just simple and kind of aching, which is what the song’s about. My favourite complicated progression is in Reckoning, in the first verse. All those minor 7th and major 7th chords evoke the complicated, building, rush of feelings I had when I knew I was about to get broken up with - which is what that one's about.
El: When you think back to when we met at the end of 2011, what do you feel? Do you remember how we talked about music, and what your first impressions were? Sometimes I think about how Huntly probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for those conversations.
Andy: I remember talking about James Blake, who we still talk about to this very day. His music was definitely a big influence on what I thought Huntly could be in our early days, so I feel like our early conversations about our musical intersections definitely set up the framework for what we wanted to do together. I have thought often about how crazy it is that our lives are now this intertwined simply because your friend Isaac came up to me on a beach in India, and asked, 'Hey, are you Australian?'
Andy: In SMU (the opening track of the album), you speak about having to “fully flesh this... a project of documentation”. What were you wanting to document lyrically in this album? Do you feel like you achieved it? Is there more documentation to come on these themes, or has writing and completing these songs helped you process these ideas?
El: Yep I did it, it’s fully fleshed and now I’m done. Nah I don’t know… I remember when we were talking about what the album was for us; that it was some kind of a time capsule of our lives. But I’m also aware of how self-important art can be in that way... like who really cares about these three Melbourne idiots in their 20s going on and on about their lives? I guess the thing is that we do care about each other’s lives a lot, so it was about documenting them, maybe just for us. Also, I needed to write the final couple of breakup songs about that one relationship, the last ones I knew I would ever have to write. So I could move on and write new songs about other topics, like death and dread and my PhD and taxes. I guess the next album will be a project of documentation about those things haha.
El: If you think about all the songs on the album and subtract your own part from it, leaving all the other parts, which would be your favourite song, and why?
Andy: Honestly it’s impossible to choose a favourite. But both of your and Charlie’s melodies in Wiggle are superb. And some lyrics that have always stood out to me are “in the places that remind you that you’re actually on a planet” (Vitamin) and “when my labour outweighs enjoyment, I hold on to all my disappointment” (Dusk Pt. 2) which spoke deeply to me at the time.
El: We made this album in so many different stages. Sometimes jamming songs together, sometimes one of us bringing them more fully formed. Then we spent heaps of time on our own in your shed studio, then a few days recording more profesh in the big fancy studio… then back to your shed to get it all together, then mixing with Haima, it was a huuuuuge process hey? I feel like I was always trying to rush it, and you were trying to tell me to slow down and enjoy it - like always haha. Which part of it all do you reckon you enjoyed the most, and which did you just hate?
A: The only times I hated the process was when I had been way too close to the songs for too long and didn’t feel inspired by them anymore. This honestly happened to every song at some point during the process. But also the parts I enjoyed most were when I felt connected to the song and wholeheartedly proud of it - whether that came from someone nailing a vocal take, having revolutionised a beat somehow, or hearing our babies fully realised for the first time!
El: What would be your biggest dream to come out of this album? Like one, tangible thing that you’d most love to happen after we release next month?
A: Obviously being able to play our music live across the world would be a hugely exciting prospect. But I was recently thinking about people being able to now discover our music on the internet and form very personal relationships with it. Having been that listener so many times, I’m so thrilled that it is the music we have worked so hard on that people can now discover for themselves. Also an 8+ on Pitchfork pls (lol).
El: God we are so desperate for a Pitchfork review hey.
Saturday, 4 May - Golden Age, Sydney
Thursday, 9 May -Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
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