Finding Calm In A Restless House
To make their debut album, City Calm Down had to first settle their own restless house.
Header image: City Calm Down at Jack Rabbit Slim's by Matsu Photography.
"When I said to the band I was going to take that job I was thinking, ‘This is too big a risk to continue doing’, because I couldn’t see how we could get an outcome out of this that could be positive. So in the end I decided not to take a risk but take the job." So says lead singer of City Calm Down, Jack Bourke, as he explains how becoming a lawyer finally helped finish an album three years in the making. Bourke’s choice to lay down the completion date as when his new job started - March 2015 - would go on to make the release possible. "From July 2014, working to a nine-month time limit on the album, we got cracking and wrote 80% of the album."
The resulting record is City Calm Down’s debut LP, In A Restless House, to be released this coming Friday 6 November, and his decision to finally take that lawyer's job, "probably the best thing that could have happened to the band".
To understand why we did end up waiting such a long time for City Calm Down's first album, you need to go back to where all stories start; the beginning. Originally forming in 2008 in Bourke’s bedroom with Sam Mullaly on keys, Jeremy Sonnenberg on bass, Michael Quirk on drums and Bourke as lead singer, it was dummer Quirk who crafted the majority of the songs prior to signing to label I OH YOU, with Bourke writing lyrics. 2010 saw the independent release of an EP followed by a two-track EP in 2012, intriguing the mastermind behind I OH YOU, Johann Ponniah. Quirk and Bourke’s efforts on raw forms of Pleasure & Consequence and Dare were raising City Calm Down’s profile but "…when I OH YOU approached us I think he [Quirk] felt it was the end of the road and left the band. That created a hole in our songwriting because he was writing a lot of the instrumental arrangements."
Given the departure of Quirk you'd be forgiving if the band broke down, but on the outside everything appeared fine as they brought on Lee Armstrong as their new drummer and released their second EP, Movements, to considerable hype. Indeed, this post-punk-homaging band crossed with the euphoric-but-stark tones of a Reagan-shaped 80s saw Australian critics throwing them onto a whole heap of 2012 ‘Bands To Watch’ listicles. And it was at this time, with hopes riding high in the band, that Bourke was offered a job as a lawyer. But with the recent I OH YOU signing and some well-received tracks under their belt, Bourke put off the position until 2014.
^ City Calm Down in 2015.
As they began sitting down for their debut album the writing approach shifted towards a more collective process. These sessions produced Speak To No End and Pavement but as Bourke explains, "We were writing songs we liked but nowhere near at the speed we wanted to. A good song would come along every three months or so... maybe." Indeed, it seems the creative hole they had seemingly avoided was in fact still there. "When we came to the album we were in flux. We had one brand new member and the rest of us needed to work out how we would interact together. So it was about balancing egos and trying to leave space for people to be able to discuss their point of view."
All this uncertainty stemmed from a lack of trust within the band, but lack of time together wasn’t the issue. They had, in one way or another, been working together for three days a week over two years recording on Philip Island just south of Melbourne, at Barry’s Reef in rural Victoria and the Bakehouse Studio in central Melbourne. Come 2014 Bourke again delayed an offer to work that resulted in his employer asking him if he really wanted the job at all. "And I said to everyone in the band, 'We are going at such a slow pace, this has to change. I’m accepting this job in March 2015 and as of then I won’t be able to put as much time as I’m currently putting in.'
"The way I saw it we were never going to get it done so we needed to stick a fire up peoples' arses to get them agreeing on things." And that watershed moment within the band broke down the ‘fractious’ mood that saw them "…struggling to finish the songs because each of us was exercising a veto power over songs or parts of songs that we didn't like, even when the other three members were feeling really positive about them."
And from there Bourke states simply, "We got cracking". The album that came together was markedly different from their earlier new wave-esque Movements EP. Built away from computers this album takes the best moments of that EP's grand synthesisers and throws in a stronger focus on guitars. Indeed, guitars prove far more pivotal in songs like Border On Control where the licks gently tease out the synths into an epic chorus in ways City Calm Down have never done before. Time has also given Bourke’s vocal style an intimate yet defiant depth in songs like If There’s A Light On or Falling, so that you want to stick around just to hear him belt them out...
...and now leave understanding the complexities that came with In A Restless House, one of this country's most assured, and exciting debut albums in a long time.
You can pre-order In A Restless House and check upcoming tour dates via City Calm Down's WEBSITE.