The graceful maturation of San Cisco: “We’re getting old.”
As they reach into their 30s, San Cisco are growing up, and their new record Between You and Me shows how to do it gracefully.
Header image by Toni Wilkinson.
San Cisco’s infectious, grin-inducing bops have reigned supreme for years since the release of Awkward, a true accomplishment when you think of the curse that so often comes with having an early single morph into a viral sensation. A platinum single, ARIA nominations, hitting the elusive top 10 in triple j’s Hottest 100, major ad campaigns - all nudging towards a level of quick success that sees some artists fade away as quickly as they appeared.
However, the long-time West Australian favourites have proved that they're anything but a fad. Instead, the Fremantle band have risen to the occasion time and time again, from the swinging Fred Astaire to the bouncy Too Much Time Together, to everything between and beyond. Now, 2020 sees San Cisco step into their next phase: addictive pop that still has all the bells and whistles as before, but now with the light-heartedness of a band that’s reached their late-twenties and have never felt so comfortable within themselves.
Between You and Me - the group's forth album, arriving last week - sees San Cisco ditch their early kitsch in favour of tongue-in-cheek, often meta, humour. Take Messages for example, a track pulled from the album that was loosely inspired by drummer Scarlett Stevens not replying to frontman Jordi Davieson’s text about coming over to write said song, and how they place it comparatively to Shine, a single that brings the signature San Cisco glitz and glam but in a way that disguises deeper lyricism underneath, specifically a grim relationship breakdown and loss of self.
Now a three-piece, Between You and Me is grounded in the experiences of Stevens, Davieson and guitarist Josh Biondillo as they reach their 30s, not just as a band that have come a long way since debuting as fresh-faced teens still in high school when they initially formed, but also as the people behind it - the stories, experiences, emotions and intersection of all of these that come together to form their often-quirky lyricism, and the reflection that comes with maturing and growing older.
That isn't to say that San Cisco have grown boring. In fact, it's anything but. Between You and Me proves that a band can evolve and grow without losing their trademark charm, doing so by extending themselves into new areas, rather than jumping head-first into something that in real life, doesn't reflect how they're aging themselves. Aside from the trademark San Cisco sheen which shines through its glimmering production, each song is firmly rooted in a level of sophistication and wisdom that they affirm could’ve only been reached at this point in time after slogging away, both professionally and personally.
It's nuanced and reflective when it needs to be, but fun and tongue-in-cheek when it doesn't. There are moments that capture the passion and energy that have become trademark of the band since their debut, and others which show how this passion and energy is starting to evolve, and come through in different ways. It circles around relationships - lamenting ones that got away, flirting with ones that never happened - but in a way that doesn't so much disguise their themes or poke fun at it like they may have in the past, as much as it does show how they've grown from them; as genuine and authentic as it can be whilst tapping into the lives of almost anyone and everyone transitioning through their twenties.
In one of the toughest years in recent memory, San Cisco are continuing to forge ahead with confidence and acceptance that everything is going to be alright, and they’re doing it with style. That's how you 'grow old' gracefully, and Between You and Me shows that San Cisco know how to do it without losing what makes them them.
Image by Pooneh Ghana.
Between You and Me feels more rounded than anything you’ve released before. How do think San Cisco has grown since the Awkward days?
Scarlett: Well, I think we're all coming to the pointy end of our 20s and the shine and glamour of the early 20s has worn off, and we're getting old. I think the album reflects that, but in the best way possible. It's a more mature sound, it's more considered [and there’s] more space in the songs.
Jordi: I think we had to be more constant in our songwriting-
Scarlett: And that's kind of what you get with becoming an adult.
There are still parts of the album that are the same San Cisco we know and love though. Catchy little one-liners, bubbly choruses… you really are masters of the hook. When you’re in the process of writing a song and you write that main hook, then step away for lunch or whatever, do you often find yourself singing along to your own song?
Jordi: Yeah, after a day in the studio, when you go to bed and you can't stop singing a song that you've been working on all day. That's like pretty hellish! You wake up the next day singing it… you know it's good, if you're doing that.
Scarlett: There were also songs on the record like Reasons, and when we got that to a place where it was pretty much a fully formed song, we were so pumped on it. We were [always] like, play the banger!
Jordi: We just kept playing it, like we'd be working on a song and just be like, this is shit, play the good song!
Scarlett: To remind ourselves that we can-
Jordi: That we can still make a pop song.
Surely even just the fact you had a song voted as one of the best in triple j’s Hottest 100 of the Decade would’ve been a confidence boost. You know how to write a pop song.
Jordi: I think we do. Yeah, we know how to write a pop song. It's just all very instinctual for us; we don't know the math behind the pop song. But when we're like, on it, we can do a good job of it.
Scarlett: Yeah, we don't have a set way of writing really. So, a lot of it is kind of… not really left to chance, but a lot of it is at the same time.
Jordi: I think we're not super confident, but then when we're doing it and things are working, we're like, yeah, we are good at this.
Has there been anyone that you, collectively, have been listening to that inspired the way that you've been writing or the kind of sounds that you wanted for this album?
Scarlett: Definitely listening to Fleetwood Mac and cheesy 70s classics, and also going through a lot of those more country guitar sounds. Just more organic sounding instrumentation and recording.
Jordi: I think I think all three of us separately, always go to similar places for references - except you. Scarlett actually throws in some pretty random one sometimes that like, I would never pick but takes the songs somewhere really different. I think as a group, we all always kind of go to Haim as like a bit of a reference of how they do things.
Scarlett: I really like what they do with their vocals and percussion, and the rhythms are cool. I guess a lot of their inspo comes from Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, old rock n roll.
I think you can definitely hear the reference to Haim in the harmonies and how layered the songs are. Do you feel like you’ve looked at the album with a bit more of a critical eye to get those textures perfect?
Jordi: No, I think we just spent more time on it. The writing process took ages, [it] never stopped really. Coming up with the bones of the song took quite a while and then we demoed for ages, then when we went to Mullumbimby for a month, we had already had like 24 pretty formed demos. We already tried so many different things that we kind of knew we could really like, cut it down to what we wanted and where we wanted to take the song. So, we were able to really focus on all the minute details and really hone in.
Scarlett: Yeah, and I think on the last album, we would finish a song and then go, oh, yeah, that's good enough. This album was a bit different. There were songs that we weren't really sure if they were sitting right, and then we took them back to Freo and worked with different people to get them sounding right. We didn't really give up on any songs. We really pushed ourselves.
Jordi: Well, we gave up on a couple. [laughs] There’s a couple of songs on a hard drive but we might go back to them.
Does that often happen? Have you ever been able to salvage something originally left on the cutting board?
Scarlett: When I Dream was a song that came off the cutting board!
Jordi: Yeah, When I Dream lived on a hard drive for like three years [before] our assistant manager Harris was like, guys, you've got to finish this song. So, we finished it and released it. Then the beginning of that big tour we did with Ball Park Music - the way that that song got received by our fans - I think was sort of the porthole for us into this record, and the songs that are on this record.
Well, When I Dream has been out for a little while and appeared on your taster EP before Between You And Me. How did you keep that feeling fresh and timeless?
Scarlett: I think it kind of gets a second run on Between You And Me, and it needed to be on that record because it was kind of the impetus for the album and the album sounds. Just knowing that you can kind of have an acoustic song that people connect to and it doesn't have to be all about big pop sounds, even though it is a pop song, it’s kind of got those more natural elements to it. And we always thought that you can't have a big pop song with an acoustic guitar.
Jordi: Yeah, we were a bit scared to venture into that world. But it works and also it just sounds good on the record. But we did talk about it, like is it too old to put on the record? We [ended up being] like nah, it all makes sense. It all fits and I think without that song, the record wouldn't be like the way it is. So, it should be on there.
Scarlett: It kind of, lyrically, sets the theme for the album as well: assessing all the relationships around you and re-assessing friendships, and that sort of thing. It ended up being quite a big thing.
Do you think there’s one main takeaway from the album about relationships?
Scarlett: I think as you get older, and you're getting to the end of your 20s, everything’s changing for you and your perspective shifts. You’re assessing, like, what's right in your life and what's working romantically and what's working friendships wise. it's kind of the first time you make those tough decisions.
Jordi: Who do you want in your life? Who don't you want in your life? Maybe thinking a little bit more how your actions affect other people than sort of racing through it all.
Between You And Me is definitely more personal and even a bit meta, say with Messages. Is it true that song is about you both not replying to each other?
Scarlett: It's a little bit tongue in cheek! Yeah, we thought we would tell everyone that we wrote it about each other, but it also touches on other themes: letting go of friendships, but still being happy for that person and wishing them all the best.
Jordi: That's where it went to. The genesis, like the beginning of the song, I started writing because Scarlett wouldn't respond to my message. I wanted her to come write on this song and she wouldn't, so I was like fine I’ll just start singing about that. Then it did very much turn into something a lot deeper.
What’s the band dynamic like when almost everyone’s the singer?
Scarlett: It works really well.
Jordi: Like Josh usually really hooks into the harmonies.
Scarlett: Yeah, he's got an ear for harmonies and melody. At the start of an album, like making the album, I'm not gonna sing anything. And then the further into it I get, I'm like give me the mic! It always happens at the end, I want to sing everything. It's like karaoke when everyone gets really drunk and the person who was really shy finds their voice and wants to sing everything.
What do you want people to know about Between You And Me?
Jordi: That we are quite passionate about this album, like, we are really proud of it all, every song on it. And I think it'd be a great record to put on if you're going for a long drive.
Scarlett: And take a long, hard look-
Jordi: Yeah take a long, hard look at yourself and the people around you.
San Cisco's new album, Between You and Me, is out now. Catch them launch the record at Fremantle Arts Centre on October 30th, supported by Stella Donnelly & Adrian Dzvuke.
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