The Evolution Of Last Dinosaurs
Overcoming the sophomore album with Last Dinosaurs' Sean Caskey.
Fresh off the release of Evie, their first single in three years, Sean Caskey of Last Dinosaurs has a lot to say about their new album, immortality, and the halcyon days of the Brisbane music scene.
Evie’s release, three years after Last Dinosaurs’ debut album, In A Million Years, comes along at the end of "A fucking long process," as Caskey puts it. Caskey, the lead singer and principle songwriter of the band, says that it was the first song he sat down and wrote after In A Million Years wrapped up, but it’s taken several attempts to get right. "I just never was able to finish it,” he admits, in a casual, expletive-laced interview. "We recorded it and I fucking hated it."
After showing the half-finished demo to his manager while on tour in Europe and hearing the instant praise from him ("That’s a fucking hit."), Caskey pushed on. "I knew what it had to be, but I didn’t know how to get there," struggling under the weight of expectation for a demo that "was literally just the chorus idea and a shithouse verse with no vocals".
It didn’t help that it had been so long since their critically acclaimed and widely adored debut, and Caskey touches on that infamous sophomore struggle. "Trying to recreate something new, something original, something that’s guitary, something melodic, something powerful, trying to do that again; it’s hard sometimes."
This self-doubt is a common and often self-inflicted fixture of the songwriter’s psyche; the sense that your best work is always behind you, while simultaneously creating distance from that old material as the product of a less experienced, and less skilled artist. Caskey agrees. “I’ve always had that. When I was younger, I would be like ‘Fucking hell, I’m never going to be able to write another Honolulu’ but now feel like I’ve probably written heaps of better songs. They’re not ‘radio’ songs, but they’re songs that are just better in general: artistically better."
"We recorded it and I fucking hated it."
Based on fan and critical feedback, Caskey has nothing to worry about. With a combined 100,000 plays across YouTube and Soundcloud alone in a little over two weeks, and near uninterrupted rotation on Triple J, Evie and the band’s return has been welcomed with open arms by an ecstatic fan base eager for more.
The single’s more electronic leanings are a good indication of the new album’s direction. "I like to write a lot of guitar by midi. I’ll just actually program the guitar parts in a synth and then I’ll just like transpose it to a guitar later," Caskey explains. "But I’ve ended up just keeping some of them as synths, as they are, and running it through a Juno 106, which is the classic Mac Demarco/Kevin Parker synth."
This synth-heavy approach could be a reflection of a music fan’s naturally developing tastes. The band has gone from Bloc Party-referencing, Foals-supporting teenagers, to chillwave aficionados. "I was listening to more chillwave sort of stuff," Caskey says. "Not just Toro y Moi and Washed Out, but one band in particular is Mr. Twin Sister. I listen to them a lot, they’re very different to what we do but I just love their stylistic approach." He elaborates on Mr. Twin Sister’s direction: "It’s just like, ‘if this song sounds a little bit like this, it’s just like ok, let’s fully make it sound like this’." And the spirit of these influences and that full commitment to an aesthetic is already present in Evie’s synthy washes of sound and its warped, watery artwork.
Caskey is still first and foremost a solitary writer. "It’s like, someone has an idea of a landscape that they want to paint, and it’s really beautiful and it’s all in their head and they’re trying to tell four people how to paint it; it’s never ever going to turn out how you want it," he says. "I think the better you are, at being a musician and recording, the closer you can get to that final picture."
However he readily states that each member of the band has a role to play in the creation of a song. "I’ll have that concept, and then Dan (Koyama, drums) will change the colours a little bit, and Lach (Caskey, guitarist) will just do a little bit more shading or do all of the outlines and the detail, like everyone has their little job; their little twist to improve the actual picture."
Caskey has spoken before about his idea of immortality, and the notion of immortality existing in the way others remember us for what we have done and whom we have affected. In a medium that is so much about self-expression and self-indulgence, this outward-looking perspective is an interesting one. "I think a good goal is to try and just be remembered in some way, or even if not remembered, just try to be impactful on some people, as others have been impactful on me," he says.
"Trying to recreate something new, something original, something that’s guitary, something melodic, something powerful, trying to do that again; it’s hard sometimes."
This effort to connect with others, to be impactful, could be a part of the band’s secret in crafting memorable live experiences for their massive audience. Caskey continues to tell the story of a battle of the bands he judged with fellow Brisbane musician Alfio Alivuzza of The Cairos. "The winner was this ridiculous metal band, but they were fucking amazing, because what they did was like pure, pure conviction," he recalls. "The singer, he was fucking amazing [laughs]. He looked like he was from the 80s, singing like Jack Black, fully looking everyone in the eyes, doing all these funny movements. It was great cause he just did it with everything he had."
Caskey’s approach to the performance side of the band has changed for the better as they have progressed. "I realised that there is a difference between a proper performance, and just playing a show," he admits. "When the people are jumping around is when you’re singing from the heart, so to speak. Like, it’s real, they can see it’s real."
These revelations come off the back of three years of touring the world, from South Africa to Japan, and Caskey is still in disbelief over the opportunities and exposure the band has received. Speaking of their first Indonesian festival experience, Caskey highlights this surreal treatment of Last Dinosaurs. "We see one of the Universal merch tents and the whole wall was just a big printout of our faces, and we were so, so confused, it was just like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Like, of all the bands on the festival, why is it our faces?" he laughs. This response, in a market that’s typically a mystery to western bands, has been a boon to Last Dinosaurs.
"When the people are jumping around is when you’re singing from the heart, so to speak...they can see it’s real."
Despite this worldwide exposure, Caskey still has a soft spot for his hometown, Brisbane, and the band’s formative years. Often mentioning his friends in bands such as Dune Rats, Millions, and The Cairos, Caskey takes time to reflect on those early years of the group. "Someone would write a pretty good song and someone would try and beat that song, there was that competitive nature in between bands," he says. "That’s what I love, like, Gung Ho would make an awesome song and I’d be like ‘Fuck I’ve gotta step up my game'. And I’d work hard on trying to make a better song than that, and I think they’d try and do the same thing."
But Caskey laments the recent loss of key live venues and club nights in his town, which is something of an Australia-wide epidemic. "It’s just bullshit, because that’s where everything starts," he bemoans. "We all sort of started at the same point where there was just so many shows going on. We had a lot of chances to sharpen our skills and our show."
Looking forward, Last Dinosaurs are keen to get the band back on the road and in front of audiences for their Evie tour this June and July. They’re tearing up Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in the lead up to their Splendour In The Grass festival appearance at the end of July.
Caskey stresses there’s going to be a healthy mix of fan favourites and brand new material when we see them in the coming months, brimming with the confidence and excitement of an artist that’s been itching to get back on stage and stuck in our heads.
Last Dinosaurs Evie 2015 Australian Tour begins June 20, dates are below (click the pic to go to the Facebook event and grab tickets):