Monday, May 13, 2013

RUNNING WILD: An interview with Super Wild Horses

In which ANDY HAZEL looks for clues as Amy Franz and Hayley McKee aka Melbourne garage rock duo SUPER WILD HORSES talk the Melbourne Sound, and explain why they recorded their new album Crosswords in winter, in a butter factory.

When Super Wild Horses first appeared in 2009, pushed into playing their first gig by an insistent friend, Amy Franz and Hayley McKee were high-school friends had no interest in forming a band. Now both small business operators (McKee runs Sticky Fingers bakery and Franz is a jewellery wholesaler), the duo still don’t feel like a ‘real’ band.
‘It was only when I moved to Melbourne, which was six years ago, that I said ‘let’s have a little jam’,’ says McKee. ‘Amy had equipment in her house and we pulled it together and thought we’d give it a go. I bought a drum kit before I moved because I really wanted to play drums, but I sold them for my ticket to Melbourne so I literally had them for about a week,’ she laughs.
‘We’ve both grown up around music and were latecomers to making music,’ says Franz. ‘I would say that we both have a sense of music understanding, but in terms of practice it’s a more recent thing.’
While a lot of friends decide that forming a band would be a cool idea, very few are still going two albums down the track, with one US tour in the bag, another on the horizon and still without an idea of what makes them special. ‘Maybe not aspiring to anything other than making music?’ McKee suggests carefully. ‘We want to do our best for ourselves and to learn new things, but there’s no way we ever went: ‘let’s form a band’.
‘Or make records,’ adds Franz reflexively.
‘Yeah, we were just fucking around and it’s been heaps of fun,’ says McKee. Franz expands on this sense of fun and freedom that Super Wild Horses channel. ‘We’ve always been open to things as they come and get excited about them, it’s not like things went for or against a plan we had, we’ve travelled a very meandering path. We have a similar idea about what we want and what the band is to us,’ she explains as McKee agrees. ‘There haven’t been the arguments that exist in some other bands where people have got different ideas about what they want; if someone wants to be famous and someone else wants to keep it low key say. We have a pretty similar outlook.’
This similarity of view extends as far as not arguing, at all. Perhaps it’s the maturity and lack of ego inherent in an instrument-swapping female duo, but even the legend of the band forming after ‘a bratty argument in a car’ as one printed story told, is a misnomer. ‘It wasn’t an argument,’ says Franz. ‘We just used to sing in cars, we used to wind the windows up and sing weird songs to make each other laugh.’
‘Just to make each other crack up,’ continues McKee ‘that was the primary objective. I don’t think we’ve ever argued,’ she looks to Franz.
‘No arguments, just silences,’ she laughs. ‘We just wait until the other one is exhausted. Normally, if one of us has a really strong opinion on something, the other will say ‘OK, cool. If you feel really strongly about that, let’s roll with it,’ and the rest of the time we’re both either wishy-washy about something or both really into it, so decision-making is generally pretty easy.’
The decision to record their second album, Crosswords in a butter factory outside of Castlemaine is one both thought was a great idea. Previously used by Twerps and Chet Faker, the cavernous interior lends the album a unifying, natural reverb that Franz sees as a big bonus to the band’s guitar / drums / vocals approach. ‘It’s always going to be a sparse sound, but we wanted it to have warmth with that reverb. Even though people often think of reverb as a distancing effect, I always thought of it as the opposite, there’s something close about that beautiful echo-y sound.’
McKee agrees. ‘We were really conscious of trying to fill the gaps that our first record had, which was just two instruments, two vocals and nothing much in between. This is why we wanted bass on a track or organ to push that sound and make it squishier.’
‘We really like getting out of town to do recording,’ she continues. ‘We like getting away and having the space to just commit, really commit, to this period of time for recording.’
‘I think we’re more comfortable when…actually, we’ve never recorded in a studio,’ realises Franz. ‘We like the idea of being able to set up your gear, go for as long as you want to - stay there preferably - and not have all the things that go with being in a space that belongs to someone else.
‘It would just be weird doing it and then going home in your car,’ says McKee
‘And going home and cleaning your house,’ continues Franz
‘Yeah!’ laughs McKee.
‘And that warehouse shell was great,’ says Franz keenly. ‘We shifted in, we took some pictures with us and stuck them all over the walls. It really felt like our joint for those three days. When I listen to the songs I can recollect the moments we were recording them, because it was very cold. We were doing the vocals at nighttime huddled around this little pot-bellied stove, and it was freezing. We had all of our clothes on plus blankets, three pairs of socks and standing next to this potbelly that was hissing and cracking while we were recording. I think you can still hear it a couple of times on the album. When I listen to the songs I can see Hayley looking like some weird wizard from Lord of the Rings,’ she cracks up.
Crosswords shows an evolution from embracing the limitations that made their debut album Fifteen so popular and made them part of the ‘Melbourne Sound’, a ‘scene’ the band have no problem with.
‘I think inherently there’ll always be a bracket there with us,’ ponders McKee. ‘UV Race, Eddy Current, Mikey Young’ that kind of thing will always be floating round. Eddy Current was a bit before us but we all bubbled away together for a while and now I think it gets referred to as that sound. But I think the Melbourne Sound shifted, it’s more Dick Diver, Twerps, Stevens sort of sound now, whereas before it was more garage DIY. It’s still DIY depending on what you do but it’s always been a bunch of friends just getting together and doing it.’
Franz agrees, ‘I think it’s inevitable that people are going to use reference points when they’re writing about a band that no one’s heard of. You see it in almost every review you ever read: ‘they sound kind of like this band or that band’, and I’m happy to be lumped in with this Melbourne scene in general, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily that specific.’
‘I do think we allowed ourselves time to push songs as much as we could rather than the first record where we could write a song and we were like ‘oh my God, it’s a song, we’ve nearly hit three minutes, this is awesome, let’s have a beer.’ Whereas for this record I was like: What about we do this? What about we push it that way? I know when I listen to the record now, I feel confident that the form we chose for it was the right one for that song. We tried out different things and I feel we found the right one.’
‘Well, I think we could always learn more,’ says McKee.
Franz laughs, ‘that’s going to be the headline. We could always learn more!’

Asking the band to explain the title makes both women act as though they’ve never thought of it before:
‘We both like crosswords, you particularly like crosswords,’ says McKee to Franz.
‘I do yeah,’ she replies.
‘You have for ages, especially those scratchy ones.’
Franz enthusiastically interrupts ‘I DO! I love those scratchy ones, you’re so right I really love them! I also buy these books of crosswords when I go on international flights.’
McKee continues ‘I hate cryptic crosswords.’
‘Oh, I don’t understand them at all,’ says Franz her tone changing abruptly.
McKee switches back to explaining the title ‘What we actually meant was that game Wordfinder, because we had so many ideas for titles. We thought wouldn’t it be funny if we put out a record with all the titles we were thinking of, and have it come with a pencil and people could circle the name they like.’
Franz agrees, ‘we were also going to put in the working titles for songs that weren’t the real titles anymore but it was just a way to put in all these words and people could make of it what they would. But Wordfinder is a weird name for an album. Crosswords has that nice double meaning for us for filling out a crossword and you’re trying to find your way…
Hayley interrupts ‘and the clues you need…and it’s black and white…we could just keep going.
Franz continues ‘and then if you split the word in half it’s like cross, words; there are a lot of songs about relationships and about navigating your way through them, so it had this good double meaning.’

1 comment:

  1. These guys played some gigs with the great Early Woman not too long ago, both great bands that we love over at Happy!