First published on 12 Jun 2012. Updated on 13 Jun 2012.
For a band that’s been without a debut album for six years, the Laurels have developed a pretty solid rep: they were finalists for ‘Best Live Music Act’ at the FBi SMAC Awards in 2011 and have consistently sold out gigs across NSW. This month they’ll cement that rep with the long-in-development LP, Plains.
Featuring guitarists/vocalists Luke O’Farrell and Piers Cornelius, bassist Connor Hannan and drummer Kate Wilson, and hailing from all over Australia – Kate’s from Sydney, Piers is a Perth native, Luke’s from Wollongong and Connor from Canberra – the band formed in 2006 after meeting through mutual friends at “a silly hat party” and decided to make Lewisham their base.
They've toured solidly for six years with a huge live show and a shitload of guitar pedals, and released their first EP, Mesozoic, in 2011. But a lack of funds made it seem they might never get a full-length record out. When they finally drummed up the moolah, Mother Nature looked like she’d stand in the way too.
While recording Plains in early 2012 in a makeshift farmhouse studio in rural New South Wales – producer Liam Judson’s technique for recording which the band were totally down for – the rain came a-pourin’ down. Gathering water in a causeway might have streamed in and destroyed the band’s gear and master tapes were it not for Judson’s “heroics”.
“Liam didn’t want to get his pants wet,” says Luke. “So to try and gauge the level of the water he walked out there in his underpants and determined that it was safe enough to drive across and got back in the car without his pants on.” The band is quick to point out the water was only up to his mid-shins – their hero was just eager to get his kit off.
Despite the obstacles and rescues, Plains came together beautifully. It provides a unique spin on the live sound they’ve cultivated so well over the years. While opener and first single ‘Tidal Wave’ will please fans of their shows – its wall-of-sound guitars drill and sweep over you – ‘Changing the Timeline’ sees the guys up the tempo with a poppy number that fans of the group's usual psychedelic shoegaze sound may not be used to but will still love. Wilson’s dynamic, pounding drums and Hannan’s propulsive bass lines are preserved amid a bouncy ’60s vibe that makes you want to dance more than stare at your feet.
Plains sees the Laurels moving away from the “just a live band” tag with a considered, thought-out set of tracks that take inspiration from bands like Telescopes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Luke and Kate actually participated in Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner’s Opera House show 41 Strings, an experience that left them both inspired to explore the intricacies of their respective instruments.
Still, live shows will likely remain the Laurels’ greater passion – and surveying the Sydney live music scene, it pains them to witness the demise of many of the great venues.
“I miss the Hoey,” says Kate. “It transcends nostalgia. That was a truly great place. We wouldn’t have these bigger gigs if we didn’t have the smaller ones at the beginning.”
“They hated us at first” adds Luke, laughing. “[Hopetoun owner] Pete Kelly, who’s a good friend of ours now, used to tell us to shut the fuck up.”
“Maybe we got better,” suggests Kate. We’re pretty sure she’s right.
Plains is due out on Fri Jul 13 through Rice is Nice.
The Laurels play the Rice is Nice Party Sun Jul 1.