Australia - Full Moon 124 - 11/05/06
Diamond rings and milkshakes - an interview with Conrad Standish
Tindersticks. Cat Power. The Dirty 3 Three bands that not only have influenced Devastations, but three bands as well that the often dark and always passionate Australian trio has toured with in the past. After a self-titled debut album a few years back (an album famously described by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
in Mojo magazine as "the best thing I've heard all year", and named the best debut of 2004 by Rolling Stone Germany), the band dropped the "The" from their name and moved from Melbourne to Berlin, before starting work on their second record. Building on the strength of their first album, the recently released Coal is not much different, just bigger, grander and - better. Devastations will tour the US until mid-November and then continue in Europe in December. Before they left Berlin, singer and bass-player Conrad Standish was kind enough to answer our questions.
Luna K.: What's your definition of "good music"?
Conrad: "Honest music. As long as I feel I can 'trust' the artist in some way, then I'll generally get into it. I don't like hearing songs that you feel have been too carefully considered, either to fit in with fashion or trying to pander to their audience.."
Luna K.: From an outsider's point of view it seems that after your move to Berlin you've lost the "The" in the bandname, but gained a lot on all other fronts. So, no regrets?
Conrad: "No regrets at all. The "The' had become kind of incongruous and it was taking up too much space. And yes, since dropping the "The' things seem to be getting a little better for us. Maybe next we'll drop 'Devastations' and become as big as U2."
Luna K.: I often hear these days from musicians that the recording environment is not that important (anymore) to make a great record, but Prague, (East) Berlin and Melbourne - these locations surely must have rubbed off on the recordings?
Conrad: "Not personally. Maybe for the others. It's just a band in a room. If we went to Cuba we wouldn't sound any different. Well, maybe our voices would be shot from too many cigars."
Luna K.: More generally: What has been the main influence on your new album?
Conrad: "Colour and light. And each other."
Luna K.: Would you spend months and years in the studio to make an album if time & money weren't considerations?
Conrad: "Well, we kind of did spend a lot of time on the last two records, but it was because we had no money and had to work on them in little bursts. Which was good because it gave us time to develop our ideas. Even now when I hear the albums, I still think 'Oh, if only we did this or that', but generally
we enjoyed having that length of time to do it in. Next one will be quicker though."
Luna K.: I quite like the flow of the new album. Did you have masterplan before you even started recording or did you just "get lucky" that the individual songs fit together so well?
Conrad: "There were other songs that we could have had on the new album but left off as they didn't really fit with the other songs. I guess we thought about it a little. They were just basically the songs we wrote and recorded, and then we sequenced them to make it somewhat coherant."
Luna K.: In your music you seem to mix subtlety and energy, which is quiet a rare mix, I guess. Is that something that comes just very easy and naturally to you or does it take a lot of work to get there?
Conrad: "It's what makes a song exciting for us. The dynamics. I think it's the way we naturally write, perhaps."
Luna K.: When it comes to inviting guests - is it usually that they bring to the track what you expected, or were there any surprising moments on Coal, where a collaborations didn't yield the results you expected, but it worked out well in the end anyway?
Conrad: "Padma Newsome's string arrangements were far and away the most spectacular outside contribution in my opinion. None of us could have foreseen what he would do. We would love to work with him again."
Luna K.: I guess you've been favorably compared to a number of great artists, but have there been comparisons that seemed to make no sense to you, where you thought: How on earth could someone think we sound like...?
Conrad: "Well, as much as I respect and like the Go Betweens, I don't think we sound too much like them. Maybe it's just because we are from Australia that we sometimes get compared. I don't know. To my ears we don't really sound like anyone but ourselves, but then I would say that wouldn't I?"
Luna K.: To make sure that we don't make a similiar mistake: Promote your new album in your own words, please. Why should everybody buy Coal?
Conrad: "Because our wives are sick of buying us drinks. Spare a thought for the fairer sex. It's just not fair on them, is it? We want to buy them big bunches of tropical orchids and diamond rings and milkshakes."
Luna K.: Any famous last words?
Conrad: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
Copyright © 2006 Carsten Wohlfeld