The Laurels are a four-piece from Sydney, Australia who create luscious, complex and dangerous psychedelic shoegaze bliss.
Known for their mind-blowing live show, The Laurels have shared stages and tours with the likes of The Black Angels, Wooden Shjips, Lee Ranaldo, Swervedriver, Low, Tame Impala, Dead Meadow and A Place To Bury Strangers to name but a few.
Whilst notoriety as a floppy haired sonic assault machine was flattering, it felt incomplete to the band, and instilled the desire to showcase their songs as they were meant to be heard. Although The Laurels have given new meaning to the words ‘highly anticipated album’, Plains is the album they’ve been wanting to make for years.
Gerald Murnane’s novel ‘The Plains’ provided inspiration for the album’s title and Plains is The Laurels’ “Second great age of exploration”, a search for meaning in an abstract, indefinite space; a reflection of interminably long drives from show to show through Australia’s rural landscape; the feeling that anything is possible but not quite knowing how to make it happen.
Producer Liam Judson (Belles Will Ring, Cloud Control), a long-time friend of the band who helped with the recording of their acclaimed 2011 debut EP Mesozoic, was the man to dismantle The Laurels’ wall of sound brick by brick.
Over the Plains 10 songs, dual guitarists and vocalists Piers Cornelius and Luke O’Farrell distort, wind and loop their formidable guitar sounds around the driving bass of Conor Hannan and unwavering drums of Kate Wilson, highlighting both the depth and the breadth of The Laurels’ songwriting.
TDOA writer, Todd talked to Connor about the new album and their experiences at Austin Psych Fest!
Todd: Can you talk about your impressions of the Austin Psych Fest? Did you get a chance to watch any other bands play? Any favorites?
Connor: It was so great; definitely the best festival I’ve ever been too. Everyone was so nice, and the ranch it was held at was just so idyllic. Spectrum was my personal highlight. I really enjoyed Dead Skeletons, too. I’m definitely going again next year, regardless of whether we’re playing or not!
Todd: The list of bands you’ve played with in the past, is a who’s-who of my favorite bands (The Black Angels, Low, Swervedriver, Wooden Shjips and Tame Impala). Were there things that you learned from playing with those bands (whether it’s touring tips, marketing ideas or recording/live audio techniques), that you still utilize today?
Connor: I think we all appreciate the opportunity to play with bands that have been doing this longer than us. I don’t know if we’ve ever taken away anything specifically, but it’s always good to see how others get it together on the road. Our first tour with Tame Impala a few years back was our most extensive run up to that point, and I found that to be a real eye-opener. Just to see how hard they work at it. Mostly we’re too busy gushing over fulfilling adolescent dreams to learn any valuable lessons. That was certainly the case playing with Swervedriver.
Todd: In the past, you’ve talked about dualism, and the differences between the live band and the recorded band. How did that impact how you approached recording the new album?
Connor: Hugely. We weren’t particularly interested in recreating our live sound, as that’s something that’s always felt spontaneous and of the moment. We really wanted to take advantage of being in the studio, and test out things – melodies, textures – we aren’t ordinarily able to do on stage. We’ve always liked the idea of the live show as its own separate experience anyway. It keeps it fresh for all of us (and hopefully the audience!)
Todd: One of the things that I love about the record, is the layers of guitars on each track. Some with a fuzzed-out bliss-like sound, while others are really clean. When you wrote these songs, were they written acoustically or were they constructed much as they appear on the record?
Connor: Thanks! Piers and Luke write the base tracks, which we then work on together as a band. They tend to sound very different by the time they’re ready to record, as everyone puts their own stamp on the songs. I think the diversity stems largely from the fact that both songwriters have very particular styles. Piers listens to a lot of Talking Heads and Happy Mondays, for instance, and I think you can hear that clean, up-tempo sensibility on some of his tracks, like Glacier. At the same time, the collaborative element tends to hold it all together, band-wise.
Todd: What comes first: bass line, guitar melody or vocal melody?
Connor: I can’t answer for Luke and Piers but, from my experience sharing a house with them and hearing them lay down demos, I’m pretty sure it’s the guitar melody!
Todd: The techy in me would love to know about your guitar set-up. Amps, pedals, etc…. Can you indulge me?
Connor: Luke and Piers are devoted to their Fender Bassman and Deluxe Reverb, respectively. They both have about a million pedals… I really can’t keep up. I know Luke’s favorite is his Prescription Electronics Experience Fuzz!
Todd: Somehow the term “shoegaze” seems to have morphed into “psych rock”, even thought psych rock isn’t a new thing. It’s essentially the same thing, right? I know that a few years ago, when I’d ask a band if they considered themselves shoegaze, they’d bristle. Psych rock seems to be “acceptable” now. Your thoughts?
Connor: I guess shoegaze is considered a type of psychedelia these days. Both kind of make me bristle, to be perfectly honest, though I guess we’ve always listened to a lot of English music from the late 80s/early 90s and American music from the late 60s. Psychedelic music is certainly a much more open field these days – it can mean anything! – which is probably why it’s a more acceptable musical denotation. Being a shoegaze band suggests that you’re trying to be My Bloody Valentine of the Jesus and Mary Chain, which is always going to fall short. I like to think that we take on aspects of those bands and do something of our own with it.
Todd: What’s next for the band? How long will we have to wait for new material?
Connor: We’re about to start working on the new record, once we settle back into our Sydney lives, so hopefully later this year! It’ll be very different from the last one. Very exciting. Hopefully we’ll make it back to the states before year’s end.
Todd: What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about touring in the U.S.?
Connor: Depending on what time of day it is, the answer to both those questions is American bartenders’ whiskey free-pour.