Words by Luke Buckler
Unbelievably Bad Contributor
Good news for the people that enjoy crushing noise enveloped in catharsis and complexity: Idylls is working on new material. Their last release, the 2014 album Prayer for Terrene has been gushed over for it’s meticulously clinical schizophrenia. There has been long periods of radio silence since then, but with the revelation of a forthcoming follow-up, Chris Brownbill (the band’s guitarist and head honcho at Brisbane’s Underground Studio) asserts that the band is “more imperative than ever”.
UB talked to Chris about the destruction of the band’s primordial boundaries, utilitarian approaches to recording, and the uselessness of commercial measures of success.
Idylls are making new music again. Do you have release plans for the new recordings? What’s the vibe?
No release plans yet, but working on it. The art, photography and layout are in its early stages now so there is that whole activity to deal with now. The vibe is definitely rawer, less audible manipulation in the mixing process. We’ve been writing on and off for the past year and the past month or so has involved just being a bit more persistent with playing together and finalising all the material we have. Once this is out we will be touring at a higher frequency.
Idylls seems very focused in its desire to push sonic boundaries and challenge not only audiences, but perhaps yourselves as musicians. How has the band evolved since its formation, and how have you progressed since the release of 2014’s Prayer for Terrene?
Pushing ourselves musically seems to somehow reign supreme over even what it sounds like. For better or worse, pushing blindly seems to be a better term, and an instinct. In terms of evolution there is Idylls #1 (before Prayer for Terrene) and then Idylls #2. We’re different people now, and there is actually a different person playing bass (Fred from The Wrong Man, Clever and Pull Out Kings). Before Prayer, everything was interpersonally and psychically fucked and just a mess. I was really unwell and in and out of hospital, and Lloyd I think I can say was tremendously sad and disordered, as was Ben. I was still living at Sun D [Sun Distortion, Chris’ old studio] and we were jamming there everyday but not really achieving anything. The less said the better, it was just a depraved time. We are still stylistically coincident to the last LP but there are fewer boundaries and limitations now. Existing without harsh guidelines or responsibilities has made playing in this band very sustainable and we are writing our best music at this point I think largely due to this aesthetic. It’s almost like ‘Prayer For Terrene’ got done so we can do whatever the fuck we want now. Idylls is more imperative than ever at this moment. I’m often asked if I’m upset about the response to our last LP, because “it should have ‘blown up’ because it’s so good”. To me that is truly a bizarre thought. Prayer was a raging success because we got to experience the gratification of putting a years worth of work to tape and establishing the art and layout of an LP and then holding that LP and distributing it. To have to subconsciously concede to notions of commerce and commercialism and ‘grow’ our band socially, online and monetarily is irrelevant, and has proved suicidal for many bands. There is this elemental idea that once you are shotgun sprayed over popular blogs and websites and have airplay and extensive merchandise and show attendance in the hundreds, then you are ‘real’, and when you don’t bear that currency then you, of course, must be trying to obtain those things. It’s complete nonsense. It’s never spoken about but in the independent music community, the punk scene, that is how people think. So we get that a lot, people think we are dead and it doesn’t upset me that they think that. What is upsetting is the reason why. At this point there aren’t rules set up in regards to my last point, we don’t have a specific idea of what punk is and I guess we don’t need to. I know bands have certain guidelines, like not playing certain venues or using certain merchandising companies or being visible on Vice or Noisey or whatever. I just don’t even pay attention to a lot of the artefacts in the landscape of contemporary underground music culture, but when a situation or opportunity presents itself we just have a discussion about the merit and how to go about it. As a group of people we are at such a level of cohesion now that most things whether incidental or significant don’t require conference in any way. One thing we are all gravitating towards now is fucking off the idea of completion, which has been both a blessing and a curse in the past – moreso a curse. It’s very easy to get attached to perfection, people ask me about the studio I work at, “is the space done?” It’s never done, it’s just a series of technical and constructive manipulations. Similar is a song, which is just a collection of noises in our case. It’s never done, and the next record will never be done. It’s just a snapshot of a set of frequencies in time caught by magnetic memory. It’s not important – being in a room with people I consider my family and making noise is hugely important. The recording is just a little indication of where we were at the time, like a photo. Another trap of the time trip is feeling the accomplishment of perfection, like we are three or four or five years old now and have however many releases so we are a certain calibre of band.
How did you wind up working with Kurt Ballou on that record? What exactly did Kurt bring to the table?
I was in conversation with Kurt about the Jeromes Dream record he did, amongst others. And we got talking about my band and he heard demos and wanted to mix the record. Being a heap sonically, we thought it best we had an auxillary engineer balance everything. I usually record bands in a utilitarian approach, minimal microphones capturing flattering tones from minimal sources. With Prayer it was the opposite, with something like 20 drum mics, more than one guitar and bass, several vocals sent out to different delays, several saxophone sources, a mellotron – a bit of a nightmare and not what Jimmy (Balderston, who was the recordist) or I are used to as engineers. It was helpful to have someone who is more acclimatised to large track counts and dense arrangements balance everything.
As an engineer, are there studio processes or techniques that you use to make Idylls sound unique? Do the other members of the band have input and ideas into how things are done in the studio?
Jimmy from Capital (I think its called Ghost Notes now) in Adelaide has engineered all our records but we are all involved in the process. There is no one governing the engineering or organisational process. It is always an uncomplicated thing. Just us playing live in a room with microphones, vocals tracked afterwards. In the past we just set up and Jimmy places microphones on sources, there is never any controversy over the technical side of things.
What’s new with your studio, Underground Audio? What have you been working on?
The whole facility is pretty new in general. I think I’ve been in the building for about a year and a half, but the first six months were construction. After Sun Distortion I was freelancing for a bit, but I couldn’t find a sympathetic drum room that would complement a lot of the bands I was employed by. Underground eventuated from me driving around Brisbane for half a year trying to fulfill my interests of a nice space that I could rent temporarily with a mobile recording set-up. I learned that a space that I had deemed close to perfect was feasible permanently. So at this point I now have a staggering amount of debt and a fancy pants recording facility. I’ve set this place up to be a resource for everyone in the tribe here in Brisbane. There are millions of amplifiers and cabinets, drum sets and instruments. I just wrote down any conceivable piece of equipment or instrument that a band could ever depend upon and that list is being ticked off as this space endures. I also tried to consider everything I hated about freelancing at other studios and regulated Underground to not include any of them. A big part of making bands comfortable is not telling them what to do or exerting any technical authority, and there seems to be evidence of the studios popularity in that regard. I put the band in charge and work extremely quickly. This allows all the recordings here to be financially modest, which is hugely important for the demographic of people that use the space. A lot of the records made here aren’t polished, counterfeit reinterpretations that sit listlessly in the terrain of contemporary production, but are life like and mimic the sense memory of live music.
Can you tell us about the Steve Albini class/camp that you attended? What did you learn? Did you have to wear boiler suits?
No suits. In regards to the jumpsuits, if memory serves me correct Greg Norman (not the Shark, the engineer) suggested they develop them into their uniform after wearing them in the basement and digging out the foundations of their building. As to why Steve wears one in a pub in Hobart, I can’t answer that. The seminar was great. I attended to pick their (Steve and Greg) brain for two weeks consecutively but found that what was most fortunate was discovering like-minded peers. To my knowledge there aren’t any working engineers in Brisbane that share the same technical and ethical roadmap as me so hanging out with what was almost a representative from each corner of the world did expand my consciousness somewhat.