Interview: The Seabellies

A while ago, (and I do mean a while ago), I did an interview with indie rock crew The Seabellies, or more accurately, their frontman Trent Grenell. Unfortunately, I kind of got carried away with that whole HSC exam thing, and its taken me a fair while to get the interview up and running. However, it did provide quite a bit of insight into the recording of their new album ‘Fever Belle’, the hard work that goes into recording such a thing, and what it means to have stuck around for so long. Therefore, I present the full interview with Trent Grenell, frontman for Sydney indie rock darlings The Seabellies.

R: Hey man, how you doing? Whereabouts are you right now?

T: I’m in Bondi, just sorting out the promo stuff for the album.

R: Oh yeah, you must be pretty pumped about that?

T: Aww yeah, it’s been a long journey this album (laughs)

R: How long did it take to record?

T: Recording was well, it’s a bit of a weird one. Started recording in Sydney at the very start of last year. And then I had a bit of a freakout in my life, and I ran away from the record for quite a while. I had a bad break-up, so I ran away to Africa for a while. By the time I was feeling better, I had to go to Berlin with Berkfinger, the producer. He had a new studio, so we finished up the record then. It ended up being about seven months

R: How did you stick that out?

T: well, the studio time in the end was probably only about five weeks or something. Tracking was done in about two and a half weeks. But I wasn’t really ready to have another go at the vocals for a while, until about August that year.

It was really different experience to the first record, where everything was bookended in. This time around, the lyrics changed by the time we got around to doing vocals.

R: Did you want to have a more accurate reflection of what was actually going on in your life, as opposed to a year ago?

T: Yeah a little bit, there’s a couple tracks on there where the song lyrics are two-sided, not just a pure-loss thing. I wanted to show both sides of the coin. This time as well, it was the first time I’d written…not first person, but kind of out of body. Just imagining those kinds of scenarios, because I’d never experienced them. And then all of a sudden, they happened to me. So I was able to more accurately go back and capture what I’d been imagining all this time.

R: When I was listening to the record, it did seem very intimate and personal, so you’d say it was like that?

T: Yeah, all the songs are pretty personal. I still have this natural leaning towards making things a little surreal. But yeah, it is personal. Sometimes it might get a little flowery, but most of the songs are autobiographical.

R: There’s a dichotomy to the nature of the record, with these intimate songs, like ‘Its Alright’, and then you have these epic songs tying down the record, like ‘Paper Tiger’. Can you walk me through that?

T: Well, we’ve always been like that. We’ve always been a diverse band. Lots of different rhythms, lots of different melodies, lots of different shades. I grew up listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, and on every album, they always covered a lot of ground.

So, yeah, we really wanted to have an album with dynamics. But in the writing process, it just sort of happened. It was never like, ‘OK, now we’re going to do that big song’, it was more like we’d knock one over and think to try something a little different.

(laughing) So, in the process we definitely tried a lot of stuff, some of it worked, some of it didn’t.

R: With the writing and recording, did you decide that you wanted to do something different all the time, and work your way up from there?

T: We locked ourselves in a room in Melbourne for five weeks, and we had a residency down there, at the start of 2011. We locked ourselves in a room and mapped out the bare bones.

But it always changes, I don’t think a single song we’ve ever written ends up like it started. We started working with Berkfinger, and everything changed from there. We also had this guy Tim Whitten producing as well.

R: How’d you meet up with Berkfinger?

T: I met Berkfinger after he finished up with Philadelphia Grand Jury. I met him at this marketplace in Berlin, and we just go chatting . I told him that we had this new bunch of songs we wanted to record, and he expressed interest, and we went from there. He rang us up and said, ‘How about a dual producer approach?’

He brought in Tim Whitten, who’s produced some of the best records.

Berkfinger wanted to sit in on us, and watch us play, and focus on our live performance, and Tim sat behind the control desk and made sure the sonics were great. That’s how we did it. Berkfinger tried all these crazy recording techniques and wired the studio, and Tim would just oversee it all. It really worked.

R: As the singer for The Seabellies, do you write all the lyrics, or is it a collaborative process?

T: I usually write most of them. My brother [Kyle Grenell] sometimes chips in, but usually the writing falls to me. With the exception of the last track of the record, which is a collaboration between Eddie [Garvin, the bassist] and myself, I did the lion’s share.

R: What about the music?

T: I think all the main ideas start from one person and then gradually filter through to the rest of the band. But its pretty much a group effort. Someone builds a piece, and then we build the rest of the song around that piece.

R: As a pretty big band [five members as of now], you’ve been going hard since 2006.

T: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of touring. With a little time off here and there, we’ve been touring straight for five years. We needed a bit of a rest to get re-inspired.

R: Sounds pretty rough, but do you enjoy the live aspect?

T: Yeah, we still love it. Just thinking about all the bands we’ve played with over the years, in the Sydney scene and Melbourne scene, and thinking about how there’s hardly anyone left. It feels like we’re the most stubborn band in the world.

R: Who do you think the best band you’ve ever played with has been?

T: I don’t know, probably The Pixies. We played V Festival early in our career, and it was the best lineup, had The Pixies and Groove Armada, it had everybody.

In terms of Australian bands, fuck I don’t know how I can answer that. I mean some bands we hung out with went on to do great things, and others just packed it in. Meanwhile, we’ve just been plugging away in the middle somewhere. We used to play with The Temper Trap quite a bit, and Tame Impala a few times. Those bands are just kicking so many goals at the moment.

R: So you’ve seen it go either way?

T: Yeah, well Sydney got really hard about four to five years ago. With all the venues closing, the scene definitely changed. The bands we used to play with all the time, like Parades, we used to get gigs with them all the time, and then everything just started falling away.

We understood though, we were really frustrated with the industry as well, the lack of funds and support. I don’t know what we were doing, but we managed to stick with it, and I’m glad we did because I really like this album.

R: There’s a lot of instrumentation on the record in the songs, like strings and that sort of stuff. How do you think that will go down when touring the record?

T: We’ve just started adding a few more songs into our live show on the last tour, and I’m sure we’ll implement that on the upcoming tour. We’ve figured out ways to cover some of it, but I think we’re going in with the attitude that the record is a different platform, and there are different sets of rules.

We wanna make the recorded version last forever, but the live show’s a different beast. We try to incorporate as much as we can, but its basically impossible for some of the songs. We do a lot of sampling and a lot of sequencing, but we’ll never be able to cover that spectrum of sound.

R: Alright, well finally, what does the future hold?

T: The immediate plan is to do a lot of touring for this record. We’ve got our biggest tour to date coming up, so that’s really ambitious. As for next year, we’ll be doing a lot of touring, and have our eyes on going back overseas.

R: Well that sounds amazing, good luck with the record and the touring!

‘Fever Belle’ is out now through Shock Records. The Seabellies are playing Good God, Saturday December 14.