October 20, 2006

SKIRTING THE DARK FRINGES with Devastations: *Sixeyes Interview

Interview by Alan Williamson


The music of Australian-bred trio, Devastations, is akin to nights when you're so tired you can't sleep--those sleepless nights when you see and hear things in a different way and they stick with you because of that fact. 3 a.m. is a different world for those who rise at 7:30 each morning and the music created by Devastations is from that dark of night, that dark of dreams, and the darkness within us… the 3 a.m. of the soul.

Formed from the core of Melbourne rock band, Luxedo, in 2002, Tom Carlyon, Hugo Cran, and Conrad Standish, have always kept moving, either creatively, or geographically. Critical acclaim befell the trio after the release of their self-titled debut in 2003--a recording ripe with promise, one that easily demonstrated the talents of the band, especially through the songs, "Loene", "We Will Never Drink Again", and "Previous Crimes". The songs have a smeared European decadence shrink-wrapped about the brooding talents of Carlyon, Cran, and Standish. If you find the intelligent music authored and essayed by Brooklyn band, The National, to be moving, then I highly recommend you seek out Devastations. They have a more sparse sound, three members in comparison to The National's five, but the songs of both outfits skirt the dark fringes. And each boasts a singer whose tobacco-stained throat curls up from the words like smoke, smoke that attempts to obscure the ache and yet only shrouds it in the vocal charisma of the singer. It's a cultural crime that more have not had the opportunity to discover them, although the crime fighting indie record label, Brassland, has taken the proper steps to right this wrong… they've signed Devastations and will give their latest disc, Coal, a Stateside release this coming Tuesday, October 24th.

from Coal...
+ sex and mayhem [full length]
+ coal [sample clip]

+ Take You Home - live footage 'SKC', Belgrade, Serbia. (windows media file)

(An interesting tidbit: vocalist and bassist, Standish, is a childhood friend of Angus Andrew of Liars and he contributed three songs and guested on the Liars latest album.)

I'd like to thank Devastations guitarist, Tom Carlyon, for taking the time to answer these interview questions.

* * * * * * * * *

*Sixeyes: I’ve got to start by saying that the Nick Cave comparisons I repeatedly find in album reviews are getting tiresome. All harping on the same things: the vocals, song subjects, and that both singers are tall. Okay, it's a lazy comparison, and they are favourable comparisons, but do you see the similarity others cite so often?

Tom Carlyon: Comparisons full-stop are pretty limiting. I’m not sure what it achieves. It’s like palm-reading – I don’t believe any of it. It’s probably more apt to say The Devastations share similar influences. But then again, maybe we don’t. I just don’t know.

*Six: ...or, is it taken as a compliment and let go? Has there been a comparison you found much more apt, or even incomprehensible?

TC: Well, Nick Cave is no schmuck. Better being compared to him than, say, Donny Osmond. Someone once compared us to the sound of a meteor cooling in the cut grass. That’s far more appealing.

*Six: If you had the luxury of providing the press with a brief description of the band and it's sound, which the press would have to use, what short, succinct phrase would you give them?

TC: Tropical Goth.

*Six: Coal was recorded in Berlin, Melbourne, and Prague, and I hear that the Berlin location was formerly the East German headquarters for radio and television... is this also where Radiohead have recorded? How did you choose this location and while I'm on this subject, who produced the record?

TC: Not sure if Radiohead recorded in the same Berlin Studio. Quite possibly – it’s an immense compound with many studios under the one roof. We chose the location on the advice of our friend Alex Hacke who recorded these sessions. We were living in Berlin at the time, had just finished 4 months of fairly solid touring and had the opportunity to begin a new record (Coal) – it seemed like a good idea at the time. As far as production goes, we (as in Conrad, Hugo and I) produced Coal.

*Six: What outside force had the greatest effect on Coal?

TC: When we left Melbourne in 2003 we were elated at the prospect of leaving home for an eternally prosperous future on the road! This feeling was undoubtedly delusional but it had a large influence on what songs we chose to record, how we decided to arrange them and where we would record them etc… We also toured solidly for 4 months before recording began. This put us in the same car for a long time so we were forced to talk about our next record. Unfortunately we screwed up the Berlin sessions due to our own inept playing (too much prep) and had to re-start nearly everything again in Prague. In the end, time became the biggest factor. Having abandoned the Berlin sessions and re-started everything in Prague some months later we then finished Coal over 8 very long months in Melbourne - due largely to financial restrictions, engineer illness and touring commitments. This lengthy process actually opened the door for collaborations with both Padma Newsome (Clogs) and Bic Runga.

*Six: Like several prominent Australian bands before you, you've made a long distance move to the 'old country'. Where does the band now call home, or even feel at home? And why did you leave Australia?

TC: We left Melbourne because it takes 23 hours in the air and another 10 in transit just to get to London Koko in Camden to play with The National on May 31st. Now, we’re just trying to keep on the move – like gypsy’s or something. After the UK tour Conrad and Hugo will move back to Berlin for a while and I’m going to set up a duchy somewhere in Moravia – put the wife and kid in a castle and find some subjects. Actually, there’re plenty of castles in Ireland. I shall book a flight to Cork.

*Six: What strengths and weaknesses do you feel that working as a trio brings to Devastations music? Also, I believe the band expands to a quartet when on the road, who is it you rope in for this position?

devastationsBWsmallTC: Working as a trio is my favourite format for watching other bands and playing live because every aspect of a band and it’s music is visible. The musicians look naked and the sound is right in front of you. Also, you can hear the fuck ups and you can see any chemistry between the individuals – if it exists.

Having said that, if (as we have) you write songs that have string arrangements, piano choirs and go-go dancers, you can’t fairly represent them as a three piece. ‘Sex & Mayhem’ as a 3-piece is akin to hearing ‘Sexual Healing’ played on trombone. One other down-side of a three piece is that the guitar becomes the instrumental centrepiece and that can get a bit tiresome after a while.

On piano, we initially roped in Kiernan Box. He’s been with us for 2 years now. When he’s not available we are lucky enough to have Nigel Yang to fill-in.

*Six: Even before your signing to US indie Brassland, I heard a similarity to former Brassland artists, The National: in the baritones of the singers, the way both bands aren’t afraid to veer off the ‘rock’ roadmap and take less traversed pathways. And I’ve learned that both have also utilized the talents of instrumentalist Padma Newsome. Was Padma, or The National, a factor in your choosing Brassland, and how do you know Padma?

TC: Conrad told me Brassland was a cool label in NY releasing interesting music and getting good feedback from all corners. So, some months later, I just sent a copy of our first record – expecting to hear nothing more. Months later we were on tour in Europe when we got an email from Alec saying he’d seen our itinerary and we should hook up with Clogs in Paris. We duly hooked-up meeting Padma as a result. A few weeks later we were sound checking in Bra, Italy and Alec conveyed his intention to sign us – I think he even used the term ‘against my better judgement’. We were ecstatic.

Padma’s incredible contribution to Coal came about some months later when we were all back in Australia. He lives in Mallacoota. We would send song files there and receive back from him incredible pieces of music that stand up in their on own right. Padma is a genius.

*Six: Much of what I've read online mentions the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Karen O and the wonderful compliment she paid your self-titled debut album when she said… 'The Best Thing I’ve Heard All Year' [MOJO Magazine Dec, 2003]. Have you ever met her, or wanted to seek her out to thank her? And have you seen any positive effects from her kind words?

TC: I think she saw us play in Berlin once. I didn’t meet her although I will definitely thank her for her kind words when/if I ever do. Con met her in Melbourne when the YYY’s toured Australia and stayed in touch to some degree. They eventually did some recording together in LA a while back.

Some people definitely took a bit more interest in us after Mojo. Even we did. It was the first time our name had appeared in a UK publication. Afterwards we were inundated with weird emails from record companies saying how much they love us and would we be interested in private helicopters etc. At the time we were touring Germany and selling CD’s out of a 2-door hatchback. So we said ‘yes, we would like a private jet’ – then never heard another word from any of them. Strange people.

*Six: What about the song writing – is it a group effort, or individual? And who is penning the lyrics? There is some wonderful imagery within the songs.

TC: It’s a group collaboration. The songs are inspired by and therefore written for this band. The imagery comes from the dubious poet hiding inside us all.

*Six: Finally, what does the rest of 2006 hold for the band? Any plans to tour North America in the near future?

TC: Well, right now we’re on tour in the UK. ‘Coal’ is coming out in US through Brassland in July and in the UK/Europe through Beggars Banquet in August. We will definitely be touring the US at some stage this year. We’ve never been. I hope you like us.

* * * * *

Devastations website
Contact the band: thedevastations@yahoo.com

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