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Feature Interview: The John Steel Singers

john steel singers

AAA's Nav got to catch up with Pete from Brisbane's 'The John Steel Singers'.

The makeshift recording studio on the Sunshine Coast, where abouts and tell me a little about it.

That was a bit fun, I used my Shop A—is Shop A the woodwork one? Or is it Shop B? I can’t even fucking remember anymore. I used my Shop A manual arts skills to build like bass traps and stuff like that, so we did a bit of audio acoustic treatment to the room, and set up a control room, we forked out for a Multi-Cord, shit like that. Luke’s dad’s a builder, so we were worried about with fucking about with the house too much because we just took over their downstairs area, and he was just like screwing Acoustisorb into the ceiling and stuff like that, he really just dug, fucking his house a little bit. It was cool. 

The Sunshine Coast vibe, was that a bit part of setting up there to record?

We did a lot of demos up there, and Luke’s parents are just rad so whenever we played on the Sunshine Coast, which hasn’t been that often, but we would always stay at their house. Their downstairs area is pretty much self-contained, there’s a lot of beds. Luke’s mum goes to garage sales pretty much every Saturday and she just picks up random shit. That’s where all these cool instruments come from. She sees all these cool instruments she thinks Luke’ll like—or any of us now, she’s pretty much just adopted us all—she’ll grab it from a garage sale, haggle, get a good price, and be like, “Oh, I found this, do you guys want it?” And we’ll be like, “That’s awesome.” So we’ve got a bunch of old organs and two old pianos and stuff there. So we just like… after staying there for a bit and seeing all that, we were doing the demos there, staying up there for a long weekend or whatever, and doing a couple of songs of the first album… at least a couple. Might have only been one, I can’t remember. But it’s been a fairly productive place to be. We threw the idea out there with his parents… it was a bit of both, the Sunshine Coast is a great place to hang, and the Yaroomba area is always beautiful, you’ve got Coolum beach and shit. It works well for us. I’m not a beach kid, I’ve got ginger hair and fair skin, I’ve never really dug that vibe. But here you wake up at like 10-10:30am and their house opens up to this big hilly area which is all some college, and they have an outdoor ropes course kind of thing going on there. You’ve got these rolling hills and you look over them and you can see the beach and the ocean and stuff. So I used to go out there with Luke’s old dog in the mornings and just hang out and catch some sun. Have a cup of coffee and start your day after that at like 11:30am, which was a beautiful way to live. I wish I was still living like that but unfortunately real life called and so we had to bring the recordings back to Brisbane and finish them off in our studio/rehearsal space in Bowen Hills.

So it was just a big lock in with you guys jamming and recording constantly?

Yeah! Luke’s parents tried to do as much shit away from the house as possible. We could play up until about 10pm with drums and stuff but then we’d do overdubs with keyboards or something quieter. Guitars or whatever, something quieter, so long as the drum kit wasn’t going. So we were working until about like 2am, 4am, depending on how drunk we were and all that kind of shenanigans. Luke’s parents were amazing hey. Every morning we’d wake up and be like, “Shit, I hope we didn’t keep you up,” and they’d be like, “Oh no, no, no it was fine,” and we tried to make them dinner most nights. We’d stop for an hour or two, we’d try and do a quick dinner, two people would be up making it, and then we’d probably drink a couple of bottles of wine over dinner with his parents and end up talking for too long. It was a bit of a family environment with his parents just being rad people to hang out with. 

I’ve got to ask about the organs—I’ve just spoken to Barry Morgan the Organ Man.

Haha. I think there was just one. Luke now has two, the other one he rescued later on. Luke found one in an industrial area in Coolum—not like Coolum, every time I just say Coolum, anyone from the Sunshine Coast corrects me because it wasn’t Coolum, but that’s the area I associate it with haha. But umm… yeah, he was working for his dad and he came past this organ and instead of picking up timber he picked up this organ and went back to his house and then went back to get the timber for his dad. He was like two hours late back to the job haha. But yeah, it was just like an old Yamaha and it worked, it sat in the middle of the room and you could run a guitar input into it, so we ran some keyboards into it, I was doing Micro-Korg through it, so he was playing chords on the organ and I was fucking around with the arpeggiator, coming from the same speaker, it was modulating with the organ-tone almost. It didn’t sound anything like the Micro-Korg at all, which was really cool. So that’s through a whole bunch of it… that organ, it was a brilliant find haha.

The track State of Unrest, is it indicative of the rest of the album?

Umm… no. It’s, look, it’s the heaviest, most jammiest one, but it’s a little bit… we’ve got groove stuff. We went with crowded grooves and stuff like that, there’s a couple of slowed down ones… I don’t even know, I think there’s two. I dunno why you’re asking me the questions haha. It’s definitely like that Wipers/Wires kind of vibe, that’s what we were moving towards. We had a lot more songs in that vibe, but some of them got cut for others and all that kind of shenanigans. So we’ve got a mixture. I think we wanted State of Unrest to be the first track released because it’s farthest away from the Tangalooma record. We wanted that to be the first taste for people because it’s not what we do. We’ve still got the harmonies and the horns and shit. Compared to the last album… we’ve got fuck all horns really. And it’s not as a poppy, but still catchy. We’ve gone for grooves. We slimmed down to a five-piece, and Scotty started playing bass. And he can fucking play the bass. Like he’s born to play any instrument, any instrument he picks up he’s just… he can just play it. But his bass playing skills are just ridiculous. So him and Ross… they played together so well. So they were just locking down this groovy bed and we just built shit from there.

Do you have a release date for the new album? 

Yeah! I think it’s November the 8th. At least that’s what I’ve been told… or remembered haha, I’m pretty sure I’m right on that one. We’ve got a single coming out next week, an official single. State of Unrest was a taster track, or some sort of fancy online marketing tool, and then, I think another single just before the album comes out. But yeah, November 8th, and we’re touring some time after that. We’re really looking forward to getting back to playing live, it’s been too long.   

A little over three years between releases, for a new band that’s quite a while, you’re expecting a big impact from the new album?

I really have no idea hey. I’m surprised people still give a shit. I would have forgotten about us if I wasn’t fucking doing all the stuff all the time haha. Like… I hope so. I think these songs, in my opinion, but I’ve said this every time we’ve recorded, but this is the best stuff we’ve ever done. This is album is more in line with what I like to listen to. Tangalooma… at the time for Tangalooma, I don’t think I was really listening to the stuff we were doing. Our influences are an album behind. We were listening to a shitload of Wires and Wipers when we were recording Tangalooma but none of that influx really came through a little bit. Sleep, a little bit I guess it did, at the end of the album, and that’s where we pictured our next album going, which in a way it has, it’s probably the closest to this new album we had. 

Brisbane is known, I guess, tongue-in-cheek for it’s music scene, despite having some of Australia’s biggest bands coming out of our fair town, how did being Brisbane born and bred affect your start as a band?

Brisbane seems to have always been… I don’t go out much, I don’t see much music these days. I’m a bit of a homebody these days, we’ve got a nice porch that’s perfect for drinking on if I’m gonna have a night of booze-filled adventures, I’m gonna sit on the porch. Brisbane has always been a good community, there was a bunch of bands that came up at the same time as us, like Yves Klein Blue, but they didn’t last, but you’ve got these bands that we started playing shows with, we’re all still mates with. I think all the young Brisbane bands that are scene, we’ve got to know some of them and it’s the same sort of shit, instead of like Sydney—I don’t even know if this is true—but where it’s like cliquey and seems a bit more competitive. And Melbourne! Melbourne crowds are notoriously judgemental, sitting there with their arms folded. You’ll get the nicest compliments in Melbourne but you fuckin’ won’t know it when you’re playing! They’re just nonresponsive and then at the end they’ll be like, “I really dug that,” and we’re like, “Could you just show it a little bit?” You know, we need to go of the crowd’s vibe a little bit, so come onnnn! But Brisbane, you’ll always have a friend or some other musician, it’s never a competition as far as I can tell.

Any advice you can offer to the many aspiring musicians here in Brisbane?

Hahahaha! Don’t take advice from me, probably! I’ll give it if you ask, but I dunno, I just… will keep on talking until someone tells me to shut up. My mates have asked… and I think they’re finally finding out, but they’ve come to me for relationship advice and I don’t even understand what they’re thinking hey. I’ll try and talk about it logically from my point of view, but then I just talk myself around in circles and end up making a different point by the time we’re finished, so it’s just ridiculous. So yeah, don’t ask me for advice, cos I don’t know anything haha.

We’ve got the election coming up on the weekend, would you care to share your political views? 

Ohhh… ummm… I’m pretty scared man. I think Abbott’s gonna get in and I don’t think it’s gonna be very good. We’ll have less debt, but it’s not gonna be good for the goddamn creative side of anything, and I dunno… it’s just basically the South Park episode like voting between a douche and a turd sandwich. I dunno what to do haha. Yeah, that’s it. My political views: douche and a turd sandwich.

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