Life as an up-and-coming indie band seems almost harder than ever. Venues are growing scarcer, while trying to make money out of your records is a little bit like trying to bottle lightning.
And yet the music scene in Brisbane seems to be going from strength to strength. There’s a plethora of artists looking on the bright side of digital life and champing at the bit to get their music out to the public.
Perhaps none more so than The Good Ship. Since 2009 this salty eight-piece have been pumping out the releases and turning the definition of a live show on its head. Their 2010 debut album, ‘Avast! Wretched Sea’, served the band well, winning them a slew of new fans and giving birth to a cavalcade of singles that only wrapped up just over a year ago with the double a-side release of ‘Bury Me’ and ‘I Can Make Her Laugh’.
Already they’re back with a sophomore LP, ‘O’ Exquisite Corpse’, and immediately it makes you wonder: is there too much pressure in modern times on young bands to pump out these records? “No, we would have liked to have done it sooner, to be honest,” laughs co-frontman Daz Gray, “because it’s basically been two years since the first album and we were talking about it the other night and saying, ‘Man, I hope it’s quicker than that next time!’ We’ve already written a song cycle – that’s for the next album – and we’re only just releasing this one.”
It turns out we’ve timed our call well. Gray has just finished listening to the mastered album for the first time. “That’s the first time I’ve heard it as ‘the album’ with the artwork in front of me – as a package that we envisaged. So it’s really cool and I’m really happy with it. I really think we did achieve what we set out to do, yeah. You always over analyse stuff after you’ve done it, but hearing it now as a whole it sounds great. I’ve got a bit of a smirk on my face and an arrogant smug look: ‘Aw, that’s pretty good. We did alright!’ Yeah, I’m quietly impressed, but I’m not being too quiet about it, am I?” he says with a laugh.
One of the band’s major aims was to create a much more lush sounding record than their debut. Gray’s particularly pleased with the results in that respect, but does spin an interesting story about the capacity of producer Neil Coombe’s equipment to juggle all of the music.
“With eight people it can sometimes get a little too lush: ‘Where’s it all going to fit?!’ We recorded the vocals and got it all mixed by Neil up in the White Room on Mt Nebo. And he was running out of tracks, where his computer would shit itself because we had so much stuff on there. So that lushness is a blessing and a curse, because it sounds really big and it sounds like a real album, but that was one of the challenges: doing that on a budget and having so much to choose from and trying to work out what the song needed.”
Working to such strict budgetary requirements also put extra pressure on the band. The Good Ship have had a constantly evolving line-up, and when they first arrived at the White Room half the players hadn’t even been in a recording studio before. “They’re newbies,” Gray explains. “So they’re really proud and excited because this is the first album they’ve ever been on. But it was weird, because like all indie bands we were paying for it ourselves, so as well as getting it to sound as awesome as possible we were also trying to do it on the cheap as much as possible, so there’s always that massive juggling act of knowing where to draw the line – knowing if something sounds like absolute balls or if it’s good.”
Talking about the White Room, ‘O’ Exquisite Corpse’ marks the second time The Good Ship have worked with Coombe. Gray says that the decision was an easy one, given the producer’s enthusiasm for the band’s work. “He gets us. He’s the most fantastic man in the universe. He’s like a child – he’s so excited. And he just makes everyone feel at ease. The new guys felt so chilled around Neil. Predominantly, there are a lot of acoustic instruments in the band. He gets that side of things, he makes you feel comfortable and you can’t buy that sort of enthusiasm.
“We’ve also got a really honest relationship with Neil. He’ll say, ‘I think that’s shit, do it again’, or, ‘I think that could be better’. We trust his opinion. There’s no ego involved on his side; he just wants the record to be awesome. He’s just an amazing guy. I love him.”
Now, of course, comes the task of turning the recorded songs into viable live performances. It’s not necessarily an easy task, given the number of members in the band and their riotous onstage approach. Hence, The Good Ship are rehearsing like crazy before this month’s album release tour. “Yeah, we’re trying to get a few of these songs that we’ve never played live before up and running, so that’s why we’re basically rehearsing at the moment – to make sure they don’t sound like dogs’ balls – because everything else we’ve been playing so long, and we’re so tight with that stuff that we don’t want there to be any cracks with the new stuff. So we’re hammering that out a bit.”
New material won’t be the only thing The Good Ship will be packing when they play The Zoo Saturday week. This is a live band first and foremost, and so Gray and his co-conspirators have put some effort into rebooting their onstage appearance. “We’re a very visual band onstage and I think we’re going to try something different. We’re usually a bit shabby but we’re going to try a slightly updated look.
“We’re just trying to consolidate, and I want to remind everybody that we’re a great band and that they should come and see us because they’ll have a great time,” Gray says. “I just want to get onstage and be so powerful that we kick people in the face with the sound and leave them with their jaws agape and wondering what hit them. It’s almost like a battle, where we’re going out there and facing the enemy. Our audience and us are one – we want them to feel like they’re one of us and they could quite easily get up onstage if they wanted to.”
THE GOOD SHIP PLAY THE ZOO SATURDAY JULY 14, THE RAILS, BYRON BAY, AUGUST 11 AND NIMBIN HOTEL AUGUST 12. ‘O’ EXQUISITE CORPSE’ WILL BE AVAILABLE LATER THIS MONTH.