Mayfair Kytes’ Matt Kelly is in fine spirits for someone coming down with the plague (he insists it’s just a bit of a cold, and he’s drowning himself in garlic to combat it, but we at Forte know better). The experimental folk-pop foursome’s debut album, Animus, as we talk is on the verge of being released after a year of planning and production, the record a labour of love. Yet watching the film clip for first single, Sleepyhead, is quite an unsettling experience. Between a stocking-clad head ripe with weird tumours, the shaggy black and white monster lurching around, and the overarching eerie harmonies and guitar lines, it’s an immensely surreal clip.
“It was a concept by the director, Tom Russel,” says Kelly. “He pretty much listened to the song, ran with it, and made this cool version of what he interpreted. He definitely got that ghostly, haunting element. It’s a bit abstract and not exact, so you can leave it to your own conclusion. I don’t think film clips should be too literal. That can kind of ruin it a little. I think Tom picked up on the right themes and vibes, and that’s why it works so well. I think if you start trying to show the direct narrative of the lyrics in the film, it can work sometimes, I guess, but a lot of times it doesn’t. I think it works well as poetry, maybe not so well as a short film.”
Creating the right vibe – that elusive sense of atmosphere and depth – is crucial for any album, but for Kelly the process was much more intensive. A range of different elements had to be balanced, from the songs themselves, to production, to the very locations in which they would be recorded. To that end, the band were fortunate to source a converted chapel outside of Melbourne that provided the right kind of ambience and atmosphere.
“You can actually hear the dimensions in the space that give the record a certain vibe. If you do one part in the chapel and one part in a small hallway, you combine the two and you’re also hearing the room. You’re not just hearing what’s being captured. That can make music very visual, I feel. There was such a vibe there. When we did the strings in the chapel, I felt like the air was crackling. It was so beautiful. It wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if we just did it in a normal room and chucked a reverb on afterwards. Apart from maybe a little bit of treatment, we didn’t add anything to the string sounds. What we heard is pretty much the sound you hear on the record.”
These strings are provided by the ever-engaging Melbourne Ska Orchestra, though Simon Mavin and Paul Bender from Hiatus Kayote also stepped in as guests on production and synths. Animus proves to be a multi-coloured blend of artistic vision and talent, an experience Kelly encourages: “I love the different marriages you can find in collaboration.” While the Sleepyhead single does give some sense of the palette the band is working from, it is also Kelly’s hope that it demonstrate the springboard from which they will continue to push their sound.
“Sleepyhead is definitely a vehicle into [the album], but it’s also just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do musically. This whole project was more about forming that bond and relationship as a band, getting through the thought process of working on who we are, what we are. I feel like that across all the songs on this record, in that everything I’ll do with this project further along, the sky’s the limit. All my songs speak of things from a heavy place, but there’s always an option for making some kind of resolution. It’s never just, ‘Yep, things are bad.’ It’s more, ‘Here’s the problem, and here’s what we need to do’.”
Kelly has previously described the song in philosophic terms, suggesting it speaks of the road to self-discovery clashing with the pragmatic aspects of life. It is a sentiment you can’t help but wonder may be born of his own personal struggles.
“It’s difficult when… you’re in a very saturated industry, and if you look at it in terms of odds, then maybe it’s not so promising. But I have to separate that, because I’m an artist first, and I have been for as far as my memory goes back. I’ve always been interested in making music, and I’ve built my life around that. I have to find a way to have that in my life to complete my sense of purpose, and the trick is then, how do I sustain that? Making a very experimental album probably isn’t going to help,” he laughs.
“But then, it’s not overly crazy. It’s not way out there, but it also isn’t straight-up pop. But at least I got to live out the dream of getting an album done. From when I started to when I finished, I always knew I wasn’t going to stop until it was done. And the only thing I can do after that is get the live show good so that we can tour it. To really make something of it and keep moving.”
Written by Adam Norris
Release: ‘Animus’ out now