Melbourne four-piece City Calm Down are celebrating the release of their third album Television. Followed closely by a European Tour, the band have also announced a five-date Australian tour. Forté caught up with keyboardist Sam Mullaly to discuss the new album, tours, sound and all things City Calm Down.
Would the Television be the album it is without producer Burke Reid?
No, I think he played a significant role in helping us change the style of sound that we’ve been doing. We worked really well on the previous two records, and Malcolm [Besley - producer] captured the sound that we had envisioned in our heads. Before we started making Television, we all came to a mutual agreement that we didn’t want to do that. We all wanted to make a pop record and do something different. Burke Reid was able to help us by saying “leave behind all the things you know how to do, let’s try out some new things”. I think he was quite instrumental in helping us bring new techniques and sounds, and new ways of writing.
Did you shape the album as you recorded, rather than going in knowing exactly what you wanted?
We had the songs done. We are usually pretty prepared when we go in, just because of the timeframe. You haven’t got a lot of time; time is money, and studios are expensive. We didn’t have as much of an idea what we were doing when we were writing together or going into pre-production. By the time you get to the studio you usually have a pretty solid idea of what you’re doing just because of the timeframe. There were some songs that changed significantly once we were [in the studio] because they weren’t working. ‘Weatherman’ was one of those where we went in with an idea and it just sounded lame. We put it down on track and thought “this isn’t a song we want to release”. A couple of people started trying different things in the background as we were recording. We came back and thought “what about this style?”, and the song changed from there.
The influence of bands like T. Rex and The Clash can be heard on Television, what other artists influenced both the album and your own keyboard style?
We were listening to a lot of Iggy Pop stuff as well. We approached this one [differently] with keys. There are some songs where it’s integral, but there are a couple of songs were the keys were added afterwards. With the other albums, it created the foundation. Sometimes with some of the songs the idea was to come in with the sythns after they had taken form, to see what needs pumping up or what needs more work. This time it was a different process. An example of an influence that comes to mind is Fleetwood Mac. It’s almost more organ-based stuff. It becomes less synthy and more piano- and organ-based. In a lot of classic rock the piano is quite a rhythmic instrument, and it can bring something different to the sound we’ve used in the past. Overall, we’ve tried a 70s rock style, rather than 80s or 90s synth style.
The upcoming European and Australian tours will be the first since the release of Television. Are you excited to play it live?
Yeah! We played a couple of songs at our last shows in Melbourne and Sydney. We played about four songs off the record, obviously on this tour we will play a lot more. It’s nice when you get new songs and you actually get to hit gigs with them because it breathes a lot of life into the band. It’s an exciting time to be able to show people new music. It can also be about balancing; some people have got the songs that they got to know City Calm Down from or they’ve seen us before. So it’s really about balance. But we are very excited.
Next on the schedule is a European tour starting in the UK, tell us more about that.
It’s always good fun to head over there, it’ll be a bit of a rush though. We’re playing 11 shows in 13 days, which is a bit overwhelming. But it’s always great fun. You get a little sick of being in a van, and sometimes there’s little time. Last time, in Amsterdam, we arrived at about 4pm from the city before after a bit of a drive. We were playing at a festival, so we went in, ate, and unloaded. Our Tour Manager said “You have one hour”, so I had to get back to the hotel, shower, and head off in little time. I grabbed a beer on the walk back to the venue, and just stopped for a few minutes on this Amsterdam bridge, watching cyclists go past. For 15 minutes, anyways, and then it was straight on to the show. You get these little moments, a lot of it is having a good time with your mates while playing on a stage, but the inside of a bar looks like the inside of a bar no matter where you are in the world. People always ask “How was it seeing Europe?”, but a lot of it is just the little moments where you have a beer on a bridge.
Each of the five stops on the Australian tour has different support acts, how did this idea come about?
This is something we wanted to try out, last time we toured with one main headliner. This time we thought it’d be interesting to try and have a bit of a showcase of bands in each city. It is always nice when you tour with one band and get to know each other – that can be a really nice experience. But we thought it’d be cool to try it this way. And we get to hear a heap of bands!
What changes can fans expect on the next tour?
We’re trying to approach a lot of the production a bit differently. With the new sound, we also want to change the visual style to make it more in line. It’ll be a bit of an evolution. It could be simple things, like the imagery we’ve been putting on social media. It highlights a bit more of a lighter and quirkier visual representation. This album is meant to be a bit more poppy and a bit more playful, even though it does touch on important themes. Compared to Echoes in Blue, which was quite a cinematic and sombre type thing, this is all a lot lighter. It can come down to even the clothes we wear on stage, we’ve dropped the whole ‘all in black’ thing, which people shared with us for a while.
Are you looking forward to exploring new sounds and avenues in the future?
Yeah, I think so. We’re started to get back into the headspace of writing again, the tour finished a little while ago. Jack [Bourke - vocalist] is overseas, we’re taking a bit of a break. It’s always a nice thing to be able to pivot on the musical style a little bit, and then say “how can we change this?” or “how can we make this sound more like us?”. There were still a lot of ideas left unexplored with this first pivot, ideas that didn’t make the cut and some more things to do. We’re getting back into the writing, and we’ll see what happens. It’s very exciting!
City Calm Down’s new album Television is out now through I OH YOU. You can catch the boys on Saturday 26 October at Croxton in Melbourne.
Written by Thom Devereux
Photo by Sam Wong