It’s a sunny winter day in Melbourne and Mick Thomas is mailing out CDs of his new album See You On The Other Side: A Postcard from April 2020 ahead of its release tomorrow. You can almost hear him grinning down the phone line.
Written almost entirely within the throes of the pandemic, with the exception of ‘Mint Condition’ which was penned for the Melbourne-based web series of the same name, the album is somewhat of a time capsule.
“For me, the big key to this record is that it was written, recorded and released in a very concentrated period of time,” says Thomas. “Basically, if you grabbed me on the 1st of April, none of these songs existed.”
Even for a prolific musician who has been making music for three decades, this kind of turnaround is unheard of. It’s particularly impressive considering that it was never Thomas’ intention to write a record in isolation.
“I’ve never, ever written just songs for one album – I write songs to write songs,” he says.
And that’s exactly how See You On The Other Side came about. Thomas sat down and wrote a verse and a chorus for what would become the epic near-nine minute track ‘See You When I’m Looking At You’ and the rest was history.
Featuring a long list of collaborators including Angie Hart (Frente), Nick Barker, Vikki Thorn (The Waifs), Darren Hanlon, Shelley Short, Alana Jagt, Brooke Russell, Van Walker, Ron S. Peno (Died Pretty), Alannah Russack (The Hummingbirds), Ben Salter, Dana Gehrman, Cam Butler and Jen Anderson, Thomas admits the idea behind the song snowballed.
He originally sent his snippet of the track to Hart to build on and, after hearing her interpretation, he sent it to Barker before adding a few more verses himself. From there, it became a beast of its own as he began to get more musicians on board to blindly add their own chapters to the song.
“Rather than have each person hear what had gone on before them, I just let them go with the original idea and I found it really fascinating that there’s certain words that just keep cropping up, like ‘dreams’, and there’s projections into the future.”
From there, the album just began to take form as if of its own accord. Thomas found inspiration in the small things – flicking on the TV to see a special airing of a 2009 AFL match between the Cats and the Saints lead to ‘Round 14, 2009’, while children propping their teddies in the windows of neighbouring houses to spread a little light while they were stuck indoors inspired ‘Rainbows and Bears’.
The recording process was, again, new territory for Thomas. Despite being a seasoned musician with several albums under his belt, putting together See You On The Other Side while isolated from his band The Roving Commission was another feat in itself.
“I’d send [the songs] over to Ben Frans, our bass player who’s in Perth – he went over there to hang out with his mum during the shutdown – and he put some bass on it and sent it back to Wally [Mark Wallace] in Ocean Grove who put keys on it and sent it out to Brooke [Russell] out in Reservoir,” explains Thomas.
“It was a really great feeling to have all these things flying everywhere and each day I could open up my computer and get a file back from one of the people that I play with.”
Mick Thomas & The Roving Commission will launch See You On The Other Side: A Postcard From April 2020 with a live-streamed show from Memo Music Hall on Sunday June 21.
Hosted by Brian Nankervis and featuring a sprinkling of special guests, the album launch will be a high-production affair to give the record a rightful send-off into the world. While he believes self-recorded, iPhone-shot virtual gigs fail to capture the magic of a live performance, the demand for virtual gigs during the lockdowns highlights Australia’s lack of live music TV broadcasts.
“When I was in Weddings Parties Anything, I think we broke more on television than we did on radio. We were on Hey, Hey it’s Saturday probably at least a half dozen times,” says Thomas before rattling off a handful of now-defunct Australian music shows, including Sounds and Live & Kicking, that put his former band in lounge rooms across Australia.
“That’s an area where we might be able to look back at this crazy time and think, ‘Well, some good came out of it,” he adds.
“Why is a talent like [Henry Wagons] or a talent like Brian Nankervis, who’s really knowledgeable about music, going to waste and the only thing we’ve got is re-runs of Spicks and Specks?” He wonders aloud. “What the fuck? Can’t we do better than that?”
Mick Thomas & The Roving Commission will launch See You On The Other Side: A Postcard From April 2020 on Sunday June 21 with a live-streamed performance from Memo Music Hall. For tickets and more information, visit the Memo Music Hall website.
Written by Kate Streader via Beat Magazine.