Delicate, powerful, moving, captivating, post-apocalyptic, lush, cinematic and “a breath of fresh air” are all words that have been used to describe epic Gold Coast instrumental duo, the sea shall not have them. Comprised of friends Curt Emerton (guitar, bass, noise, keys) and Mat Wilton (drums, percussion) their jams take you to another world and beyond.
What inspired you to start an instrumental band?
CURT: I’m not entirely sure how we settled on being an instrumental band other than the fact that the material has just developed this way. But we are open to vocals being on future material, whether it comes from us or from an outside contributor. Actually, I floated the idea of vocals on the title track of the new album “Mouth” to a female vocalist in Brisbane, however I was probably not clear in my direction of what I was thinking, and the idea never got off the ground. I’m still keen for this particular person to work with us on something in the future though. We are very open to the idea of collaboration in general.
MAT: Curt had this project going and asked if I could play drums with him, and I was really keen to do it. It’s good to do something different musically. Music has no boundaries, music without singing has been around for years, and a lot of Instrumental bands are paving the way in the genre now.
What are your musical backgrounds? How did you first come to music?
MAT: I think growing up hearing my parents records playing, started me off. I had an interest early on, in drumming banging on stuff as a kid. When I finally brought a drum kit I think I was 17, then music just became everything to me, from listening and watching other musicians, jamming with mates etc… Then over the years playing in bands gigging, touring up until today.
CURT: I’ve always connected with music heavily as a listener but in regards to performing, I started much later. I mean I’ve always dabbled in playing privately, but the idea of performing music in front of people, or recording an EP or an album seemed unattainable to me. I had friends saying I should do it, but it was something I just wasn’t confident in pulling off.
Is the band named in homage to the 1954 made British war film The Sea Shall Not Have Them?
CURT: Yes it is. I used to travel a lot in a previous job, and the more I was away from home, the more difficult it became to sleep. I had the movie greats channel one night, and that movie came on. I thought “cool name for a band” and promptly feel asleep. Luckily I remembered it the next morning. Only last week, a good friend of mine sent me a copy of the novel in the mail – he found it in the garage sale for a dollar in mint condition. I still haven’t seen the movie in full or read the book yet, which embarrasses me a little bit.
It’s been four years since tssnht released your first EP Traces. What’s been happening in tssnht-land during this period? Your new album Mouth has just come out; why so long between releases?
CURT: Yes, it’s been a while between releases. “Traces” came out in 2008. Around early to mid-2009, we were starting to think about the follow up. Mat was also actively involved with another Gold Coast band called Helm. Helm was and is an actively touring band, and were constantly on the road. Further to this, Mat was also expecting his first child around that time. I’m a dad too, so I completely understand that it’s an exciting and very new experience that no amount of books or classes can prepare you for. I didn’t want to clutter his life with extra responsibility, so I kind of quietly ground the band to a halt. Consequently, a little bit of wind went out of my sails in regards to our band too. I just stopped thinking about it. From memory we played 2 shows in 2010, did a remix for Axxonn at the end of 2010, and absolutely nothing in 2011. Mat decided to leave Helm maybe early ’11, for reasons I am not aware of, and thoughts turned to us re-activating the band, although it wasn’t planned to get in and record an album, that’s for sure. The vibe was more in the vein of “let’s get back in a room and start playing and see what happens”. But within maybe 6 weeks to 2 months, we’d gone from having casual rehearsals to having a finished album that we are very proud of.
MAT: As Curt said other things kinda moved in and took up time, but we always had this band going and waiting in the shadows. Sometimes things happen when they are ready to, and when I wasn’t so committed with other projects I was keen to really get going and pick up from where we left off. Going into the studio and recording a new album was perfect.
You recently launched Mouth (which has been on high rotation at my house by the way!). I think it’s totally epic and very cinematic; if Mouth was a soundtrack to a film, what would the film be about?
CURT: Thanks for the kind words Bianca. It’s always nice that someone takes the time to have a listen, let alone listen to it more than once! I’m not sure what kind of film our music would soundtrack, whatever film is being playing out in the mind of the person listening to it I guess.
MAT: Ha thanks, when we got our master back I was like man this stuff should be on a movie soundtrack!!! But yeah, I guess it would be a dark plot with a lighter side to make you feel good, with hopefully a not so predictable ending, not sure whatever triggers someone’s sensors?
How did Mouth’s launch at The Waiting Room go?
MAT: Very intimate, it was a lot of fun playing there. You could see people up close, spread around the old house venue. It’s always nice to play in Brisbane, we had a good show. Was nice to be asked to play such a DIY location with a very supportive network of people.
CURT: The album launch was great fun, for a number of reasons. For a start, it was great to play live again, as we’ve done only 2 gigs in 2 years! We “gig tested” the Mouth material earlier in the year when Sleepmakeswaves kindly let us jump on their bill, but this felt like our first real go at it. Brendon Telford, who runs an event called Sonic Masala Presents, was kind enough to invite us up to Brisbane and a regular gig soon enough turned into an album launch. The room was a great mix of familiar faces and new ones. The Waiting Room seems to be a continuation of what places like Sun Distortion and The Hangar established a few years back, a great DIY location that is open to new bands and new sounds that exist outside the norm. Also, it was good to re-connect with guys like Phil and Chris from Lofly/The Hangar, as they gave us our first Brisbane shows purely based on substandard MySpace demos before we did the Traces EP.
Is it ever a challenge for you to translate the songs live?
MAT: I think apart from the technical side of things, from my point of view, staying in time with the music, but also making it feel natural for the listener. The new stuff is pretty powerful music, so it takes a bit of time to get a medium between the computer and Curt soaring on his axe! Once we get our groove on its gets better every time.
CURT: It’s a challenge in the sense that we don’t rehearse a lot [laughs]. Remembering my parts is probably the biggest task. We run loops and samples to help with the live sound as we are just a two piece, so there is always the danger of technology failing you. But that makes it fun – the fact that it could all go pear shaped at any given moment.
What do you personally love most about Mouth?
CURT: From a listening point of view, I’m really happy with the way it hangs together as an album. It was a real conscious effort on our part to have an album in the true sense but also have songs that stood on their own merit. From the creation side of things, I love the fact that we just went in and got it done, considering how little preparation we had and how raw most of the material was heading into the studio. Only Signal, Traces (the song, not the EP) and Stormsong had been played live or settled on arrangement wise, the rest were all brand new pieces. When we recorded Mat’s drum parts at Airlock in Brisbane, a few of the songs really only had a bass line and maybe a single guitar line to work from. So it was an incredible effort on his part, to pull off the dynamics that were needed in the songs from him with so little groundwork. When it came to me putting down my parts, I just made up the rest as I went along…
MAT: I think it’s a strong album, the songs have good energy. I’m very proud of how it turned out, it really came together quick, Curt did a great job writing these epics, and it seemed to flow out pretty easily. Each time I listen to it the songs still sound fresh.
What kind of attitude did you go into the studio with to record it?
MAT: I just wanted to play for the song mostly, I wanted to play what I thought would fit the mood, you always think about adding more but sometimes less is more, and I hoped I got it right for the most part. Some magic happened in there on the spot as it does, and it worked in our favour, because some songs were still coming together at that stage.
CURT: To get in and get it done! We booked 2 days to do drums at Airlock, and Mat knocked over his stuff in a little over a day, so we tracked a piano part and also some layered bass parts on a Hammock organ through a beautiful Leslie rotating speaker cabinet that Ian from Airlock has up there. After that, we relocated to the mysterious Gold Coast location called The Compound, with another 4 days of doing guitars, bass and other noises. I wanted to go home at night, but to be honest I wasn’t much use to anyone at my place when I had finished for the day. I felt like a zombie – those days at The Compound were long and lots of work, but great fun.
Mouth was co-produced, engineered & mixed by (one of my favourite local musicians!) Mark Duckworth, why do you choose to work with him? What’s something interesting you learnt from him while working on the record?
CURT: Ducko is great. I have known him to say hello over the last couple of years but we have mutual friends, and those friends thought we would work well together, which turned out to be more than true. Nothing was a stress for him and it was a relaxed environment all the time. He works on a wide variety of stuff but I think he was keen to get his hands on something that was in line with his own personal tastes. Having said that, he has very extreme personal tastes too. Probably the best thing that we learned was not to turn anything off. Some of the random electronic noise that you hear on the album was an amp or a pedal left on that would start looping on itself. We’d finish a take and everything would quieten off, and we’d be like “what’s that noise?” or “do you hear that?”… then we’d hit record. We will be definitely be working with Mark more in the future, I couldn’t see us working with anyone else to be honest.
MAT: Yeah it was great working with Ducko, I hadn’t seen him for a while, we shared the stage together years back, in old bands. So it was great to catch up and see what he was doing, and yeah it was perfect having him on board, producing the album. He really had a good ear and vibe for the songs, so it was cool having him work on the album.
The art work for Mouth is by Sam Smith; what was the brief you gave him for the art?
CURT: Sam had free reign and came up with about 12 to 14 ideas initially. In the end we all, Sam included, kept gravitating towards the artwork that you now see on the cover. It’s simple, direct and somehow represents our sound.
What bands do you feel are kindred-spirits?
CURT: There are a few artists I feel we have a connection with the sense that they are purely in it for love and are out there doing their own thing. Axxonn, which is our good friend Tom Hall’s solo electronic doom project – I love his stuff. He was based in Brisbane but now lives in LA. He’s unafraid to push the sonic boundaries. I’d admire Mr Maps, Aheadphonehome and Restream from Brisbane too. I think the best example of a DIY band at the moment is No Anchor – they release great music, put on powerful shows and engage their fanbase in a really intelligent way.
MAT: I not sure, but maybe bands I’ve played with is a start, sometimes you hear music and it translates how you’d expect it to, or feels a certain way that you connect with?
What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received thus far about your music?
CURT: Life is very busy these days for everyone, so if someone has invested some time to have a listen to your stuff, well then that’s a compliment in itself. Saying they liked it is an added bonus.
MAT: That’s a good question…. normally I get told “your music really takes me somewhere else, and is powerful in a sense that it takes you on a journey”. So that’s nice to hear that our music can take you somewhere outside of your state of mind, that’s always good.
Why is music important to you?
CURT: Hard to answer this without coming across all pompous etc., but it’s my first love. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without music. If I had to give up playing it, I guess I would get by, but if I couldn’t hear music anymore, I think I would literally go insane.
What’s next for tssnht?
CURT: Obviously we want to play more shows, and we would love to take the band to Sydney and Melbourne too. But I’m keen for us to follow up Mouth quickly. The idea was and is to have a companion work with Mouth, and the material has been written with this concept in mind. A couple of the songs are almost like sequels to songs on Mouth. Initially the ideas were coming to me as more electronic based, but now they are presenting themselves as more extreme continuations of what we have put down on Mouth. Hopefully this release is ready by April/May 2013.
For more the sea shall not have them.
*Photo credit: by Talon onepalmMEDIA.com