In the Stone
“We really needed to find ourselves in different ways,” The Goon Sax drummer Riley Jones tells Apple Music about changing their songwriting approach following their second album, 2018’s We’re Not Talking. “We did need to find a way to breathe new life into something that we'd been doing for years at that point. Otherwise, we would've kept repeating ourselves.” The Brisbane-based indie-pop trio of Riley, Louis Forster and James Harrison—all singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists—went through many changes, both personal and musical, in the three years it took to complete the album. Forster temporarily relocated to Berlin, Germany, and started getting more into electronic music, while Riley and Harrison formed a post-punk band called Soot. Once they'd come up with a good amount of ideas, the band decided to live in a shared house, where they were able to practise together three times a week and give each other all their attention without ever having to leave that creative space.
The final result is some of the band's most collaborative and explorative work yet, in which they combine their distinct musical personalities and distil a new crop of influences—whether it's noise, psychedelia, experimental rock or mainstream pop—into their usually bright, whip-smart pop songs. “We got back into a lot of our earlier influences, but at the same time, we were trying to push our sound as far as we felt we could go,” Forster says. “It was a really slow writing process in which we scrapped a whole bunch of songs multiple times, but I felt like we were honing in on this conceptual world.” Here, Jones, Forster and Harrison give insight into the songs they each contributed to the album.
“In the Stone”
Louis Forster: “‘In the Stone’ was the last song I wrote on this record. That song is really about shifting perspectives. It's about losing your sense of self when you feel like you've been connecting to it so strongly. When you feel like you've had this really limitless idea of yourself, which is based around another person who's accepting you in any way. As tacky as it is to talk about, it was also about addiction. It was about using drugs to connect to an essence of yourself and feel closer to that, but then going too far and feeling so far away from yourself. And even using drugs to connect to sex, and then taking so many drugs that you couldn't have sex, and feeling really lost. It's about excess and avoidance—trying to avoid talking about things by just taking something that will make you happy.”
LF: “The whole of that song was really about whether there is an inherent truth, whether multiple truths can be valid and whether truth can be a more flexible concept. I feel like it's going between these two realities all the time—a more normal reality and a psychic supernatural reality. Like when there's two people who have this connection, and it feels like you can't entirely choose to live in one because there's always forces from the other that prove themselves to be more real than you can pretend they're not. You can live in this psychic reality, but the real world—whether it's plans, ageing and time—still can catch up with you, and you can't escape those things.”
Riley Jones: “I think my biggest influence for that song is probably Psychic TV and their song ‘Godstar’, just for the atmosphere, as well as Jeffrey Lee Pierce from The Gun Club. But sonically, it doesn't actually sound very much like that at all. It's speak-sung and a bit country-ish, which I think comes from his influence. I wrote it on bass in about five minutes, but it took a lot of different forms before we got to the final version. It used to be a lot slower, and then we ended up just playing with the tempo until it felt right. The thing that took the longest was probably James’ guitar part. We had a lot of noise influences on this album, but James had never played noisy guitar before, so that's probably the thing that we did the most takes of in the end. It took a few months of the song evolving until it reached this point.”
James Harrison: “I'd actually played the ascending melody a couple of times while I was jamming over COVID, and the chord progression has an elating feel to it anytime I play it. I wrote it for someone.”
LF: “I wanted to write a song that starts off with one idea, to then try to incorporate something else that fundamentally contradicts it. I was really influenced by Tim Hardin and ’60s folk songs. And then I got really obsessed with this idea of putting a ’90s kind of Hole chorus, which was insanely fun to me. It's about the power of imagination and a psychic connection where you're no longer with someone, but you're dreaming about them and imagining them, and you know that some part of you is with them and some part of them is with you.”
LF: “Riley and Jim really changed that song when we started to play it together. I'd written that song and it was really The Raincoats-inspired. It was the first song that I wrote for the record, the very first thing, and then I remember showing it to them when we got back to Brisbane. Riley started playing a disco beat under it, and Jim was playing this prancing guitar line. It reminded me of Kiss or something. I really liked it and it completely changed the meaning of the song. I think the verses are inspired by The Blue Nile. I got really, really obsessed with that band and the way they slowly hold tension and have this feeling of nighttime in their music.”
RJ: “These are the two songs on the album where I play guitar, and so they're a lot noisier but poppy in terms of the structure. I wanted to be somewhere between an Elvis song and a Keiji Haino song, but then I was also very inspired by classic pop like Kylie Minogue. It's a strange cocktail of all of these things. It's definitely rooted in what we've done in the past, and I think the method hasn't changed so much. We still work together in the same way, but sonically, it is pretty different.”
JH: “That song came the quickest to me. I wrote the chorus at a different point, and Riley brought in a specific drumbeat which felt like it tied the whole song together. I thought it was a really simple song for a while, but then it started clicking in the band, which was good. I think the lyrics are a bit weird—they’re meant to be metaphorical.”
LF: “As much as it's a cliché, it's like the Townes Van Zandt lyric about waiting around to die. I think it was about feeling very, very mortal. I was pretty depressed and I felt like I was just waiting to be obsolete, waiting till it was okay to die. But at the same time, just wishing that I hadn't. It was being angry at the world that I existed at all, because I felt like my time of obsolescence was still quite a way off. But then, I think it's about finding some kind of peace in that as well. I made that song sound more depressing than it was at first. It's about accepting that you have an amount of time here and having a strange relationship with being alive, which, maybe at one point, was and is now not at all that way. I think I've moved a long way from that. I've accepted my place in this world.”
JH: “The way I originally played it on guitar, it just went everywhere. I listened to a bunch of Nick Drake songs and tried to streamline it out a bit so that it was a bit more listenable and sounded more simple. It does have the piano, which I think gives it good groove, too. But I also really like the lyrics. That's probably some of my favourite lyrics that I wrote—it definitely has a whimsical feeling to it.”