Sideways to New Italy

Sideways to New Italy

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever wanted to get back in touch with the things that bring meaning to their lives after touring extensively in support of 2018’s full-length debut Hope Downs. The Melbourne five-piece has always approached their music with a keen sense of geography. On Hope Downs, singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe White and singer/songwriter/guitarists Fran Keaney and Tom Russo, who split songwriting duties, told stories about characters in distress in settings both familiar and remote—from the beautiful stretches of the Aeolian Islands in Sicily to the vast iron ore mines in Western Australia. On their second studio LP, Sideways to New Italy, they're also looking within themselves to connect with their feelings and emotions. “We went into the interior geography rather than writing about the outside,” says Russo. “It took us back to our formative places, and the places that we grew up and the places that we never guessed that we had idealized from a distance.” It also helped them recapture the excitement of being in a band together. “We wanted to carry through the positivity we always had when we started this band before we started touring,” says Keaney. “All together in the same room, not writing the songs until we've actually had a chance to rip them apart and take them in different directions.” Here, Keaney, Russo, and White walk us through the album track by track. The Second of the First Fran Keaney: “That was one of the earlier ones that we wrote or started writing. And it informed the path that we would take for the rest of the album, which is that we found something that we were really excited about. I had a few chords for it and a rough idea for a song, and I brought it to the band, but then we ended up just taking it down a different path and left that song for dead. We had this jam that we were really excited about, but that's all it was. It was just two chords, and we just stuck on it, you know, like 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and then just recorded it on an iPhone and then sat with it for a while and tried to work out what that new song might be.” Tom Russo: “We were going back to our roots of bringing in whoever is at hand to help do little bits and pieces on the album. And Joe's girlfriend, and one of our best friends, we got him to come in and do a spoken-word part. And that's not to our original spirit where we used to do that without first recording through it, just throwing the kitchen sink at it.” Falling Thunder Russo: “It’s about the constants of change, when you find yourself the next year in the same season. It’s written in that point where fall turns into winter. And I find that to be a really reflective time. Everyone else was on holiday in Europe, taking some time off. And I was just riding around in the tour van for a few days throughout Europe with our tour manager and our tech, which was a great experience, getting ferried around like that. I was in the van on my own, and I remember chewing the bones of this song, on my computer, in the back of a tour van watching Germany and the Midlands going by. When we eventually took it back to the band, we really pulled it apart and ended up surgically connecting two different songs.” Keaney: “Normally when we would do an operation like that, the body ends up rejecting the prosthetic, but this one was a complete success. We try to relate to our handsome monsters, our beautiful monsters. There’s a lot of—I know the metaphor is getting a bit weird—limbs on the cutting room floor. We can be brutal now. We're all very much open to collaborating, and while we do have a personal connection to ideas that we put in, everybody accepts that everything's up for grabs and everything's up to be moved around. So I think we've got better at that over time. So yeah, there's a lot of carnage.” She’s There Joe White: “‘She's There' was definitely one of those songs that just fell out of my hands really quickly on the guitar. I just knocked up a really quick demo on my computer at home. We went into pre-production with our producer Burke [Reid], who quickly informed us that whatever I created that day was a bit too confusing and a bit too odd. I think we were trying to push some boundaries of what's cool and what's normal and what's adventurous, so I guess an attitude we tried to take into this record was to not try to use the same verse-chorus-verse song structures that we've used before. We hadn't really considered that idea of the listener, just going in it as this cool, weird pop song that can just jump around all different parts and do whatever it wants. Turns out maybe that isn't the case, but in the end, it informed what we have now. I feel like I used my brain more than I ever used it before, and I'd go to sleep thinking about songs and then wake up in the morning with those songs in my head.” Beautiful Steven Russo: “I was thinking about the places that shaped me and shaped us. It's loosely set at the small, pretty tough Catholic boys' school that Fran, Joe [Russo, RBCF bassist], and I went to. It would have been better to be in a co-ed school with boys and girls; there's something strange about getting a whole bunch of teenage boys together in like a concrete box. It's a bit of an unrequited love song from a teenage boy to their best friend.” The Only One White: “It started on my phone trying to make a synth-pop banger. I pulled the chords out of that and started playing it on the guitar. And then it turned into this kind of sad country song. So it was living in these two worlds. I think I went to bed one night while we were recording, watching Stop Making Sense, that live Talking Heads video-like concert. I liked the way that they introduced the elements, just one by one, and how they still managed to get so much groove, so much working for the song with so few elements. I had a little minor epiphany and thought, ‘Oh, all right. Maybe that is how we approach this song.’” Keaney: “I remember the very start and the very end of recording it. It was late at night and Marcel [Tussie, RBCF drummer] was probably pretty exhausted and he had his top off. So he was just walking around in his shorts, like he’s a man on a mission. He was losing his mind a bit. He was in his room, almost like he was boxed in a zoo, and Burke was playing around with all these drum sounds. I think he ended up using a plastic paint tub for one of the toms.” Cars in Space Keaney: “It's set at the time of the breakup between two people, and all that time before the breakup, when there are all the swirling thoughts and meandering words that happened at that time. When we were recording it, Burke said that he can see the rising and falling of the song, which is what happens in the verses. When it shifts between the chords and the hi-hats come up and the electric guitars move in and out, it's sort of the waves of 'Am I going to say it now? Is she going to say it now?' For a long time, we tried to preserve the idea that it would be in two parts, that it would be 'Cars in Space' and 'Cars in Space II.' The first had another chorus on it, but then once you got to II—which is now the outro of the song—it just didn't make sense. You're on this journey, and it feels like watching a Hollywood movie and then having another 45 minutes stuck on the end. That was sort of the idea why we couldn't really keep it as a song in two parts, so we ended up abandoning that idea.” Cameo Keaney: “The setting of the song was inspired by a place in the city of Darwin. We played at the Darwin Festival, and then there was this after-party at the park just next to it. It was a really cool scene. It sort of felt like we were in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. There were all these different types of people, all congregated in Darwin. There's someone that I liked there, and then nothing happened. As I walked back home, I let my mind go down the alternative path of just being with that person, reaching through to eternity with that person. This is an absurd sort of an idea, a bit like letting your mind wander.” Not Tonight Keaney: “My auntie, a few years ago, was talking about how she hated the song ‘Miss You’ by The Rolling Stones. Because it reminded her of when she was a kid. Her older brother, my uncle, would start to get ready to go out to parties or going out on a Saturday night rather than staying at home and watching TV and being in a warm house. He would be in the next room listening to ‘Miss You’ while he was putting on some cheap fragrance and putting on his cowboy shirt, getting ready to go out and drink booze and maybe get into a fight, that sort of thing. It always made her nervous and worried. And I could see that so vividly in my head. I thought that that would be a nice place to set a song.” Russo: “It started out as a country punk song. We tried to do surgery because it didn't quite sit right. There was a mix between both, and some parts which were almost like '90s radio rock. And that didn't sound like us—it was too powerful. It had a bit of an identity crisis for a long time. Joe knocked the cowbell against it to give it that weird country disco swing. And that was the last thing, so we were all dancing around like, 'This is the end of the album,' like a celebratory cowbell. It's my first cowbell recording experience, and possibly my last. I've heard about this rule that you're only allowed to record a cowbell once in your life. So we've used up that ticket already. I think it's the right song to use it on.” Sunglasses at the Wedding Keaney: “I did this thing that Mick Jones from The Clash does. Apparently, he writes the lyrics first, and then he just looks at the words and tries to find melody, tries to find the song in the words. There's all those really good soul songs about weddings and marriage. And I really like the tug of those, like [singing] 'Today I meet the boy I'm going to marry' and 'Going to the chapel, I'm going to get married.' I like those songs that are set at a wedding or near a wedding; it's such a momentous day. So I wanted to somehow try and carry that across. It's a bit dreamlike.” White: “The last thing we added to the song was that really sort of bubbly, nasally electric guitar that washes over the whole thing that, again, puts it back into that dream world. So it does make it feel like it's got a breath, a change of pace on the album, that also takes you into a different headspace.” The Cool Change Russo: “It's another one that's a bit of a mix of fact and fiction. It's someone remembering someone who comes in and out of their lives. In places like Australia, there's always someone whose ego kind of outgrows their town, and they go to other places to be bigger than they can be there. So they might go to LA or New York or London to be a star in one of the fields. It's about a person like that, but then they keep coming back to their old relationship and they're never going to love anyone else more than they love themselves. It's based on an amalgamation of a few people; I feel everyone knows someone like that. Musically, it was like a weird, folky little number. We didn't really know what to do with it; it was a bit countryish and it didn't really fit in our world. We looked at amping it up a bit, making it a bit faster, and then it suddenly turned into this sleazy LA country-rock number. But a good kind of sleazy, like riding a motorbike down the freeway.” White: “The backwards guitar helps fight that element. I just took my lead guitar track and chopped it up and reversed some of it and stuck it back in certain spots. That immediately just takes it to that Sweetheart of the Rodeo [The Byrds’ 1968 album] psych-folk kind of thing. But I'll also say that drumbeat is not bad at all. It lives between those worlds.”

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