The Dead Leaves interview

  • 28/03/2012

By Ren Kirk

Though originally a vehicle for songsmith Matt Joe Gow, Cities On The Sea heralds the debut of The Dead Leaves as a band in their own right, having evolved far beyond simply being a solo artist’s backing band.

Formed back in 2009, in Melbourne, Australia, The Dead Leaves’ Matt Joe Gow is actually another Kiwi kid who’s jumped ship, turned to the dark side – call it what you will – and taken up residence across the ditch. 

After a change in focus, from that of a solo career, Gow and fellow band members have not been idle. Early 2011 saw the foursome begin recording their debut album at BJB Studios in Sydney, with producers Scott Horscroft (The Presets, Birds of Tokyo, The Panics) and Eric J Dubowsky (Art vs Science, Weezer).

Due for release in New Zealand on Friday March 30, Cities On The Sea is an impressively polished piece. And while the band compares its sound to Joy Division, Grizzly Bear and Band Of Horses, the most obvious comparison for me on first listen was The National. Time to find out a little more about Gow and his brooding baritone.

What’s your musical background like?
I began playing in bands in Dunedin as a kid, launched a solo album couple years back called The Messenger and now Cities On The Sea will be my first full band release with The Dead Leaves.

What do you like most about being a musician? 
The creative possibilities open to you on any given day

Who are the members of The Dead Leaves and how did you come together?
There’s Joel Witenberg on drums, Andrew Pollock on guitar and Cam Grindrod on bass. Andy joined me on the 'Matt Joe Gow' project, and not long after we began working on this project as well. Later we recruited Joel and Cam and we further refined the sound.

Why did you decide to move to Australia?
I had been living in England and wanted to be closer to New Zealand. But on my way home I fell in love with Melbourne and never left.

What do like miss about New Zealand?
My family and the scenery down South.

How do you think the music scene differs, NZ vs Aus?
Mostly in that it's so much bigger in Australia, which means more people, more cities, and therefore more opportunities for a musician to forge a career. 

Tell me about the writing / recording process for this new album, Cities On The Sea?
I initially went to the label with a second solo album, which they were happy with, and we started to work towards recording those songs. At the same time Andy and I were in the early stages of creating songs for a debut Dead Leaves album… and, well, the energy and overall enthusiasm from the band for the Dead Leaves songs was such that I decided to change course. We continued to work on the project and after about six songs we got a green light from the label for an album.

What was the most interesting thing for you and during this process?
The early stages; the creativity and bouncing ideas around in our studio at home. Those moments are what it's all about for me.

Where did you get inspiration from for the album?
The band members all have different influences and there is such a broad spectrum of music we all listen to, that I’m sure influences each of us, but too many to name really. Personally I remember listening to a lot of minimalist composers at the time, like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. I wanted to blend some of those sonic textures with very structured, almost pop-like sensibilities, so I would also cite songwriters like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen as an influence.

Where did the album name come from?
The album title is a metaphor for something that seems forever just out of one's reach. I have always heard of cities being built on the ocean off the coast of somewhere or other, but they never seem to eventuate to anything short of lovely imagery.

What about the cover artwork, where did the concept come from? Who is it by?
A design team in Sydney called Debaser created the cover. I sent them some of the album lyrics and imagery, and from there we talked about ideas. When we saw that image we knew it was the right one.

Gin Wigmore provided guest vocals for the track, ‘This Living’, how did that come about? How did you find her to work with?
The song was created with a female vocalist in mind - I thought it would bring about a nice shift in the second verse, and give even more meaning and resonance to the lyrics. We started searching for a female who had a real “character” voice, and when management suggested Gin we all thought she would be perfect. She was living in Sydney at the time and by chance doing some work in the same studio as us, so one day we nabbed her. She asked me about the song, and its meaning, and from there went into the booth. She nailed it pretty quickly and it was a pleasure to work with her, she's a lot of fun.

You also have guest vocals from another female, Emma Louise on the track ‘Changing’ - how did that happen?
We were back in Melbourne, just before the mixing stage, and felt that a female voice would lend itself well to that song; add another subtle texture that was perhaps missing. Emma was on just about every record labels' radar at that stage, but I had never actually heard of her until she was suggested to us for the track. Her voice is almost ethereal in quality and when we heard it we just knew it would blend really well,

Do you have a favourite track? Which tracks would you recommend to a first time listener?
I don't have a favourite track. They are all special to me in some way, and when it comes to playing them it differs from show to show. But I would perhaps suggest one of our more anthemic numbers for new listeners, such as ‘Ordinary Lot’. It's an easy sing along, and lyrically the meaning in the song is one of the main themes behind the album - romanticising everyday life.

You’re touring Australia at the moment to promote the album, what have been the highlights so far?
The first one that comes to mind was Peats Ridge Festival at New years. We were on the main stage, and considering our album wasn’t even out then it was a bit of a surprise - a pleasant one though.

And there are a few NZ shows coming up for you as well aren’t there?
Definitely! We will be in New Zealand for a short trip in early April and then back again a little later for a larger tour.

What’s next for The Dead Leaves, what are your plans for the rest of 2012?
Play shows and get the music out there, then head back into the studio and try something new. Pretty simple really.

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