Interview: Joe White of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne rockers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever release their second album, Sideways To New Italy, today.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda tracked down Joe White, one of the three main vocalists and songwriters of the band to find out the story behind the record. Listen here to find out:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

M: How is the lockdown situation, the virus thing going for you?

J: It’s not going too bad. The day to day is quite alright really. It’s just the whole, I guess, gigs being gone for the foreseeable future, is a bit hard to take so comes it waves you know? Have a good day and then you have a bad day.

M: Right. And of course you’re releasing an album in the middle of all this, how are you feeling about that?

J: Really excited actually. I mean, there was a brief chat about not releasing it but to have it sitting there without being released just did not seem right to us, it was like let’s just get it out there. I mean, we’ll play these songs live eventually and it can be exciting when we do.

M: Right. I can understand why somebody would want to postpone it because of the live thing, but for somebody like me, I’ve got lots of time to listen, you know?

J: That’s right and I feel like music’s sort of got a different sound at the moment. People are listening in in a different way. So it’s kind of a cool time to be listening as well.

M: And have you been listening in a different way to music?

J: Yeah, I think so. I’ve been listening with a bit more of like freedom or something, freedom of, I don’t know how to explain that, what I’m trying to say is..when all this first happened I started listening to a lot of sixties, seventies kind of rock and roll, big melodies, big robust melodies just cause it felt good I guess.Yeah a lot of Ween as well, they just sort of write with absolute freedom and yeah so I don’t know, I guess I’m listening with a bit more joy for a big melody.

M: There you go. And does what you listen to casually affect how your writing goes and how the band’s music ends up?

J: I don’t reckon so much, no. I feel like personally, I write sort of within my own head like I don’t take a whole lot of inspiration from … I don’t get sparks of inspiration from other things. I just sort of pick up the guitar and if it sounds right, sounds cool, sounds you know, sounds what I’m after, then I can work with it. But having said that, sometimes I’ll listen to the radio and hear a drum beat and be like alright, I’m gonna write something using that beat and see what happens. So yeah, it’s little things but not necessarily overall styles or inspirational overarching things I reckon.

M: So I think the last time I spoke, I spoke to you and Tom at the Laneway Festival  a couple of years ago here in Auckland when you were here playing.

J: Ah right.

M: And you were a pretty new band at that point, you’d had one album out, how would you say things have changed in the course of that time for you and for the band?

J: Quite a lot. Well yeah, that was before our album was released.

M: I think so yeah.

J: Well I think, what’s changed I guess, I mean we started doing a lot of travelling after that, a lot of shows, a lot of touring, but as musicians I think we sort of just got really into making sure the live show was as airtight and stacked as possible you know, try making it as much of a show. That was really important to us, because that’s basically what we’ve done since then. Just play live, so we’ve absolutely just drilled ourselves into becoming like a tight, entertaining live band as possible. And I think that kind of, probably came into the recording process a little bit as well for this last record, like the energy and the urgency that we try bring into the live show, we wanted to make sure that was projected into the recording as well for sure.

M: And I know it’s your second album and there’s always discussion about a bands’ second album, whether it’s gonna be a tough row to hoe compared to the first one or if it’s gonna be that much better. How did you guys look at it and approach the situation?

J: I think we set out some pretty ambitious expectations for ourselves. I’m not sure if it was all that wise but I think we knew we wanted to expand our sound beyond what we’d done earlier, try and just be a bit more adventurous, a bit more experimental with our structures and instrumentation and that kind of thing. So yeah, we did that, we’ve really tried hard and we’ve pushed ourselves further than we’ve gone before and the second album thing was lingering. I think because it’s, maybe not so much because of pressure or the media attention or anything, it’s more just like seeing this record as an opportunity to progress, and we really wanted to do that so we put the pressure on ourselves.

M: And from my understanding, there’s three of you who are all songwriters and singers. How is that relationship between the three of you developed or changed from the first album to the second and how do you guys work out who’s songs you’re gonna work with and all that?

J: It’s pretty easy. Like our relationship is, we’re all mates my friends, my cousins you know. It’s been sort of friends before the band for a long time so then when it comes to the songs, we’re pretty happy to just listen and figure out what’s best and we’re pretty honest with each other. You know little things, like we will often just say whatever’s best for the song you know, like there’s not much ego in it. I mean, as much as we try and outdo each other, it’s also, you’ve gotta know when your song is not as good as another one.

M: It’s easy to say, but it’s a tougher thing I would imagine to actually deal with because these things have to become a bit personal right?

J: But in the end, you’ve gotta put your name to the album and you want the album to be as good as possible. So ……

M: And the title of the album, ‘Sideways To New Italy’, can be kind of misleading for folks who possibly aren’t aware of the geography of Australia so maybe you can just kind of fill in for folks who may not know what New Italy is and why you’ve named it that.

J: Yeah, I mean if it is misleading I guess that’s ok, like it’s not supposed to be so literal. It’s just an evocative four words to us. But there is a place called New Italy in North New South Wales. It’s a town settled by Italian immigrants back in the 1880s I think and they were sort of jilted by charlatans who promised utopia and dumped them on an island out in the Pacific and then Australia accepted them in and then they were settled in New Italy and they kind of created this sort of mock Phoenician town out of what they had. Now there’s a service station, road side stop with a museum that tells you all about it which is such a cool thing to stop at when you’re driving up and down the coast. So just that story just really sounded really evocative to us and this idea of taking what you love and what you hold dear, taking it with you wherever you go, your sense of home and that kind of just sounded really cool to us so we started calling the record as a working title New Italy just to call it something when we were making it and then it stuck, we just really loved it.

M: Very cool. So when was the last time you guys played together?

J: The last live show was Sydney, but it would’ve been early March so just before everything shut down, like a few days before pubs closed which was really fun, it was really weird because everyone knew it was probably the last live show on earth. Yeah, it was kinda strange. But then, we’ve been playing together recently, We’re doing a bunch of recordings and live sessions for radio and stuff each week so it’s back in the rehearsal studio and working on these new songs to get them up for live, even though it’s not in front of people.

M: How does it feel to be playing together again? Do you usually take these kinds of breaks?

J: No, this has been the longest break we’ve taken for sure, and it feels really good to play. It’s almost like the nervous energy that gets you going, it’s a bit of adrenaline just making every little bit stick out and making it as good as possible. It’s really fun. And we’ve started messing around with some new ideas as well so that’s fun too.

M: Oh good. Get the old creative juices flowing while you’re sitting around the house.

J: That’s right yeah, there’s plenty to work with now.

M: That’s always exciting. I guess there’s some talk of working out some kind of bubble between New Zealand and Australia so that there’s ease of travel between the two countries, so hopefully that’ll mean that you’ll be able to come and visit us some time soon.

J: That would be amazing. It’s been too long.

M: Was that the last time you were here, was for Laneway? Or have you been here since then?

J: Yeah, that was the last time.

M: That was a good show.

J: Well overdue.

M: How would you say the band has changed, evolved, your live shows especially since then…for folks who have kind of been following you along.

J: We haven’t brought any new instruments in or anything it’s all just nuts and bolts.

M: Right, not playing the sitar?

J: Just straight up and down. I guess we’ve got a whole bunch of new songs, and I guess we can sculpt a set with more colours in our palette. Ideally we’re a bit more professional these days.

M: And I think that comes across in the record, in a good way.

J: Yeah, cool.

M: Cause some people can get too slick, and that’s a problem, but you gotta keep that raw energy while still sounding like you know what you’re doing I guess.

J: Hopefully that’s how it comes across.

M: Well thank you for taking time to talk to me. I really appreciate it because it’s nice to talk to anybody under these circumstances.

J: Yeah, of course. Thank you.

M: Hopefully we’ll get to see you here in Auckland sometime soon.

J: Absolutely, look forward to it.

M: Ok, well hang in there, stay safe, stay healthy and we’ll see you soon.

Sideways To New Italy Is Released Today