“I got no views on it, it’s just something that I do”, spurts Daniel Spencer on the chorus to “No Views”, the opening track on Blank Realm’s forthcoming album Illegals in Heaven. The ‘something’ that he and his siblings/band mates do is create gloriously rousing, if slightly disheveled, music. It’s hooky but also herky, frantic but there are tracks on the new album such as “Gold” and “Palace of Love” that are also tender and playful.
Over eight years and a number of albums, the Brisbane band have been able to transform from sprawling space rock and mystic psych to the pop found on last years critically heralded Grassed Inn. During this time, the Spencer siblings - Daniel (vocals/drums), Sarah (synths/vocals) and Luke (bass) - and good friend Luke Walsh (guitar/production), have pushed their own musical boundaries with formidable live performances that often verge on joyous delirium.
Illegals in Heaven is their first album recorded in a proper studio, and has legendary Brisbane sound artist Lawrence English at the helm. The band will soon be returning to Europe for a bunch of shows and are making an appearance at Sydney's inagural Volumes festival on August 29. We had a chat to Daniel and Sarah about the new album.
Noisey: Does the ‘Illegals’ in the title refer to the international refugee crisis and how countries deal with immigration? As you know Australia is shamefully/embarrassingly bad in this area.
Daniel Spencer: It does for sure. The idea first formulated in my mind when I saw Tony Abbott on [television program] Q & A, before he was Prime Minister. He was asked what Jesus would do about boat people he said ‘Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.’ I thought it was about the most batshit thing I’d ever heard a politician say.
Things are definitely bad at the moment with both parties supporting the turn back policy. It feels like a race to the bottom. Both parties are falling over themselves to appease the darker elements of our society in exchange for cheap votes.
Not to start analysing your songs but does the “I got no views on it. It’s just something I do” on “No Views” have to do with political apathy?
Daniel: I like that interpretation, but no. The song is sung from the point of view of a speedway driver. That chorus what he would say when he’s asked why he does what he does, how he deals with putting his life on the line. He just doesn’t think about it. It’s the only way.
The working title of that song was “Speedway” but Alan Vega already did the best song with that title, so we had to go with "No Views". "River of Longing" has the Cure vibe to it or maybe that’s just the start?
Sarah Spencer: For sure. I think that’s Lawrence English’s influence, he co-produced this album with us. He kept talking about the Cure in the studio, so I think that definitely comes out. We love the Cure and they are one of the few bands I was into in high school that I still like. Does the album have a big pop song like Grassed Inn’s ‘Falling Down the Stairs”? Were you conscious of writing/recording a big pop song after "Falling"?
Sarah: We tried not to think about that! We weren’t really sure what songs we had until we went into the studio. We probably wrote about 40 songs all up, but tossed a lot of them away once we got to the studio.
Daniel: We reckon these are our best songs though, but you know, we could be wrong. For your first time in the studio you’ve kept it local but did you ever consider going somewhere overseas to record?
Daniel: Definitely, last year in Hamburg we stayed at this crazy studio that was so plush and had just about every piece of music gear I’ve ever heard of. They had whole walls with like 30 different snare drums, things like that. We really wanted to record there, but it didn’t work out. We all work full time, and life gets in the way. Maybe one day.
Sarah: It kind of worked out though, because we had a great time recording at this studio called The Plutonium in Brisbane, owned by the John Steel Singers. It’s this studio in this industrial area of Brissy, but it’s super relaxed and nice place to just hang out. We had some very late nights there making this record.
What was it like working with Lawrence?
Sarah: Amazing! Lawrence is an incredibly motivating guy with a lot of great ideas about sound. We simply couldn’t have made this record without him.
Daniel: We’ve known him for ages. He was my high school soccer coach, so in a way it was just an extension of that. Hopefully I’m better at music than soccer, because that was not my game.
Pics from Dick Diver's US tour are appearing on my Facebook feed. It looks like a lot of fun. It seems that once you have been touring a bit the small things come into play. Like you get more of a kick hanging out with friends you've made then partying all night.
Sarah: I’m also getting those pics on FB. It looks like a fun tour. It’s definitely the social thing that makes touring good. I mean, you instantly have friends in every city who are on your wavelength. You don’t get that with an Airbnb.
Daniel: Some pretty surreal stuff happens, like the time in Milwaukee we went back to this dude’s place to hang, and he sang along to all of Bee Thousand with his arm around my shoulders. Amazing. Or the time we played petanque and drank expired wine in the Bordeaux countryside with people we just met. Lots of stuff like that. It’s a unique way to travel. Something most people never experience I guess.
Sarah: We still party pretty hard though.
Bands from Destruction Unit to Ty Segall have tapped into psych sounds. Would you have more Saints in your record collection than Syd Barrett?
Daniel: I think definitely more Saints, although I love Syd, The Madcap Laughs is so great, and The Piper At the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets are deep platters. Both Syd and the Saints are big influences on us in their own way. I probably identify more with punk stuff than a lot of what gets called psych these days.
'Illegals in Heaven' is available September 4 through Fire Records.
Catch Blank Realm in Sydney at VOLUMES festival August 29 and in Europe at one of these shows:
Sept 14 – Paris at Espace B
Sept 15 – Antwerp at Het Bos
Sept 16 – Hamburg at Hafenklang
Sept 17 – Berlin at Monarch
Sept 18 – Offenbach at Hafen 2
Sept 19 – Tilburg at Incubate Festival
Sept 20 – Rotterdam at Roodkapje
Sept 22 – Amsterdam at Sugar Factory
Sep 23 – Barcelona at BAM Festival
Sept 27 – Dublin at Workmans Club
Sept 28 – Glasgow at the Hug and Pint
Sept 29 – Brighton at the Prince Albert
Sept 30 – Bristol at Start the Bus
Oct 1 – London at Shackwell Arms