Words by Thea Martin
The first time I saw HMS Ash play live was at an Australian Underground bushfire fundraiser in February. They'd been on my radar for a while, occasionally popping into the forefront of my mind as I'd browse through my playlists, or when I'd see their cassette in Clarity Records. When I finally saw them perform, I was blown away. Their music was so rhythmic and intricate, so energetic, at times humorous, and consequently had me smiling through their whole set.
Originally from Adelaide and now based in Melbourne, Rory (vox and guitar), Thomas (bass and backing vox) and Axel (drums) are extremely dedicated to making music and maintaining their involvement in the creative scene. They've been living together as a band for around a year, and their new track Pipeline (out today!) along with an accompanying music video is the first single to come off the back of their debut album Songs for Sinking.
Upon my initial listen, I was completely taken by the open chords, the driving hi-hat, the intricate bass line that is distinctive of their writing, and the warm resonance of Rory's vocals that just melds effortlessly into the overall sound. HMS Ash is unafraid to explore complex themes, and Pipeline is no exception, being centred around the idea of of grappling with identity, presented through unique and at times surreal imagery.
I was lucky enough to unpack the creation of Pipeline and the accompanying music video with Rory, Thomas and Axel, discussing methods of recording, the philosophy of David Byrne, and the art of performance along the way.
I love the opening and closing shots of this video, there's a lot of chaotic fun happening in the scenes in between, but this shot of your house provides such a welcoming structure. Was that an idea you wanted to include from the start?
T: I think it was kinda the centre of it.
R: We do tend to base our music around the place we write it in, and even though we didn't write Pipeline in this house, because we've been working on it so much here I guess it associates.
T: I think the idea for the video was that I wanted to base something in
and around the house completely, and I thought it established it nicely. Also, I was thinking of where we left off, with Snow, and I wanted a bridge between that atmosphere and the crazy chaos of Pipeline, which is why I used that sound effect at the start as a callback.
A: Also that we just moved here, the new HMS Ash era.
I presume the house is your current residence in Melbourne - how has the transition been moving from Adelaide? It's a pretty huge commitment to move and live together as a band, how has the experience been so far?
R: I suppose we've been living together as a band for a while now.
A: Yeah, for a year.
T: It's our first time living in a proper place - our own responsibility. It's pretty good.
T: But it's been a little frustrating. Well, at first it was really good, because we had a bunch of gigs
when we first got here. And there's been learning curves, like when we were at the farm we could make as much noise as we wanted, but now we have to be conscious of the neighbours.
R: Let the record show I'm eating noodles.
From the 90s sit-com-esque intros of the band members, to the wine bottle microphone substitution and all the general shenanigans we witness in this video, it seems that it could be a product of a lot of time spent inside! Did the concept for the video arise as a result of the Covid-19 isolation scenario, or was this something you had in the works prior to lockdown restrictions?
T: It's definitely because of Covid-19!
R: It's driven us a little up the wall. But we didn't want it to define the video.
T: I think it's trying to acknowledge the situation and just go, "yeah we're fucking around and
A: Rory and I also watched Can I Call You Tonight? by Dayglow and we liked the crappy greenscreen and little vignettes.
T: We're trying to get across the idea that we're a pretty goofy band - while we're going to do serious things we want to be approachable. And the sitcom thing is a reference to Too Many Cooks, we should make that clear!
I now want to get into the actual song. I'd love to know what music you were listening to at the time of the creation of Pipeline, and how do you think it impacted your writing?
A: Originally it was kind of a Skegss thing.
R: I was getting into IDLES a lot, with the chaotic guitar lines. It's become a lot more mellow along the way, haha.
T: When I'm listening to the first demo of it, it sounds like a Beatles song.
R: Isn't that strange? I tried to write a punkier song and it came out like a Beatles surfy, Beach Boys- looking ass.
T: But we were also listening to the Buttertones.
A: I think I might have been listening to DZ Deathrays about then.
Sophie Goodin's vocals add a gorgeous additional layer to the chorus section of the song, did you always envision the track with her voice on it?
R: Not originally, but once we started to work on harmonies, we realised that a higher feminine voice would work really well.
T: Especially when we recorded the demo, it sounded like a choral blast in the chorus, so we wanted to make it epic, more dimensions.
A lot of your lyrics remind me of the specificity of image, yet surrealist groundings the lyrics of artists such as Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement hold. I can sense some underlying concepts at play in this song, particularly evident in lines such as:
"Look at my body
It is a factory
All the components
Look at them working"
Can you give a little insight into the thought process and meaning behind the lyrics of Pipeline, and if the video works to reflect this as well?
T: That's such an amazing compliment first up, Neutral Milk Hotel is my favourite artist of all time and Pavement is pretty close behind. The video doesn't reflect it all though [all laugh]. The video is just about the vibe of it. The lyrics... they're pretty personal to us.
R: Definitely a lot of the songs coming up in this album are identity-related. Things like, 'look at my body, it is a factory,' - regardless of how I see myself socially, my body carries me.
T: Yeah, the lyrics 'look at my body, it is a factory,' implies an existing disdain for it, but that anyway, it's still pretty good though! The song implies some dissatisfaction. I remember when we were starting at the winery and first coming up with what the band would draw on, we were talking about the idea of body imagery, like looking around at the winery and thinking it looks like a body. The verses are kind of...
R: [laughs] Yeah, the first part of the verse, the 'between the grass and the Earth, is where I give myself space' the song is talking about my reflection, how usually I don't give myself any space whatsoever to think about these sorts of things.
T: This song is a reprieve.
R: And "the ease with which those words came out my mouth", what was it originally? "I'm in a stitch"?
T: The idea of fucking something up.
R: And then it got changed into something funnier to be honest [laughs].
T: It reminds me of David Byrne's philosophy towards lyrics. You write the song first, then the words fit the vibe.
R: I just want to say, we're not explicitly calling anyone's mum a bitch.
T: Oh yeah, it's just a meme! Especially for it releasing around Mothers' Day! [all laugh]
For those who have heard HMS Ash before, one of the first things you may notice on listening to this new track is the audible change in recording process. Pipeline was recorded in a studio - was this the first time you've recorded in that setting? How did it differ from the previous album which I believe was recorded on a cassette recorder?
R: Well, we had a friend nice enough to give us some time in his studios. I've done a few audio-related favours for him in the past, and I guess this is his way of repaying us for it. This is the first time we've recorded in a real-deal studio like that.
T: I think when we were writing the songs for Songs for Sinking we really liked the vibe of the cassette player. We could have gone to a studio, but I think we really wanted to do it ourselves because we were worried about it being too digital. So it was really good going to this studio and it was mostly analog. What's the big...?
R: Oh, we recorded on a huge 8-track tape machine, which used to belong to an ABC studio somewhere. Playing through that was incredible because it was way more on the analog side like the tape recorder.
T: And it's great, because our drums have been how we've wanted them for the first time, it's almost danceable! And the process of actually recording it was quite a bit of a learning curve because we were just not used to it.
I wanted to just touch on the recording process for Songs for Sinking, as I'm such a fan of it, particularly the track Mr Woolworths. I'm just starting to learn about tape recording and tape loops, and I'm really into the music of artists like Steve Reich who has heavily used these techniques in his music. Was your choice to record onto cassette with the single microphone a choice made out of convenience, or an aesthetic choice?
R: So as you said, the demo for the album was recorded onto a tape cassette using a single mic, but the full album had a similar vibe just not on a single mic.
T: It was recorded over multiple mics digitally...
R: Then sent through a tape machine.
T: We definitely wanted to have that vibe.
R: We could have just kept it digital if we wanted to, but there's a certain feeling to music from cassettes and just those little imperfections in the sound. We're inspired by bands like Modest Mouse.
T: We're not leaving that aesthetic behind, in our future singles and albums we're going to do it even more. And the tape loops are definitely staying!
R: Oh yeah! I love tape loops.
Around the midpoint of the video we get a little montage of gigs. How have the other artists you've played with impacted you as a band?
R: I think a lot of it is about getting into a scene, the community has been really amazing. Especially at the Eastern (in Ballarat).
T: The Eastern has been really huge, they're an amazing venue. The first couple of bands we got to know there were Ivy Streep, Honey Hunter, Medico and Grove.
Those bands massively influenced how we wrote the new tracks.
R: And meeting a lot of our, now, Melbourne friends, people from APCO and Shock Friendly and so on. It might be less of a musical inspiration, but just making our lives so much better, they're a great bunch of friends.
T: And also our performance. I'm comparing in my head our gig at the Rhino Room and then at the other place in Ballarat, the Karova, and it's just miles apart. We wouldn't have performed that way if it wasn't for the gigs we saw, how wild they got. It's been a lot of encouragement for us to perform in unfamiliar ways.
A: I think it's interesting to see how different bands interpret being entertainers. Like compared to some people we saw in that basement? Compared to Scab Baby, compared to someone like Grove. How they each interacted with the audience.
R: Yeah, and then compared to a band who's just focusing on the sound you're hearing.
And the cliche question to end, what's next for HMS Ash?
R: Da rest of the album.
A: We're breaking up.
R: Yeah, it's over.
A: This is our breakup interview.
T: Rumour has it we're breaking up, thank God! HMS Ash sucks.
R: But yeah, my inside man told me that we're doing a bunch of livestreams. And a lot more music videos too, there's a lot of songs on this new album and some of them need to have visuals with them.
Stay tuned in to everything HMS Ash is up to here.
GIFs edited by Harry Starick
Images supplied courtesy of HMS Ash