Interview: City Calm Down

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Words by Jack Herz

With their first national headline tour coming up in a bit over a month, 6-piece Melbourne band City Calm Down are set to play some of their biggest shows yet. I talked with lead singer Jack Bourke ahead of the tour about musical influences, overcoming writer’s block and dancing like Peter Garrett.

 So this tour’s coming off the back of the release of your album In A Restless House, which Triple J featured. You guys originally released your music on unearthed do things feel like they’ve come full circle?

 Yes and no, I feel like things have changed a lot since we first put our music on Unearthed. That was actually how we first got played on Triple J so I guess in one way you’re right, but then again we’d been playing for a long time before we put anything up, so in another way it’s just one more step in the journey.

 What would you say was your biggest influence while making ‘in a restless house’ outside of your own life experiences? What were you listening to, reading or watching at the time?

 We were listening to quite a wide range of music, both contemporary and older. A bit of Wild Beasts and The War On Drugs. We’ve always been quite big fans of Unknown Mortal Orchestra too.

 I definitely get a The War On Drugs vibe from your music in terms of the drums and rhythm.

 We’ve always incorporated driving rhythms in our music but when we came across that record it was great because music that has an urgency to it is something we’ve always been interested in making and I think The War On Drugs absolutely nail that.

 The song ‘Nowhere To Start’ really surprised me when I first heard it. Mainly because it’s a duet and it sounds completely different to everything else on the LP. Who’s the mystery singer?

 The singer is Kerry Harvey who’s married to Malcolm Besley, (producer of ‘In A Restless House’) but we didn’t write the song thinking it was going to be a duet.

And what was the reason behind this decision?

I was originally singing the top line melody in my falsetto range and when we came to record it, I was of the view that it would be a better presentation of the song if a female vocalist sang that part instead. We’re always more concerned with presenting the songs we’ve written in the best way possible and if that means we need assistance from other musicians, we gladly accept that. I think you can get a bit caught up in trying to do everything yourself but if you focus on the song rather than your own ego you tend to get the best results.

 How did the band end up on the I Oh You Label, what originally drew you to it over remaining independent or going with a different label?

 It was very informal, we first met Johann (founder of I Oh You) at a club we were playing at in Melbourne, he grabbed an EP at the show and then came to see us play a few more times after that. Once we released our songs on Unearthed he got in contact with Triple J to promote our music, then one day we went for coffee and he popped the question. A lot of the time people are not who they seem, particularly in the music industry but because we already had a working relationship Johann a few years prior to being signed we already knew there was trust and a shared vision so it made a lot of sense.

 You’ve said before that you didn’t want to release anything you didn’t believe in and that was why the album took as long as it did. What were some of the methods you used to alleviate the writers block?

 We started having some breakthroughs when we stayed in an air bnb beach house for a few days. Some concepts came out of that so we started doing it more often over the course of the recording process and each time we left with different results. We also gained ideas for songs as a group while using music producing software on computers however, so it’s not fair to say we wrote the whole record in a beach shack.

With this being your first national headline tour and without giving too much away, do you have anything planned for the shows that you haven’t implemented before?

 Absolutely, they’ll be bigger shows and we might be dropping a new track and or a cover along the way.

How has the change in audience participation and energy changed since you guys started out to now, with regards to becoming tighter, acquiring a new drummer and playing new material?

When Lee joined the band back in 2012 we were still fairly inexperienced at performing but having played so much together now as well as playing to crowds that are familiar with our music means there’s less anxiety and stress which allows everyone to give a better performance.

So you guys played your first ever Falls festival last year. Can you tell me a little about what that was like for you and the band?

 It was unbelievable. We managed to get a really good time slot which was a nice surprise and when we played it was packed. That and having the audience engage in the way they did was mind boggling and gave us some belief in what we’re doing where we’re going.

 I caught a bit of a future islands vibe from your dance moves at Falls but with your own flare added into the mix, was this similarity intentional?

I’m not sure, I know I’d been doing it before I saw that video of him (Samuel Herring) doing it but I also used to get told that I was referencing Peter Garrett in my dance moves a lot too. Either way, as Howard Moon says, everyone’s trying to put me in boxes.


City Calm Down will play at Fat Controller in Adelaide on April 8th. Tickets are still available through Moshtix.

Look out for our FINNs photographer at the gig and be sure to like the FINNs Facebook page to be tagged in the pics!

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