Interview: Dorsal Fins

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Words by Jack Herz.

With the release of their latest single ‘Sedated’, 9-piece Melbourne band Dorsal Fins have burst back on to the Australian music scene with a new album in tow. Led by Liam Mcgorry, Ella Thompson and Jarrad Brown (who each have other musical projects), Dorsal Fins was born out of a mutual need to create something new and exciting. The band are gearing up to release their sophomore record Digital Zodiac on Friday and I spoke with trumpeter Liam ahead of this to find out how what began as a bit of musical fun between friends has grown in to something so much larger.

On your first album, both Jarrad Brown and Ella Thompson were portrayed as lead singers with their own individual songs while occasionally coming together to duet or harmonize. In terms of the new album, how did you decide who sings what and when?

I guess with the first album we didn’t really think of ourselves as a band or anything so choosing who sang on what was kind of haphazard. This time we worked more with just Jarrad and Ella to try and make a more consistent album.

 

So supposedly there’s around ten band members in Dorsal Fins. Is this just in live situations or in the studio as well?

 

So we’ve got about nine members touring at the moment but it gets down to six or seven at some shows because it can be difficult to always have nine people touring all at once. We weren’t going to play live originally, but we decided to do one show and then from there it became more of a live thing. I guess it happened pretty naturally, it wasn’t a decision to go out and be like oh there’s going to be 10 people playing.

How do you go about organising everyone in the studio and rehearsals? It must get pretty chaotic at times to have so many people to direct.

Yeah, for sure. We tried to minimize that a bit this time because it was pretty full on recording the last album in five-six days with so many people. This time we had most of the songs worked out before we brought them to the band. It usually started off with me writing a piece of music, then sending it off to Jarrad or Ella and a few other guests who appear on the album. They wrote the melody and lyrics and then we brought it to the band, had rehearsals and then took it to the studio.

So you briefly mentioned that the new album will have some guest features on it? I’ve heard that Tim Nelson from Cub Sport is going to be one of these features, how did this collaboration come about?

We’ve just been friends with those guys for a while now and I’m a big fan of Tim’s voice. We played a show with Cub Sport in Brisbane last year and we all went to karaoke afterwards which was insane, so it just made sense to get him in the studio

Was there a moment in that karaoke session where you realized you had to collaborate with Tim for the new record?

It was definitely when Tim and Ella were singing Mariah Carey together.

Coming back to the band and yourself specifically, what initially led you to pick up and stick with trumpet as opposed to a more typical instrument such as guitar or keyboard?

Well I started in year three and just stuck with it. Then, when I was coming to the end of high school I realized I just wanted to play trumpet. I’ve gradually started playing other instruments like keys and guitar but trumpet’s definitely always been the main one.

Do you think this choice of instrument had any effect on finding a band to play with?

Well when I was studying music at uni, there weren’t quite as many trumpet players and I got a bit of work through that. I also found my friends who I still play in bands with. So in that way I think the choice of instrument helped me get to where I am today.

 

Some of the video clips you’ve made are pretty off the wall and random, particularly the new one for ‘Sedated’ and ‘Heart on the floor’. How do you usually come up with the concepts for the videos? Is it a group affair like the recording process or is it different?

 

Nah it’s a bit different. The first three or four clips were done by Jason Galea whose worked on some of King Gizzard’s film clips. That was when we still had a pretty low ambition for the band and then the last couple were done by his mate who’s equally as great: Ben Jones. So he did, ‘Heart On the Floor’ and ‘Sedated’. He’s such a minimalist in the way he goes about shooting everything. The whole time you’re wondering what he’s going to do and then the clip comes out in a completely different way to what you would expect.

You’ve said that one of the main reasons for the creation of Dorsal Fins was to have a project that you could put music out quickly with and not worry so much about the finer details. Has that ideal changed for the new record at all? 

 

It has slightly. When you’re in a band and you’re working on songs for ages you can lose some of the momentum and magic that you felt when you first started playing them so I guess Dorsal Fins was a vehicle to regain back some of that magic. With the first album we made it so fast that there wasn’t any time to think too seriously about whether something was too loud or soft, we just thought let’s do it and work it out later. Whereas, this album was more considered in that we took more time with it.

 

You’re also in two other bands: Saskwatch and Eagle and The Worm, is being in three bands as difficult as it sounds?

It’s not too bad. There might be times when one band’s touring and you get offered a gig that you can’t do because your other band’s touring, but to be honest, generally it works out. And in Australia you can really only tour every few months which leaves plenty of time to do other things and, fortunately on the whole it has worked out so far anyway.

I wanted to ask you about the spoken word poem on the song Jacqueline, I spent all morning trying to decipher it but I could only get so far. Can you tell me a bit about how this song came about?

Our friend Fraser Gorman came in to the studio, we had an instrumental song and we just got him to jump in on it. He had a few words written down but I think it’s mostly improvised. The general gist of the song is just about being a 22-year-old guy and some of the thoughts that come with it.

 

Dorsal Fins are set to release their sophomore album Digital Zodiac on Friday 28th of October through Remote Control Records.

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