Photo: Nick Mckk

Interview Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on creating their “liberating” new album ‘Endless Rooms’

The band’s Fran Keaney and Tom Russo take us inside the isolated mud-brick house in the Australian bush where their third album was born.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s Fran Keaney has an unusual metaphor with which to describe the band’s second album, 2020’s ‘Sideways To New Italy’. “We had this mantra that none of us could ever write a full song,” he says over Zoom from the band’s native Melbourne. “You could only write a bit, and beyond that it was open season – everyone else in the band had license to come in and rip ideas off each others’ songs like Frankenstein’s monster. It was like in ‘Toy Story’, when Sid started sticking all these different toys together,” he smiles.

After the recording of their intensely collaborative second effort but prior to its release, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Keaney, fellow songwriters and guitarists Joe White and Tom Russo, Tom’s brother and bassist Joe, and drummer Marcel Tussie – and the rest of Melbourne were plunged into what would become the longest lockdown on the planet. When crafting third album ‘Endless Rooms’ in this period, the circumstances forced the band’s creative process to change, with the trio of songwriters writing whole songs rather than just little fragments.

“Despite being so close to each other, we couldn’t see each other or get together and practice,” Tom remembers. As a result, the songs on ‘Endless Rooms’ are ones that “follow a more logical structure, because they haven’t had their limbs ripped off them and stuck back on other songs.”

The 12 songs on ‘Endless Rooms’ represent Rolling Blackouts steadily evolving their sound but staying true to the “Blackouts DNA” that they’ve developed across ‘Sideways To New Italy’ and back through 2018 debut ‘Hope Downs’ and a buzzy set of early EPs. Lead single ‘The Way It Shatters’ has the band’s classic wind-in-the-hair vibe that they’re close to perfecting, but ‘Tidal River’ – a song about the privilege of being from a wealthy country and how it’s easy to ignore its issues – sees them get grittier, as they sing: “Jet ski over the pale reef / Chase the pill for some relief / As long as you don’t point out / What’s underneath your feet.” Elsewhere, ‘Open Up Your Window’ is a breezy acoustic slow jam, while the record’s title track relies on drone-like textures.

“It was liberating,” Tom says of the process of writing at home in lockdown, with all rules and expectations for an album completely disappearing. “I got a drum machine to have something to help write songs and muck around with, and it took things in a direction that I would never have got to in a jam with the band. I surprised myself with what I was writing, and [the songs] became different things when they eventually got put through the Blackouts machine.”

“We let the songs germinate and didn’t second-guess them too much.”

— Fran Keaney

After a host of songs were crafted in the band’s separate homes, the quintet were finally allowed to reunite in December 2020 at a building dubbed The Basin: a mud-brick house in the bush, two hours from Melbourne, built by the Russo family in the 1970s and that has been a longtime getaway for the band for both business and pleasure. “It’s very dry and wide open, big sky with huge gum trees,” Tom says, painting a picture of the group’s second home. “It’s a very harsh and desolate landscape but so beautiful.”

While ‘Sideways To New Italy’ saw RBCF make what they call a “proper studio record” at a plush location in Melbourne with producer Burke Reid, the sound of ‘Endless Rooms’ is heavily informed by the first scratchy demos that they laid down at The Basin at the end of 2020. “While all the songs that we’d written were disparate home demos, when we went out to the country and hit record, that’s when they came into their own,” Fran remembers, smiling. “As far as you try and get away from a sound, and as weird as all these ideas were, as soon as we started playing them together, we immediately realised, ‘Oh, we can do that!’”

“We can’t help sounding like ourselves,” Tom agrees. “We had a lot of crazy, freaky stuff that stayed on the cutting room floor, but there were no parameters. We never said, ‘This is something we can’t do.’”

After the process of recording the demos struck such a chord with the band, they decided to return to The Basin alongside long-time engineer Matt ‘Chow’ Duffy to record the album for real. The building and its surroundings almost become an extra instrument on ‘Endless Rooms’, and the location proved vital to the creation of the album. For certain takes, the band would place all their amps on the upper mezzanine level and play their instruments on the ground floor, letting the sound reverberate through the entire building.

You can also hear field recordings of the buzzing wildlife in the bush that surrounds the house appear throughout the record, giving it a fizzing sense of life. To pay tribute to its enormous impact on the album, The Basin is now immortalised on the LP’s front cover. “Marcel and I went for a walk outside while Joe was recording guitar for one song,” Fran remembers, “and you could hear dogs barking miles and miles away as these huge guitars reverberated around the whole house.

“We let the songs germinate and didn’t second-guess them too much,” he continues, reflecting on the process of making ‘Endless Rooms’, a record created in solitude but pieced together via the unbreakable connection of these five musicians. “It was all part of this natural feeling that was really life-affirming. After having been deprived of life for so long and then being able to make music together with each other again, it all felt like a real return.”

‘Endless Rooms’ is out 6th May via Sub Pop.


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