Anyone who’s left the comfort of their hometown to head into the big wide unknown understands that, by the time they return, things will have inevitably shifted. Wish as we might, our small patches of the world will always continue to turn without us.
It’s something that Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever felt all too well upon their return home last year. Following the release of 2018 debut LP ‘Hope Downs’, things really began to kick up a notch for the band. With the album earning critical plaudits across the board, the quintet soon found themselves catapulted outside of their regular lives, instead spending their days looking out of the window of their touring van as they criss-crossed North America, Europe and their own continent for countless live shows throughout the next 18 months.
By the time they returned home, it was to a notably different version of it than before. “The album itself came from feeling in a bit of a weird place, and home not really feeling, or looking, like home,” confirms the band’s Fran Kearney. “It was such a crazy period of travel,” adds fellow vocalist and guitarist Tom Russo, “and after that, we were reflecting on lots of things; that whole process of coming home and things being the same but a bit different, a bit weirder.”
Due for release almost two years to the day since their debut landed on shelves, ‘Sideways To New Italy’ is less of a travel document and more the sound of the band - completed by singer-guitarist Joe White, bassist Joe Russo and drummer Marcel Tussie - rediscovering, and reclaiming a version of that safety net. Recorded in a new manner for the band, Fran describes the time as “quite a gruelling writing and recording process”. “We didn’t lose our minds but we came close,” he laughs. “We really wanted to try and write it all in the same room together, whereas previously, someone would come with a song and a rough idea of how it could go, then we would flesh it out. The songs that we’d pull apart and put back together are the ones we’ve generally been really excited about playing live, because they rely on the chemistry of the five of us; we really wanted to harness that on this album, but the problem with that is it’s just the most time intensive process.”
“You spend so much time [on tour] seeing other people’s lives that you start to wonder what your life is.”
— Fran Kearney
Named for a tiny village in the midst of New South Wales - where Venetians immigrants laid down foundations in the late 1800s - the record’s title reflects that sense of carving out a new niche in the midst of the unknown. “I think a big thing you learn is…” starts Tom. “You know, everyone loves going to these new places and looking through the window at other people’s lives, and you learn that the world is a massive place, but it’s also so small. There are all these connections that get drawn, and it’s just [from] people’s ambition, love and energy; people jumping from one side of the world to the other, and carrying on these traditions or trying to build these ideas of home in these places that are so far from what they’ve known.”
Permeated with the sunshine of the Aeolian Islands (the location for their recent ‘Falling Thunder’ video) and the red dirt of Darwin, where they found themselves reflecting on some of the album’s demos, their second record feels as expansive and open as their last few years away. Yet, amidst all the adventure, the album is peppered with spoken word passages contributed from some of their oldest friends - integral reminders of where it all began. “We really wanted to pour ourselves into it, and they’re some of our best friends,” explains Fran. “We’ve known them for years and years, so it just seemed really important that they were on the album with us, and that they were part of it. It’s really nice to have them living in the walls of the album too.”
Ultimately, ‘Sideways To New Italy’ feels like a record that’s both boundless and grounded; a real reflection of the band’s identity in their new version of the world. “You spend so much time seeing other people’s lives that you start to wonder what you have and what your life is,” says Fran. “All of a sudden home just doesn’t seem like a given, and when you have that dislodgement, you start to wonder who you are and what you want. I think a lot of it for me was about trying to pour all of what I love about our band into this document, and for it to be a hopeful, adventurous album.”
'Sideways To New Italy' is out now via Sub Pop.
As featured in the June 2020 issue of DIY, out now.