THE CLOUDS Silver Linings

Legendary 90s indie rockers The Clouds have been active again of late, touring and recording their first new material in 20 years. With the release of the Zaffre EP earlier this year, a new single Beautiful Nothingness, and a tour with old mates Falling Joys hitting Metropolis Fremantle this Friday, November 10, the Sydneysiders are feeling rejuvenated and excited about playing together again. Though as songwriter/ vocalist/ bassist Trish Young explains down the line to ALFRED GORMAN, they’ve all been busy in the interim with various projects.

While the two guys on guitar and drums changed a few times during the band’s original lifespan between 1989 and 1997, the core of the group has always been the two vocalists and songwriters, Young and Jodi Phillis, whose unique harmonies are the band’s trademark.

The last couple of years has seen them spending more time working together again, and that same dynamic is still there, as can be heard in the new music. It’s taken awhile to produce new fruit, but the first signs of a Clouds comeback was in 2011, when they were testing the waters and visited Freo’s old Fly By Night Club.

We were approached in 2011 by a promoter for Jesus Jones and The Wonder Stuff who wanted to tour a 90s line up, so he asked us to play,” says Young. “We had a talk about it and decided yes, we’d love to. However, some of the bands had schedules that clashed, so we didn’t get over to West Australia or South Australia. So the four of us just went over by ourselves.”

Though it was only released earlier this year, songs from the Zaffre EP have been around for awhile. “In between that gig at the Fly and The Clouds splitting up [in 97], Jodi and I had done some stuff together,” Young says. “We had some new songs and were gonna do an album, so then we spoke to the boys and said, have a listen to this if you want to play some new Clouds songs. That was Mabel’s Bookshop and House of the Sun, and they were great songs, so the boys were like yeah, so then we thought, why stop there? Jodi and I just write songs all the time.”

They both have worked on various other projects too. Phillis has been very active, having released three solo albums, and she and her husband have a band called Roger Loves Betty. She also composed for a four-piece vocal quartet, and had a classical piece performed by an ensemble at the City Recital Hall earlier this year.

Young herself explains a particularly intriguing concept she’s currently working on. “I’m in Marrickville currently, actually rehearsing,” she says. “I was invited by Mark Temple (who used to be the drummer in The Hummingbirds and is now a scientist) to take part in a really interesting project he’s doing with a molecular biologist.”

“He’s working on the idea of how DNA has four bases – G, C, A and T – and he’s assigned notes to each of to each those 4 letters. So you can play a genetic sequence as music! One of the ideas is that it can be used as a diagnostic tool to identify possible mutations. Fascinating, isn’t it? He’s doing the talk on Friday, then he and I, and a music academic called Paul, will be playing a musical piece based on this DNA music.”

Another challenge for the group is that they are all now somewhat physically isolated, and they’ve had to look at ways to write and record over distance. “Yeah, The Clouds live in four different cities now, across three states. Jodi is in New South Wales too, David’s in Victoria and Raph is in Western Australia. The recording has been remote. We’re going to get together and have three rehearsals before the tour. It’s quite hard to rehearse as you can imagine as it involves flights.

“Jodi is in Wollongong, so it’s a bit easier for us to get together, though it’s still probably about an hour and a half door to door. I’ve gone down there two or three times during the recording to do stuff with her because we just find there’s quite a disconnect when you’re just sharing files over the internet. Even if the two of us just get together.”

That human connection between people is important she feels. “You get that feedback from another member. You’re not just sitting by yourself, sending your voice off into the void and hearing back the next day what other people think about it. In terms of working out vocal harmonies and stuff, it would be really difficult two of us at least couldn’t get together in the same room.”

These same challenges have slowed down the creative and productive process a little, as they’ve learned to adapt to collaborating online. Beautiful Nothingness we had hoped would be an EP,” Young says. “But people’s lives get in the way, and when you haven’t got dedicated recording time – like five days in the studio, at the end of which you have to have the final product – it’s quite hard.

“It can be hard to get your parts together and send them off, and then listen to everybody else’s parts. It’s quite a process-heavy way to do a recording by the internet we found. It’s actually a lot slower than we anticipated,” she notes with some frustration. “We want to do an album, but it could take a while, unless we find a way to all be together and just book the studio and get it all down.”

For now the band are pleased to have some new songs out, and are enjoying playing them live, mixed in with a selection of their most loved tracks from their previous four albums and eight EPs.

As someone whose been around the music industry for a long time and has come back in again recently and sees all the changes that have gone on, Young says she finds the whole situation very different, and it makes it hard for upcoming bands these days to make a living.

I heard this new word the other day, ‘monetise’. I think it’s very hard to monetise your music these days, because as soon as you go onto the internet, you’re giving music away. You’re not getting paid for your plays on YouTube, or for your streams. You might be reaching tens of thousands of people, but they’re scattered all around the world. So it doesn’t mean you can put on a show and sell 1000 tickets. Whereas before the Internet, if your songs were played on Triple J and people liked it, there was a reasonable chance you could go to Melbourne or Brisbane or wherever and maybe get 200 people.”

The technology is something of a double-edged sword, no doubt with its advantages for distribution and production, but it does lose some of the quality control, and we now have access to an almost infinite musical library that’s forever updating.

“Wanting to make a career out of it these days, I wouldn’t even know what to advise people,” Young says. “I think it would be really hard. Anybody can make their own record in their own home. Anybody can make a video – you can just do it on your phone. I mean how does anybody come to the attention of anyone, or get anyone to discover them when there’s so much out there? How much amazing stuff is there that you would love, but you haven’t discovered yet, and might not. How many undiscovered geniuses are there?”

This month though, The Clouds are doing things the old fashioned way and hitting the road for their biggest tour in years, and bringing along their old friends, fellow Australian 90s band, Falling Joys, who Young says the band are really looking forward to playing with.

“We’re so excited about playing with them again, and we always love coming over to Perth.”

Comments are closed.