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THE HARD ACHES Making a mess

The short answer is that if you haven’t scheduled the release of The Hard Aches latest album Mess to time with your weekly update of your latest playlist, you’re doing it wrong. From the minds of Ben David and Alex Upton, The Hard Aches solidify their presence on the indie-punk-rock scene with bold messages centred on mental health traced with collaborations from some of the industry’s most reputable upcoming artists including Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq, The Bennies’ Craig Selak, and Long Island’s own Jeff Rosenstock, who happened to be in the country for Melbourne’s yearly punk rock festival, the Poison City Weekender. Currently in the midst of their biggest national tour to date, which hits Jack Rabbit Slim’s next Tuesday supported by Antonia & the Lazy Susans and Sincerely Grizzly, ANNIE MUNROE talked to Ben David about all things messy.

Although mental health has always been a prominent factor in Ben’s lyrical approach, it isn’t until this album that they have addressed these issues directly and in such a hopeful light. This album sounds like a hug from that ex that you never truly let go of at 5am in the morning when you’ve just gotten home from a big night out. They make you feel safe and supported, but they’re bound to bring up all those feelings you haven’t addressed in a long time.

You’re two shows deep into your tour. How’s it going so far?

Amazing. It’s been pretty surreal. We’ve got to kick off two bucket list shows and venues on the weekend. It’s really cool to be able to do these kinds of things and those shows were so beautiful and blew our expectations out of the water.

That’s amazing. You guys will be back in Perth next Tuesday, April 24. How do you find the Perth crowd in comparison to the other major cities?

We love Perth, we spend a lot of time coming to Perth. Being from Adelaide, it just made a lot of sense for us to come to Perth as often as we could. It’s one of the first places we started touring. We started playing in Perth before we started playing in Melbourne. It’s definitely a place that has been like a second home to us for a long time, there’s some really great bands and really great people and we’ll do our best to get to Perth as often as we can.

You’ve mentioned that this album was heavily influenced by your personal experiences and the people around you. How have the people that helped shape the album responded to it so far?

Everything’s been really positive so far but in the way that the album was inspired by the people and things around me, it’s not so much that I’m directly writing things for people or at people. I like to keep a song that I put together vague enough that people can kind of incorporate their own stories and their own meanings to the stories that I’m writing about. It’s been really beautiful. It’s the first record that we set out to say something more than just “Hey, here’s a bunch of songs we like” and its been received really well. Talking about mental health isn’t something new for us as a band but talking about it in a more positive and hopeful light is definitely something that is new for us and it’s been received really well. I’m really glad that message that we wanted to put out has been received the way it has.

This album is pretty different to say, someone’s preconceived notions of what indie punk rock should sound like based on what has been done before, especially framing mental health in the way that you have. Is that what you planned or did it naturally progress that way?

A bit of both. There was definitely a time between the last release and this release where we realised that we were in a position where we could actually say something important and help get a conversation rolling or to help open up people’s dialogue for a conversation. Especially regarding mental health which is very close to us as a band, we’ve always kind of just touched on it but that’s been it. This is the first time we wanted to open up about it, talk about our own mental health and hope that other people would follow suit to continue the conversation, and they become more comfortable with it so the stigma starts to break down.

One of my favourite things about the Hard Aches is when I show a friend one of your songs and then afterwards I tell them that its only you and Alex making all that noise. It is incredibly impressive. Is there more freedom creatively for you and Alex as just a duo?

Yeah definitely. Me and Alex have been playing and writing together for a really long time now so we work really well together especially when it comes to writing music. Alex has been playing the songs that I write and hearing the songs that I bring to the band for a long time that without being involved in putting the songs together initially, he already knows where the songs are going to be and where they’re going to go. When we put songs together, were already on the same page. Our band, for us just makes sense. We’ve had a lot of different variations of this band over the years and that was just experimenting and now this is the first record where we knew what we sounded like, knew what we wanted to sound like, we knew what we wanted the record to sound like and we knew how to get that and we managed to pull that off.

And you guys got to work with some amazing people when making Mess. When you introduced those people into your duo did you find that it changed your creative process with those influences or was it all about collaboration?

For us to find a producer engineer that worked with us as if they were another member of the band was something that we were very careful about. We’re very particular. Alex and myself are both engineers and we make records ourselves, so we needed to find someone who would just slot straight in there. We’ve always had our eyes on working with Sam Johnson (Holes & Corners, Melbourne) and we went and did a demo with him and it just worked like we’d been in the same room together forever – since the band started. All the (collaborations with the) guests sort of happened organically. Even Craig was just free to come hang out and Jeff as well. These are all people who we know and we were just hanging out and thinking “hey, this would be cool – let’s try this.”

The brass stuff on this was, for us, something we wanted to tick off for a long, long time. We managed to be put onto a guy who had played on a lot of records that we loved. Being a non-brass musician you don’t think like a brass musician. It was really cool to collaborate with someone who came in (with a different perspective) and said “here’s what I’m thinking”. We both said it was probably the highlight of the record, tracking all the brass, because it was something that was new and exciting for us. It was definitely fun collaborating with other musicians on this record, especially working with Sammy (Johnson, producer). It was such a pleasure. It definitely won’t be the last record we make with Sam.

When you look back at your body of work how do you think your sound has changed and where you do you think it will lead to in the future?

I think this record is kind of a mix of everything we’ve done and I think that makes sense in the growth of our band. You’re constantly growing your sound. With this new record a lot of people have said that it’s a mix between the first EP and Pheromones and that’s probably true. We are where we wanted the sound to be for the band and we’ve just been growing as musicians ourselves and as song writers.

As a band we wanted to get to this level and this is probably a good representation of where the band will continue to go. Especially sonically. I think the last EP may have put some false musical hope in people who wanted us to just be a straight punk rock band. We were experimenting with the last record and this record is something we are very proud of.

What can we expect from The Hard Aches once this tour is over?

More tours – by the end of the year there will be a bunch of International stuff and some more Australian stuff and yeah, we’re just going to start working on whatever we start working on next. We’re always constantly writing and working on things. Who knows? We don’t really have a plan past this record.

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