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THE PRESETS Back with all of their people

It’s been six years since we’ve heard from The Presets. The iconic Australian electronic music duo has been busy collaborating and creating. Their fourth album and first in six years, HI-VIZ, arrives on Friday, June 1 along with a nationwide tour of Australia including their upcoming show at Metro City on Wednesday, June 13. Drummer Kim Moyes chats with KAVI GUPPTA about the new album, the challenges of creative collaboration, and maintaining longevity in the music industry.

I’m actually really curious to know what the general mood is now the album is done? What kind of feelings are going through your minds?

I’ve gotta be honest Kavi, I’m feeling pretty calm and pretty zen about the whole thing. We’ve been sitting on the album since we finished it around Christmas time last year, and we’ve been really happy with the way that everything’s rolled out up until now. We’re super happy with Downtown Shutdown. I was working on the live show for the last couple of months and we’re really happy with how that’s going, and we’re keen for the tour. So we’re just looking forward to this next phase of the process and seeing what happens once the music gets out there.

How would you describe this next phase?

The album cycle.

Is it as simple as that?

I think on a pretty academic level that’s what you would call it. I guess in this day and age, once the album’s out, it’s basically the end; because when it’s out everyone has access to it. The real value in a campaign is the lead-up, then you release it and you hope that as many people caught onto it as much as possible. It feels like maybe the end of the album cycle. Maybe it’s even, for us, the kind of completion of the last four or five years of this whole process. When I think about how I feel now, maybe that’s what it is; a sense of completion and I guess kind of sitting back going “oh”, because we’re already starting to think about the next thing. It’s a weird mixture of completion and excitement.

So there has been a bit of time, I would say almost six years, since the last album Pacifica. Walk me through what was going on in that six-year period until you guys decided to come back and start working on an album together.

We never really stopped. I mean, we released Pacifica and then we toured for about a year and a half. Then we made a couple of standalone singles, Goodbye Future and No Fun. At some point, around 2013, we decided to get back into the studio and we started making new ideas for what turned out to be HI VIZ. But at the same time, I ended up producing a couple of records for some other people. Julian has also done co-writing.

We did a massive piece with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2014 called Timeline and that took about six to nine months to make. In between all of this stuff we were coming back together and working on ideas, and it wasn’t until the end of 2016 where we looked at everything that we had and pulled together, about 40 to 50 ideas that we really loved. We then started to distill everything down into things that we thought would make a great album and then started to finish them.

Can we dig a bit deeper into the kick-off process for the album? How do those early days start out when you sit down and say “we’re gonna do an album”? Do you start by doing a retro of the stuff you’ve already done?

We don’t really need to do that. I mean, even before we actually got into the studio to start making music for this album we had a conversation about what we’d like to do and to get on the same page. It was a really brief conversation and we said to each other that we really wanted to go for a much more fun, upbeat, party record this time around.

In the back of our minds, that’s always been the cornerstone of what this record was gonna be about. Then fast forward to us getting into the studio together, some days you turn up and you just don’t have a banger in you. Some days, or even for some weeks, months, or maybe a year and a half, you just are making the complete opposite to what you had hoped to make. But that’s what’s coming out. That’s what you’ve gotta make.

We like to let things be what they’re trying to be and it’s challenging when you’re working in a duo as well. Someone might have a really strong idea on something and you really have to let your hands off the reins a little bit so that you can collaborate. You won’t be able to collaborate if one person is strangling the idea too hard.

I’m interested in knowing what some of those techniques are in a collaboration like The Presets. What kind of mechanisms or exercises do you place upon each other to ensure that there’s constructive conflict while also positive collaboration?

I think it all comes down to attitude, really. We have a rule that if someone really doesn’t like something, and the other person is hopping to it, then we can usually let that one slide. If someone’s got a strong vibe and feels really passionate, then we like to enhance that because I think that’s the sort of thing that kicks things over the line.

Take Do What You Want, for instance. The initial idea for that came very quickly, within about half an hour, but it took us about two years to actually nail that down. Just 60 to 70 different versions, maybe 10 different tempos, so many different styles. So many times we were ready to throw that one in the bin but one of us kept coming back to it saying “Oh man, there is something about this one. I think that this has got something good about it. I can’t deny it”. And that’s always been the mission statement for this album: to just write things that are undeniable.

It’s not always easy, just getting back to your initial question about navigating the collaborative process. Sometimes it’s real complex and sometimes it can get really bloody, but we had to learn as people to navigate that. I think that if we were constantly agreeing with each other and saying “Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, that’s cool”, then we would be making pretty terrible music. But certainly, the flip part of that is that at times it can be very hard and emotional, and you can sometimes find yourself wondering why you’re doing it or “How could I possibly get back in the studio again?” or “Do I have another album in me?” It can be very hard at times.

What’s your criteria on what’s ‘the right stuff’ that goes into selecting who’s going to be featured on the album, and who’s gonna work on the album with you?

When we decided to open up the doors on this album and start getting other people in instrumentally, vocally, and as producers, you sort of start with a wish-list of people that you admire. You start sending emails out to people and you get parts back, or you end up getting someone interested who says they’re gonna do something and then months go past and they stop responding to your emails.

I think what we found worked really well, and certainly worked really well on this record, was that the collaborations that really meant something and that we loved were from people that we’re already affiliated with and are friends with.

That wasn’t always the case and certainly there were a couple of contributors on the record that we weren’t necessarily friends with, or had ever met before, but for the most part what worked the best was people, I think, that were already kind of connected with us on some level. I feel like that’s the real spirit of collaboration: when someone gives a shit and is happy to turn up, and if you can get those two things happening, then you can make something.

So in a lot of ways, The Presets are considered the elder statesmen of electronic music in Australia. How does that make you feel at this point?

Actually, that is the very first time I’ve heard it. So you can pat yourself on the back for making me feel like an old man.

I can’t speak for Julian here, but I’ve always felt like sort of an outsider when it comes to the music industry. It takes a lot of energy for me to make myself feel like it’s something I should be a part of. I’ve been trying more so in recent years than I used to. We got signed to an independent record label in 2003 called Modular Records, which was the flagship of outsider artists and bands in Australia.

I feel like my worthiness, or my contribution to the industry, is purely creative. I really only value that in myself and in others. People who I feel like are doing it for the right reasons and who are good at doing it, whether it’s musically, or whether it’s with a hustle, or whether it’s with bonkers ideas.

I want to touch on the death of Avicii. That really rocked pop and electronic music. You guys have been churning out quite a lot of stuff. You guys work a lot. How are you maintaining that grind? What rules have you set for yourself to make sure that you don’t get too far ahead of yourself?

That’s interesting. I never really had much of an understanding of Avicii until I watched the documentary that was released only a couple of weeks before he died. Certainly some of his touring schedule and what he was doing was fairly brutal. I don’t think it’s that different from what most bands have to go through for years and years before they can even start filling up rooms. I think here you had a DJ-producer who was never really a touring musician, and was thrown into a world which he probably wasn’t really interested in being in, but for most of us who are people who play in bands, it’s just part of the gig.

Touring around in shitty vans in regional UK, not playing for much money, freezing your toes off, sleeping in shitty hotels, getting bed bugs, hardly sleeping and partying too much; it’s kind of what you sign up for. If you’re not cut out for it, then you should be doing something else. I mean, I’m 41 years old now and I certainly don’t want to be doing what I was doing when I was 28. I don’t think I could. I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. So there are things that we will and won’t do, but at the same time it’s a gift.

Being a musician, and being a successful musician in 2018, and also having a career like we’ve had, is a real gift. I know I’ve got so many musician friends that hardly even play their instruments anymore. They have to just teach; they never get to play gigs. So I’m always aware of how lucky my position is, and it’s certainly not at the level that Avicii was. It’s still a modestly successful career and I do very well by it and I love doing it. I’m passionate about the music. I’m here to do what I wanna do, with people who I wanna do it with, and from time to time I’ll have to do things to keep the momentum going. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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