Sydney quintet Endless Heights resurface with Vicious Pleasure – an enormous follow up to their 2014 debut, New Bloom. It’s an effort that sees the band striving for new heights as people, musicians, and as a collective, but guitarist Jem Siow is hesitant to refer himself as such – it’s not a title he’s comfortable with.
“I wouldn’t describe each of us in the band as individual instrumentalists. I almost feel weird calling myself a guitarist,” he says. “I’m a classically trained flute player and teacher – that’s how I got into music. I have a degree in classical flute performance from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.”
Siow’s mention of his classical background is less a name drop and more an admission to his humble beginnings on the guitar. Despite owing his skills on the woodwind instrument to one of Australia’s most renowned musical institutions, his guitar skills are of his own accord. “I’m completely self-taught. I understand musical theory, but I don’t actually know specific guitar techniques, so I don’t see myself as a guitarist. For me, when I play music with Endless Heights, it’s intuitive. I position my fingers on the fretboard and if it sounds good, that’s it for me. I change my guitar strings every second show, because I don’t really know how to strum it properly and I constantly break strings [laughs].”
Formed in 2009, Endless Heights’ origin story is somewhat idyllic. Assembled by five high school friends that just wanted to play music together and use it as a vessel to see the world, the lineup remains unchanged almost a decade later. This, too, can be said about the band’s philosophy and culture, which has held fast over the years through to their new album, as Siow explains.
“I don’t think that we will ever repeat the same thing twice with anything we do. Whether that’s touring different countries or picking bands for tours, and definitely not with songwriting or recording. We’ve been a band going on ten years, and this time around, we wanted a recording experience that was going to bring out the best in us as musicians. That’s why we chose to work with Lachlan Mitchell. That’s just our outlook – we want to be constantly evolving and taking up new opportunities.”
Inspired by Mitchell’s discography – the likes of which includes The Jezabels, The Vines, and Motor Ace – Endless Heights opted not only for a new working relationship, but a recording process they had yet to try.
Tracking the record live with Mitchell commandeering from behind the mixing desk allowed for continual improvement of their soon-to-be second record. Although they had already endured a lengthy writing and pre-production process, the band’s time in the studio allowed for a re-shuffling of parts and re-writing of others, all with the guidance of an experienced producer. If Mitchell believed a section needed re-writing, the group would break from tracking, and just like band rehearsals, would come to an alternative solution. Identify. Resolve. Edit.
“It was very daunting, because we’re in the studio – we were recording something we had just written straight away. It was scary. But the whole thing came down to trusting Lachlan. We just had to trust his vision. We knew that he would bring the best out in us. We brought him in because we wanted to do his thing, and part of that was to trust his creative vision.
“It was really inspiring. I feel that it’s not only reflected in the music, but we are now a better band because of it. As scary as it was to bring someone else into our creative sphere, it was definitely an enriching experience.”
And experience has been aplenty; this year alone has seen a mountain of ticket stubs from touring with the likes of Turnover, Taking Back Sunday, and Hellions. It doesn’t look like things are slowing down either, as the band kicks off the New Year supporting Hands Like Houses’ tour in January. For Endless Heights, the sky is the limit and the heights are …
Vicious Pleasure is available Friday February 16 via Cooking Vinyl Australia.