In 2007, a young Brisbane band dropped their debut EP that contained mammoth vocal hooks, the density of modern prog-rock and a precisely-struck balance between accessibility and heaviness that found appeal with daytime triple j listeners and metalheads alike. That band was Dead Letter Circus – and the EP, coincidentally enough, was called Dead Letter Circus. A decade removed from that first step out into the world, Dead Letter Circus have just released their fourth studio album – which, coincidentally enough, is also called Dead Letter Circus. So, what's in a name?
“I think the themes between that EP and this album are connected, in a way,” says Kim Benzie, the band's lead vocalist and one of its two founding members alongside bassist Stewart Hill. “About halfway through writing the lyrics for this album, I think I was really struck by how much more personal the things I was writing were. I wanted to see if that would follow through to the rest of the album – and, as it turned out, it did.” Benzie continues to explain that Dead Letter Circus serves as an equal and opposite reaction to the albums that preceded it – from its face value right down to its innermost workings.
“Anyone who's followed us in the past knows we've always gone for quite grand album titles – This is the Warning, The Catalyst Fire, Aesthesis,” he says. “I was talking to a friend when I mentioned that the new album didn't have a title yet, and they suggested just making it self-titled because it felt like how the band started. I've always liked when bands do that, and it was a realisation that maybe it was time.” Of course, the band has undergone several internal changes since the 2007 EP, with most of the key transitions taking place between This is the Warning in 2010 and The Catalyst Fire in 2013.
With founding guitarist Rob Maric out of the picture, the band turned to live replacements and fill-ins. One was their friend Luke Palmer, who ended up playing a lot of the guitar on The Catalyst Fire. When asked to join the band on a permanent basis, Palmer was initially reluctant. “He's got a couple of young kids,” Benzie explains, “and he was pretty convinced that there was no way he could go out on the road and live the life that we were living.” Eventually, Benzie and co. convinced him to play one show, and Palmer was immediately hooked. “He wanted in as soon as we got off the stage,” says Benzie.
Dead Letter Circus is the second album to feature Palmer as an official member of the band, as well as the second in a row to be produced by the team of Forrester Savell and Matt Bartlem. Benzie considers the duo to be as close to family as you can get, and was overjoyed to have them on board yet again. “The whole operation feels very Ocean's 11,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody has their part, you know? We get together, we make this music, we get the job done. It's perfect. Honestly, we could have the biggest producer in the world hit us up to make an album, and we'd still go with Forrester and Matt.”
The band is set to tour Dead Letter Circus this coming December with headlining dates around the country. It will be their first chance to play many of the new songs live, and Benzie is curious to see which ones will take insofar as crowd response goes.
“You never know which songs people will get into until you're out there playing them,” he says. “On the second EP [2008's Next in Line], there was a song called 'Reaction.' I won't say who, but one of us in the band at the time was so off that song – they didn't think it had any legs. Naturally, triple j started playing it and we went out and toured it. Some people thought 'While You Wait' was us selling out, and now it's one of the biggest moments of the whole set.” Benzie laughs.
“I guess everything changes when you're four beers deep.”
Dead Letter Circus is out now via BMG. The band will tour throughout the country in November/December.
Image via Ian Laidlaw.