It’s one thing for West Thebarton to work as a live band. The all-in ensemble is a mess of jangly guitars, scattered drums and shared microphones that makes for one of the most fun live shows on the circuit. But what happens when the Adelaide collective makes the pilgrimage into the studio? How does one navigate all of the chaos? Put simply, it just needs to be mapped out. “We record everything – and I mean everything,” says Tom Gordon, one of the band’s four(!) guitar players.
“We kind of lay everything out and then the mix dictates what goes up or down. If something isn’t necessarily needed, we’ll make it a little lower. Everyone’s in there, but depending on the song then different parts and instruments are emphasised.” Gordon’s the first to admit that writing songs for West Thebarton – whose debut album, Different Beings Being Different, comes out this month – is a task that needs to be undertaken with a bit of strategy and tact. Sure, that’s antithetical to the rambling, rag-tag nature of the band – but, in a way, that’s kind of the point.“You have to start simple – if you’re going in there with something too complicated, it can easily end up being completely insane,” says Gordon, who also plays in Horror My Friend with fellow West Thebarton bandmate Josh Battersby.
“It’s a matter of building for us – we bring ideas in with a good foundation so that everyone can add in their own ideas over the top of it. That certainly runs a risk of becoming really convoluted, but I think we all trust in one another to develop off the bones of a song. We all have plenty of different tastes and play really differently as musicians, so if one of us doesn’t know what to do with a song idea, we can work together to make it something that the original writer wouldn’t have thought to come up with themselves. It can actually end up being pretty positive.”
Different Beings was recorded between December of 2016 and March of 2017 in the band’s native Adelaide. Although taking on guitar and vocal duties in both bands, Gordon is personally quick to point out that his guitar set-up for West Thebarton is completely different to Horror My Friend’s.
“I’m playing a 1966 Yamaha SG2 – it’s an old Japanese guitar that was only made for a short amount of time,” he says. “No-one wanted to buy them because they’re seen as like a student brand – in reality, these guitars are just as good as Fenders, if not better. When I bought it, I got it for $800. These days, they retail for up to two-and-a-half grand – people eventually realised what great guitars they actually are. I run it through a lot dirtier amps than I would for Horror My Friend, too – it’s pretty perfect for garage rock.” Gordon adds, however, that he’s onto his second SG2 after he snapped the neck of the first at a show: “I was just trying to be a cool dude,” he jokes.
The delay of the record to May of 2018 was not out of frustration or red tape – rather, it was an exciting chance to be a part of something new in terms of releasing the record. Different Beings is the first full-length LP to be released by Domestic La La Records, the new imprint headed up by Violent Soho’s James Tidswell. Gordon notes that, after meeting Tidswell at Bigsound in 2017, the rest of the band knew he was the man for the job. “We met with a lot of label people, managerial people and A&R people while we were up in Brisbane,” says Gordon.
“The test was this: I’d ask all of them what their favourite songs on the record were. Half of them couldn’t tell me the name of a single song on there, and I knew that they just didn’t care about it at all. When we asked Tidswell, he went into a detailed explanation of his favourite parts on every single track. It’s not about the business for him – it’s a real venture of passion.”
Different Beings Being Different is out Friday May 18 via Domestic La La Records. Catch them on tour in June. For more details, head to westthebarton.com
Image via Jack Fenby.