Gear Talks: Mature Themes

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Gear Talks: Mature Themes

Mature themes
words by Mixdown staff

Hot off the coals of a fantastic release, Mature Themes sat down with Mixdown for an (expectedly) extremely gear-y chat.

Recorded and produced by Winter McQuinn (Sunfruits, Jade Imagine), mixed by Gene Argiro (Sunfruits, Elizabeth M Drummond) and mastered by Michael Vince Moin (Control Plus Me) Mature Themes’ “So Much Better Now” moves between a wall-of-sound, guitar driven fuzzscape similar to The Black Angels and The Dandy Warhols with a more 67’ sweeping edge coming through in the middle of the track with oscillating synthesizers and stacked 12 string acoustic guitar harmonies. It’s an impressive step up for the band and is a promise of what their live shows entail, a sonic barrage that leaves you more energised than when you arrived.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Alongside this track, the band have delivered an equally incendiary music video, shot, directed and edited by Riley Nimbs, the video depicts the band performing the track in a living room with various antics, costumes and hilarity ensuing. You can catch the band launching So Much Better Now on August 12th at Shotkickers in Thornbury, alongside Jean & Winter McQuinn’s Rock and Roll Variety Hour.

Hot off the coals of this fantastic release, Mature Themes sat down with Mixdown for a wonderfully nerdy, extremely gear-y chat.

Hi folks! To start out, I’d love to ask you about your lifelong musical background/s. What would you say are the key influences throughout your journey thus far that have led to the development of your sound?

Hello Mixdown Mag!

Aaron: A lot of musical memories from my childhood are attached to The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John no thanks to my parents. On the other side of that, my older brothers exposed me to things like Metallica and early albums by The Black Keys. Once I started listening to bands like The Velvet Underground, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Slowdive as I got older –  song writing started to make a whole lot more sense! Garage, psych and shoegaze all encapsulate the most exciting parts of music to me and have led to the development of the Mature Themes sound. 

Rudy: I grew up in an art encouraged home in Austin. I had a lot of Funk, Soul, and 60’s and 70’s rock pumped into my brain at a very early age. Some of my earliest concert experiences were Santana, George Clinton, Steve Miller, and other legends from my Dad’s time that he would take me to go see. On my own musical journey I branched out and had a lot of influence from bands like Alabama Shakes, Mac Demarco, and of course all the Psych Rock bands from Australia like Tame Impala, King Gizz, Orb, etc that encouraged the big move over.

Marlee: A lot of my musical influences as a kid came from whatever my older siblings were listening to – from Smashing Pumpkins and Something for Kate to The Cure and Jeff Buckley. Artists like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor made me fall in love with playing the piano, and this band is the first time I’ve moved away from traditional keys and into the Synth world where I’ve been given the creative space to really develop my sound and technique.

Adele: I was super lucky to grow up with music always around, Dad would play Dirty three, Grinderman, the White Stripes and Sonic Youth, and Mum blasting the 90’s ministry of sounds compilations. Their influence started a lifelong love for commanding bass, noise and experimental music. But most importantly they introduced me to subversive female role models like Kim Gordon, Poly Styrene and Dolly Parton. These women were tokenized and devalued, and in their own way, they all managed to permanently shift the power dynamic with elegance, intellect and perseverance.

Edan: Given my role as back up vocalist and [very enthusiastic] tambourinist, my influences stem from my favourite live performers – from Mick Jagger to Janis Joplin, Peter Garret to Gareth Liddiard – anyone who’s comfortable in their skin (and in their sound) in front of an audience, but always ensuring my contribution to our live show is that of a collaborator and team member.

Nick: I’ve always been drawn to the visceral energy of rock and the improvisatory yet calculated style of jazz and blues. Being predominantly a guitarist, my drumming is so heavily informed by the rhythmic decisions of Aaron, Rudy and Adele to make sure there’s a tight groove and appropriate dynamics for the song. I’m particularly drawn to the musicality of a drummer and groove, some influences include Mitch Mitchell, Moe Tucker and Jaki Liebezeit from Can.

Photo credit: Lime Eldoro

Your sound is aesthetically very nostalgic. This new single conjures everything from Bowie in those squashed leadlines, to that Stones-esque vocal swagger –  I’m also reminded of the second and third wave 60s psychedelia pioneered by bands like Brian Jonestown and early King Gizzard. Are you folks conscious of approaching sonic homage with modern sensibilities when you write/record? Or is the goal to get as close to the source as possible?

Aaron: I think we all have a strong affinity to those sounds and era of music. I’ve always been attached to the lo-fi aesthetic, whether sonic or visual – and very much so in relation to vocals! I always use some sort of fuzz vocal plug-in whenever I’m demoing or writing something, or use my Telemic – it just adds so much character and fits in so much with the sounds I’m chasing. The guitars I’ve been using for this project – a 60’s Guyatone SG-42T Hollowbody and a 60’s Domino Californian have been key in recreating a warmth and chime-y quality to the guitar sounds of the band. Adding some saturation and distortion to a master is always a great way to dirty things up in post! 

Could you tell me about your songwriting process – is it a collaborative affair, do members tend to tinker alone and then build from those skeletons, or is it a combination of both?

Aaron: Normally I’ll sit at home finding a chord progression. I’m a big fan of using a capo and open chords to start writing a song, allows me to find the bones of something easily. From there I’ll start looking for a vocal melody, which is often easy – but I do struggle with lyrics. Sometimes I’m able to just find the words I want to express so easily and they’ll see it through to the final product, and others I spend months chopping and changing.

Whilst I start off with simple basslines, Adele will always find ways to ‘take it for a walk’ – and kick on some fuzz, naturally.

Rudy and I are working on this one song, and he wrote such a cool guitar melody that we imagine the vocals will follow along to. It’s awesome but boy is it difficult to chain the words together! I’m getting there though, I’m sure it’ll be well worth it in the end.

Once lyrics and a vocal style have found their feet I’ll book in some time with Marlee and Edan to find spaces where harmonies or vocal doubling can fit in. Often it ends up being certain phrases that strike in the verses and make a chorus sound full.

I often can find myself getting stuck with finding a chorus or a bridge, which is often where I’ll seek knowledge from the rest of the band. For the life of me I struggled with writing a solo for ‘So Much Better Now’, so I consulted Nick, our drummer, to improvise a guitar solo over the recording and he had something GOLD within the first take.

Photo Credit: Lime Eldoro

Talk me through your recording workflow from demo to track completion. Do you begin in the bedroom or head straight to the studio? Any preference of DAW/special demo set up that goes the extra mile?

Aaron: I normally sit down and put some ideas into Logic or GarageBand. Having these tools on hand and being so user friendly makes it so easy to create a song, or at least a ‘vibe’. Big shout outs to the king of Garageband drums Zak! Once I put some chords or a riff down and add some drum loops ideas can start to domino which is maybe the most exciting part of the process for me. I find that it makes it much easier to come in with the bones of a song that way, so normally if I’m feeling something with a demo I’ll share it with the rest of the band where they’ll add their own musicianship to the song.

Before we record anything concrete, I think we’ve found that playing the songs live for a little while allows them to take on their own life whilst we all get super comfortable with them. ‘So Much Better Now’ is a funny example of how a song can change from initial demo to the final product. I’d had that one in the bank for a year or so, and once we started playing it in the set it took on a whole new life with everyone’s musical input – hello guitar-monies! 

Which pieces of equipment are the most integral to you when it comes to translating the project’s essence from a recorded to a live context? Are you trying to replicate your studio sound when you perform, or do you prefer to let the songs breathe and find their own live groove?

My Deluxe Reverb comes to mind! Paired with a Boss Blues Driver and a Graphic Equaliser, I feel like my tone has become so much more consistent now with these additions to my gear. Another integral motif is ‘droning’ the note of whatever key the song is in behind all the music. Marlee normally does this by adding a tonne of reverb through her synth and hitting an infinite sustain function on her Electro Harmonix Synth Engine. You can stack more effects like tremolo on top of that to create an almost sonic landscape and or atmosphere.

In saying that however -I think we’re definitely aiming for the latter. There’s a lot of room to manoeuvre our songs when we play them live, be it through improvising certain sections of songs or jamming during the outro – so much fun! It allows us to bring a lot more energy and intensity to the live shows.

Are there any pieces of gear you’ve acquired, be it something cheap that punches massively above its weight, or a less-wallet friendly splurge, that have tangibly influenced the way you write and record music to this day?

Perhaps the best piece of gear in the band’s arsenal is Rudy’s Trooper Electronic Texas Transit Boost/Overdrive. He got this thing dirt cheap in a guitar store in Sydney, and it has the most sensitive knobs – but once he’s dialled it in it makes such massive and crunchy tones. Truly goes above and beyond when you want a moment in a song to kick in! You can hear it doing so all throughout ‘So Much Better Now’, particularly noticeable as those big AC/DC strums in the chorus. Really haven’t heard any other pedal like it! 

THE STUDIO IS (figuratively) ON FIRE!!! What are you grabbing and why?

Aaron: Definitely the Domino Californian! Epic vintage looks, and a singular thick TV Jones Duo-Tron pickup make it truly a special piece of the arsenal. Oh and can’t forget the Boss Blues Driver. Sure there’s a million of them around, but it is the first pedal I ever bought and hasn’t left the board in a whole ten years of playing. 

Rudy: It makes sense that I snag the Texas pedal. I’ve gotta be honest though I mostly bought that thing as a joke. I just saw it in the display case with its graphic of a pair of duelling pistols over a Texas Flag and immediately said “Yeah hell yeah, sold!” Definitely gonna be trying to grab my Hagstrom H-II too though.

Marlee: My pedals can burn all I need is that Nord Wave!

Adele: The mustang for sure, It’s the comfiest bass I’ve ever played and she’s been everywhere with me and has a lot of sentimental value. Then I’d rip the echo dream off the board, the fuzz with a bit of analogue delay has become essential to my tone. Can’t forget the daphne blue coil cable, it matches my bass and has prevented me tripping over in my platform boots on stage countless times.

Edan: It would have to be the beautiful tambourine my dear friend Denzel bought for me as a thank you and farewell from the previous band I played with. It’s something I will hold onto and cherish forever, truly.

Nick: Aarons Guitars. no particular reason….

Photo credit: Lime Eldoro

What’s on the horizon? What exciting things can we expect from you for the remainder of the year?

We’re currently putting the final touches on our EP, due out towards the end of the year. It’s been a long process to create this body of work, but we’ve learnt so much about the process itself and working together as a collaborative unit – we can’t wait to share it with you all! Hopefully a couple more silly and entertaining music videos too. In between our upcoming releases, you’ll be able to come see the ‘wall of sound’ live at any of the numerous music venues we’re so lucky to have here in Naarm! 

Keep up to date with Mature Themes here.