Gear Talks: Sophisticated Dingo

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Gear Talks: Sophisticated Dingo

Sophisticated Dingo
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Sophisticated Dingo are a two-piece band from Naarm, making much more of a racket than you'd expect from a drummer and guitarist.

On the back of a new single “Been Thinking” and some attention from a new fan (Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park) we had a chance to catch up with Lewis Matte (lead singer, guitarist) of the Sophisticated Dingo about the new song, album and their creative process.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Guys, congrats on the release of “Been Thinking”. How and where did this song begin?

Thank you! At the start of 2023 we had a weekend booked in the studio. We had the intent to record 5 demos of songs we had promised management we would share with them… but had not finished. We went in with strong ideas for each song but no solidified structure. We blocked out three hours for each song and worked from playing about on an acoustic in the control room, hunting for a structure, to tracking whatever came together with the time we had left. 

“Been Thinking” was one of those songs. While it has changed somewhat since that weekend it is funny to hear how much of that session remains in the song. I think it shows we don’t often shake a hook/any idea once it’s stuck in our head.

Is this how Sophisticated Dingo usually write?

No, it isn’t. Or at least it isn’t how we intend to. When we first recorded and released music it was very intentional and we entered every recording session with songs fully formed, often having been played live for years prior. It was comfortable to see all the parts that required tracking laid out to tick off, and time the only constraint to work to. I suppose that was best too as we were challenged by the event of a recording session itself enough without imposing other stresses to the process.

However, since the beginning of 2022 we have placed ourselves under the pressure of release deadlines hanging over our heads, that with persistent touring, have often left us little time to write and prepare songs as thoroughly as we would like to before entering the studio. Often it has been a mad dash with a session or two wasted over incomplete lyrics that blood could not be drawn from the stone for. Although I believe the stress in the limitations of such situations have helped us. I think the threat of a looming deadline has meant that the search for a hook, lyrics or any other part of a song is hyper-focussed and the best idea can become more obvious as we push to complete the puzzle. This limitation prompts creation and the lack of time to sit with it reduces the temptation to over analyse our work and ideally moves us closer to that position of becoming a detached-from-the-process listener. I think this is an optimal perspective to take in listening to music, seeing if something in a song can grab me and inspire me.

This stress certainly isn’t comfortable though. I think a middle ground somewhere between these two extremes we have seen would be nice.

How much has the finished song deviated from the original idea?

The major point of difference between the final version and the original idea is the opening/main hook of the song. In the original demo this part featured as the post-chorus. The song originally kicked off by immediately entering the vocals for the first verse. It worked but I never thought it captured the right energy for the song. Starting the song with the post-chorus hook brought a pop-heavy focus to the song and displayed what I think is what characterises the song best. It is bright and layered with competing melodies that find a way to sit mixed among one another. A feature moment that doesn’t steal away, and rather only intensifies the vocal entry for the first verse. The upbeat sounds of joy make way for a stark comparison of downtrodden lyrics, fitting well with the meaning of the song in seeing everything you are seemingly holding together fall apart so easily.

This decision in structuring the song that way came about due to having time to listen to the original demo and make choices like this before heading back to the studio to record the final version. We had months to sit with this track and listen after the demo was recorded.

When did Sam Swain come on board? We understand he’s a longtime collaborator. Was it a no brainer to have him produce Sophisticated Dingo?

Sam has produced all the music we have released since 2020. We have a strong and very established working relationship so working with him on this song was an extension of this and as usual, a joy to dive into with him. 

What does Sam bring to the table that you guys couldn’t do yourself?

The ability to record music is the most obvious and important feature, to be honest. Given that we don’t do any home recording bar saving voice memos on our phones, he unlocks the ability to track our songs.

Apart from that obvious point he is really quick at understanding what we want to hear. Even from the briefest of conversations. If something isn’t sounding the way you can hear it in your head, it only usually takes a quick chat to have that dream sound realised on the record. 

How do you record? Are instruments isolated or do you do the song beds together before overdubbing?

We start with the drums, and to capture that we spend the drum-takes playing the songs live. We have only recently started using click for this process so for the last few years it has been an extremely live capture of the drums! From here we then isolate all other overdubs, working through guitar, bass, vocals, BVs and anything else the track needs. Piece by piece.

How do you think being a two piece influences your sound?

Hugely. There’s a laundry list of points that influence our sound based on the limitations of only featuring a guitar, drums and our voices. The most obvious points that come to mind are the need to play a quasi rhythm and lead guitar style, a reliance on vocal melodies to shine through against a lack of other melodic instruments, and the opportunity to feature backing vocals.

Apart from those I think the more creative ways in which we harness the limitations is through the use of deliberately drastic drumming choices. I don’t think it is revolutionary, perhaps just more pronounced than other recordings. E.g. in a chorus or any elevated moment of a song we find it best to highlight the power of that moment by going overboard on crash cymbals/extremely washy hats. As I said, by no means revolutionary, but I have found listening to other bands that might be a four or five-piece act, the drums are often quite understated in elevated moments of songs and it is actually the melodic instruments that drive the lift. We use the drums because there’s only one guitar in our case!

Additionally, I always find myself looking to “hide” as many lead guitar lines as possible in choruses/hooks. I say “hide” because while they are often my favourite parts to record, and often the parts that I feel “make” a track because of their position harmonically/sonically in the song, often they aren’t feasible parts to be replicated live without the use of backing track. I think it is a creative part of our process to place these lead lines in the song yet not make them obvious enough to be missed when hearing the song live. If we have really done our job well then part of you might be filling that gap yourself subconsciously when you hear the song live.

Then on the other side of opportunities rather than limitations of being a two-piece I believe the fact there are less voices and instruments competing, there is in turn far more space to say something you want to along with the time to work out what that is.

Any standout pieces of equipment that made “Been Thinking” what it is?

This recording was the first opportunity I had to play my newly purchased Epiphone Coronet. There was always a guitar with a P-90 in it floating around the studio so that sound has found its way onto songs before, but having one I now call my own seemed to call it to feature heavily from the start of tracking the guitar.

Thanks for the time! As a closer, any stories you’d like to share about the making of “Been Thinking”?

With a deadline looming over when we were due in the studio to record the final version of ‘Been Thinking’ we were still not 100% certain on all the parts for the song. We were on tour with The Terrys (amazing tour. Shout-out to the absolute best of ‘em. We love The Tezzas) and had just played a show in the freezing cold snow of Mt. Hotham. We made our way back to our overpriced accommodation and kicked off our cold, wet clothes. We sat around in the post-gig glow and at around 2am and played the post-chorus hook of ‘Been Thinking’ as the intro during a jam. For the first time, in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, far away from home, playing a traveller acoustic guitar, “Been Thinking” made complete sense. We went to bed happy and ready to record the final version of the track.

Keep up with the guys in Sophisticated Dingo here.