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In 2007, the Sydney-based Whale and Ade­laide native Cook started shar­ing ideas via the Inter­net. Fast for­ward to the present day and Col­lar­bones have just released their third album, Return. Seven years down the line, the pair’s cre­ative bond remains the core impe­tus for their joint activities.

“It’s some­thing that comes quite nat­ural,” Whale says. “In life it’s about find­ing chem­istry with peo­ple and Travis and I have a really good chemistry.”

After join­ing forces back in the MySpace era, Whale and Cook knocked out a bunch of demos, sin­gles and mix­tapes, which led to 2011’s debut LP, Iconog­ra­phy. Defy­ing any lim­i­ta­tions imposed by their long-distance work­ing arrange­ment, 2012 saw the release of Col­lar­bones’ highly lauded sec­ond album, Die Young. The con­struc­tion process on their lat­est release lasted longer than either of its pre­de­ces­sors and, as Whale explains, they weren’t going to make another record sim­ply for the sake of it.

“We’ve got­ten to a point with Col­lar­bones where we have to have a rea­son for doing it. You can’t just be like ‘oh I was just play­ing with this and it sounds kind of OK.’ We have to have an idea and it’s got to be real­ized well. That requires time.”

We’re for­ever hear­ing hoo-ha about the death of the album. The com­mer­cial demand for long-playing releases has cer­tainly dropped, but in real­ity there’s no lack of artists mak­ing qual­ity records. Sim­i­larly, lis­ten­ing habits might’ve changed, but the notion that albums are now utterly neglected is some­thing of a fic­tion. Still, Whale can’t help but rue how the tides have turned in recent years.

“The way that peo­ple inter­act with music these days, it’s kind of like the album’s almost an after­thought,” he says. “That annoys me a bit because I really love the album for­mat. I think it’s really great and I wish it had more value these days. I’m really happy when things hap­pen like when Bey­oncé put out her album and it was only avail­able as an entire pack­agem, for about a week,” he adds. “These peo­ple are in posi­tions of power, where they have huge hoards of fans who want as much as they can get. It kind of speaks to me that it’s still impor­tant to peo­ple that they can sit down and lis­ten to some­thing for an hour.”

It’s plain to see Col­lar­bones are faith­ful advo­cates of the long-playing for­mat, which is some­thing dis­tinct from just a col­lec­tion of songs. With Return they set out to craft an entire body of work. “We wanted it to be a jour­ney and we wanted it to be some­thing that sus­tained itself over the 40-something min­utes and felt com­plete,” Whale says. “It’s an inter­est­ing process. Towards the end it gets really fun because you’re like ‘All right we’ve got six or seven [songs] that we really like, now we can work a through-line in it and make some songs that fit nicely in there’. Then it feels like you’re really writ­ing an album, rather than just work­ing on tracks. So songs like Flush and the intro song [100 Nights] were ones we did really late in the process to give it real dimension.”

The album’s big­ger pic­ture might only have become appar­ent after an exten­sive writ­ing period, but Return’s lyri­cal frame­work was estab­lished early on. “The first song that I wrote for the album – which we never released actu­ally – I wrote imme­di­ately after being dumped by a guy,” Whale explains. “It sort of fol­lows that the entire album was about that period of time and on that theme. On that level it was pre­scribed from the beginning.”

Despite what the duo’s release his­tory might sug­gest, Whale and Cook have remained geo­graph­i­cally sep­a­rate since Col­lar­bones’ incep­tion. The inter-state divide has clearly never been a pro­duc­tiv­ity killer. More to the point, Whale believes it’s an opti­mal work­ing arrangement.

“We’ve been doing [it this way] longer than most bands in the scene have been doing it in per­son,” he says. “It’s as nor­mal to us as get­ting up in the morn­ing and eat­ing break­fast. With Col­lar­bones, it’s great because it means that Travis or I can really hone in on a bunch of stuff when we’re work­ing on it [indi­vid­u­ally] and not have to um and ah.”

Sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous Col­lar­bones releases, Return com­prises an off­cen­tre and very-21st Cen­tury take on R&B and pop music. Song­writ­ers must remain wary of the influ­ence that pass­ing fads have on their work. Though, it’s not always easy to detect when some­thing that’s grab­bing your inter­est is des­tined for fleet­ing exis­tence. Whale believes Col­lar­bones’ unique song­writ­ing arrange­ment is help­ful in this regard.

“With this album, we took a while and a bunch of the songs are fairly old, but they’re the ones that six-to-12 months down the track we felt like they still held res­o­nance and rel­e­vance to us. We both have to develop a col­lec­tive sense for what will work,” he adds.

“That col­lec­tive sense is even more valu­able then actual musi­cal input, I think.”

Returns is avail­able now through Two Bright lakes / Remote Con­trol Records.


FEBRUARY 6 — New­town Social Club, Syd­ney NSW
FEBRUARY 7 — Pirie Social Club, Ade­laide SA
FEBRUARY 12 — Hugs & Kisses, Mel­bourne VIC
FEBRUARY 13 — Mondo, Perth WA