Words by Anthony Thomas
Driven by digital culture, Australia’s electronic scene has exploded at a mindboggling pace since the mid-2000s. Supported by the likes of Modular and Fuzzy, pioneers emerged in the form of The Presets, Cut Copy, and Midnight Juggernauts. The subsequent cultivation and harvest of the sub-genres under the electronic umbrella to the masses shows no signs of cessation either; Flume anyone? There’s one name, though, that is left off these innovator lists all too often. Grafton Primary. When music savvy audiences and the alternative media circuit were quick to approve of their 2007 debut EP, Relativity, Josh and Ben Garden suddenly became hot property. The following year they delivered Eon, an album that is quite simply a masterpiece. Josh’s lyrics could be likened to poetry; webs of metaphors that persuaded the mind to become lost deep in philosophical observation. Fortunately becoming immersed in the world of words was fine as Ben’s his corridors of sound, laced doors of hidden intricacies that only revealed themselves to the repeat listener, provided careful guidance back to reality. It’s been five years sine Eon. They toured, they toured some more, and eventually they got sick of touring. But what next? It’s a question a lot of people would like answered. Not surprisingly, when I got Josh on the phone recently I found him to be as multi-dimensional, intelligent, and engaging as the music he co-creates. Our conversation clocked in at just over thirty minutes, so the resulting interview is quite a read, but one well worth the insight it gives into one of the most youthfully wise acts around.
MM: How’s your day been?
JG: Pretty good. We’ve just been working on a track. I completely forgot you were calling!
No harm done. It’s been a while between drinks, what’s been happening?
Life. We’ve just had a couple of years just working on other things in the background. We did lots of touring after the last album and it came to a point where we were just a little over it. We just wanted to get back in the studio and after a long two-and-a-half years we’ve finally finished the album.
Does it feel good to be back?
Absolutely. It feels really good to finally realise all the studio time and being back in the public eye. It’s quite a reclusive existence when you’re out of the scene for a while; it becomes very introverted.
Didn’t miss being “dissected by the press” then?
Not really, no [laughs]. There’s pros and cons to everything, though. We really do enjoy making music for the sake of it and it’s kinda cool to just do it without any judgment or reviews or anything like that. On the flip-side, being in the public eye means we get to play music to people and they get to hear it, which is one of the main reasons you do it in the first place.
This is true. One of the words that stuck out to me in the PR was recharged. Are you?
Definitely, but we’re also feeling older, wiser, and just generally excited about bringing the last two years out into the world. We feel a lot more grounded than we did in the past. I feel a lot more certainty and relaxed about what we’re doing and the music we’re making. It’s a complex thing, returning.
Your social media sights are interesting; there has been consistent speculation about the new album on them for quite some time now. What’s it like knowing there’s that sort of demand for your music despite the time lapse?
It’s amazing, slightly intimidating too. There have been a lot of delays in the last six months and naturally people have been saying, “Where’s the album? Deliver it immediately!” It’s really great. You realise your music touches people but it’s still amazing to see that people care enough to get on your social media and say it out loud. It’s a little scary too. Obviously, we’re not going to make music that pleases everybody but we certainly aim to please as many of the people who care the most. It has been a little…awkward on social media because we’ve been saying there’s material coming a lot. It got to a point where we just decided to disappear from social media for a month or two while we were finishing the album. To focus on the music you know? Hopefully that will reap rewards.
One More Life has been out for a day now. Has it been reaping the rewards?
As far as I know. It’s hard at this stage of a release to gauge people’s reactions. We’ll do a Google search and there’s always more and more stuff up. Reviews, little blogs, and comments people have made. Only a small percentage has been radio airplay, we’ve had more people say to us they heard the new track in the gym and we kind of think, “How the hell did you hear it in the gym?” But yeah, it’s probably too early to tell but the response we’ve had has been positive so far. That’s one of any artist’s biggest fears about releasing new music; will people like the new direction? We don’t care one way or another; we just make the music that we make but people always want that continuity. They want something that sounds like other stuff you’ve made before but also something that’s grown and evolved, which is what we feel the new album is.
Natural progression then?
We didn’t shy away from making stuff, which was really fun and poppier. At the same time, there are a lot of
different emotions and layers on the album. It’s not a record that you’re going to put and dance the entire time to, nor will you put it on chill out. If you’re in the party mood you might put on a few tracks. It’s that sort of album; there’s a lot of different colours on it.
Neo is a play on Eon right?
I really like anagrams and wordplays, so even as early as Eon I had this inkling where the whole title thing was going. Three guesses what the next album title may possibly be… It all starts getting very symbolic, I just can’t help myself.
Does that stem from your literary background?
I’ve studied music my whole life but writing was my first passion. It was the thing I did for fun, whereas music was something I did for years and years as part of my education. I didn’t actually start creating music until I was about 18 or 19 but I started writing stories when I was a little kid. Then I did English literature and linguistics as part of my uni degree, it was all very wordy. It might be too hard a find nowadays but I actually had a poetry anthology published. As well as working as a freelance writer doing entertainment interviews for various media, I remember interviewing some absolute pricks [laughs].
Amen to that. As the GP lyricist, what themes have you touched on this time around?
We feel like where we are in history is very much this record. Human history could move in either direction, on zone hand we’re having all this innovation, advancements, and forward movement…people’s minds are really opening up. But there’s this flipside, the planet is slowly having a lot of problems and we’re trying to change the way we’re doing things but it’s all taking so long. This question of will we survive or not? It’s in the back of people’s minds all the time. That was one of the big themes that came through on the album, those extremes in the motions. Moving forward and doing all those things like falling in love, create and dance, the things that draw us together but there’s also that flipside. One song on the album, “Secret Place”, is all about imagining what would happen if a real, huge natural disaster occurred or where are we going to go when the world starts falling apart. All the lyrics are about running away and finding a place that is safe from all the madness and chaos. There’s a lot of extremes. The upbeat songs are all super happy and positive. The theme of death came up a lot but in a tongue-in-cheek way. One song, “Six Feet Down”, focuses on that idea that we are born and then we die, and in between is the reason why. You’re here now, this is the moment…how do the lyrics go; “Here tonight everybody knows that all the lights turn to silver and gold. I celebrate everything I hold because when I’m six feet down I can let it go.” In that moment, I’m just going celebrate and appreciate everything that I have, because when I die, I’ll have all the time in the world to rest. That song is really about trying not to be too introspective; just celebrate and enjoy. So even though it’s about death, which is quite a heavy topic, it’s quite light. There are a lot of levels.
It sounds like you’ve created a very intelligent album.
I hope so [laughs]. It was my birthday yesterday and I turned thirty-four, so I hope I’ve gained some intelligence in those thirty-four years.
What about the production side of things? You’ve mentioned in the past getting a strings ensemble or a Cathedral organ involved. Any luck?
We almost got some strings involved but we started playing around with samples on the computer and really liked the sounds we were coming up with. So we thought why pay $500 to get string players in when we can make the same result ourselves. It’s kind of sad but it seems to be the way things always go. If we felt we couldn’t get the sound we wanted we would have paid the $500 but we thought well we can make that same sound ourselves in the studio because we know how to do it. The more knowledge, the more you’re able to create; this is the reality of modern studio production. Look at the stuff people like Flume make in their bedroom. It’s ridiculous the amount of digital tools available, every week they bring out a new device, toy, or software that does incredible things. If you have enough imagination and knowledge you can do just about anything. We don’t have many pipe organs on this album actually; it was more of an influence. You can’t really do pipe organs anymore since Justice kinda trademarked it, didn’t they? We had a bit of a pipe organ obsession so we were like, “What? These guys made music with pipe organs, and they ruled.” But yeah, we’ve put together some pretty expansive arrangements. Maybe we can save it for our forty year anniversary tour? With the Berlin Symphony Orchestra or something.
That would be rad! Do you have a definite date for Neo‘s release yet?
[Long pause] Not really. I’m not trying to be cagey at all; just off the top of my head I can’t answer that. Now that we’ve got a song out, it’s only going to be a matter of time. I would definitely say within the next three to six months, around the time we release the second single. I need to speak to management about timeframes. I can say, though, that we have delivered the album to them. To cut a long story short, we were working with a label in Australia which had fallen through. That’s one of the reasons we’ve had this whole delay thing and social media awkwardness. We were working on what we thought was a label timeline and the label turned around and said “We don’t want to put the album out.” So we had to say, “Screw you guys,” and go independent again. With the help of our manager, we had to work on our own release plan. It’s gone from a thing where we essentially had a team working on the release, promo, etc. to then going back to doing it all ourselves again. We’ve done the independent thing for years, so it’s not like it was unusual for us to have to do that, but it was unexpected because we had already mentally given away a lot of work. We’d said to ourselves, “Oh, cool, we won’t have to do this, or that,” and then it’s like, “Oh, shit, we do and we don’t have long to do it, either.” Our manager is based in LA and he co-runs a label there, so they’ve all been helping us to release stuff and we’re not even signed to them. There are a lot of people being very, very generous with their time to help us this all happen. I very much hope it works out for everybody’s sake
You guys are Grafton Primary; you don’t have anything to worry about.
I hope not. I think it’s great music. My brother thinks it’s great music. We’re pretty harsh critics, especially of our own work and we think it’s an excellent album. I know it’s not going to meet everybody’s tastes but I’ve learnt over the years you can’t make something to everybody’s taste. It is what it is. That’s why there’s different music around, so different people can listen to it and people can enjoy different moods on different days. It will definitely fit somewhere and we definitely feel it’s our most accomplished work to date.
Just before I let you go, what is the single going to be?
I’m pretty sure a song called, “Closer” will be the second single. It’s a song about the universal power of music and it’s ability to bring us all closer. That sort of vibe. “One More Life” is very sweet and poppier, almost like a little love song and “Closer” is a much more handsome, tougher track. I could tell you more about the song but that’s enough of a tease for now.
You are the worst! Thanks for chatting Josh.
No, thank you!