Cloud Control: TAS In Session
Australia's Cloud Control's charismatic debut album, 2010's Bliss Release, won the band a blissful array of awards and nominations, including a 2011 win for the Australian Music Prize, an award which enabled the band to make a career-minded move to London.
Last week, the quartet released its sophomore album, Dream Cave, a progressive leap to new electronic frontiers, produced by Barney Barnicott who has also worked with Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. The birth of the new album wasn't always an easy road for either band or producer, as Cloud Control revealed when they recently visited The Alternate Side for a session and a conversation.
Cloud Control — Alister Wright, Heidi Lenffer, Ulrich Lenffer and Jeremy Kelshaw — embark on an extensive UK and European tour this week, lasting well into November. Although the band played New York earlier this summer, no additional Stateside tour dates have been announced yet.
Below, watch Cloud Control perform new songs, like the grand gallop of "The Smoke, The Feeling," in Studio A and listen to the full session this Friday, September 27, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming online.
Kara Manning: You’re currently living in London because you won the Australian Music Prize. That award carried a nice purse of $30,000 which enabled you to move from the Blue Mountains of Sydney to London. Are you still in London?
Alister “Al” Wright: We’re still in London. We’ve actually lived there for two years now.
Kara: So you used that money to facilitate a move.
Al: I guess so. Pretty much. We moved over there because we had the chance to release our record through Infectious and they kind of helped us out with finding places to live and all that kind of thing.
Kara: Did living in the UK alter how you wanted to record Dream Cave?
Heidi Lenffer: I don’t know. We’ve talked about this and I think we’ve come to the conclusion that this album could have been recorded anywhere really. There’s no UK-specific sound to it or even logistically. We kind of recorded it in a similar way. We holed ourselves away in a house, we live on site. We lived upstairs and recorded downstairs in the countryside in Kent which is an hour south of London. So it wasn’t too dissimilar [from our debut]. The main difference was that we spent two months focused on just doing that whereas the previous album was done in bits and pieces over nine months.
Kara: Because you had day jobs?
Heidi: Yeah, most of us. I think Al was the only one of us who didn’t have a job.
Kara: You worked with a UK producer, Barney Barnicott who is well known, he’s worked with Peace, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys and bands like that. Was that your choice or something the label suggested?
Al: It actually came about through one of our friends, Davo, who we played basketball with in London. He recommended Barney to us because he worked with Barney before in one of his old bands. They were called Pull Tiger Tail. They really enjoyed working with him and Davo is a really nice guy and he thought we’d worked really well with [Barney]. The main thing is that Barney had expressed interest in us as well, so we were excited to work with someone who would be really enthusiastic about our music and be passionate about the project.
Kara: When I first heard “Dojo Rising," [I was surprised] how different it sounded from Bliss Release. There was very much an organic feel to the first record, which you’ve managed to maintain but bring a grittier, electronic edge to Dream Cave. I would imagine that was a deliberate move on your part.
Heidi: That’s interesting that you chose that track because that was one of the tracks where we had some creative differences with Barney and Al worked really hard to produce that track in a way that we were happy with versus Barney’s opinions.
Kara: What was the conflict?
Heidi: Oh, just what sounds good. The compressed cymbals and stuff.
Al: I don’t really know that much about producing so the way I did it was really unconventional and maybe hard to mix and Barney just didn’t really like it. So it was hard. We had a few times like that on the record where we had clashes and things and we had to stick up for ourselves to get it to sound how we wanted.
Heidi: The flip side of that is that he transformed several other songs with his own creative ideas.
Al: He came up with some really good stuff too. “Dojo Rising”
Kara: Heidi, you and Ulrich are brother and sister?
Heidi: That’s correct.
Kara: But you, Heidi, are the person who is responsible for Cloud Control?
Al: Pretty much!
Heidi: I accept full responsibility. There’s a thesis [that you write in university]. I was doing my honors thesis and I needed an escape, something to channel energy into. This band competition came around every year and I thought, oh this would be really fun to enter! Just for laughs! So I pulled these guys together for six weeks. We wrote four songs, entered, got knocked out, but found something special that we then came back and won the next year, 2006.
Kara: And then to turn around in 2010 and have one of the most successful and critically acclaimed albums that came out of Australia is a pretty big deal. Something that probably was beyond your wildest thoughts and surprised your parents as well.
Heidi: They love this whole band rollercoaster! We even made my mother a suggestion box that she can put her ideas in so that we don’t need to filter them! She really feels ownership because her son and daughter [are in the band].
Al: We rehearsed in the Lenffer basement for years as well. They would cook us food.
Kara: You come from the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales which sounds beautiful, but it’s the bush, yes? Can you explain the region?
Al: I think the best way to explain it to someone who has never been there is that it’s all based around one train line that goes up the mountains and then a bunch of suburbs that come off of those that are like regular suburban areas. On either side of that it’s national park and lots of trees and birds.
Heidi: The township follows the ridge so it slopes away from the townships and every suburb has a valley behind it.
Kara: Dream Cave is named because you did part of this recording in a 2000 year old limestone quarry?
Heidi: It was beer stone, and it was handmade. Limestone is carved through water and this was dug out by the Romans.
Kara: There was an amazing photo of all of you recording in this quarry on your Tumblr page. Was this an idea that you had all had?
Al: I guess it came about after we’d finished the song “Dream Cave.” We were always talking about recording in a space that had interesting acoustic properties. Not that there’s anything wrong with using digital reverbs, I love them, but we thought it would be really cool to record in a space that had that kind of thing naturally.
Heidi: We settled on the quarry because of accessibility mainly. You didn’t have to trudge through half a meter high passageways to get to it.
Kara: Dodging bats?
Heidi: There were definitely bats but they were hibernating.
Al: We had to be careful not to wake them. I didn’t see any flying around. They were just hanging about.
Kara: How do you wire something like that?
Al: There was power. Because they run tours in the cave and it was the off-season, we ran power from the start of the cave and we didn’t have to go too very far in before there was an enormous cavern. That part was easy. That was something that we did by ourselves as Barney stayed in the studio. We took a bunch of friends down as well and we only recorded vocals. To get the cave sound onto other instruments we did this thing called re-ampng which is where we played individual tracks out through speakers that we brought into the cave and recorded it at the other end of the cavern. So you’d play the drums through one of the speakers and record it at the other end. The recording sounds like the drums had been played in the cave.
Kara: Did you do this with every song?
Al: Just certain tracks. We didn’t have any rules. It was just whatever we felt needed that kind of sound.
Kara: “The Smoke, The Feeling” was one of those songs?
Heidi: No actually! “Scream Rave,” the opening track.
Al: “Moon Rabbit.” The drums.
Heidi: “Dream Cave.” Maybe just the three?
Al: We tried to sing vocals on “Tombstone” but we didn’t end up using that.
Kara: On “The Smoke, The Feeling,” Heidi, you use vocoder on that track. Do you evenly split the writing of the songs?
Heidi: It was different for both albums. On this album, either Al brings a kernel of a song or a fully-worked song. I brought three of the songs and Al brought five. The rest of them were band-generated and worked on to different degrees. Every song is a different way of writing. Sometimes we write in pairs. This time various people chipped in on the lyrics to different songs, which is interesting.
Kara: “The Smoke, The Feeling?”
Heidi: I wrote that one. I started it on a plane coming home from Ibiza after a show we played there. I was in an upbeat mood. It’s kind of an intense song, but I was quite adament, from the start, that it needed to have a driving dance groove. So the earliest demos have something quite similar sounding to the record now. The vocoder was happenstance; we borrowed a Roland vocoder, a proper one from the ‘70s, from a friend of ours and we just played around with it. I brought this song into our band room and it worked really well with the vocoder. So it stuck!
Kara: Do you think that this album, Dream Cave, defines where you’ll be going next?
Al: I feel like it’s a bit more us, this album. I definitely feel like that. I feel so comfortable with it. Then again, I felt that way about Bliss Release in 2010 when we finished it.
Heidi: We were different people back then. We’ve evolved with the songs.
Al: This is an update of where we’re at.
Kara: I read that Roy Orbison and the Beastie Boys were influential in the making of this record too.
Al: I was listening to a lot of Rancid as well because they’re one of my favorite bands when I was in high school and I was getting back ito them. So maybe it was that. I think I was influenced by Roy Orbison as well. But it’s hard to draw lines to everything and figure out where it came from?
Kara: What about different production styles that influenced you?
Al: Definitely. I think I was really happy when you were talking about the production having electronic themes but still fitting in with the way we roll as a live band. That was really important, to incorporate those things in a way that still made sense with everything that we do so it didn’t sound like we’d stuck a backing track on top of a bunch of things.