Deleted Scenes, the debut record by Standish / Carlyon, seems like a complete reinvention. The duo of Conrad Standish and Tom Carlyon made up two thirds of The Devastations, and while that group’s last album – 2010’s darkly sensual Yes U – contained hints of what’s offered on this debut, the sounds on Deleted Scenes are likely to seem jarring to fans of the older band. On this record, the duo has joined an entirely different orbit. The trappings of rock music have been emphatically cemented over, finally.
Deleted Scenes sounds like a strange combination of 1980s smooth pop and the darker industrial leanings of that era. If you can imagine Roxy Music playing with a drowsy early Coil, with all the proto-techno associations that may conjure, you’re kinda close to the mark. The new album is surprising, sure, but it feels like an honest and – most importantly – natural progression. It reconfigures The Devastations as a strange pop band shackled to a rock ensemble. Listen to Deleted Scenes divorced from what you think you know about these songwriters, and you’ll find much to enjoy. Basically, it doesn’t sound like a couple of rock guys dabbling in something weird. It works.
I spoke to Conrad Standish over the phone last week. At the time he was about a day into an effort to give up cigarettes “after years and years of abuse”. He nonetheless dealt with me very graciously. The duo is playing the Gasometer in Melbourne on Friday night with Roland Tings.
For a little bit of context surrounding the references to HTRK, Conrad is married to Jonnine from that band.
The new record is a pretty big stylistic shift for you, would you agree?
It doesn’t necessarily seem like that to me, because things evolved over a few years [during which] I guess it looks like we were inactive. It doesn’t feel that way to me, it feels like a fairly natural thing. If you hadn’t heard anything from us in the last couple of years, it could seem like a shock. On the last album in The Devastations we were exploring a bit of this stuff, so it’s not that weird.
Why isn’t this a Devastations record?
I don’t know really. It certainly wasn’t a conscious thing where we wanted to get rid of Hugo [Cran, drummer for The Devastations]. I guess it’s not a Devastations record because we don’t want to have a drummer, basically. Maybe two years ago when we started to write for this, we were enjoying the dynamic of just the two of us, so we felt like it was important to make it a new thing.
Does it feel like starting again?
It does actually, for sure. It really does. But that’s cool too.
Are there any difficulties that come with starting again, after having established a name?
I don’t know, it’s probably easier in some ways because I mean we had kinda a name I guess, but the hard thing for us was learning how to do this shit live. I guess we came from a trad band arrangement, so learning how to do a lot of these things was a learning curve live. But it’s been good largely, we’re really enjoying it.
You said before that the shift is natural to you, but the audience might not see it that way. Was there anything that triggered this shift? Was it London? Were you getting fed up with rock music? What was the reason?
I guess I was getting fed up with rock music. But also just years of slowly hearing about new things, and getting influenced by different things, and years of living in London. I guess that [living in London] got me into dub in a massive way. My wife and I used to live in a Jamaican area in London and we were exposed to that vibe, it rubbed in. It’s five years worth of listening to records. It’s nothing too sinister.
It must be strange coming back to Melbourne. Melbourne at the moment – and I guess always has been – fairly fond of traditional rock ensemble music.
You do feel that, but there are lots of interesting people working in other fields.
In terms of other fields, what are you enjoying?
Angel Eyes I think is really good. Superstar. Kangaroo Skull. Zanzibar Chanel has been a good addition to the live scene. HTRK, but they’ve been around for a while. Roland Tings. There’s a lot that’s happening here.
I’ve only listened to the record about five times, but…
Is that enough? Is five times enough for you?
It’s not always, but I think I have a feel for it. One of my impressions is that previously I’ve found your songwriting very frank and vivid. The “child bearing hips” in ‘Sex and Mayhem’ come to mind, and the song ‘I Don’t Want To Lose You Tonight’. But now your lyrics seem more cryptic. It’s not as visually vivid. Has your approach shifted?
I still think it’s very visually conceptualised, but I’m writing less about myself now. When I was younger I would take everything down in almost like a diary entry way. I feel like that’s how a lot of artists approach songwriting when they’re starting out. But yeah, I’m less interested in myself and more interested in other things outside of that. But I won’t tell you what those things are, but I’m writing about those things. Escapism really. [laughs]
I was wondering whether there was anything philosophically connecting HTRK and Standish/Carlyon at this point in time? The sounds aren’t exactly the same, but they share a bit in common mood wise, I think.
I know that this is probably going to come up a bit. You know, we’re family obviously. Years of living overseas with each other, me and Nigel shared a lot of music with each other and have done for years. It is safe to say that quite often we’re interested in a lot of the same things, which I guess is a natural progression of being around each other all the time for many years, and having many highs and lows.
One thing that I’ve identified on the new album is an ‘80s adult pop aesthetic – particularly the canned handclaps during ‘Moves Moves’, and a lot of the synth lines remind me of smooth radio pop from the ‘80s. Do you identify that in your music?
To a certain extent. I love a lot of that kind of stuff – The Art of Noise is quite a big influence. I love these dudes that make highly highly chic but weird kind of pop. I guess later period Roxy Music, the Avalon album was the height of yuppie fantasies. In fact I was quite interested in yuppie culture when I was writing the record. But you’re right – I love ‘80s adult pop.
You’ve spent a lot of time in London, Berlin and Melbourne over the last ten years. In which of those cities have you felt most creatively potent?
In all honesty, London. Though all three of those worlds have things that have attracted me to them in the first place. My wife and I moved home to Melbourne last year for family reasons – we had to be here to deal with emergencies – so it wasn’t a planned move home. But there are certain things about the Melbourne scene that I like. It’s easy to get things happening here. In London it can be a pain in the arse even to get to a show, lugging amps in cabs… it can be difficult. All three of these places have very intense vibes to them, and I get different things out of each of them. But in Melbourne, it’s so expensive to live here at the moment, I’m not even sure how long I can stay.
I noticed the same thing in Sydney, moving from London – traditionally it’s been the other way around.
When we first moved over to Berlin in 2003, it felt like a city full of runaways. That was a really fun vibe, and there were loads of Americans, loads of weird Norwegians, and everyone was on the run from something. It was this weird island. When we first arrived, reasonably quickly we were taken under the wing of Einsturzende Neubauten, which felt hugely validating for us and exciting. I was in my early 20s. I couldn’t believe that we were in this world all of the sudden. But it’s a lifestyle over there that can really wear you down. That’s what it did to us.
What kind of lifestyle? Is it hard to get work? Why was it hard?
It was hard to get work, and we were surviving off our music at that point. It was more the fact that it’s a 24 hour culture. There’s always something on, and I don’t think that any of us at that point had the self-discipline necessary to know when to reign it in. We had a winter there where every night we’d be home at 8 or 9 in the morning, and we’d wake up at 4 in the afternoon, so we’d never see sunlight, for months. That does things to your brain.
Did Berlin influence the more electronic leanings on Yes U and on the new record?
No. It was more London than Berlin.
Have you always played around with the electronic instrumentation, or have you learnt it recently?
It’s something that I’ve had to learn, but I personally am still a bass player. Tom mainly handles the electronic side of things. I know my way around an 808 but I’m not a sequencing whiz by any means.
Now that the record is finished, do you like it?
Yeah, I really like it. It’s been finished for a while. The fact that I still like it now after longer than I’ve ever sat on a record, yeah I think it’s great. I’m super happy with it. We now just want to move onto the next thing, mentally at least. So we feel like we’re ahead of the game.
Is there any anxiety with how the record will be recieved?
That’s something that you can’t control. You can’t force people to like you, and while I’m sure every artist will say things along these lines, everyone wants to be appreciated, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You just have to do what you do. Me and TOm make music for ourselves. If other people are into it, that’s great. We can’t afford to worry about whether anyone will like it or not.
Standish / Carlyon will play at the Gasometer in Melbourne on Friday night. Their debut LP Deleted Scenes is out through Chapter Music in May.