Following a series of short releases including two 7 inches and a 12 inch single, Brisbane group Per Purpose released its first full-length LP late last year. Entitled Circle the Stains, it was the culmination of a conspicuous evolutionary leap for the group which first reared its head on the 2011 Warburton single.
While the line-up has changed since the group formed in 2010, singer and guitarist Glen Schenau has driven the group since its formation. An early member of Kitchen’s Floor, and also the songwriter behind shortlived Brisbane trio Marl Karx, Glen is also a distinctive photographer of both the Brisbane underground music scene as well as, to a lesser extent, its interstate counterparts.
The interview below was conducted via email, several months after the release of Circle the Stains. The group will release a new 7 inch entitled Bathing Suit Sand through new Sydney label Bechamel Records next month.
Do you feel a sense of relief having Circle the Stains released, or has it limited you in the sense that you have to compare, conquer or move on from it?
Relief yes, in that it is something I had envisaged a long time ago come to fruition: out and available. But (I say this) with the condition that it’s sort of hampered by some group circumstance change. To put bluntly, our drummer and Bedroom Suck Records operator Joe Alexander moved away from Brisbane to Melbourne just as he himself released the LP (on Bedroom Suck). I made the decision to replace him, so now the LP for me represents a breakdown of sorts.
But like any other release we’ve done as Per Purpose, we’ve already moved on, and I’m eager to right all the sore points that Circle the Stains means to me personally: barre chords, lengthy things nixed. I know they all say it, but I feel the current batch of songs, which will comprise a follow up to Circle the Stains, are the best bunch yet and make the last four year rigmarole worthwhile.
It seems like within Per Purpose balance is a really important thing. There seems to exist an intricate balance between the tones and rhythms. Would you say the guitars work around each other, or against, especially in the new lineup?
Before Mitch [Perkins] joined Per Purpose, we had experimented with an extra element that’d run up against my guitar in the same tonal space a few times, most notably with Josh Watson playing violin on the Warburton 7” and beyond. Otherwise, dissonant recorder blurts, scrap metal clutter etcetera (are there) to create something more than just your average all-male, caucasian, bread-and-butter angst rock clutter. While putting together all the songs for the LP I began to play with the idea of having another guitarist in the band to play that ‘Agent X’ part permanently.
To answer your question, Mitch’s guitar playing snakes in and out of cohesion with my own. Both with and willfully against root and bass notes; an esoteric freedom from my increasingly simpler structures. It’s a duo dynamic I had envisaged – or hoped – would allude to other guitar pairs like the Magic Band, Arab on Radar, Contortions or even Bird Blobs.
The album has a very visceral, energetic production to it, it almost sounds live – commanding the listener’s full attention. Was this your intention or a happy accident?
To continue on with that ‘Agent X’ speak, I was really happy with what Mitch had bought to the band, and the way the two guitars sat within the songs. So, with us all rehearsed and ready after having just toured the Warburton 7″, we did the LP in two days at the Hangar in Brisbane with Luke Walsh mid-2012.
I had initially planned to have it all done live in that session, and while we did treat and mix the result, after a few months I decided to redo the vocals and add extraneous overdubs and all sorts. That extra work took place over about an extra four months, but the initial intent, to capture the instrumental side of what we do live, is all there. Guitars sliding in and out of each other, rhythm section precision, we wanted all that straight and dry, honest and documented.
Is the band essentially a ‘live’ band? It feels that way. With the album were you trying to replicate that or was it the other way round?
I always thought deeming a rock band as a ‘live’ band is a bit of a cop out. Songs are written to be performed and inevitably (hopefully) listened to. I say cop out unless in the case of strict improvisational groups where any and all performances are the idea, where it’s different every time. Making the live output important and completely unique with each ‘live’ set. Per Purpose perform songs that are written to be performed and inevitably (hopefully) listened to.
For the last few years though, we have only performed what is the newest and latest – therefore unreleased material. So in that regard, Per Purpose exist in the present time as a ‘live’ band, only the most valid and true to right ‘now’ parts are what we play, today. Anything already recorded gets nixed instant. Closer and closer, drab, drab, drab, drib. We’ll get there eventually, you’ll see.
Do you sit down and write ‘songs’ and then work them out as a group, or is it more a jam, a feeling or a riff expanded?
Up until the most recent batch of songs I’d sit down and fully realise structures and lyrics myself and then present them to the rest of the band. Being in a band where you are doled out parts to play can be pretty demoralising sometimes, so I’ve begun to loosen up my grip on the goal and let it grow within the more than adept group of musicians that make up Per Purpose. With Mitch and another guitar integrated into the band now, my approach to writing songs has been stripped down and freed up a lot in that an initial idea or part, usually a bass part is all I’ll show the others, and we go from there. Less and less has been my mantra. No more odysseys.
If you could interpret based on the players in the band, and the intentions you have for future direction, how do you envision your style to evolve, say for a next record, or in the future?
The next record is almost completely fleshed out. Since late last year, and Matt Ford replacing Joe Alexander on drums, we’ve only been performing songs that’ll make up the next album. With this latest batch of songs I made a conscious effort to fulfill some of my ideas and plans that I had with my first band Marl Carx, meaning stripping composition back to relative conventions, the difference now being that I’ve played with fire: full blown barre chords, und me byrnes sound better as a result.
There’s a renewed social consciousness to the latest batch, with a party consideration I had not considered till now. Colour me cliche’ if I ask myself, ‘what purpose for my music?’, but I stop dead before ‘available for parties’.
I say, as a rule of thumb, striving for the right mix between abstract and dead dumb.
I wanted to ask you about your ongoing photographic archive of live bands you maintain. Are you interested in photography, or is it more a need to document something that might otherwise have no records?
The photos are an effort to document what is a constantly growing and mutating performance culture that, through my own obsession with the recent past, I know will have it’s place in the future where there are new nerds who would like to know what band x looked like. Any interest in photography I’ve developed since has been a result of this almost excessive film compulsion.
I might just add that the whole camera’s undertaking I took is a continuation of what I started in 2008: a bootleg blog in the same vein called ‘Permanent Dirt‘ where I’d make awful recordings of mostly all the bands I’d see with my iRiver mp3 player, sometimes with a photo and always along with a vague summary of each set.
Around the tail end of that period, I was lucky enough to perform at one of Shaun South’s Summer Winds events in Melbourne, performing with the previously mentioned Marl Carx and Kitchen’s Floor. I saw it as a great opportunity to document said event – an event which represented everything I found exciting about music, and perhaps while my efforts weren’t so refined back then I like to think with my photos I’ve put together a little database that encapsulates nearly everything potent and exciting since then. And soon since thereafter now. My five year Kodak plan.
Circle the Stains is available through Bedroom Suck. The group will launch a new 7 inch through Bechamel Records in Sydney on April 4. Details here.