Hunting Grounds: ‘There’s Such A Good Music Community In Ballarat’
JODY MACGREGOR goes in search of a metric unit for reverb with Galen Strachan, keyboardist/singer of Ballarat’s Hunting Grounds.
You could say that winning the “Unearthed High” competition plucked Hunting Grounds (called Howl back then) out of obscurity. But even calling their high school band obscure seems wrong somehow. Local noise bands are obscure. The guys you only ever see as the opening act are obscure. Howl were barely even a band. Teenagers who were passionate about music and unusually good at rocking out, sure, but according to keyboardist Galen Strachan they were so caught up in being ordinary kids they barely even noticed the competition until they’d won it.
‘Blackout’ – the song that won them Unearthed High – was two-and-a-half minutes of robust bang-crash-scream rock. But that was three years and two EPs ago – and three years is a long time when you’re young. When they call their first album In Hindsight they’re not being precocious; they’ve already started to grow and change their sound. (Well, maybe they’re a little precocious.)
I really like ‘Kill My Friends’, especially, from the new album. I think that’s my favourite so far – it’s super-fast and punky. Can you tell me a bit about that song?
It’s probably the bridge between our older sound and our more-developed sound. It’s the heaviest song on the album. When we finished recording we had it blasting through the studio speakers, we were like, “Holy shit. It’s quite heavy, isn’t it?” It’s the heaviest track and one of the oldest ones, written quite a while ago. The bridging track between developing our sound.
I don’t know what the metric unit for reverb is, but whatever it is there must be a lot of them on this album.
[Laughs] Yeah, we do enjoy it.
Echibels, resonometers, whatever they’d be called. There’s a lot.
I’ll have to find out what the actual measure is for it.
I imagine that when the reviews come out a lot of them are going to compare the title track to Animal Collective. How would you feel about that comparison?
Well, it’s not a bad comparison, I don’t think. I would be happy with being compared to that. People can say whatever they want, if they enjoy it that’s the main thing.
Do you read your reviews?
Now and then. Just lately because the girls at the office have been sending a lot of them through emails, yeah. So far it’s been quite positive. Which is a good thing. Hopefully it doesn’t go way downhill.
Did you see M+N’s review of your ‘Brothers in Violence’ EP said, “It’s vile and delinquent and I love it.” Is that a fair call?
Yeah, that’s a good thing. Back then we would have been loving that.
How many of the band members are songwriters now?
There’s quite a few of us, really. The album especially has been quite a big collaboration. Even if one of us has a main part in one of the songs we’ll bring it to the group and get the “yes”, or the “no”. Then structures and stuff are added on. Everyone has a lot of hand in the writing. It’s been really fun to do it like that. I guess it sounds a lot more like us and a lot more like Hunting Grounds. If we’re all happy with it that’s definitely a bonus.
You play keys and sing on this album?
Yeah. There’s a lot of tracks on this album where there’s layered vocals. There might be some of the vocals from the original demo, so it could be maybe Lachlan [Morrish] and my voice singing the same song. On ‘Star Shards’ it’s Lachlan, Michael [Belsar] and myself all mashed together into this hybrid. Yeah, I do, I sing solo on one of the tracks a bit later on the album, but just keys and vocals on this.
There are three of you who sing? How do you decide who gets to sing on a song, is it the person who wrote it, who came up with the idea? Do you have rock, paper, scissors?
It changes. For this album in particular it’s just been whatever suits the song, if you get what I mean? We brought the demos into the studio a few times with our producer, Woody Annison, and originally I wasn’t going to sing on any of the album. I would be writing stuff but I didn’t think I would sing. Woody suggested that my voice sounded nice on this song in the demo so maybe we should do it on the album like that. We choose who’s gonna sing a song on whether it suits the song or not. Lachlan’s voice has come along such a long way during the recording of the album especially. It sounds really great on all the tracks he sings.
You mentioned working with Woody Annison. You worked with him before on the EP. What made you bring him back for the album? What made him the man for the job?
He’s just on such the exact same level as us that it’s kind of freaky. He digs our stuff and we dig the way that he does our stuff, but he’s a really, really friendly, great guy. He’s one of the best if not the best live front-of-house person in Australia and he just does such a great job on us. He motivates us to work that little bit harder or push our ideas to the limits and he gets it sounding good. He’s such a great guy to work with. Really nice, really friendly and he’s basically ended up being one of our mates, really.
There’s six of you in the band, right? That’s enough people to invade a small country. Have you ever considered it?
I don’t know. We’ve been mates since we were all in school so it’s really easy to get along together. We’re really a group of friends that enjoy making music together. Sometimes it gets a bit questionable. We’ve played a few shows where we couldn’t fit on the stage, cramped into small areas. We get around it; we’re not really that fussed.
Have you ever had anyone collide with you in the middle of a set?
I know some of the guitarists have. I’ve been lucky enough to come out unscarred. I’m sure maybe John [Crawford] our bass player and Tim [Street] usually get a bit rowdy during the end of a set. I’m pretty sure they’ve smashed guitar heads onto their actual heads a few times.
That reminds me, I really like the video you did for ‘In Colour’ with the battle scenes. You really get into it.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun to do. It was absolutely freezing, but it was definitely worth it. The guys who filmed it are from Ballarat also and they’re really talented at what they do so it came out quite well. We’re all really happy [with it].
When you go back to Ballarat do the local bands there kind of hate you?
Hate us? I’m sure there will be [some]. One of the sound guys who works with us in Ballarat and comes on the road with us sometimes would be talking ... “Yeah, the metal guys from last night were hating on you guys.” We don’t really mind. There’s such a good music community in Ballarat at the moment. So many young kids are writing great music, like Gold Fields, who are another band from Ballarat, and Dark Arts. It’s really good down there. There’s a really big scene; it’s surprising. You’ll have all your metal bands and your punk bands and then there’s folk bands, it’s really great that the community gets into it so much.
A friend of mine saw Gold Fields last time they were in Brisbane and he said they were great. Have you guys picked up anything from them? He said they do this thing where they all grab drum sticks and drum on the stage. Don’t you guys do something similar?
We were doing that way before those guys.
They stole it off you?
They didn’t steal it. I don’t know, it’s all friendly relationships. We’re close with those guys they’re good mates of ours. They’re a really great band. I’m pretty sure they’ll have their first album coming out soon.
If you hadn’t won the Unearthed competition in high school do you think you’d be doing this today?
Yeah, definitely. We’re all really into making music and playing. We’re absolutely loving it at the moment. I’m sure that we would definitely still be playing. I personally was unaware that we were in the Unearthed High thing for ages. I can’t remember. One of us put the song up there and no one knew it and then I think we were just hanging out one day, “Oh yeah, I think we’re in that triple j thing – the final. Oh, cool.” Didn’t really think much of it. I’m sure it wouldn’t have affected our passion for music but it’s certainly helped us get our name out there.
In your live show you guys do some pretty different covers, like Justin Timberlake and Beastie Boys. How do you pick songs to work in?
The last couple of ones, just at rehearsals, thinking of funny things – not funny, just things that we could sort of pull off. We’ve done a few Justin Timberlake ones. Started off with ‘Señorita’ and then we went to ‘SexyBack’. Songs we enjoy that we think would get the crowd going and communicate more with the crowd. That’s what covers are such a great thing for. I think we might be rotating Beastie Boys some time soon. You’ll have to come and see us live to see what we’ve got planned next.
You’ve got a Brisbane band, Gung Ho, playing with you at a bunch of shows. How did you pick those guys. Had you met them before?
Yeah, we’re quite good friends with the Gung Ho guys. It’s really weird, there’s this sort of community between Ballarat and Brisbane. It sounds weird but a lot of times when Brisbane bands come down to Victoria and Melbourne they’ll come down to Ballarat as well and they’ll all stay at our houses because we’ve met through Last Dinosaurs and Cairos and Dune Rats and all those guys. We’ve been to a lot of festivals together and when we go up to Brisbane we all hang out with those guys. It’s developed, this little community. Gung Ho are such a cool group and we thought it’d be great to get those guys on board.
‘Hunting Grounds’ In Hindsight is out now through Redcat Sounds.
HUNTING GROUNDS NATIONAL TOUR
Fri, Aug 3 – Elsewhere, Gold Coast, QLD
Sat, Aug 4 – X & Y Bar, Brisbane, QLD
Sun, Aug 5 – The Hotel Great Northern, Byron Bay, NSW
Wed, Aug 8 – Plantation, Coffs Harbour, NSW
Thurs, Aug 9 – Yours and Owls, Wollongong, NSW
Fri, Aug 10 – Good God Small Club, Sydney, NSW
Sat, Aug 11 – Transit Bar, Canberra, ACT
Thurs, Aug 16 – Prince of Wales Hotel, Bunbury, WA
Fri, Aug 17 – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Sat, Aug 18 – Rocket Bar, Adelaide, SA
Fri, Aug 24 – Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC
Sat, Aug 25 – The Toff in Town, Melbourne, VIC