Songs From The Sea

For their fourth album, ‘The Night is Ours’, Youth Group holed up for couple of months in a 1920s mess hall on Sydney’s harbour. DARREN LEVIN asks bass player Patrick Matthews why.

It’s two weeks before the release of Youth Group’s fourth album, The Night Is Ours, and bass guitarist Patrick Matthews is a little concerned. With no big national tour on the horizon – they’re launching the album with intimate theatre shows at the Vanguard in Sydney and Manchester Lane in Melbourne – he was expecting a ?bit more of a splash?.

?We’re going through stages of elation followed by despondency followed by resignation,? he says over the phone from Mushroom Music’s Sydney office.

?We got four songs mixed overseas by the guy from Death Cab [Chris Walla]. I thought they were sounding amazing when the mixes were coming back, that was the elation stage – Then we played our five [pre-launch] shows and got nothing but a couple of interviews. Now we have no [big] shows to celebrate the album coming out.? Are Youth Group back to square one?

After eight years of ?shitty gigs, money issues and day jobs?, not to mention label and line-up changes – Matthews (ex The Vines) and guitarist Cameron Emerson-Elliott in, Andy Cassell and Johnno Lattin out – Youth Group finally hit pay day with a cover of Alphaville’s ?Forever Young?. The song reached number one on ARIA’s singles chart, but its follow-up album, [Casino Twilight Dogs](/releases/5401) (2006), was not the career-making record Youth Group expected it to be.

?I don’t think we quite seized the chance that ?Forever Young? gave us in terms of getting more songs on commercial radio,? explains Matthews.
?We had brand recognition with Toby’s voice and yet we still didn’t get added to commercial radio.?

The song has since become a bugbear for the band – they’ve effectively dropped it from their set-list and are wary of the one-hit wonder stigma that comes with such a breakthrough release.

??Forever Young? happened and it opened a lot of doors for us. Now, it seems like a big pain in the arse,? Matthews says. ?I still don’t think the fallout is complete. Maybe it will be six months from now when the [new] album’s out. You definitely don’t get away Scott free. There’s gotta be some trade-off from getting well-known from a cover song.?

?There’s gotta be some trade-off from getting well-known from a cover song.?

So when it came to recording The Night is Ours, says Matthews, the band weren’t concerned about becoming ?the next Eskimo Joe?. Armed with a batch of half-completed songs, they holed up in a rat-infested 1920s mess hall on Sydney’s harbour with engineers Tim Kevin and Anthony The.

?Cameron has been to art school, and if art school has taught him anything it’s that art is as much about the process as it is about the ideas,? Matthews says. ?We wanted a place that sounded good, where we could move all the gear in and set up, that didn’t cost $1000 a day. The original plan was to get a church hall, because they sound really great, but that idea was pretty hard. ?Well, we have youth group coming in on Friday? – I mean youth group, as in the kids. So we found this place.?

The seaside mess hall provided a much-needed creative spark. It also imbued the music with a sense of space and eerie tension. On ?Dying at Your Own Party?, a sparse mid-tempo ballad which invokes images of the sea – ?Struggling against the waves/ Even the seagulls have left me for dead? – the band sampled noises from the MV Cape Don, a nearby ship which Emerson-Elliott’s father bought for $4000 in 2003.

?When we started recording in the mess hall everyone wanted to record something on the ship. Toby [Martin] had written a song about falling off the ship at night. The whole loneliness of the sea suits Toby’s songs generally,? Matthews says.

Interestingly, the release of The Night is Ours* coincides with Youth Group’s 10th anniversary. Formed by Martin and drummer Danny Allen, the band played their first gig at the Warren View Hotel in Enmore, Sydney, in 1998. They released their debut LP *Urban & Eastern* in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2004?s *Skeleton Jar that people started to take notice. In the band’s bio, Matthews describes Youth Group’s history as a ?three-act play?. So what does he envision for act number four?

?We are maybe going to go to America next year and give it a proper crack,? he says. ?We went over there a few times for six weeks at a time and did a few tours and we hadn’t even played the whole of America yet because it’s so huge – We did a recent tour of Australia and it lasted three days because you don’t count Adelaide and Perth these days,? he jokes.


Wednesday, July 30
The Vanguard, Sydney

Thursday, July 31
The Vanguard, Sydney

Saturday, August 2
Manchester Lane, Melbourne

Sunday, August 3
Manchester Lane, Melbourne