Features

Dick Diver: ?Everyone?s on the Same Tangent

With members split between three countries this year, Dick Diver find themselves in flux upon the release of their brilliant third album. DOUG WALLEN checks in with Steph Hughes about Australia’s best band.


From where I stand, Dick Diver already made a perfect album with 2013?s [Calendar Days](/releases/2001180) – and it looks like our readers might have [similar feelings](/articles/4633948). But the more I play their new third LP, [Melbourne, Florida](/news/4679700), the deeper and deeper I fall for it.

Is it better than Calendar Days? Actually, it probably is: the sheer breadth of sound is much expanded, and there are songs that tick off any number of genre boxes, from literate power-pop (the killer singles ?Tearing the Posters Down? and ?Waste the Alphabet?) and tear-jerking country (?Leftovers?) to an unabashedly ?80s ballad (the finger-snapping ?Percentage Points?) and skeletal piano musings (?View From a Shaky Ladder?). There are horns, synths and more overdubs, while ?Waste the Alphabet? features lyrics co-written by poet Michael Farrell and the hook of ?Private Number? echoes that of Tears for Fears? [?Head Over Heels?](https://www.youtube.com/watch’v=CsHiG-43Fzg).

Maybe the most telling track is ?Competition?, which opens the album’s second half with noisy, fuzzy organ and a Kraut-y vibe that strongly recalls Yo La Tengo. And really, Melbourne, Florida is the kind of album that made YLT famous: bold and sprawling, with different voices and influences everywhere you turn. It also reminds me of another veteran overseas band – The Pastels – who use multiple vocalists and songwriters to help broaden their already spacious idea of what pop music can be. Factor in the combined songwriting (and of course lyric-writing) talents of Rupert Edwards, Alistair McKay, Steph Hughes and Al Montfort, and this is another Dick Diver album to pore over for years to come. Again it’s been recorded with Mikey Young in some pokey out-of-town locale (this time a former shearing shed in Apollo Bay), but it’s the first Dick Diver album to see international release on a label beyond Melbourne staple Chapter Music, thanks to an American/European deal with Chicago label Trouble in Mind. Hey, maybe that means Pitchfork will actually review it this time.

Whatever way, it catches the band in flux. After playing heaps on the back of Calendar Days* locally, Edwards and McKay will be based overseas this year, nixing any Australian launch or tour dates for the moment. That doesn’t trouble Hughes, who spoke to me at length about *Melbourne, Florida and the state of Dick Diver in 2015. An [established illustrator](http://jackywinter.com/artists/steph-hughes), Hughes is also well-known for co-leading the great [Boomgates](/search/?q=Boomgates), supporting Aussie music for years working at triple j, drumming for Darren Hanlon and many other exploits – including some little-heard solo work that will hopefully get more of an airing in the year to come.

You guys worked with Mikey Young again to record this album, but in a different space.
They’ve all been a different space. [We had initially] been going out to the Dandenongs; there’s a big place we can use. But it was so peaceful that the top end of the guitars floated across the hills and even kilometres away people can hear it. So for the second album we thought, ?Let’s go to Phillip Island in winter. It’ll be really bleak and beach-y.? Then we got there and it was like the middle of the suburbs, which I actually liked more, in a weird little way. And this time we actually went on Gumtree and just found a place that would facilitate us bringing a bunch of different gear this time. We all had to finish our lyrics and heaps of ideas [still], so Al [McKay] found a place in Apollo Bay – it was a shearing shed 150 years ago or something. It was owned by this couple that really loved music, so they were like, ?Make as much noise as you want.?

Do you think the influence of the setting comes through when you record in these different places?
I’ve never really felt that. I think we basically know or have a really strong idea of what we’re gonna do when we get there. We were finishing heaps of stuff this time, so maybe just swinging on the rope swing and feelin? a bit dizzy after that – you just go up there and take it as it comes. I think we were just a bit peaceful. Even just having some time off work is a novel thing – we had to take a whole luxurious week, as opposed to the three days or something last time. [Laughs] We were all on holiday, so I think our heads were pretty laidback. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

?We’ve tried to make every record sadder.?

Yeah, you’re just in a different headspace.
Exactly. I think I felt really comfortable going into the recording. I thought we’d planned enough that we could just go in. I felt really prepared. That was just comforting. I ended up feeling like I worked pretty hard up there. There’s nothing like a deadline coming down on you – I think Dick Diver works well that way. We get finite pockets of time together, essentially.

It’s a really interesting album. It’s got a bit of everything: ?80s-sounding stuff, country-sounding stuff, horns and synths?
Yeah, I hope good interesting. I just didn’t know how it would all come together until we were recording it in one long go. And that felt cohesive. Just the way we do it – we all work it out – makes the whole thing cohesive even if the skeleton of the sound is different in all the songs. I don’t know. What do you think? [Laughs]

Yeah, it’s still you guys. And you’ve always been really good at sequencing, especially on the last album: the way it went from one thread to the next was perfect.
I heard the sequencing because we had to work it out, but I really just put it on the cooler and had to walk away from it. We got the vinyl sent to us hot off the presses, and I can’t even bring myself to hear it right now. I think I’ll give it a couple more weeks, ?cause that whole sequencing/mixing/mastering zone gets to be really splitting hairs. You’re probably the first person who’s listened to it, apart from the people who put it out, that I can say, ?Well, what do you think about it?? But yeah, I’m glad it comes across as maybe bipolar in the stylings. [Laughs] I like that.


Did you have certain goals you talked about before making the album?
It’s so weird. Just ?cause we’re all good mates and we spend a lot of time together and end up laughing over the same stuff, I think in a weird way ideas do get discussed. But we don’t have a think tank where we sit down [together] or anything like that. [Laughs] There really isn’t a huge amount of forethought. Everyone’s naturally on the same tangent anyway. I think we actually have grown together – I’m not sure which way we’re growing – or moved together, and it’s just a very natural thing. I don’t think we set out with goals. What I have noticed is we’ve tried to make every record sadder. [Laughs]

There’s that review vacuum where one person [early on] says it sounds summery and the next person is kinda doing it quickly and [writes the same]. You just go, ?I don’t know if it necessarily does sound summery.? We’ve tried to up the bleak every time, but I don’t know if it necessarily always gets bleaker. I think it got more ?80s. [Laughs]

?There were no targets we felt like we wanted to hit.?

It is more ?80s. So that was just something you were all gravitating towards?
Literally. I don’t think we ever had a sit-down. I think maybe Al McKay said to me one time, ?Oh, you know, I’ve been listening to heaps of this [Soft Boys](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheSoftBoys) record.? Or something like that. Not even in the context of our album. Rupert was playing around with a synth or we were all listening to a [Cleaners From Venus](http://www.discogs.com/artist/682779-Cleaners-From-Venus) album; stuff like that. I feel like musically it’s something where we just go with the flow, because we’re all friends and we still end up on the same tip.

Words maybe take a little longer. Sometimes a bit of talking goes into that. But musically, there was no kind of Dick Diver think tank. It’s actually probably been a year of us jamming that material in different ways before we even recorded or rehearsed it in a way that was preparing for recording. There were no targets we felt like we wanted to hit. It was just that kind of feeling that everyone has songs that can feel really different, but sometimes there’s a wash that goes over it all that makes it all cohesive just because it’s us making it – exactly like you said.

So you help each other with lyrics?
We have before. Yeah, I think that’s actually where heaps of time has to go. They’re all pop songs, but I think everyone really makes it a priority and work out stuff that you feel proud about all singing together. We do help each other out in that. It’s pretty vulnerable doing that, [and] a lot of the time we write lyrics on our own. But maybe you get stumped here and there. Me and Al Montfort have written stuff together. This time Al McKay and I went out to the little bungalow behind the shearing place and both of us were jamming words to an entire song. In every way, most of it is done individually, but I always feel like we can get thrown a life jacket from someone else if you need a change of tack.



Finishing songs this time around, a lot of the lyric writing was done at the place we recorded it. Which was new for us. I can’t remember us all having paper and sitting around as much [before] as this time. We were just all in each other’s company as we were finishing our songs. It was really cool and also sometimes really maddening. I was saying to Rupert at the time, it’s like looking at a computer screen too long. You just need to step away a bit. It’s like finishing a cryptic crossword that has no answer – that’s what I was thinking. [Laughs]

Are you just doing Dick Diver and Boomgates right now, musically?
In the last year I definitely had to do Dick Diver and Boomgates [only], just time-wise. I was coming up with heaps of stuff, but it all had to go into either of those two things. I think this year I have some recording I’ll just do myself. Just revving up to actually do something with it, or make a tape or something. I’d like to work with some more open-ended stuff and free-form stuff.

?I just look out the window and see my neighbours being freaks.?

Have you released solo stuff before?
Oh yeah, I put out a 7?. I went on this tour with a mate of mine [Shelly Short] from the States and we decided we’d put out a folk song each on a 7?. It was [years ago](http://halftruecatfood.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/shelley-short-gold-coats-tour-poster.html), under the name [The Gold Coats](https://myspace.com/thegoldcoats). It was just something I did on GarageBand. I didn’t even know if it would be able to be mastered for vinyl, and then I sent it to [Max Crumbs](/articles/4463765) and Mikey [Young] and they worked it out. Recording something in a very instant way was really good.

And Boomgates are still going?
I suppose everyone’s focusing on work and stuff like that in the foreseeable future. I wasn’t too sure if something would go on with everyone’s availability [this year], but it’s just on the cooler still. And that’s fine. Everyone is really understanding that everyone comes in and out of pockets of being able to do it. That’s always how Boomgates has to work. We’ve got so many members in other bands – Gus [Lord] is playing in Twerps now. He’s playing in like five other bands! [Laughs] I’ve missed jamming with Gussy – he’s an absolute gun. But it’s kind of like an open-ended year. I’m pretty excited for that idea.


With your two songs on the new album, ?Leftovers? feels really country and ?View From a Shaky Ladder? is a piano song. So again it’s just different sides of the band and different sides of what we’ve heard from you personally. Is there a story behind either of those?
I can’t actually remember how ?Leftovers? was written. Because I work a lot at home, I just look out the window and see my neighbours being freaks all the time. It was written probably a long time ago. The lyrics I actually finished at the recording.

The other one, I just really wanted to make a really simple, sad lullaby, and I wanted to do it on piano. So I got a piano at my house, which is one of the lucky things that I’ve ended up with out of all the sharehouse things that I’ve accrued. So in a similar way I was just taking a mental break from sitting on a computer. I’d been listening to heaps of this old Folkways record by [Jean Ritchie](http://www.folkways.si.edu/jean-ritchie/ballads-from-her-appalachian-family-tradition/american-folk/music/album/Smithsonian). That’s pretty specific, and the song’s really nothing like hers. She has this song that’s like a minute long, and I thought, ?I wanna make just a song on piano that’s like a little lullaby that’s insanely depressing.? I don’t know if I made it insanely depressing, but yeah, it’s a little story.

And if I have to make any observation about the album – and I don’t know if all the debris has settled in my head about it – it’s that the whole album has heaps of pictures that make up a story, as opposed to a storyline in all the songs.

?We like getting in touch with our mopey sides.?

It’s more implicit than explicit.
Exactly. And I like there being these opaque flashes. It’s implying something and maybe you [the songwriter] don’t even know what it’s implying until a little while later.

It’s interesting that you mention bleakness and it being depressing, because I did feel melancholy in a lot of these songs. It’s not that the songs are downbeat, but even the ones with a really pretty, rousing melody have a melancholy undercurrent. That’s something that resonates with me about this record.
Yes. [Laughs] I’ll tell everyone that you said that. And you’ll go, ?It’s so summery. I just love how summery it is.? No, that’s good. That’s awesome. I think it was just something that was implied between us, and it just came out that way.

Why are you all so sad, Steph?
[Laughs] I don’t know!

Do you want to talk about it?
[Laughs] No, no, no, I don’t think any of us are too gloomy at all, but we all just like getting in touch with our mopey sides maybe.

Music’s a good place for that.
For sure. That’s what I’m in it for, for that kind of mood. I don’t know what kind of sick freaks make insanely happy songs. [Laughs] I don’t know who they are.


And Al McKay is living overseas now?
Yeah, and Rupert is imminently overseas. He’s gonna be a teacher in Europe soon. A lot of people ask, ?Is it going to change the way that you roll?? but we’ve always stopped and started at intermittent, strange times when everyone’s free. That’s how I think all the bands I play in have to work. When you need to take a little time out, you’re cool with everyone else taking time out too. Just because of life things, everyone has been changing it up a bit this year. Rupert’s gonna be in Sweden and Al McKay’s gonna be in London.


What does that mean for the band, in terms of being able to launch it and tour it?
I don’t really know if shows have been talked about in the next few months. We just don’t have anything planned right now to play in Australia. Also, I think we’re gonna do a big tour in the middle of the year in Europe and America, because it’s the first time the record’s gonna be put out [over there](http://www.troubleinmindrecs.com/dick-diver-melbourne-florida). We had a really fun time doing that last year, and also just because [half the band will be] based in Europe, it’s gonna be easier. So I’ll start my saving. Imminently there’s no shows planned for Australia, but I just go with the flow with it all, really. You kind of have to.

Does it feel strange to be putting out a record and not be launching it in Australia? That’s such a big part of releasing an album.
I haven’t even thought about it being strange. I’ve just thought about it being the way it has to be. You can’t really put any expectations on it, because it’s about a whole group of you. We all stick together, so you have to do what everybody else is capable of doing. Like I said, if I was moving overseas and no one else was, it’d be the same deal. We all feel like a self-contained band. When we wanna do something, we’ll be able to set it up. [Laughs]

We could work it out in a month if we had to, but it’s just not been talked about or planned or anything like that. It’s very Dick Diver-y – we just do what we want to do when we feel like it.

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####[?Melbourne, Florida?](/news/4679700) comes out next Friday (March 6) on vinyl, CD and digital through [Chapter Music](http://chaptermusic.com/store/dick-diver/melbourne-florida) (Aus/NZ/Japan) and March 10 through [Trouble In Mind](http://www.troubleinmindrecs.com/dick-diver-melbourne-florida) (rest of world).