SubAudible Hum, Should We Talk About The Weather?
With their second album SubAudible Hum stand alone and true
The fortnight SubAudible Hum’s In Time For Spring, On Came The Snow started appearing on record store shelves, a few weeks before the humid birth of summer, it snowed in four states. A blast of air from the Antarctic moved along the east coast, icy and menacing. Snow fell first in Hobart, then Melbourne, Canberra and around the highlands of New South Wales. As the clouds unfurled over Sydney, the temperature plummeted to lower than it had been in November for more than a century.
When the freezing winds hit Queensland, where the seeds of SubAudible Hum were planted, tens of thousands of homes and countless traffic lights switched black. Wild hailstorms swirled over Brisbane, leaving a trail of dented cars, closed roads and damaged houses. Roofs were torn from their buildings and sucked into the air, including one from a church in the city’s inner-west.
The album was only slightly less dramatic than the weather.
Danny Griffith was born into the Queensland described by Andrew Stafford’s Pig City* and Andrew McGahan’s *Last Drinks – seedy and stinking hot, with rows of weatherboard houses ?on sticks, usually one level with tin roofs?, as Griffith remembers – where elections were dominated by the same party for three decades before a inquiry into corruption tore it apart. It is said the heat in the capital was so oppressive and sapping that people simply couldn’t muster the energy for change, and in any case, police were overly efficient at dispersing public rallies. ?If I ever see you at a demonstration again,? Stafford claims one sergeant told a protester at the time, ?I’m going to kill you.?
Griffith would have been just ten years old during the drama of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which uncovered high-level corruption in the state’s government and police force in the late 1980s, but something about the period seems to have stayed with him. He is ferociously political – ?I sound like a pamphlet,? he jokes, while listing off disturbing events in the Middle East – and shows a mistrust of governments and institutions. ?There are soldiers in the water and policemen up in the sky,? he sings on ?Art Of The State? and on another track describes feeling queasy at the thought of Halliburton, the giant oil corporation accused of profiteering from the Iraq war, which has financial links with U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney.
At age18 he fled to Melbourne to found SubAudible Hum, after having studied drama at the Queensland University of Technology and then decided to pursue a music career instead. Brisbane was ?too hot? to stay, he says, and the inner-suburbs were still caught in the grip of a prohibitive police culture: ?There aren’t enough venues in Brisbane to support a live music culture and the city council takes all measures it can to destroy any scrap of young people’s culture that it can. There was a massive drug swoop in Fortitude Valley last Saturday [while the band were there on tour]. They got out the sniffer dogs, which they’ve been doing regularly. They made about 75 arrests of people who, I bet, had one pill, three pills, something like that. And they say ?We are cleaning up Brisbane!? They are so far off.?
“To make sure we humans are as productive as possible we must be held in one place and squeezed dry of our income”
Once in Melbourne, Griffith moved into a two-storey brick house with carpet and gold-lined wallpaper and started playing music with a friend from Brisbane at the Stork Hotel on Elizabeth Street. He set about becoming part of the inner-city music scene, manning doors and merchandise tables for friends and writing articles for street paper Inpress* under the name ?Danny Miscellaneous? (he is now also part of the *Mess+Noise team, under his real name). Band members came and went. He was eventually joined by younger brother Joel and two friends to form the current line-up of SubAudible Hum.
They make an enigmatic group. Griffith is pale and lean with messy black hair and eyes like neon lights, so passionate he seems sometimes to stalk the room for good conversation. ?The Coach?, Ryan Nelson, can usually be found beside or behind the bar in a flurry of banter, a sturdy man endearingly friendly and unassailably confident (?Uh, it’s fucking amazing,? he replied with a quizzical look when asked how the new album was shaping up six months ago, as if the answer was obvious). Joel Griffith and Simon Edwards appear like polar opposites on first glance, one androgynous, mischievous and constantly wearing a pixie’s smile, the latter softly spoken and forlorn. All four are excellent company for a drink.
Their first album, Everything You Heard Is True, was terrifically out-of-place. When it came out, Melbourne’s indie scene was dominated by three sounds: the country-tinged rock dirges of bands like The Drones; artistic instrumental groups following in the footsteps of The Dirty Three and The Necks who gathered around Fitzroy; and a new wave of bands influenced by post-punk with great drumbeats. The majority of them shared a type of avant-garde aesthetic, either the dream of reviving some lost, once-pioneering genre or a desire to challenge, experiment or simply ?be different?. SubAudible Hum sounded like none of them.
Rather than gritty and lo-fi, their album was well-polished. It sounded like a million dollars compared to most of the local records which were coming out at the time, even though it was made in similar conditions. SubAudible Hum had their influences, but they were contemporary and from the UK: the angst of Radiohead’s darker moments and the heavily guitar-driven sound of that band’s successor on the pop charts, Muse. The opening track ?Blood In The Ointment? was dark and theatrical, full of guitars alternating between crushing riffs and jangles. Griffith’s voice grew from a whisper to a stretched and twisted wail as the song spiralled into malevolence. It was wonderful. The quartet only found a few fans amongst critics, but they were good ones: former Beat singles columnist Daniel Zugna and Triple J’s Robbie Buck were amongst them.
When In Time For Spring, On Came The Snow was released, the reaction was much different. A teaser EP on Low Transit Industries, ?All For The Caspian? (including first single ?Sugarcoat?), had been chosen as single of the week in both Melbourne street papers, as well as having two of its tracks added to high- and medium-rotation on Triple J. Shortly after it came out, the album was nominated for the same radio station’s Australian album of the year prize, the J Award, along with the likes of Augie March and Sarah Blasko.
The record is less abrasive and more melodic than their first and it settles into a more individual sound. ?Art Of The State? unfolds in three parts – Griffith often compares making music to films, with an introduction, middle and end – the last of which is a sublime, stomping stream-of-thought monologue. ?All For The Caspian?, named with reference to the push to pump oil from the Caspian Sea, next to Iran, is the grandest track. Its drumbeat plods along like a slowed-down military march while violin and cello bloom over the righteous mantra of the title. Thankfully, Griffith’s wail still makes an appearance. The chorus of ?Aaron’s Western Assault? is managed without using a single coherent word.
Griffith’s political opinions are even more pointed this time around, but he still shies away from the term ?political-rock?. No lyric booklet is included with the CD and while being interviewed he smiles and shrugs the first few times the topic is raised. ?The music comes first because that’s the medium,? he says. ?A close second is whatever impetus that made me, or us, create the song. And a lot of those have to do with topical issues, I guess.?
?The reason I shy away from it a bit is because politics – aside from being kind of a dirty word – is not really what we’re driving at and it’s not really something that we’re all well-versed in. It’s just a matter of fact and it’s just something that’s there, the same as the weather’s really overcast at the moment. I think people are going to take from music what they will in the same way they’ll take from lyrics. Even if they read them, they’ll take it the way they want to take it. So there’s no real point in spelling it out for people, because it’s not really spelling it out at all.?
It’s a somewhat dispirited view for someone with so much to say on the state of the world – that sound should come before message in songs and listeners will create their own interpretation either way – but it matches the band’s music. The references to Halliburton, to bleak and faceless governments in the songs of In Time For Spring? never turn into a sermon. They exist as a vague mixture of angst and resignation underpinning each track. SubAudible Hum have found the right balance. They’re gloomy, to be sure, but they’re also easy to like. It’s liberating to hear something so deliberately crafted for enjoyment still reflect some of the more difficult aspects of the world we live in. The art of pop’s not dead, even in the often-antithetical indie scene.
#The Four Seasons
Danny Griffith on tracks from In Time For Spring, On Came The Snow
?Sugarcoat?: ?There’s been a persistent feeling that in order to make sure we humans – with hopes and dreams and goals outside of the economy – are as productive as possible we must be held in one place and squeezed dry of our income. The government, especially today’s, seems to do this by piling on the ?Australian Dream? story: that we actually want to live in Craigieburn with a two-storey house and a trampoline, a kit-shed and a service station or convenience mart at the end of the cul-de-sac. The reality is we’re driven into debt to stop us from escaping participation in ?running the country?. I visualised this as malevolent creatures darting from studio home to studio home, making sure they never caught a break to escape the cycle. It’s like Sugarcoat is the guy (of which there are a few), the malevolent group behind the program. The chorus is actually ?Sugarcoat/Say it’s better off this way?, as if it’s this shady group’s mantra, their hypnotic propaganda.?
?Art Of The State?: ?Once when we were in Canberra we stopped outside parliament. This cop pulled up with aviator sunnies, massive muscles and chewing gum and told us we couldn’t park there to take a picture. This led to a whole string of thoughts, the main one being that that guy was our employee. As taxpayers we control that guy and all the people in parliament, yet we’re not allowed in, nor are we allowed to stand outside and take a picture. There’s something so theoretically wrong with that. My dad works for NZAID, and previously AUSAID, and I got to hear a lot about the strange ways international ?goodwill? is worked. That lent itself to the song and formed a little character in the verse that was your typical public servant, the person at the bottom of the bureaucratic food chain (which isn’t my dad at all, just the inspiration). It also serves to note the way Australians see politics – especially the baby boomers – where it’s a traditional sense of either Labor or Liberal. Doesn’t really sound like democracy, does it??
?Science Maketh The Scientist?: ?This is an uncharacteristically narrative-based ditty about a scientist who makes a shuttle capable of shattering all current air-speed records. His contemporaries mock him and discard his studies as ludicrous. One night he fires up his machine and hurtles through the air, but in his furious quest for speed he forgot to make breaks, so he burns up somewhere in the atmosphere. It was a song where the tune came first, and it just sounded like some sort of frantic race to build something. I got this idea about a scientist in the middle of a field under a big spotlight sort of muttering and giggling to himself – driven mad with ambition and a demented genius. I guess after the fact it could have deeper connotations, but it was really just a scenario that took hold of the tune.?
?All For The Caspian?: ?The whole point of the pipelines for which Halliburton got the contract to build in the Middle East – that they used 9/11 as an excuse to bomb Afghanistan for, that they needed to depose the Taliban for, that they needed Hamid Karzai (a former Unocal advisor) in power in Afghanistan for – was to pump natural gas and oil from huge offshore fields in the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan. We can sit and argue about the openly corrupt and criminal dealings of the US government – Halliburton/KBR, the Carlyle Group, Bechtel, Hamid Karzai – but the fact remains that people are dying, and lots of them. All the details of this sickening series of transactions turn into fuzz when you look at the human story of just one of the innocent victims. When companies who are beyond accountability on a human scale are able to affect such mass misery it seems to make the suffering that much more futile and serves to pollute humanity as a holy ideal, don’t you reckon? I just hope that our human sides don’t in fact hinder us from doing anything.?