Quarrell On St Helens: ‘It’s The End’
News posted Friday, March 26 2010 at 02:00 PM.
Related: St Helens, Lost Animal.
When St Helens called it quits via a brief Facebook post, it was surprising to say the least. The band were at the height of their powers thanks to debut outing Heavy Profession, which garnered acclaim from most critical quarters and cracked the top 10 of both our Readers and Critics polls last year.
Formed as essentially a recording project for songwriter and chief instigator Jarrod Quarrell, the band had transformed itself into a formidable live act with the addition of Hannah Brooks (keyboard/vocals), Damian Clarkson (drums), Lewis Boyes (guitars) and Ian Wadley, the band’s founding guitarist who returned to the fold on bass. But as Quarrell told us in this interview following St Helen’s split, the five-piece format didn’t suit the new material he was writing. He’s now focusing his energy on new project Lost Animal instead.
What prompted the decision to put St Helens to bed so hastily?
It wasn't a hasty decision at all. I guess it's been on my mind since I started doing stuff as Lost Animal [LA]. Obviously, for a time, I really wanted St Helens to work, but I started to feel more and more that a five-piece band wasn't really the best format for the material I was writing. It was a really big call for me. There are no guarantees around what I'm doing now. I mean, if I went with St Helens for the next record it was guaranteed a release and that's not the case yet with LA. Also, St Helens was starting to get really good crowds to shows and now LA is definitely playing to less people. It was a gut feeling that wouldn't go away. And I must admit that I'm probably not the best person to lead a big full-time band.
Is this a hiatus or the end?
It's the end. I'm not ruling out working with any members of the band again and for me it wasn't about tension within the band or anything. I just felt my long-term future wasn't with a band so I decided to start the future now.
How did your bandmates react?
Pretty well really, overall. I think it was kinda expected. I think I've been pretty upfront about how I was feeling with the band and the label.
The interplay between yourself and Hannah [Brooks] seemed to be the cornerstone of the band. is there a chance the two of you will collaborate again?
Yes. It's more than likely Hannah and I are going to write an album together. St Helens wasn't a collaboration between us writing wise. I always wanted to write with her for the band, it just never happened. I think she wants to do something very minimal anyway. I don't think she really saw the band as an outlet for her writing. I think the audience saw us as the cornerstone of the band but I don't know if the rest of the band felt that way. But, yeah, we'll do something.
“If you're looking at things from a careerist point of view or considering popularity it could be seen as a wasted opportunity, but if you're just thinking about making music and following your instincts it's like, ‘Job done. Next.’”
In our last interview with you, you said you were hoping to finish the follow-up to Heavy Profession in late 2009. Did you have anything written?
I did, but everything I wrote after I started LA felt like an LA song to me. I think I tried all of them with the band. Some worked better than others, some not at all. St Helens ended up doing 'Don't Litter', 'Say No To Thugs' and 'Lose The Baby', and I found myself preferring the LA versions.
Are we likely to see any posthumous St Helens releases?
No. There's nothing in the vault.
Were you pleased with the response to Heavy Profession? Was there pressure to follow it?
Overall, I was very happy. It was mostly really well-received. Some of the things said in reviews, though very positive, made me feel like certain ideas didn't come across how I'd intended. You're always gonna get that though and I don't really think it's important that people "get" things the way you intended. Any positive reaction is great. I wasn't at all worried about following it up, I always feel that the next thing is going to be better. The upcoming LA album could have been the second St Helens album, they're the same songs I would have wanted to go with. It just didn't work out that way. I preferred the LA versions.
Are you happy with Heavy Profession being the end point of the band?
Absolutely. If you're looking at things from a careerist point of view or considering popularity it could be seen as a wasted opportunity, but if you're just thinking about making music and following your instincts it's like, “Job done. Next.” I mean, we did it, it's out there and people like it and I'm making a new record. I see it as a continuation of my evolution just like St Helens was to The New Season.
Tell us about Lost Animal. Is it essentially a solo vehicle?
For the most part. All the shows until recently were solo. Over the last month Shags Chamberlain has played bass with me live and Damian who drummed for St Helens has played keys with me for a show. The album is all me apart from bass, which was played by Shags and bits and pieces of percussion and atmospherics by John Lee who is producing/engineering.
So far most of the songs are very much keyboard-based. I've always, in the past, written on guitar and the guitar has been the prominent sound on the songs. LA is just trying a different approach. I find a lot of pre-rock songs are about the song or the lyric and that a lot of stuff post rock'n'roll is about the instrumentation. I feel that sometimes that gets in the way. There isn't much guitar on the LA album and when there is, it's used as a dab of colour rather than as the undercoat. I still love dirty guitar music and always will, but I've always done that and am just trying a different approach to constructing the songs. I guess the other main difference with LA is that I don't play an instrument much live, I just sing mostly. I find it really scary but I'm getting used to it and really enjoying it.
Do you work better in isolation?
Well, maybe not isolation, but alone? Yes. I'm quite primitive as a musician but have always been able to write songs quite easily. I don't come up with ideas then go to the piano to get the ideas down. I sit down at the piano and whatever happens happens. I guess that way of working is best done alone, for me anyway. I've been writing songs for about 15 years and only over the last three years or so, have I learnt any theory or anything. Obviously I've been playing chords and notes, I just never bothered learning what they were called.
I've always been the writer in the bands I was in and it was up to the other members to figure out what I was playing and slot into that. That's been changing over recent years and I'm now writing most of the parts and orchestrating things more. I've always had strong ideas about the beat and the rhythm etc. I'm just more confident that I can execute ideas myself these days. That said, I do really enjoy being a sideman for other people's stuff, like playing bass in [Melbourne outfit] Scott and Charlene's Wedding. That was great fun.
Can you tell us about the upcoming cassette?
Albert’s Basement is releasing the original 4-track demos on cassette soon. It'll be four songs. I'm redoing them all for the album but there's a certain charm to the demos that were banged down as I was writing the songs. I wrote them to tape. A lot of the lyrics were improvised in one or two takes, they've changed slightly to what I sing now but they fell out of my mouth well formed. I got lucky. Michael from Albert’s Basement has been after me for a while to do it and he's been extremely patient about it. Bless him.
How far along is the album? Does it have a title yet?
It's been half finished since late November. Five or six songs are pretty much done. It took longer than I'd anticipated and I ran out of money. I'm going back in to finish it in April. So far we've mainly worked at John's home studio with one night at Electric Dreams in South Melbourne. We are going to finish it at Electric Dreams. There's a few more songs ready to record and a couple more I'm just finishing writing. No title yet.
For the uninitiated, what's a Lost Animal live show like?
At this point it's backing tapes with live bass and keys and me standing there singing trying not to shake too much. I'm trying to turn the shaking into some kind of dance. With the live show I feel like I'm pushing myself and ultimately that's what Lost Animal is all about to me.
(Photo by Ali McCann)