April 2024

Don’t Rest

The Laurels The Laurels The Laurels The Laurels The Laurels The Laurels Text: Digby Woods Images: The Laurels

What time is it? 3 o’clock? Sweet, right on time. Walking into the Townie Bar in Newtown, my eyes scan the scene for two people in particular. I’ve seen photos of them. Not good photos, but good enough that I’m able to make a distinction between the two. The first, Luke O’Farrell, has longer hair, and the second, Piers Cornelius, has shorter hair. That’s it. Anyway, as far as I know, they’re both pretty much the same. They both play guitar, they both sing… oh, and they’re both in this ripping Sydney psych/shoegaze band called The Laurels. You may have heard of them.

Now where are they? Wait, I think I see them. Yeah, that’s definitely them. The slightly slumped posture and English tan from working in a call-centre all day, head fixed down from habitually looking at guitar pedals all night. They may not look like My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3 or Chrome but they sure as hell sound like it, and with an LP somewhere in the works, you’ll want to get familiar, if only so you can brag that you were a fan ‘from the beginning’. Come on, let’s go over and say Hey!

Digby Woods: I was reading a recent interview you did, and you were talking a lot about Conor Hannan (The Laurels’ bass player) and how he sits under a tree and meditates. Now was that just taking the piss, or does he often meditate and stuff?

Piers Cornelius: Yeah, it was just stuffing around. He probably meditates more on the couch, in front of the television.

Luke O’Farrell: He likes Law & Order.

DW: So he’s not a Buddhist or anything?

PC: I think he was a while, a bit.

LOF: Yeah, he used to be a bit of a hippy.

DW: What happened? I thought that once you go hippy and you don’t go back, like going black.

LOF: Yeah, I don’t know though. I guess now he’s more of a punk. He’s still about the love, he’s just angry now. He’s an angry young man.

DW: Join the club.

PC/LOF: (laughs)

DW: Now both of you do the vocals, but does one of you write more than the other or do you both contribute equally?

PC: It’s just split down the middle, we split the songs we do half/half, some of Luke’s, some of mine.

LOF: We’ll do harmonies on each others stuff, sing on each others songs. It’s always been equal, just split down the middle the whole time.

DW: Do you write lyrics together?

PC: Nah, not really.

LOF: They’re kind of similar, they’re about the same sort of stuff I guess.

DW: I first saw you when you supported A Place To Bury Strangers at Oxford Art Factory back in February or maybe March. Seeing both of you at the same time, both psych/shoegaze bands, and just listening to all the others out there, I get the feeling that the shoegaze sound concentrates more on the instrumentals rather than the lyrics. Do you think there’s an element of truth to this?

LOF: It started out that way when we were always concentrating more on the music than the actual lyrics, but now that we’ve experienced life a bit more we’ve got more stuff to write about. There was early stuff, and that was like, I don’t know, when we were 16 or 17, and we listen to some of those now, and yeah, they’re crap.

PC: They just sound really strange.

DW: Why is that?

LOF: Just from a different time.

DW: You don’t relate to that anymore, that time you were in?

LOF: It’s nice to have that captured, that’s why we wanted to go back and re-record those songs, but I don’t know, I guess it was just a different outlook at that point in life. We used to be very anti-social.

DW: And now you’ve changed, you’ve come out of your shell?

LOF: I don’t know. I think it was about wanting to come out of our shell, and these days, songs are about wanting to go back into your shell (both laugh).

DW: Going back for a second though, it’s fairly obvious that instrumentals take precedence over lyrics in the psych/shoegaze/etc genre – there’s always the same kind of fragmented lyrical style. Is this a deliberate choice, or is it simply the result of having too many pedals?

LOF: I kind of view the instrumental part and the lyrical part as having the same importance now, probably not when we first started writing lyrics, but now actually trying to write lyrics. I used to just write throw-away lines about shit, but now I really want to express what I’m feeling, and you can do that with the instrumentation as well, you can make it sound like how you’re feeling, but it’s very texture-based, like all the different guitar pedals, you’re trying to get different tones and textures and make it sound bigger.

DW: I just listened to one of your new songs, ‘Black Cathedral’, and that sounded much more intense than any of your previous songs. I’ve only listened to what’s on your MySpace, but comparing ‘Black Cathedral’ to one of your original songs, ‘Wandering Star’, it seems as if your artistic direction is more focused now.

LOF: Yeah, definitely. Like ‘Wandering Star’ is from when we were a lot younger, and just in that time we’ve started listening to heaps of different music, just a lot more loud and abrasive, and I guess that’s influenced the direction of the band as much as the experiences we’ve picked up.

DW: What kind of bands?

LOF: Sonic Youth, a band called Chrome

PC: A lot of punk stuff.

LOF: Yeah, a lot of punk, just like lo-fi ’80s to early ’90s punk.

DW: Is ‘Black Cathedral’ representative of the sound of your future album?

LOF: Yeah, I’d say it’s about where we’re at now. We’re going to do an EP and that’s got some of the old stuff and then new stuff, like ‘Black Cathedral’, so it’s a bit of a cross between the two styles.

PC: Yeah, all the recording sessions that the songs were taken from were a bit of a mish-mash, like we’d start recording old songs and the recordings were taking a really long time, then we’d start writing new songs that we liked more, and then we kind of finished off the old ones half-heartedly because we weren’t into them that much anymore. So we decided rather than putting out an album with half the songs we don’t like anymore, we’d just do an EP with the new stuff.

DW: So the album is to be released in the future, and you’re going to give a taste of where you’re at now with this EP?

LOF: Yeah, I’d put it like that. I’d like to do an album by the end of the year but I don’t know how feasible that is.

DW: Have you still got uni constraints and things like that?

PC: Conor is the only one that goes to uni.

LOF: He’s actually at uni right now, he goes to uni every day.

DW: Every day?

LOF: Every day, like he’s doing his thesis, or his PHD, so he’s becoming a doctor. Not an actual doctor, a doctor of history, or philosophy.

DW: So what’s his thesis on specifically?

PC: It’s on the Black Panthers, that type of stuff.

LOF: Yeah, he’s really into all that stuff, like his Honours thesis was on MC5 and like the Hat Movement in Detroit and shit.

DW: Really? What got him into that?

LOF: I don’t know.

PC: Yeah, I’m not too sure (laughs).

DW: So is Conor the only one with uni constraints?

LOF: Kate (Wilson – The Laurels’ drummer) was at uni for a bit, she was becoming a vet, but then, yeah (laughs), she dropped out. And we both went to uni for a couple of semesters, but just couldn’t do it.

DW: Where did you go to uni?

LOF: I started out at Wollongong Uni for a semester and then went to Sydney Uni for, like, a semester.

DW: I’ve heard Wollongong Uni is quite big on partying and stuff.

LOF: Yeah, but I didn’t really know anybody at uni, so I wasn’t really big on the partying, and then I just stopped going to lectures, and then I just stopped going altogether (laughs).

DW: What about you, Piers?

PC: I went for a little bit, mainly to get youth allowance, and then I realised I’d probably rather work than do essays (both laughing).

DW: Do you guys still work on the side, or are you a full-time band now?

PC: Nah, we’re still working.

LOF: Yeah, in a call-centre.

DDW: I swear, I think call-centres have the highest ratio of ‘struggling artist’ employees out of any other job.

LOF: Yeah, like pretty much every band in Sydney has at least one member that works in a call-centre.

PC: Conor used to be a team-leader.

LOF: Yeah, he got me my job (both laugh).

DW: Was that weird, or was he just like, “yeah, do whatever”?

LOF: Oh, everyone loved him because he was so slack and he wouldn’t get anyone in trouble, and then eventually they just stopped giving him shifts because of that.

DW: At the moment, The Laurels seem to have a somewhat understated reputation. Do you prefer that at this point, or are you ready to make the leap into the full glare of the spotlight?

LOF: I’m content at the moment, I like how it’s going, taking things at this pace. I like most of the shows we get to play, just generally having fun. It’s just our gear fucks up a lot at the moment, so it would be nice to have some money to fix that.

PC: It’s nice just having your friends at the venue you’re playing. I don’t think we’re really expecting to blow up or anything. That would be really weird if all of a sudden you were playing to people you’d never seen before.

LOF: It’s just nice having your friends there to hang out with after the show.

DW: Do you think it’s a hard thing to deal with, that higher level of fame?

PC: I reckon it would be pretty easy, if you’re not stupid…

LOF: If you’re level-headed about it.

PC: If you let it go to your head when you’re at that level, you just become an idiot. It would actually be easier to be at that level and have roadies carrying your amps and setting them up for you.

LOF: Yeah, that would be lovely (both laugh),

PC: But, yeah, if it makes you become a dickhead then I’d probably prefer not to have that happen.

LOF: I reckon we’d stay pretty grounded. I’ve seen it happen to bands around us, where they start to get a bit of success and it goes to their heads.

DW: I’ve only listened to about five of your songs, because you’ve only released that 7”, but do you tend to sink a lot of emotion into your songs?

LOF: Well, like ‘Wandering Star’ was written when I was still living at home with my parents, but once you move out and move into the world, you start seeing a lot of bad shit, or just experience a lot of shit, and I don’t know, I guess you try and put that into words and into music.

PC: I guess all the lyrics are true about ourselves, like we’re not singing about partying and just getting fucked up for the sake of it or whatever. We don’t just come up with funny words that would sound catchy. We just write what we think.

DW: So it’s not a deliberate intention to put emotion into it, it’s just talking about things that have happened?

LOF: Well, it’s definitely emotional, like the way I see it now is it’s just a release, like if the song’s about something shit that’s happened and you get up on stage and you yell for half an hour, get it all out, it’s just a big release.

DW: So it’s kind of like therapy in a way?

LOF: Yeah, I would say so.

PC: And it’s really good therapy when the people that the song is about turn up to the show (both laugh).

DW: I wouldn’t even know what you were singing about because I can’t…

PC: Make out the words…

DW: Well, yeah. So, are you evolving beyond that ‘wall-of-sound’ style?

PC: We’re sort of like that live, like when we first started we just wanted to not really be able to hear anything, but now we want it more separated.

LOF: Just so you can distinguish the individual parts behind the big woosh of noise.

PC: And the EP, we turned a lot of the vocals up from the level they normally are when we play live, just so you can hear more harmonies and the actual lyrics and stuff.

DW: I remember reading in an interview in which you were asked, “What is your album going to sound like?” and you just said, “It’ll sound like us live, but you’ll be able to hear us.” (Both laugh). But do you deliberately craft your songs to evoke a specific response from people, or do not really care how people react?

PC: I don’t think about that when I’m writing the songs, and I think generally people just sit down, which is fine if you want to chill and watch it, that’s cool, but we’d rather make people go home and think rather than mosh or slam-dance or whatever.

LOF: I’d much rather just play to people sitting on the ground.

PC: When I stand up at shows I just get a really sore back.

DW: I know eh, and people are crowding around you so you can’t really move and stretch or anything. Anyway, I love asking bands this next question, especially emerging bands: What do you think about free music downloading or music piracy or whatever you want to call it?

LOF: I think it’s pretty sweet.

PC: Yeah, it’s how we found out about a lot of bands.

LOF: It’s how a lot of people heard us when we just put our demos up for free download.

PC: We’ve always had our demos up for download off MySpace.

LOF: But now MySpace changed it.

PC: Yeah, you select free download and it doesn’t go anywhere.

LOF: We’re going to hopefully have our own site where we can just host all our own demos.

DW: Did The Brian Jonestown Massacre initially inspire you to start playing?

LOF: I don’t think it was necessarily just them, they were in a wave of bands that we were listening to at the time when we first started writing songs. Like, the really early stuff we used to do is more inspired by that style of music, like ’60s poppy stuff.

PC: I think the main thing that probably interests us about them now is the whole putting-your-songs-up-for-free-on-your-website. Like it was pretty cool finding a band like that when you were a bit younger, that just put up all their stuff and you could just listen to everything all at once.

LOF: Yeah, that was so handy when they had that all on their site.

PC: And then because they did that you’d go out and buy their records, which is what people who like music do anyway if they download stuff. It seems the only people who complain about people downloading music are the record companies, not the actual artists.

LOF: Well, some artists, like The Killers and Lady Gaga and all that sort of shit.

DW: And Lily Allen.

LOF: Oh yeah, what a whiny bitch.

PC: The only ones who complain are the ones who need to maintain their expensive lifestyles.

DW: Speaking of expensive lifestyles, how do you guys travel?

LOF: He (Piers) just bought a van.

PC: It’s a Tarago.

DW: I remember those, yeah, soccer-practice and shit, awesome. So you can fit five people and all your gear in that?

PC: Yep, and last time we took our housemate down to Melbourne with us, because he takes all the girls.

LOF: Yeah, he gets all the girls there.

DW: He gets them or he takes them?

PC: He just goes off with them (both laugh).

DW: Do you have any non-musical influences on your music?

PC: Bill Hicks.

LOF: Yeah, Bill Hicks.

PC: Uh, nature (laughs).

DW: When did you get into Bill Hicks?

PC: I guess we were 16 or 17.

DW: So you’re fans of comedy then?

PC/LOF: Yeah.

DW: Was Bill Hicks the first comedian you listened to?

LOF: Probably one of the first, yeah,

PC: He was the first one I heard that was actually talking about interesting stuff, not crap.

LOF: And I like Monty Python’s stuff as well.

PC: Yeah, I really like Monty Python. The Dude as well, from The Big Lebowski, definitely another non-musical influence.

DW: The Dude should be in everyone’s list of influences. So what kind of music have you guys had on high rotation recently?

LOF: At the moment, stuff like The Saints, Chrome, we’re still always listening to The Beatles and My Bloody Valentine.

PC: Muddy Waters.

DW: 2010. What’s going to happen this year?

LOF: Hopefully I won’t have to work in a call-centre for much longer. They say the customer’s always right, but that’s not necessarily true.

PC: Yeah, it would nice not to have to work for a bank, but they support you while you buy your guitar pedals and stuff (both laugh).

Visit The Laurels for future tour dates and info on their upcoming EP.

Next story: One Of A Kind – Dion Kovac