July 2024

Tortoise And Hare

Words: Gabriel Knowles Images: Tristan Ceddia

At first glance it’s actually quite funny that a band called Tortoiseshell have taken five years to get their first release out. But then when you dig a bit deeper it’s actually quite impressive given some members hadn’t even played in a band prior to their first jam sessions back in 2005. Back then there were one member short of the current five and stereotypically, art school was the common denominator for all except singer Rick Mansfield who had chosen the less conventional path into a musical career as a financial advisor.

So Rick, along with his brother Will, Dominic Broadhurst and Pat Dagg formulated a live show and headed off to play their first gig where their friend Dominic Kirkwood was enlisted to introduce them, he ended up on stage playing percussion and his been with the band ever since. Tennis, as they were know then, continued to play shows around Sydney for the next few years, building up a solid fan base while they perfected their craft.

Outside of Sydney though, their reputations hadn’t quite preceded them. “We played in Newcastle with the Lost Valentinos and there was about four people there and I went outside for a smoke and the bouncer said ‘yeah everyone’s at karaoke, Youth Group were here last week and they had less people’,” Pat, the band’s bassist recalls, we went to the karaoke night afterwards and it was really good!”

Back in Sydney Tennis plugged away for a few more years and after some radio play headed into the studio to record their debut EP, but it didn’t all go quite according to plan. “We recorded an EP but none of that’s going to see the light of day except This Girl,” Will begins. “There was a bit of a rift, I know Rick had his eyes on a bit of a pop sensibility,” Pat elaborates. “Will pulled Rick’s hair at one point!” Dom Broadhurst laughs.

“We’re all creative people, you know we all met at art school. It’s tough for someone to have an idea and it get backing from the rest of the band straight away,” Will continues, “we can almost not get offended now when someone offers another opinion!”

“I think that and that we’d never played in a band before,” adds Pat.

In any case with fellow Sydneysiders Canyons taking an interest in the disco-pop track This Girl, the group realised that their talent lay in stripping things back. Not an easy task for a five piece band with multiple guitars and an abundance of percussion. “It’s a lot harder to write really simple songs with five people, you have to work on the layers,” admits Pat. With the band taking a more considered approach to their recording process, rather than just jamming, there’s an air of confidence about their output now. It also helps that the band have moved into a warehouse in inner Sydney and are in the process of filling out their own recording studio.

“At this point of time where we’ve got this set up with the warehouse we can record our own music and get our ideas down it makes things a lot easier. We don’t have to pressure to capture something like when you’re in a recording studio that you’re paying for.” Dom Kirkwood, whose role has expanded to include keys and guitar explains before Pat jumps in, “I get a little anxious sometimes and want to push forward and now that we’ve got this space we can do that.”

This Girl is out now digitally and on vinyl (featuring a blissed out dub version from Canyons) on Hole In The Sky.


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