The name Mope City may deceive and perhaps even divide.
In a day and age where artists are vying for a listenership that is – let’s face it – shrinking (particularly where albums are concerned), not only do artists have the burden of actually making music, it seems they have the added pressures of monikers and artwork, which are equally as crucially to attract a wider audience.
It sounds ridiculous (petty even) that these things determine whether one indulges or swerves. However, rightly or wrongly, it’s a real thing in 2021.
So, Mope City? To me, it’s a fucking great name! The Sydney collective have been around for a while now, with Matt Neville and Amaya Lang operating as a two-piece up until their fantastic slowcore-inspired second record, News from Home (2019), which followed their debut LP, Petri Dish (2015).
With the addition of bassist, Nick Johnson, and drummer, Shaun Donovan, Mope City open up their sound on their third and wide-ranging latest release, Within the Walls.
Where the band’s previous works are concerned, Within the Walls feels like a more wholesome record, with the band gleaning ideas of the past and amalgamating them with the present. It would be wrong to call Mope City revitalised, but it’s refreshing to see a band constantly moving their sound forward.
Where Aussie slacker reference points such as The Twerps and Kitchen’s Floor produced music that felt, to an extent, frozen in time, Mope City are constantly evolving. It’s a sound that passes through time effortlessly.
There’s modesty that runs through the Mope City DNA, but beyond the surface, there’s a subtle gnarly aesthetic that spikes the senses every so often. For example, the raw jangle-rock combined with the spidery, Slint-inspired post-rock (Don’t Understand the Shorthand and album highlight, Figure in My Peripheral), and the abrasive early ’00s indie rock with ’90s slowcore (Within the Walls/My Advice).
All told, Within the Walls is a fine journey indeed, and one of the finest releases to come out of Australia so far in 2021.
In the midst of country’s latest lockdown, which continues to impinge on New South Wales and in particularly, Mope City’s native Sydney, frontman, Matt Neville, was kind enough to answer our questions.
Sun 13: I know you guys are back in lockdown at the minute. How are you coping with it?
Matthew Neville: “Yep back in lockdown. I’ve been coping ok… My work is still open, which gives this kind of resemblance of pre-lockdown life. I actually don’t mind spending a lot of time at home honestly, but this lockdown has been dragging on a bit yeah… I miss my friends. It’s strange being out and about and going into work every day, though; it’s kind of eerie, but nice to get a seat on the bus and have less people around travelling to/from work.”
S13: There seems to be a lot of protests surrounding the lockdown, more so than here in the U.K. when we were in lockdown, anyway. What’s your take on it?
MN: “It’s pretty frustrating.. I believe in the right to protest, but in this specific case you need to look at the facts, and that is that doing this is likely to prolong the lockdown, The very thing they are protesting. Pretty odd…”
S13: Can you tell us about the writing process about Within the Walls?
MN: “Um, the process was more or less the same as usual, except this was the first album with Nick [Johnson – bass] and Shaun [Donovan – drums] on it. The last album we did was just Amaya and I at the time, so it does differ in how we shaped the album up, but basically first there was a skeleton or rough idea of each track then we all get in a room and bring our own parts to it.”
S13: I find that Within the Walls takes and combines the best elements of your two previous albums, Petri Dish and News from Home. Was this something that you were going for?
MN: “Hmm that wasn’t really something consciously planned for, just how it came together, I guess!”
S13: Aesthetically, I’ve found that you guys operate in a unique space in comparison with a lot of other Australian bands around at the moment. I definitely hear influences from ’90s post-hardcore and slowcore from the States. Were these styles that you were interested in before starting Mope City?
MN: “Yeah, I’d say so. I remember listening to a lot of that stuff over the years (still do). A lot of the Touch and Go, Discord, SST crew etc. A lot of our early recordings probably reflect this a little less but yeah, I’d say there are some touch points there.”
S13: You’ve worked with producer, Peter Beringer, for some time now. He seems to really harness the quiet/loud dynamics that Mope City produce. Was it an easy choice to go with Peter again for this album?
MN: “Yeah, Pete is an old friend of ours. He has a studio in Marrickville (Audile Design Studios) that he put together himself and that’s where we do a lot of the beds for the recordings, mainly the drum and bass tracks. He’s built a great live room there that he knows how to use well. Almost all the rest of the stuff is recorded and mixed at home though. It’s the way it works best for us.”
S13: Lyrically, Rocket Surgery and Covered In Might are the songs that sprung out for me. Can you tell us how these two songs came about?
MN: “Rocket Surgery‘s lyrics are kind of an inner monologue of someone who is being talked at/explained something that they already completely understand (and the frustration and want to escape that comes with that (laughs)). Like looking and wishing you were on a plane a long way away from the conversation, but even there you’d be sitting there wringing your hands about something else. I guess it’s about nervousness in a way.. Frustration and nervousness… Bread and butter topics.
“Covered in might lyrically I always thought was a bit blatant. It’s kind of about this person who always acts very ‘manly’, confident, strong etc., but then who ends up abandoning their family. It’s like what they display is different to who they really are. Like a false armour. The line ‘covered in might’ can also apply to the people left behind. Kind of like by covering themselves in ‘might’, they can bolster and carry on kind of thing.”
S13: When I think of Australian music over the last two years, sonically, I think Figure in My Peripheral best encapsulates the sound and mood. Do you remember writing this one?
MN: “Oh, thank you. Ah, I do remember having the first couple of lines and the chords, yeah. The story is a little strange though thinking about it.. Years ago I got diagnosed with something called ‘visual snow’ (in case you are curious), which is a strange neurological condition in which you see ‘snow’ or static like visual disturbances 24/7, as well as things like afterimages and distorted shapes etc. Anyway, for a time I kept seeing a blurry, shadowy figure out the corner of my eye as a result of the VS and I began to kind of make up a story about this ‘figure’ that was popping up here and there.
“Anyway, yeah, the chords are a bit samey but I liked the story about my weird shadow friend so it stayed on there.” (laughs)
S13: Knowing that arts funding is pretty much non-existent in Australia in comparison with other countries, how difficult is it to stay motivated and keep a band together for as long as you have?
MN: “Yeah, funding has never really crossed our minds, I guess. I suppose that kind of mirrors what you said before about it being almost non-existent over here, or at least it certainly doesn’t feel obtainable a lot of the time.
“Generally we try to keep costs way way down or non-existent anyways by recording ourselves, mixing it ourselves, getting our mates to master it etc., so usually money from shows covers all costs if there are any, so there’s no huge need for funding from those bodies in our case. You see it happen sometimes for some people and that’s great but it’s not something we have much experience with. I think this last record we ended up spending less than $200 or something on random costs, I couldn’t imagine writing a grant proposal for that amount. (laughs)
“So I guess the motivation comes from just enjoying it.”
S13: What bands should we be listening to from Sydney?
MN: “Currently? Too many to mention! Top of my head, Sachet, Mundo Primitivo, Dumbells, VIPP, Pallet, Del Lumanta, Anthony Guerra.”
S13: “Assuming the lockdown ends in the coming weeks, have you got any shows planned for the remainder of 2021?”
MN: “[I] really hope it does… Um yeah, we had a show in Melbourne for the LP that is up in the air which would be good to re-book after all this ends. One in Sydney, too, somewhere to kind of make up for lost time, I guess. But yeah we have a new LP in the works so will be good to start playing some new ones too!”
Within the Walls is out now via Tenth Court. Purchase from Bandcamp.