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13 Questions with Imperial Broads

The Sydney punk trio partake in our 13 Questions feature to coincide with the release of their new album.

Sydney’s Imperial Broads make the kind of songs that every record collection needs.

Nestled between your punk staples and intelligent pop go-tos, the band rise from bellows of lockdown with their new album, Counterpart.

Imperial Broads consist of vocalists/guitarists, Pip Smith and Eve Lande, and vocalist/bassist, Lauren Crew. Together, the trio democratically share the songwriting and singing duties.

While drummer, Nick Kennedy, who played a key role on Counterpart is no longer a full time member of the band, this hasn’t deterred Imperial Broads and nor should it. Live, we could imagine the Sydney trio concocting quite the glorious racket, and hopefully that happens in the not too distant future, once the current lockdown in Sydney ends.

Counterpart, Imperial Broads’ second album, which follows 2016’s Who Are We Turning Into? is gnarly pop-punk delight.

From the dream-pop reverie of Unromantic and Another Planet to the driving rhythms throughout the beautiful shambles of Another Town, not to mention the frantic rush of album highlight, Sociaplath, Imperial Broads blend raucous post-punk with glittery noise-pop. It’s the kind of music tailor-made for road trips where careless air drums and that feeling of being free are on tap.  

In the lead-up to the release of Counterpart, earlier this week we caught up with Pip, Eve, and Lauren who kindly took part in our 13 Questions feature.

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1. I was going to start by asking you about lockdown, but let’s start with something more fun. Your photo on the Spotify profile is probably the one I’ve seen this year. Do you play lawn bowls or just go for the cheap beer. Or, perhaps, both?

Pip Smith: “It’s actually taken at Pratten Park, a criminally underused lawn bowls club 10 minutes down the road from my place in Sydney. During lockdown, I’ve been walking there every day, but I think I’ve actually played bowls once in my whole life. And I’ve never actually seen anyone play bowls there. I have seen an incredible Uyghur musician play at a world music festival they hosted seemingly out of the blue, but I’ve never rolled a ball along the green.

“The venue is still running, kept alive by a small group of volunteers – they’re lovely. They let me buy a 1960s orange armchair they had stashed away in their ladies change room for $20, and they gave us a round of free beer when we went there to take photos. I have grown to love these old lawn bowls clubs; the surrealness of these flat green squares of unused space in the middle of Sydney. It reminds me of a Noel McKenna painting.”

2. That bowls looks so familiar; I thought it was one close to where I used to live in Brisbane!

PS: “Nope! Ashfield, in Sydney! There was once a time when every band member lived in the area.”

3. Can you tell us about the writing process to Counterpart?

PS: “Each of us three gals are songwriters, and we’ve been very egalitarian from the beginning, making sure we always have an even number of songs in the mix. The band started out as a learning experience – we were using it to work out how to play our instruments and how to write songs, and we all grew together.

“We each individually record our demos at home into our phones (or sometimes into GarageBand on our laptops – fancy!); the quality of the demos is variable! But the songs usually come to the band with all their bits and pieces intact. Sometimes, in one of my songs, I’ll know what lead line I want Eve  to play, and sometimes there’s room for her to make one up, and vice versa.

“We might try the song in different styles (I think the last track, Green Balloon, got played as every genre under the sun!) before we settle on the final version. And sometimes we are still deciding on how a song should be as we’re recording it (Green Balloon again!). But the general shape of the songs (i.e. the chords, the parts) and the lyrics are there before we bring them to the band.”    

Eve Lande: “For the first album, all the songs were ready and we went to Pip’s parents’ walnut farm in Oberon for a week to record them. For this album, we started recording as soon as we had new songs ready to go, so immediately after the first record, and continued when more were ready (…or half ready), so the process was more drawn out, sporadic, etc.

“The songs are recorded at a bunch of different places over a different times – a testament to Liam [Judson, producer] that it all holds together OK! Quite a few parts were made up and recorded on the day – i.e. lead lines, backing vocals etc – we may have had the base for some songs, but there was more ‘work it out along the way’ with this album.”

Lauren Crew: “Writing for Counterpart was a mix of conjuring the band’s live energy and relaxing into the slow process of studio writing where you have the opportunity for instant playback and critique. We had limited rehearsal room opportunities to get the songs up from demo stage so they were usually still sketches at the point of laying down the rhythm tracks. Though it was certainly hard going at times, I ultimately think the slower pace, and the different approaches and influences that seeped in with that, made the album more interesting.

“We aren’t a band who jams to write the songs but we worked really collaboratively on arrangements and parts and we knew that our songs wouldn’t come out the same from any other rehearsal room. We often talk about our demo’s needing to be ‘Broadsified’. I think having created something we were really proud of with Who Are We Turning Into?, and having grown up as collaborators, we trusted the sound of the band and pushed a little harder. Knowing that there’s this group of people who make your songs sound better and weirder in all the coolest ways is so satisfying and that allowed us to record, re-record, and throw away parts with the confidence we were in safe hands with each other and our producer, Liam.”

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4. Socioplath is the track that jumped out at me straight away. Can you tell us about how the song came about?

PS: (Laughs) “Well actually that song started life as a rap that I wrote when I was the resident summer poet for a literary journal called the Lifted Brow in 2013! Afterwards I went on a Courtney Barnett bender and decided to turn it into something that sat a little more naturally with me: a Dylan-esque folk-rock song that lost its folk when it was introduced to the rehearsal room. I really wanted to use a Mellotron at the end, but we didn’t have one, so I talked Liam (our producer) into making one by recording us (girls, and then boys) sing each note as a choir, then he cut off the intro and tail of each note and I think we got there, but boy it took all day! And my infant son was in the studio too, so it REALLY took all day.”

5. Imperial Broads cover such a wide array of sounds and on Another Planet, Another Town, and Lovers, I think these are the songs that encapsulate what the band sets out to do. Do you write the music before the lyrics?

PS: “Well, in the case of Socioplath the lyrics came first, but mostly, for my songs, a melody will come first, then the chords, then the lyrics. The melody is most important to me.”

EL: “I always write the music before the lyrics and I also tend to write the music/come up with a guitar part or rhythm structure before I write melody as well. Which might be telling for ‘my’ songs (none of which are listed above, ha!).”

LC: “It’s a little messy sometimes for me and I think that shows in my songs. Melody and key lyrics always come together, sometimes it’s an opening line, sometimes a chorus, occasionally more. This kernel of an idea is usually accompanied by a big feeling and a collection of visuals  – usually shades of light and dark as well as textures, times of day and landscapes.

“I then spend months and occasionally years wrangling with a guitar to find the right chords, the ones that help paint the picture in my head and match the feeling. I have no technical skills on the guitar so my phone is full of voice memo notes of me singing with the acoustic late at night in an apartment while trying out different chords, different bridges, lines, structures etc., before I get anything cohesive enough to introduce to the band.

“The lyrics usually get refined along the way but sometimes the awkward draft lyrics become too set to change. As a band we do seem to love jarring but exciting  changes and a good outro, as in the three songs you mention. The outro for Another Town was a challenge for us all – it has this uncomfortable, uneven progression with some fairly strange chords that made it nearly impossible to play any kind of melodic line over. I also had this sound I was trying to achieve of chaos, disorientation, and reckless joy where I knew I needed a kind of noise guitar that we don’t typically do in our songs. Our producer jumped in to help us get over a creative bump on that one and then we had the foundation to bring it all together.”

6. We ask a lot of artists this, it doesn’t seem like a lot Australian artists are as bothered about social media like artists here in the U.K. what’s your take on social media?

PS: “Well, we each have a different take! I personally don’t like what’s happened to social media. It’s become a site for bragging and selling and corporate manipulation; it’s hard to find much genuine interaction on there that cuts through the posturing. But that said, it’s a great way to get your music into the pockets of people on the other side of the world who wouldn’t have had any way of finding us otherwise.”

EL: “I agree, unfortunately I am not super into social media, either. The ease to connect worldwide with like-minded people is great and the ability to get your album out to more people who may have not otherwise been able to hear it is of course a ‘plus’, but the expectation of making endless content in order to release an album, and how it’s hard to do a release without any PR if you want even local radio stations and any print media to pay much attention, is a bit depressing to me.

“I feel there used to be a clearer difference between releasing a project independently and as part of an ‘underground’ scene, and a place for both, yet somehow capitalism has even found a way to make operating in a scene somewhat outside of it, or counter to it, near impossible without using elements of it, if that makes sense, which is a pretty dire reflection on where we are right now.”

LC: “I have been having fun during lockdown learning how to do some super basic video editing so I have a tiny burst of enthusiasm at the moment for putting stuff on socials but, overall, I don’t think it’s a big thing for us as a band. We’ve never had a huge number of ‘followers’ but, back when gigs were possible, we were never out of a gig.

“We are lucky to have the support of our peers in bands, and a few bookers in Sydney and Melbourne, but have never had any mainstream industry support, so social media is just a way for us to share some fun stuff with fans and friends. Personally, I’m not sure I’ve ever found my new favourite band from social media but others might have a totally different experience depending on the scene.” 

Imperial Broads - Counterpart

7. Some fun questions now. What are your hobbies outside of music?

PS: “I’m a writer (of poems, novels, etc), and that, besides parenting, takes up all my time. But I see song-writing as an extension of my interest in writing – the part I love the most about being in a band is problem solving songs, trying new things to get all their different parts to click together.”

EL: “Films are a big part of my leisure time (and also the industry I work in). Being in nature? (laughs) S o corny! But sooo missing the Flinders Rangers and Kangaroo Island time during lockdown (both are places in my hometown state, South Australia). Petrichor as something other than what it technically means (the smell of the earth usually after rain) – i.e. longing for nature or something – has become super trendy though, we all better go move to a tiny country town out bush before capitalism ruins that for us, too. Or before the climate crisis leads to them being flooded or burned. This turned dark quickly!”

8. (Laughs) When did you last make yourself do something you didn’t want to?

PS: “Today I changed the nappies on three different children (all my own, so I created this problem for mysefl!)”

EL: “Musically, in this band, quite often! It’s the push and pull of operating in a democracy, we need to justify our opinions and sometimes fight for them, other times we get the benefit of the support in numbers and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, it goes both ways.”

LC: “Every day last week. Lockdown equals work from home and I live in a cold mountain town where we have finally had a taste of spring with some beautiful sunny days. The warmth only stays in the air between about 11am and 2pm and it has basically been torture forcing my pale self to sit at the computer and earn a living when all I want to do is frolic amongst the daffodils.”

9. The Wire or The Sopranos?

PS: “Both! No, the Sopranos. It’s got more of a sense of humour. I keep thinking about the episode when Tony’s nephew (Christopher Moltisanti) tries to break into Hollywood. Gold.”

EL: “The Wire, hands down, for me.”

LC: “Both shows are frequently quoted around my house… toss of a coin… Sopranos. I have a terrible memory so could easily watch both again without remembering all the spoilers.”

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10. Can you tell us about music scene in Sydney?

EL: “I’ve only lived in Sydney for 12 years, coming from Adelaide, South Australia. When I lived in Adelaide I didn’t play in bands, but of course went to see a bunch of shows, and the Adelaide ‘scene’ that I was into seemed pretty cliquey.

“Sydney seemed to be more broadly encompassing, in that you could end up on a bill with a bunch of random bands that were not necessarily that similar in style, and the sense of collegiality and support between the bands was nonetheless super strong – that said, I suspect the difference was becoming a player from being an audience member (rather than a great difference between the two cities), and I also suspect it’s the smaller scene we operate in here too. There are (or were? Feels weird to be talking about this during a locked down time with so little live shows!) great organisers and venues and fun nights on the smaller to mid-level, so as a player I’ve always felt like there are options, it’s supportive, and the camaraderie is strong.”

LC: “Sydney has a great and very resilient scene. I’ve been playing for about 15 years in various bands and since I started there has always been someone telling me about how there used to be more venues or better venues and I’ve seen a frightening number of venues I adore close down.

“On the flip side, there are always so many new (or old) venues appearing and so much enthusiasm from the punters, the bookers, the bands. People get very creative about what spaces can host a gig in Sydney and I love that attitude even if the sound isn’t always great for nailing three-part harmonies! I think the Sydney scene is also less aligned on genre lines which I personally love. It’s always been a very inclusive experience for me.”

Imperial Broads

11. Who are the Sydney bands we should be listening to?

EL: “Loose Fit (incidentally on UK’s Fatcat Records). They have an album on the way. Their mix of post punk, no wave and new wave really does it for me. They’re also pals and individually do some very cool stuff outside of music too (eg Kaylene’s Wah Wah brand). Sachet are another great local band doing some cool interesting somehow both sweet and dirge-y post-punk tunes – we played with them ages ago and the album they put out last year was great.”

LC: “We’ve recently signed with Broken Stone Records, a small Sydney label releasing some really great stuff. One of the label founders has just released an album called Moral Outage with his band Magnetic Heads and it is definitely on high rotation at my place – UK ’80s synth pop influences, with some dark political lyrics, velvety vocals, and super catchy melodies. I also recommend Angeles who recently put out a single called Plastic that grabbed me with its tight but distorted guitar tones, energy, and great vocals. If you’re looking for something a little darker and dreamier, I’d have to recommend Le Pie – she’s released a couple of amazing EPs and last year’s debut album, A Room of Ones Own, all with a powerful atmosphere of being heartbroken at 2am staring into your favourite jukebox.”

12. What’s the plan for your musical projects for the rest of the year?

EL: “Difficult to predict in this locked down state, at the moment only two out of three of us can even see each other, as the other is outside our permitted 5km zone. Personally, I’m doing some solo bedroom recording stuff as that is all that is available to me right now, but I look forward to connecting with the others IRL when we can!”

LC: “Mostly just aiming to keep writing. It’s been a busy time getting this record out so I have a backlog of ideas that need to be worked into songs. I’ve also recently done some recording with a band I play bass for so those singles may be released this year sometime. I’d love to play some shows for this album so fingers crossed for the stars to align. I really miss playing live!”

13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words?

LC: “When we recorded the album, our drummer Nick Kennedy, was a full time member of the band. He’s in a bunch of bands and decided to leave ours earlier this year but he was so important to this album and still plays as part of the live band. I just wanted to mention how much we love his drumming on this record. We threw him a few curveballs and he took on every challenge with so much enthusiasm and a sense of humour – he came up with some killer drum parts.”

Counterpart is out now via Broken Stone Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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