For musicians to attain enduring artistic appeal, it’s essential to maintain creative curiosity and keep finding artistically fruitful ways to explore that. There are plenty of bands that do some really great work but then spend years churning out recycled ideas, and this is exactly what Melbourne’s Black Cab didn’t want to do. After three records of guitar-centric psych rock, their 2014 release, Games of the XXI Olympiad,revolved around industrial electronic production and synth-pop hooks.
Released in March, Black Cab’s latest single Uniforms upholds the aesthetic qualities of that album. However, they’ve recently overhauled their songwriting approach.
“We’ve kind of started from scratch,” says vocalist Andrew Coates. “Now that we’ve got Wes [Holland] on drums, we’re actually writing with the same bunch of folks who have been playing these songs live for the last couple of years. That’s been really good.”
This mightn’t seem like a drastic shift considering Holland does appear on Games of the XXI Olympiad (alongside Coates and his Black Cab co-leader James Lee), but he wasn’t a fully-fledged band member for much of the album’s construction.
“He came in late on a few tracks, but he wasn’t there at the start for a lot of those tracks that have been in play for quite some time,” Coates says. “Sexy Polizei was released in 2009, and Combat Boots came out 2011. He was playing live on those tracks and he tracked a few drum lines on some of the later stuff on Games, but this is really a good reset. We really like the rock energy that he brings to the live sound, so we want to try to capture that on record – make sure that’s an important part of the recorded sound as well.”
While Games of the XXI Olympiad was a distinct departure from the washy psych rock of the band’s earlier work, Black Cab sounded completely at home playing steely electronica with a pop-inclined melodic bent. Nevertheless, they didn’t want to sacrifice their onstage liveliness.
“It’s really important to keep the sound that we’re doing kind of fresh and keep away from pure electronic,” Coates says. “Not that we don’t like pure electronic, it’s just not necessarily what you get from us live. So we want to try to keep that live vibe going, where we’ve got electronics with live drums. We like that; it seems to work. We’ve been honing that for the last couple of years live, so now it’s a great opportunity to start writing from scratch with that as the foundation.”
Uniforms features guest keyboards from Mikey Young, who's best known for playing in Total Control and Eddy Current Suppression Ring as well as working profusely as a recording engineer. Last year Young helmed a remix of the Games of the XXI Olympiad track Victorious, which paved the way for his appearance on Uniforms. Interestingly, despite hailing from the same city and sharing a similar musical outlook, this union wasn’t the result of personal friendship.
“We didn’t know Mikey at all. I still haven’t met Mikey,” Coates says. “It’s all been through the interwebs. But Wes is totally comfortable to reach out to anyone at any time to ask them to do something. So he did that for Mikey, just reached out to him and said, ‘Do you want to do a remix?’ And Mikey did that amazing remix and we thought, ‘Holy shit. Let’s get more Mikey on stuff.’ So we sent him a rough demo of Uniforms and said just go nuts on it. So he just tracked some crazy Mikey stuff, and nearly all of it’s got some component of odd genius. When it came back we just went, ‘Holy shit this makes perfect sense.’ A lot of what he did features in the track. He made something that was a bit greyscale into this technicolour thing.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
BLACK CAB are playing at Howler on Thursday May 5 and Friday May 6 (sold out). Uniforms is available now via Interstate 40 Music.