Tucked into a back corner of The Great Britain Hotel in Richmond…
Tucked into a back corner of The Great Britain Hotel in Richmond, one of the most exciting young bands in Australian music are gathered, drinks in hand, relaxing in the last breather they’ll get to take for the foreseeable future. The venerable Coopers Stout is a particularly popular brew, with four pints of it sitting heavily on the table in front of us, while also taking up residence on the table is a copy of their new album Midnight Remember . It’s continually passed about as a reference point for both the members of Little Red and your forgetful scribe, everyone at times stopping to use it in order to reflect on a specific song, the credits or even its striking artwork. Suffice to say, sprits are high, and well they ought to be, as Midnight Remember is one of the finer records of 2010.
In much the way The Temper Trap’s Conditions album of last year saw a Melbourne band become something of a national phenomenon, with Midnight Remember, Little Red have staked their claim to the hearts, dancing shoes and discerning ears of Australia. The requisite hyperbole preceded Midnight Remember after the band’s self-titled debut record launched a thousand dancing crowds of eager Little Red fans who, by turns, swooned and grinned their way at the band’s then retro-pop stylings.
As these things go, the band quickly became a huge live favourite, their mix of easily danceable sunshine guitar-pop, suave sense of onstage fashion, non-threatening bookish good looks and charming ‘mod-gang’ repartee making for an exuberant live experience. After a triumphant run of shows throughout 2008 and into 2009, though, they seemingly disappeared; it was a necessary pulling back so as not to cause a level of Little Red overexposure and burn out, but, more importantly, to write their second album.
Now, with Midnight Remember finished and sitting inside a wall of empty pint glasses, Little Red can be happy that they’ve negotiated reinventing themselves, to great success. They’re like the opposite of Kevin Sorbo.
The five members – splayed out across couches and up turned milk-crates clock-wise from me – Adrian Beltrame (guitar vocals), Dom Byrne (guitar vocals), Taka Honda (drums, vocals), Quang Dinh (bass, vocals) and Tom Hartney (keys, vocals) are adamant that in writing and making Midnight Remember, they had to try to evolve Little Red beyond even their own expectations.
“There wasn’t a day when we woke up and thought ‘It’s time to do the new album’ and write new stuff for it,” explains Taka. “No,” adds Tom, “we were trying the whole time after the first album to go away and do the next one.” “Totally,” agrees Dom, “like, when we were launching that record, we were playing songs planned for another one. We’ve gone through lots of songs in that time – the last two years – and a lot has to do with signing with a label and them having their ways of doing things, plus there was talk of going overseas to work with a producer.
“We,” he nods, “were just antsy to get working on a new album… and in the end, it’s probably better for having waited, as we got to write more, experience more and there’s a couple of songs that are on the album that might not have been there if it’d been done sooner.” “Yeah,” nods Adrian, “I think we wrote and wrote and wrote to a point that we’d taken our songs to a place we wouldn’t have if the album had come straight away after the first one.”
“That’s it,” Dom posits, chomping on some wasabi peas like Brian Harvey pinging at a club in 1996. “We were able to figure out arrangements for songs we really liked, and, not to understate it to much, even how to play our instruments better. Just to get better in general – playing, song-writing, singing, everything. In the past we probably didn’t spend as much time on songs as we did here – we just busted stuff out. But at the same time, you’re slowing down the creative process – you’re spending more time fine tuning things. That’s the trade off.” “Lots of songs missed out on going on this record,” adds Taka. “Just because we pushed ourselves that bit more.”
Indeed, with that idea of having slowed down, more so than just being happy that they’ve crafted an album that reflects a new Little Red ethos, they’re also happy to simply be doing something – anything – again. For a band who so genuinely enjoy playing live, it’s frustrating to have to go through the industry-standard process of tour-record-release-tour – you get the feeling, that if it were viable, they’d play non-stop.
“It feels good to be back and doing things again, it feels like we’ve broken some shackles,” nods Tom. “It’s like the 1968 Elvis comeback special or something,” deadpans Dom. So next up will be Little Red Join The Army, then? “Yeah, we’ve been doing movies for the last couple of years,” continues Dom, warming to the joke, “Little Red Go Surfing, Little Red Go Racing. I’d like to do that,” he laughs. “I think we’d do great in a western.” As a side note – y’know who’d be great in that? The guy who played Balki in Perfect Strangers.
“It’s surreal,” continues Taka. “We started as a garage band, and we had no expectations for anything. We played some shows… plus going to uni, I think we had different careers in mind…” “I didn’t,” pipes up Tom, “neither did I!” adds Dom. “We were young back then…” Taka grins. What, as opposed to now? “No,” he laughs, “but once we realised how fun we had with this – and even though we didn’t have any idea about making this something we wanted to do fulltime – we just wanted to do it. It’s happened really organically.”
“We,” confirms Dom, “over the course of four or five years, have sort of managed to build everything up into the only we want to do, and take immense enjoyment out it, I feel. It’s just a bit weird not to always be playing, all the time, and having to spend a bit of time honing what we do. It’s still great though – I’m not going to complain.”
And nor could you, really, because in Midnight Remember Little Red have created a shimmering pop beast that runs across the gamut of genres. There are flashes of their original doo-wop inspired ‘60s pop, but there’s also the emergence of a certain type of woozy late-‘60s multi-hued psychedelia, ‘70s AM rock, of ‘80s heartbroken synth-pop and a washed out astral beat-pop that’s as catchy as it is mesmerising. The step they’ve taken away from the simple five-part melodies and chiming guitar-pop of their debut is that this is a far, far more complex Little Red. “The more you listen to it, the more you find – it’s all in layers,” nods Taka.
“The first record is basically naked – more or less,” adds Dom. “There are some overdubs, but it was mostly the sound of the band live. But if you go ‘well, what’s the actual idea of the band if we could whatever we want’ then this is it. It’s what came naturally to us, as a band, no matter the style or anything. Taking the limitation off.” “It’s the freedom,” nods Quang.
(Interesting, this is only one of three things he says all interview. As a side note – each member of Little Red is talkative in their own way. Adrian seems more technical, Dom is a mile-a-minute speaker, Taka speaks in a more halting English that has gotten unbelievably better since meeting him drunkenly three years ago, Tom is very point driven but with a drawling voice that suggests a certain relaxedness. And Quang is really warm and friendly. Only, after the interview. It’s like if you invited Henry Rollins to a gig and he only spoke in the car on the way home.)
“It was also a different mindset to the first album,” Tom figures. “It was written almost with an idea of a formula in mind, and there were songs about girls and everything, now this one is a lot more complex.” “There will be different meanings for lots of different people, I think,” adds Taka, “It’s the extra ‘depth’ idea again.” “Yeah,” continues Tom, “we were playing three times a week in the lead up to the first album, which is why it sounds the way it does.” “We recorded that album in the middle of a tour as well,” recalls Adrian, “so it was almost like another gig.” “Yeah, exactly – we even almost set it up that way,” laughs Dom. “I can’t believe it got played as much as it did.” “But then this one,” continues Tom, we weren’t gigging so much, we were hanging out and practising, refining the parts and just wanting to make it perfect. It was more about the record than the live show – it came from us actually wanting it to be Little Red, as opposed to sounding like a gig we were playing.”
The obvious thing here would be to bring up just how different the band sound, and how that must’ve been helped by their producer. An obvious one. So I do. But, indeed this change was undoubtedly helped by having producer Scott Horscroft (Silverchair, The Presets, The Panics) in the chair – the initial reaction upon hearing Midnight Remember is just how lush and impressive the record sounds. The flourishes of synths, strings, extra percussion et al make for an album that has tremendous depth.
“It was weird, we couldn’t wait any longer on recording,” explains Dom, “and this (The Grove studios) was available and it was great.” “We were dying to get out at the end, but it was fun with the spa, the golf and everything,” adds Adrian. “The final night we were there they actually got the spa working,” laughs Tom, “and it was awesome.” “Yeah,” grins Dom, “I was doing my last vocal overdubs and being really serious about it, and Horscroft bangs on the door in his underwear with a bottle of vodka, saying ‘get your arse in the spa!’. That was the last night, though… the rest of the time he was brilliant. Not just stamping his ideas on stuff, but coming up with little elements and ideas that make everything work better – like transitions.” “Yeah, brilliant is probably the best term for it,” agrees Adrian, “he’s such a talented guy – he’s got really great ears.”
“We wanted to work with him from the start as well,” recalls Tom, “his was one of the first names we thought of. He’s done a lot of stuff; he’s not just a rock producer, not just a dance producer, none of that, and because of that, we liked the idea of working with him, and he really wanted to do it with us – which is what you want.” “He did a great job of capturing what we could do, as a band,” adds Taka, simply. “The one thing that stuck with me the most is that he’d said he wanted to highlight ‘sensations’, and he’s a real artist, or a composer, in that regard.”
Now, with that expansive, genre-bending second album now tucked under their arm and the idea of Little Red having been at least a little more firmly defined, the question now simply remains as to what comes next. It’s a proposition that’s easily shrugged off by the band. Quang grins and nods, saying, “Who knows?” But for a more unrestrained thought, Taka takes the reins. “We’re very lucky to be able to do this,” he nods. “We’re honoured that people actually want to listen to us, so we’re very thankful for everything.”
But of course – they’re nice boys. That said, will they do the proverbial LeBron and take their talents elsewhere – say to the UK or USA? “There’s plans to head overseas, I think, next year,” answers Tom, “but really, who knows what will happen. That’s the beauty of it.”
LITTLE RED’s brilliant new album Midnight Remember is out now through Liberation. They launch it with two massive shows at The Forum on October 29 (sold out) and 30 (tickets from ticketmaster.com.auticketmaster.com.au 136 100 or ), and then an underage show at The Prince Bandroom on October 31 (also sold out). They then headline PRYAMID ROCK FESTIVAL in Phillip Island on December 30, and also play the BIG DAY OUT at Flemington Racecourse on January 30.