Screensavers are mundane, essentially by definition.
The same can’t be said about five-piece post-punk band Screensaver, who have been making a name for themselves with their fiery, synth-driven live shows and slickly produced recordings.
The Melbourne-based band began in 2016 as a collaboration between singer Krystal Maynard and guitarist Christopher Stephenson, who swapped demos across the Pacific. After the two married and Stephenson relocated to Melbourne, Maynard enlisted James Beck to join the band on drums for live performances in 2019.
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“Krystal and I go way back,” recalls Beck, whose trained acting voice is immediately clear. “We used to be little kid neighbours across the street from each other in Perth and went to the same school and re-met each other in high school years down the track.”
At the time Beck was a working actor and hadn’t played drums in four years after a gruelling overseas tour with a previous band and falling victim to tinnitus. “After that, I was pretty certain that I couldn’t play drums again because my hearing was more important,” he says.
With his tinnitus at manageable levels, Beck transitioned back to musicianship, accelerated by the pandemic. “It was more rewarding in a creative way, and you can work on music in an independent sense,” he says. “As an actor, you can’t always do that.”
The band’s four-piece line-up of their 2021 debut record Expressions of Interest expanded during the recording of their new album Decent Shapes. Giles Fleike’s bass playing can be heard on their new record, though he left during the final sessions to focus on fatherhood. “His presence on the record is still very much there,” says Beck.
Dorian Vary joined on bass, who had previously played in a band with Maynard, though Beck isn’t certain which one. “Everyone’s been in so many fucking bands I’ve lost count,” he laughs. Jonnine Nokes was an obvious choice on synths, as they have previously done sound for the band and a music course with Beck. “I think there’s a lot of texture that comes from the inclusion of both Dorian and Jonnine,” adds Beck.
There’s a hesitancy in Beck’s voice when describing the band’s genre as post-punk. “I just feel like every band is post-punk currently, but maybe not in the traditional sense of the music that I grew up with – the classic era of UK, predominantly late 70s 80s, post-punk and new wave,” he says. “We do lean a little more into the classic sounds.”
With four members credited with playing synths (five if you include the software synths Beck occasionally uses), Beck notes they’re a tech-heavy band, with elements of gothic, new wave, electronica and Krautrock. “Each member individually brings something quite interesting, and it’s very much the sum of its parts,” he says. “I think once it’s out there the audience will always just receive it in their own way, which I think is really special.”
Decent Shapes is being released domestically by Melbourne-based Poison City Records and internationally by London-based Upset the Rhythm, who released the band’s previous record. “I think it’s very humbling to have them want to work with us,” says Beck of both labels. “Just their footprint, you know, their reach is excellent.”
Decent Shapes comes almost exactly two years after their debut record. “There’s a self-assuredness that comes with it when you’ve been playing together for a while, and I think you can hear that in the record,” says Beck. Despite drumming with tendinitis on both records, Beck was able to manage the pain better the second time around. “I had more time to develop as a drummer overall,” he says. “When we did Expressions of Interest, I was still getting back on the bike, so to speak.”
Julian Cue returned to produce and mix the record and was able to persuade the band to use a click track this time around. “I think [for Expressions of Interest] we were all just like, ‘it’s too hard, we don’t need it,’ but this time, we persevered through the bulk of the album and did it to a click,” explains Beck. “I think it might… come across as a tight, cohesive record.”
The record was tracked in only two weekends says Beck, with three or four of the songs not fully formed. “We had just started playing around them in the month or less in the lead-up to recording,” he says. “I would say that, as we exist now in our five-piece with Jonnine and Dorian, we’re very much writing stuff together in the room, which is really cool.”
After being invited to play Goner Fest in Memphis last year, the band are ready for their 10-date tour of Australia for Decent Shapes. “It’s funny, I feel like we’ve done it the reverse way around, we haven’t toured Australia before, but we’ve already done the States,” says Beck. “I feel like this is a fresh experience again and we’re going into a few places that we haven’t been before.”
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