Archive for the ‘Snowman’ Category

Joe McKee on the End of Snowman

Monday, August 10th, 2015

London can be an utter shit-hole in places. We all lived together in an old London town house above a roach infested café in Walthamstow. We knew it was roach infested because they frequented our home too. Polish squatters lived in the building behind us and they would throw garbage out their window and into the alleyway behind our concrete yard. Over the course of a few months that alleyway became a dump and rats began to emerge. In the evenings, our street became a gang warzone. The Polish gangs versus the Middle Eastern gangs. Brutal fights would take place outside our flat. I vividly remember a midget swinging a chain above his head, looking to connect with Polish skull, whilst perched on his comrade’s shoulders. It was like something out of Mad Max. Oh, did I mention there was a serial rapist on the loose in our neighbourhood? Yeah, lovely place to be.

Anyway, I’m painting this picture for you, not for dramatic effect (well maybe a little), but to give you an idea of the kind of situation that we’d found ourselves in when we arrived in London in 2008, just after the banks collapsed. Prior to this we were living in a lovely old Italian share house in sunny North Perth. 24 Redfern Street, that place was our headquarters. We’d write and rehearse in the kitchen, and we had a revolving door of artists and filmmakers living with us that inevitably got roped into working with us in some capacity. We had a lot of creative momentum for this reason, but arriving in London, we were really starting all over again and all we had was the four of us.

Our previous album had been a bit of a gruelling one to write, despite our relatively pleasant living standards in Perth. I think we were seeking danger and we found it on that record. It was an intense and draining batch of songs to write and perform. Absence was almost an antithesis to that though. It was about seeking solace in a place where we felt dislocated and uneasy.

London’s charms wore off pretty quickly for some of us. We were touring a little around Europe during those years and small pockets of people were beginning to take notice but ultimately we were at the bottom of the scrap heap again, clawing our way up. The winters were particularly long in London during those years, to the point where I’d just hibernate and work on the songs for the album.

The album itself was written as some kind of escape from all of that. It was exciting but also so dismal being there in London. The album is written like a love letter to the place we’d come from, in the form of a faded kind of soundscape. This sentiment is wrapped up in a story of two lovers. One passes over to the other-side and invites the other to meet them for one last rendezvous before they say goodbye for good. It’s a concept album in that sense and that’s the concept in a nutshell. A little grandiloquent perhaps, but a nice little love-story-allegory that stuck. Thematically, that is where the album was coming from. Musically, we had to match that in-between feeling.

I’d been collecting postcards and taking photographs during my travels around Europe, mainly trying to capture that strange dislocated feeling that I wanted to communicate. When I began going through all these images I realized that they all appeared to be missing something. There was an absence of a focal point or the removal of a figure. I plastered my bedroom wall with all of these images and began staring into them while writing the music for the album… just kind of droning in a semi-trance like state until I found the right chords, harmonies, melodies and movements. The songs all really unravelled from those images in my bedroom.

Once I had those parameters to work within, the songs began to appear thick and fast. We’d rehearse them in one of the bedrooms in the flat, much to the chagrin of our neighbours and the café owners downstairs. There was a very natural flow to the growth and structuring of the songs. We didn’t battle with ourselves in the process, like we had done in the past. I think we were all seeking the same kind of solace so the pieces seemed to make sense. We didn’t want to create a cacophonous sound, we wanted to create some kind of peace.

We began recording the album with Aaron Cupples (The Drones, Dan Kelly, Civil Civic) who was also living over there at the time. He offered a lot of textural ideas that helped form some of the more ambient moments on the record (playing with tape delays and loops etc.) We recorded it in a bunch of different locations around London. The first was a little studio in Hackney, (I forget the name of it, it’s in the liner notes I’m sure), then a railway arch in Kings Cross, then Aaron’s flat in Dalston. It’s all a bit of a blurry memory because life has taken so many twists and turns since then. The process dragged on for a couple of years, hence the album only being released in 2011. I think this was mainly due to lack of finances than anything else.

We were approaching the final stages of recording or mixing the album (it may have even been completed by that stage, I don’t remember), when Ross came to me and said that he and Olga were moving to the north of Iceland and leaving the band. They wanted to start a family and were both exhausted with London life and touring. I felt an enormous sense of relief. I think all of us did really.

So Absence became this love-letter and suicide note all in one. How dramatic! Curiously, it all made sense in hindsight, and I think we were all subconsciously aware that it was coming to an end without ever really speaking of it.

Our final show was at the appropriately titled End of The Road Festival in the UK.

Snowman’s final album, Absence, will be given its first vinyl release through Trait Records at the end of September.