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Middle Kids on being control freaks and why DIY is the way to go

Middle Kids

Sydney’s Middle Kids are about as charming as you can get. Not in the least because of their name, they very much feel like a tight-knight family, with their idiosyncratic quirks and bonds. And it would seem very to strange to interview them individually, or even just to the two them. They’re a team. A package.

That’s not the case when we sit down to have a chat with them on a Friday afternoon at Young Henrys in Sydney. Hannah, Tim and Harry have been tearing around the city on a media run – the standard madness that befalls a band a fortnight out from the release of their debut album.

2017 was a mental year for Middle Kids following Edge of Towntheir breakout first single – and their debut EP. Showcases at SXSW and The Great Escape, multiple UK and Europe tour runs, American TV appearances and support slots with The War on Drugs and Paul Kelly (amongst many others) are just a few of the signposts that the band have surpassed the initial hype and well and truly come into their own.

Now that Middle Kids are a “real band” (as they say), we spoke with them about their new album, Lost Friends, being control freaks and opting to do everything themselves, and the possibility of going full post-rock for album number two.

Middle Kids

Photos: Dani Hansen

We chat to Middle Kids about being a “real band”, needing to retain control, and why, when something’s not working, you’ve got to do it yourself.

HAPPY: This last year has been hectic for you guys. Like proper mental. How’s everyone feeling?

HANNAH: Yeah, we’ve definitely done a few laps around the world. We’re feeling good, it’s all been really fun. We just got back from London last week then we’re heading to America on Sunday. It’s been wild playing so many shows, way more than ever before.

HAPPY: I know you all know each other from way back – had you travelled together before or was that a totally new experience for everyone?

TIM: We’d hadn’t all gone away together, I mean Hannah and I have done some travelling, but not the three of us-

HARRY: We’re not that kind of friends.

TIM: We’re not that kind of friends.

HAPPY: I guess touring is a completely different kind of travel…

HANNAH: Yeah totally. It’s so funny because at first when you start touring, you feel like you’re going on holiday, but then it takes about two seconds to realised you’re not. But I mean it’s still awesome, we’ve got to see all these amazing places, but it’s been pretty full-on.

HAPPY: You’ve done the States, you’ve done Europe, where have you dug the most?

TIM: I think wherever we spend the most time, we end up liking it more. We’ve probably spent the most time in the States – we’ve actually done more touring in the States than we have in Australia. So we love it over there. But we’ve just been spending a bit more time in England, and we loved it there too. It kind of feels like wherever we are, that’s our favourite place. And going around Australia is awesome, so we can’t wait to tour it properly in May, it’s going to be wonderful.

HAPPY: It seems like travelling around Australia is a thing that most Australians forget to do.

HARRY: Yeah man, we’ve seen a lot more of America than we have of Australia.

TIM: The biggest tour in Australia that we’ve done was probably with Paul Kelly, where we hit most of the capital cities. But that’s pretty much it. We’ve never done a headline show in Western or South Australia, so we’re psyched to go there.

HARRY: We’ve alienated our fan base for long enough. It’s time to bring them back.

HANNAH: We’re coming!

Middle Kids

HAPPY: I’ve had a lot of different feedback from bands about playing festivals like SXSW and The Great Escape. How did you find those experiences?

HANNAH: We really loved them. They’re pretty wild – we played a lot of shows in a very short amount of time, and it’s a sensory overload. There’s so much going on. But I think, particularly the time we did it, it was a very formative time for the band, there was a lot of movement happening, so it was a great time to be playing those festivals because the shows were super vibey.

TIM: And they felt kind of meaningful because our manager would be like “ok, so the booker from so and so festival is here.” And then we’d get booked on that festival just from playing that show.

HAPPY: It’s like a tangible reward for being good.

TIM: Exactly.

HANNAH: When we got booked to play with The War on Drugs, their production manager was like “I got you on board because I saw you play at SXSW.” So I think those kinds of festivals are so great for young Australian artists because it does help you create a name for yourself when otherwise it can be so hard to be seen. We probably don’t even know the extent to what it’s actually helped us.

TIM: But it did cost us a lot of money. I could understand why bands might feel short-changed going to SXSW, if it didn’t pay off. I guess we were very lucky that we had great people around us making stuff happen. That obviously helped. A lot.

HAPPY: How are you feeling about the new record – it hasn’t really been gestating that long compared to some releases that take years to come out. When was your EP released, 12 months ago?

HANNAH: Yeah it was only April last year. We finished recording the new album in September, so we’ve been sitting on it for a few months now. I think mainly from the perspective of live shows, it’s so great playing tracks from that EP – there’s a good energy. So we’re excited for more of that to come from the album being out. And I suppose there’s some nervousness there too… we like it, so that’s nice.

HAPPY: Have you had these songs for a while, or is it stuff that you’ve pulled together while touring?

TIM: It’s definitely new stuff. There’s two songs from the EP on there. And the rest are brand new songs that we wrote on tour. Hannah had a really good burst of songs when we really needed them.

HANNAH: Writing off the back of the EP was a great position to be writing from. When we made the EP we were surprised and delighted by how much we liked it. We wrote Edge of Town and we were like “ok let’s be a band, let’s do this” and then we put together this EP and were still discovering ourselves and there was this really great flow that came from that. Then when it came to making the album, there was a clear path forward.

HAPPY: Do you mean sonically?

HANNAH: Exactly. We kind of knew exactly what we wanted to do.

HAPPY: Are you still happy with the EP, looking back having done the whole full-length album process?

HARRY: That question excites me because I feel like nobody ever asks about past releases. I love the EP, it’s great. But going into releasing an album, I don’t know how I feel about it yet. Maybe that’s just how you feel about your releases before they’ve gone down the track.

TIM: I like how the EP is more lo-fi. I think that Peter Katis mixing the new album made it sound a lot more polished, which definitely worked for it. I really when things get as lo-fi as they can get, but I felt like in some ways that wasn’t the right thing for the album. So, sometimes I miss that lo-fi-ness of the EP.

HARRY: Some of that vibe was kind of retained.

TIM: Yeah it was a good balance. We actually recorded the album in a very DIY way. We did a lot of it at home, so Peter Katis’ job was mopping up the mess.

Middle Kids

HAPPY: I feel like the album is more sonically diverse. Did you spend much time messing around with sounds, or did you just get in there and punch it out?

HANNAH: Well at the outset we actually tried to record it in a studio because we were like [mockingly] “let’s be a serious band, we’re a real band now.” But we actually couldn’t really get in a good place with it. So we just ended up going back home. We did spend time exploring sounds, but in a way it came together kind of quickly.

HAPPY: Paint me a picture of your home studio.

HANNAH: It’s in our basement. It’s got a low roof.

TIM: It’s bad for drums.

HAPPY: So you tracked most of the record there?

TIM: More than half.

HAPPY: I totally didn’t get that vibe listening to it. It’s definitely got this ‘big-studio’ kind of vibe.

HARRY: That’s just a plug-in. The ‘big studio’ plug-in.

TIM: We recorded drums out in an Airbnb. We took our mate Phan who works out of Parliament Studios in Sydney. He’s a wizard so he helped out a lot there. Then we recorded vocals over two days at Parliament. And the rest was in our house.

HAPPY: I love that, because everyone is going to assume you went through the whole ‘first album, big studio, big producer’ thing. Instead you just did it the way you wanted to do it.

HARRY: We tried to do the big studio thing.

TIM: But we just couldn’t be “that band”.

HAPPY: What exactly was the roadblock with working in a proper studio?

TIM: It just didn’t sound right. Everyone just said there was something about those recordings that just wasn’t right.

HANNAH: And we really tried. I swear.

TIM: We really tried to relinquish control.

HANNAH: And then we snatched it back.

HAPPY: Are you all control freaks?

HANNAH: Yes.

TIM: Yes.

HARRY: A solid yes from me.

HANNAH: It’s hard to picture that we’ll ever feel good in a studio. There’s something so nice about recording at home. Number one you’re off the clock, and I think Tim particularly loves that in terms of guitar sounds and parts. He likes to go deep.

TIM: I think that in the 90s or whatever, when they had huge studio budgets, that’s the experience bands would have. They could noodle in the studio all they wanted because they had heaps of money to stay there for like, two months. But we don’t have heaps of money, so I’d prefer to do it at home where I can like, have dinner, then go work on an idea, then go watch some TV. There’s less pressure.

HAPPY: So the album was completely self-produced?

HANNAH: Yeah. Which I think is cool because whenever anybody asks who produced it we can just be like, “this guy”.

TIM: Hello.

HARRY: Hannah does a lot of production in the way she starts a song.

TIM: There’s a song called Tell Me Something that was just recordings from a session that she started when I wasn’t even there. And a lot of the songs are like that. Hannah sets the direction of the song in such a profound way that producing it really just involves making that clearer, then Harry and I adding parts around it. I think producing us is a dream job, because Hannah’s songwriting is so strong.

HAPPY: I noticed that you left Edge of Town on the record. Are you still into that song or is it something that you’ve gotten over?

HANNAH: I still love it! I think it represents the beginning of something so special and that we love. And that’s partially why we didn’t want to change it because it came together in this magical way. And playing it live is just still so fun. People sing it back to us and it feels like we’re playing a different song each time.

TIM: It’s also unlikely. That’s why it’s cool. It was so unlikely people would respond to it the way they did. I remember showing it to a mate when we first recorded it and he was like “it needs a chorus.” In that way, it feels like we’re playing it for the first time every time.

Middle Kids

HAPPY: How are you feeling about now having recorded an album… are you concerned about people glossing over songs that are really important to you?

HANNAH: We all wanted to make an album, that was an important thing for us, a long-time dream or whatever. So I feel like it was an important process to do, personally. Some of my favourite songs on the album are definitely not the singles.

TIM: Yeah for sure.

HANNAH: So I guess a lot of my favourite songs people might not even hear.

HARRY: But you know with your favourite records, you find those little gem tracks.

HAPPY: And you end up hating the single.

TIM: That’s so true, and everyone who hears the album, they’ll all have different favourites. So that will feel like we made an album that appeals to different people for different reasons, which is exciting.

HAPPY: I like the last track on the album – I like an epic closer like that.

HANNAH: That’s our most post-rocky song… because I really like post-rock.

HAPPY: I find that a lot of the time the last track on an album is indicative of what the next album is going to sound like.

HARRY: Yeah it’s going to be crotchets the whole way through.

HANNAH: I’d be so into that.

Middle Kids’ new album Lost Friends is out now via EMI. Listen to it here.

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May 4, 2018

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