By Arne Sjostedt
Local folk-rock band Northbourne Flats say that they are just a bunch of best friends from Canberra trying to navigate the tricky world of love, death, and moving out of your parents place before the age of 25. If their latest single Paralysed is anything to judge them by, they are also too humble to tell you that in contrast to the reputed squalor of the legendary apartment blocks, these dudes have some tidy musical craft.
Ahead of their show at Wild Thyme this Sunday at 6pm, the boys recently turned up to chat with Rock City Jester, where we drilled them on their history and got stuck into the spooky meaning behind their latest single. Spoiler alert, it's about a witch that appears at the end of your bed!
Who’s in the band?
Kahlil plays acoustic guitar and lead vocals, there is Jamie on lap-steel and electric guitar, Jon on bass and Ollie plays drums.
How long have you known each other?
Kahlil: I was thinking about it today. Jamie and I met each other ten years ago.
Jamie: We were all in different groups back in high school. But we all knew each other. We were all friends, in the same sort of crowd at school.
Kahlil: We were actually in rival bands. Eventually a peace accord was struck, and that’s how this band was formed. And it’s been running smoothly ever since.
How did you come up with your name?
Kahlil: It was a friend of ours actually. He used to live in the flats and we used to jam with him occasionally. He didn’t really want to be tied down to a band but he had a really good band name, which was Northbourne Flats. And he said we could use it. And it just sort of stuck. People liked it.
When did the band form?
Jamie: We basically were playing in rival bands, playing at battle of the bands against each other and stuff like that, and eventually one of my friends who was playing drums at the time…
Kahlil: That friend is now the drummer of Yours Truely. And he’s our band mentor. He started this band and left for bigger things and he he still coaches us sometimes.
Jamie: We just wanted to put together another band and we were playing instrumental music before and we thought we wanted a singer, and Kahlil was a singer. It all happened very quickly and when we were quite young. And we were lucky that we’ve all stayed interested and stuck to it.
How long have you been together for?
Jamie: Five years
Use three words to describe your sound.
Kahlil: Acoustic but thicc.
Do you write songs together or individually?
Kahlil: We do a bit of a mix. Typically someone will bring an idea to the band. They might have some lyrics and some chords and the band always writes their own parts and we all make it gel together. That process sometimes takes a year, sometimes six months of fine tuning the music. And then we’ll also, and this is something that we’ve probably done over the last two years more so, we’ll go over each other’s lyrics and try and make them resonate with all of us and try and make them less stream of consciousness and less esoteric. Make them something that we can all own and something that we can all relate to in a way.
That’s very democratic. I’d be uptight about letting people touch up my lyrics…
Kahlil: It did take a few years. When I first started it was very much any change to the words is a change to it’s artistic integrity or whatever, but I think having done the process a few times it yields for us a better result and I think there is a benefit you get from more heads, working toward the same aim.
Jamie: And the raw emotional crux of each song, or the core story line or the feeling that comes at the beginning is always brought by one particular person. And it will be fleshed out by that person and it’s only really that final layer of skin at the stop that makes things flow and makes it applicable to an audience. It makes the songs more poignant to us and each member of the band as well I think because we all feel a little bit more a part of it. And I guess there has to be a little bit of give and take of people's feelings and how special songs are and things like that, but so far we’ve managed to navigate those things quite well and were all having quite a good time.
What are most of your songs about?
Kahlil: We have, I think, quite a broad range of topics. We try not to make every song about love. I think a lot of modern bands are doing that as well. Trying to write about new and interesting experiences. Obviously love is something that pretty much everyone can relate to and it’s a big part of all our lives. And we do have things to say about that and we do have songs about that. But we like finding other stories and stories that maybe are about love but from a different perspective, one that we haven’t heard.
Your new single Paralysed featuring Ruby Delgado definitely does that. A story about a witch that visits you at the end of your bed. How did that come about?
Kahlil: It the was originally inspired by an episode of sleep paralysis, and that episode triggered a lot of research at my end, and really delving into a lot of information on line and a few books about sleep paralysis and its history and how its effected millions of people all across the world. And throughout time you can see various explanations for it in different cultures and mythology, with demons that sit on your chest when you wake up. In Scandinavian and Germanic culture there’s witches, and fairies in Ireland and stuff like that. And that really interested me.
And making it a witch was true to my own experience but at the same time it has a really broad archetypal significance that resonates with a lot of people. It’s an image that a lot of people get when they have sleep paralysis. And it’s a way of drawing on those familiar stories that people have to explain the experience. And I think that’s why I chose the witch specifically.
Do you work with a producer:
Jamie: This most recent one we worked with Guyy Lilleyman from Amberly studios. He’s here in Canberra, and he’s amazing. He’s a musician in his own right. Knows all about acoustic guitars, and really understood our vision, so that was a really good experience.
And we’ve worked with other people before. We’ve worked with Citizen Kay, and Matt Barnes at the ANU Studios. So we’ve worked around with a few people so far, and we’ll probably keep doing that in the future I think.
It’s really good getting another set of ears and another couple of heads in to go through that process.
I know with Paralysed, the song definitely wasn’t quite as eerie as it currently is when we took it in. Guyy had a few ideas of bringing in some really spooky lap-steel textures in to really evoke the image of the witch and the scariness of such a nightmare. And I think that sonic representation is a really great addition that came from working with him. So I think that there is value to be had with working with people.
Where do you see the band in five years?
Jon: When Brad our ex-drummer now band coach started coaching us, he got us thinking about vision and what we should be doing and thinking. About our long term goals as a band and I think we said we have a three year goal. Which is a couple of singles this year, which we’ve done, if possible we’d love to do tour of Australia next year and potentially get a festival set in either that year or the next year.
Kahlil: Basically just doing what we’re doing but more often and hopefully better on our part.
Jamie: We did have intentions to start playing in Sydney and Melbourne and stuff this year but obviously things got a little bit shaken up, so we’ve kind of redirected. Our focus to making friends on social media and I guess also practicing our instruments.