This Friday will see Art vs Science release their long-awaited sophomore record, Off the Edge of the Earth and Into Forever, Forever. The time between album releases and the title itself may hint towards some kind of grandiose return from the Sydney trio, but it's an achievement this record even came to be. Creative clashes, a non-unified approach to songwriting and musical direction would hamper the band in the years following 2011's release of their ARIA Award winning debut, The Experiment, almost breaking the group up completely.
Letting go and re-evaluating different aspects of their creative process was a lesson the band underwent and as we'd seen with the Create/Destroy EP released last year, art vs Science had definitely entered a new chapter.
Catching up with Dan Mac before the weekend, he's open about the release of this new Art vs Science material, touting it as a better collection of material than their debut and much more representative of a band working as a closer, more dynamic band of writers and musicians.
"We're very good at letting our ideas come and letting them go as well," he says. "Whereas I think on The Experiment, I'd probably sit down and have a joint, listen to the latest mix or the latest rough and think, 'Oh I've got it, we have to do this.' I'd come in and say to the guys, 'We have to do this,' and they wouldn't have much choice. We'd fight about it. I think this is a better album, but I also don't feel attached to it in the way I felt The Experiment was life and death. Even now, when I listen to The Experiment I think, 'It's so loud!'"
Off the Edge of the Earth... has already doled out some examples of this new chapter the band has entered into, with "In This Together" and new single "Tired of Pretending" demonstrating the same pulsating, party-inciting vibes fans first fell for back in 2008, but there's also a new sense of refinement and sophistication in production and lyrical texture indicated. Where The Experiment wasted no time in getting up in your face with bombastic sound, Off the Edge of the Earth... wants to take the listener on the same trip the band is on.
"There were things that we deliberately left out," Dan Mac explains. "They would've taken the listener on an unexpected direction and not in a great way. I think that with The Experiment, we were just keen to put every song in. We thought, 'Why not put every song on there?' instead of value for money. It can actually be a better experience when there aren't as many songs, because it has a certain arc. I feel like the first half rockets you off into space and then it's a bit more floaty and it leaves you on a big, weird level at the end of it."
"I wish we could stop saying Daft Punk was an influence," the multi-instrumentalist laughs. "It's getting a bit tired and borderline stalker now, but actually listening to that latest album of theirs and others of theirs as well...I saw the value in that they don't reach too far. They've done a certain thing and it's all contained, they're not really going very far out on a limb. Everything is in a nice area and it's all supported by each other."
Back when they were first 'unearthed' in 2009, things took off incredibly quickly for Art vs Science, as it tends to when you're a buzz band thrown on to stages under the wing of triple J around the country. Fast becoming staple favourites on the national festival circuit and selling out multiple shows off the back of popular EP releases through 2009 and 2010, Art vs Science established a high standard to hit by the time The Experiment dropped in 2011. Firmly establishing themselves as a 'Band to Watch', the album displayed Art vs Science as ambitious, brash and brimming with vibrancy and while it won accolades and received a decent response from the fans, the question was always inevitably going to be: Now what?
"It's all things you don't expect when you're a buzz band," Dan Mac agrees. "You just don't know what to aim for after a while. That's why this album, I feel, is so good. We just stopped aiming for anything and it's why it took us so long to write as well. Over those interim years, we actually had enough material to probably do another album but we just couldn't, because it wasn't matching up with what we thought was successful in the past or what we thought should be successful in the future. The answer was staring us in the face the whole time: just stop thinking. Don't try to write another "Parlez Vous Francais?", don't try to write what you think people want to hear, the three of you have a combination of things that people seem to like. That's enough. Just work on it. We finally did!"
Along with writing and jamming with the band, Dan Mac describes the benefits of having had the opportunities to write and explore ideas with other songwriters over the past few years. A shift in approach to composition, compromise and giving ideas the room to breathe and flesh out was an element to the creative process that would become evident with the Off the Edge of the Earth... sessions, ultimately leading to a well-rounded final result.
"We realised that when you write with strangers, you're so polite!" he laughs. "Saying 'no' to an idea, you just don't even do that, but sometimes you do. Each time you do though, it just stalls the process. At MusicHubs in Adelaide, I did one session with Luke Million and Dan Hume and I had some idea and I was like, 'I really want to do this!' I don't know if Dan even really liked it but he was like, 'Okay, sweet! Let's do it,' and we recorded it. Before we'd even realised it, we'd fleshed out my idea and he was like, 'Okay let's start another one now!' and I was like, 'Yeah!' Just saying 'yes' when you're doing stuff, even if you don't think it's that great or if you don't know if it's any good, it gets things rolling. You can always say no later."
Describing the rough patch Art vs Science weathered as they looked to making album number two - or any new release - Dan Mac comments on personal changes he knew he had to make in order for the band to keep it together moving forward.
"From the beginning [of AvS] it's always been a bit of a battle," he says. "I think we eventually just got sick of it. In 2012, 2013, we just got sick of it. We've been through a big growth process in learning how to write again in a constructive way."
"I had to change." he admits. "I got back from Berlin and Hamburg in 2012 and I thought that there was only techno and techno is all there was. This was what the band had to be. I was so convinced of this and again, it was me saying what it had to be. That nearly took the band apart. We'd have jams as we do now and we always have done and I'd get really bummed out because it wasn't a techno song, which is silly. That's what happened. It's taken a while to realise that whatever the band is, it's the three of us. It's not me making some sort of heroic, 'I'm doing this for the good of the band, you must play what I think,' thing. I know other bands have done it in the past and they've ended up breaking up. Just getting out of that mindset and going, 'Whatever Art vs Science is, it's something to do with the three of us'. It's not just me or it's not just me and Jim, or me and Dan. It's some combination. Letting that combination thrive."
'Thriving' is a word that seems to be quite apt for how the band is currently operating at the moment - with a run of summer festival spots announced for Art vs Science over New Year's, as well as a set at WA's Rottofest recently smashed out in their typical AvS style, the next few months are lining up to be incredibly exciting for the band.
"We've got a bunch of summer festivals coming up now and it feels good. It's good to have new stuff. I remember coming back from some extended break and getting it together and playing and before we'd written anything new, it felt awkward for a few months. It felt like I was playing in a covers band, playing Art vs Science covers! It's amazing. Rottofest was a solid set with quite a few new songs and all the biggest old songs. The set started, ramped up, had a little dip for a breath and pushed all the way through until the end. The place was heaving, it was so good. It was awesome."
"I can't wait for Lorne," he says about the band's upcoming appearance on this year's Falls Festival tour. "We're playing at I think 10pm on New Year's Eve in the Ampitheatre at Byron, that should be epic! I'm hoping that the set we did in WA will just stay, we're just going to use that set for New Year's. By the time we play it at Falls, it'll be well rehearsed and slick as. We'll still have an hour after we've finished to get amongst it too! I think I'm just going to have a line of beers on stage. That was fun at Rottofest, actually. I don't want to get too much into the habit, but it was fun drinking on stage because everyone in the crowd is so drunk! They're so encouraging."
Getting together to hash out the new material live has been an experience in itself but as Dan Mac enthusiastically explains, being able to have the new songs going down as well has they have done already, it's an exciting trip all the same.
"I forgot how hard it is." he laughs, noting initial difficulties in getting back into the mode of working things out with the band in rehearsals. "It's funny, for the past month we've been doing press and saying how great we're working as a band. We definitely bring different things to the table and we've gotten really good at doing the little dance that you have to do when you have three quite different viewpoints all in their different stages of life, with girlfriend things and with going out things - there's a definite dance you have to do. We're good at that, but when you come in after a month of not having done the dance and realising you've got to do it again, it's like, 'Oh fuck!' We're good at it now [though]. The album, I think, shows that as well."
It's good to have them back.
Art vs Science plays the following festivals - check them out!
October 24th - Valley Fiesta, Brisbane | www.valleyfiesta.com
December 28th - Falls Festival, Lorne | SOLD OUT
December 29th - Falls Festival, Marion Bay | www.fallsfestival.com
December 31st - Falls Festival, Byron Bay | www.fallsfestival.com
January 8th - Southbound, WA | www.southboundfestival.com.au