There's nothing worse than being an interviewer on the end of a day full of press. The musician you're scheduled to chat with is usually nearing the end of their tether and is at the point in the day where they're recycling the same answers. You want to keep your questions fresh and interesting, but there's little chance of pulling it off when you come at the end of a long run. When Michael Belsar, vocalist and guitarist of Ballarat's Hunting Grounds, calls through this afternoon, it's immediately clear that he's been talking to journalists for a long time today.
Dodgy reception and probable interview-fatigue aside, Belsar remained cool and on form in chatting with me about the band's highly anticipated debut record In Hindsight and their upcoming August tour, making my job that much easier.
Thanks for today Michael, have you had a busy day with interviews so far?
Yeah, I’ve been doing them since 12pm. But it’s been good; everyone’s been asking different questions, which is nice!
No pressure on me then! In Hindsight finally gets its release next week – I’ve been checking out the Facebook, it’s fair to say the fans are getting more than a bit pumped for the record; how are you lads feeling now you’re this close to it coming out?
Really good; it’s been such a long process, you know, over the last year or so. It was such a relief for me to finish recording it because it took so long to write; we kept postponing it because it wasn’t ready and then finally we just had the songs and it felt right to record. I guess [the release] is going to be relief, but it’s also exciting to see where it takes us.
The album took a while to come together – what was the driving cause behind this? We all know you changed band names before "In Colour" had came out, was there a lot of changes going on within the band during this time?
I think it was basically because we’d figured that we went on tour for year in 2010 and stuff and we hadn’t figured out who we were as a band and who we wanted to be; we sort of got thrown into it. It got to a point, after about four or five or six months of writing the music, that we’d been pigeon-holed and it got to a point where we realised we didn’t want to be that band anymore. Instead of the sounds we’d become pigeon-holed as, we wrote the music we wanted to hear, which was a really important change for us. It sort of was intentional that when the first song came about, it was really different; it all really made sense.
I guess that when it all started for the band, you all were still so young; so the album represents the results of a process of maturing, as people and in terms of the sort of music you wanted to make.
Yeah, absolutely; I guess it was a good time to reflect on what we had released and what bands were releasing that we liked. I’d been trying to find out what kind of lyricist I was and was trying really hard to write thing when all I needed to do was write. It got to a point where I was writing what I felt and what things were about, so I guess in that sense, it’s a really personal album for us and more mature.
The band is such a tight live unit; in terms of writing and recording, do you find that you’re all almost always on the same wavelength in terms of ideas and the sorts of tunes you’re into?
Yeah! I think that when we went into the studio, we had this idea in mind of how we wanted the album to sound and then Woody [Annison], our producer, had his version of the idea. I guess everyone just agreed and it was a really easy process because we all loved the songs and from there it was just a really quick and easy process. There was no arguing, it was just straight up, we knew exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do; we were really open to Woody’s ideas as well. It was a really smooth process and everyone was on the same wavelength. I think that is how the album came to be so cohesive, considering how different the songs are.
What was it like performing the new material live for the first few shows to audiences who were probably better versed and more accustomed to the material from the Howl days? Was there any apprehension?
Not really! We got this really great response and some really good reviews and I guess that was a strange thing for us because the songs were so new and we weren’t quite used to playing some of them live. The response has been really good and I hope that it continues, I guess!
For sure. The national tour is kicking off in August; as far as headlines tours go, it’s a pretty impressive run of dates for Hunting Grounds. Anyone who’s seen your shows will know how chaotic they can be, I would assume that these gigs are going to be no different?
Yeah, I think that’s just the way it happens! I don’t know, it’s not really ever planned, it just happens! Everything gets ridiculous.
I guess there’s always going to be the potential for an extra amount of craziness if it’s your own headline tour…
Yeah, I think it might be! Which is good; I think that’s one thing we’ve always thought of ourselves as, is being a live band. I think playing live is where we shine the most; my idea of being in a band is to play live. Getting to release albums and all of that is a bonus, but playing live is what a band does. It’s always great to do and it’s great to be doing our own headlining tour.
It must be a Ballarat thing, because I reckon some of the craziest times I’ve had at gigs over the past few years have been either at your shows and those of the Yacht Club and Gold Fields lads. There must be something in the water down there…
Yeah, there’s something going on!
Ever thought about doing a triple bill?
I would absolutely love to do that, I think that would be one of the most fucking insane shows ever. That’s been an idea that’s been talked about, but never ever, ever, has it been done. Yeah, that could be interesting! I don’t know why Ballarat bands are the way we are…
The venues the band will be hitting up are going to be some of the smaller club joints – you’re no strangers to the larger capacity spaces, but what is it about these smaller ones that work so well from a band’s perspective?
I think it’s because we started out doing the I Oh You house parties back when I Oh You was originally… Johann [Ponniah] made I Oh You to put out our first EP, that’s how it started. We’ve always been that into those tight and intimate venues. We just did these huge tours with The Living End and stuff like that, and I remember coming back and playing Can’t Say in Melbourne I think, and at one point we just realised that it’s nice to come back and play these shows. I think it’s nice to be one with the audience when you’re playing the show.
Definitely; I mean, most times I’ve seen you down here, something’s always been damaged after those shows, they’re so insane!
Yeah there’s always something broken! Things just fucking get wrecked… It’s all part of it though!
Pretty much! Well thanks for having a chat today, I know a lot of people have been waiting for this album for ages now; I took a listen to it a few nights back and I’m definitely digging it.
Oh thank you.
Best of luck with everything, I’m hoping your time with the press is winding up soon!
Yeah, I’ve only got one more, so that’s good!
Ah great, you’re on the home stretch! Take care and we’ll catch you guys in August!
Alright, thank you very much! See ya.
In Hindsight is released on July 6. Hunting Grounds are heading out on tour through August. For more info, visit www.huntinggrounds.com.au.