Fittingly, following the release of their Old Maps/New Roads EP, The Good China got lost. The eight-strong indie-collective spread out, taking time to recharge, with almost half the band travelling abroad. Now they're back in the one place with a brand new EP, ready to charm Melbourne all over again. Mietta Sanciolo took some time out before the launch of We Knew That We Had To Leave to have a chat with The AU Review.
You put out No More Maps, No More Roads about a year ago, following a bit of a breather. It feels like only now, with the launch of your new EP, The Good China is close to rebooting to its best. Is it a new era for the band?
I wouldn’t say it’s a new era – I would say it’s the next logical step after years of preparation and hard work. We’ve been lucky to have some fantastic opportunities come our way this year that have been really beneficial in getting us to the next level and have supported the release of our new EP. If you told me five years ago before the band started that we’d be the soundtrack to a national TV and radio commercial ad campaign, invited to perform at Frankie Magazine’s 50th issue party, be played on Triple J and have two EPs under our belt in 2012, I probably would have smiled and nodded and made an excuse to leave the awkward conversation mostly out of sheer disbelief.
Following a slight hiatus, you had to regroup. What did that process entail?
On our hiatus, many of us ventured to Europe and Japan. We had been gigging incredibly hard for the past two years and I think we were all pretty burnt out. This gave us the opportunity to write some new songs, refresh and improve our band plan and welcome our Josh Hook (bassist) into the band.
You’re meant to be older and wiser. Is there any truth to that cliche?
Definitely! Your priorities shape and change so much over such little time depending on your circumstances. All party animals have to retreat to a good movie on the couch sooner or later, right? The ‘wiser’ part, however, doesn’t happen seem to happen so naturally. I think it highly depends on what experiences you put yourself through and how you learn to cope with them.
One of the finest things you’ve accomplished as a group is playing the St.Kilda Festival Main Stage. You weren't able to capitalise on your momentum, though. How important is urgency, in terms of making it as a local band in Melbourne?
Timing is everything in this industry and you quickly learn that playing around Melbourne. If there’s a positive opportunity to catch someone else’s attention, even for a fleeting moment, it should be pursued. A good example of this is earlier this year when we were approached to have our song No More Maps, No More Roads feature on TVC’s for Opel. We all put our heads together to work out how we could make the most out of such great exposure. Press releases were composed and social media was given extra attention to ensure that we were in a good position to attract new fans and opportunities.
From the outside looking in, it seems more than ever that it’s Triple J or bust if you want to make it big. Things are tough for as long as they withhold their golden tick of approval. What’s your take on the current industry climate, as an indie group?
There is immense pressure on bands to be the next Triple J sensation. It’s an incredibly important national station that is the apparent height of success in Australian music. I do think however, that bands place too much faith in the notion of, “If we get a spin, we’re in!”. With online and digital radio becoming increasingly popular on top of Spotify’s significant rise across the world, I think there should be more focus on developing your band’s presence through these avenues rather than making your friends and family text in at every available opportunity to play your band. If you build a high enough profile for yourselves, you’ll have a better chance at getting noticed by Triple J if that’s your goal. It’s a good goal to have, but it’s not the be all and end all if it doesn’t happen.
What do you feel is the band’s biggest obstacle, in terms of what you would like to accomplish?
I think one major thing we struggle with is creative control. As there are so many of us, with a plethora of skills and talents, we are quite the independent band. We produce our music, we manage ourselves, we design our own artwork and make our own film clips. Although there are many upsides to being able to do this, it means that we struggle a little to let go of creative control. It’s definitely something we’re trying to work on!
Eight members is more members than your average band, obviously. I’m not going to ask how you all fit on stage, rather how you actually co-exist. Eight artists, eight egos - it seems like a combustible situation. What do you think it takes to make things work?
Our best attribute in this regard is that we’re all pretty good at backing off when a situation is getting heated. We’re all pretty non confrontational by we all manage to coexist in a peaceful and respectful manner. We’re all friends outside of the band so chances are if you’re having a bad day, we’re all having a bad day with you.
To what extent is The Good China a democracy?
It’s a democracy to the extent that any decisions that have to be made are discussed with the whole band with both pros and cons taken into consideration. Of course, having eight people means sometimes not everyone gets their way, but we certainly make an effort to ensure majority succeeds.
How would you best describe your experience of the band: is it a pastime, a business, a family or perhaps something else entirely?
It’s all of the above – it’s a second full time job and my family. We are all incredibly close friends that hang out outside of “work” hours. I’m still amazed that eight complete strangers can have such social chemistry and still be great friends after four years.
You’re heading interstate again in November to play a couple of shows. What are your thoughts ahead of the tour?
I am incredibly excited to head to Byron Bay – I’ve always wanted to visit and have never had the opportunity. I was introduced to Brisbane earlier this year through attending the Bigsound Conference and really looking forward to revisiting. I love touring. I love the nervous excitement of boarding that plane or jumping in that Tarago and heading towards a bunch of little surprises at the other end.
Citing the likes of All Nothing, We Found 3 Whistles, We Knew That We Had To Leave and You Looked Better A Brunette... there’s a sense that nostalgia plays a big role in The Good China. Is it something you’ve noticed and, as you’re still quite young, where do you think it all comes from?
Coincidentally all of those songs were written by Nick. I think he is quite a nostalgic and reflective person and somehow manages to craft some fantastic songs out of stories and memories from his past.
In spite of its chipper indie-pop finish, a certain cynicism and disenchantment defines your new single, We Knew That We Had To Leave. You take aim not at the Rochester, necessarily, but its clientele. The impression is that, as soon as the venue became cool, it stopped being cool. What’s your take on it?
It’s not a target at anything really, it’s really about that moment it clicks in your head that you’ve outgrown your surroundings. Whether you’ve grown or your surroundings have become a toxic environment, it’s a snapshot of those moments in life where change is on the horizon but the nostalgia is still lingering.
The song makes mention of patrons migrating from the south of Melbourne. I’ve found that many people remark upon a cultural disparity between the northern and southern suburbs. Do you feel there’s any truth to that assessment?
Considering that half the band live “south of the river”, I wouldn’t say that the lyrics are a remark about the cultural difference on either side of the Yarra. It’s more of an analogy of unfamiliar strangers converging on comfortable and normally insular territory.
As the song title suggests, you had to jettison from the venue and its ‘scene’. Where do you feel at home in and around Melbourne these days?
The older I grow and the warmer it gets, the more my love grows for the humble beer garden. The Great Britain in Richmond has probably my favourite beer garden filled with vines, fairy lights and possums! I am also partial to rooftop bars in the CBD.
Being that there’s eight members, is there a HQ for the band?
There used to be! When Ryan, Q and Adam China were living together, a developed crèche-turned-apartment-block quickly became “China Creche”. This became the HQ for band meetings and gatherings as show in the film clip for All Nothing.
I understand the recording of the album took place over a number of months, jumping around from house to house. What were the driving thoughts behind this strategy?
It wasn’t a decided strategy – it’s just what was happening at the time. As we were producing the EP ourselves with Nick McMillan at the helm of the recording ship, we condensed all of our recording sessions into weekends we had available. We tried to record at his place for the obvious convenience of his studio set up, which meant we followed him throughout his moving ventures from Richmond to Burnley to Kensington and finally South Yarra. For the times where there were housemates around and construction work nearby, we recorded at my house in Malvern.
My favourite memory of the recording process was when we were hurriedly filming the video clip for We Knew That We Had To Leave at Jag and Nick’s house and we coordinated the outdoor shots to coincide with Quyen and Nicko recording the last few violin overdubs for Marcio. I remember hovering at the front door, holding my breath and trying not to make any sound whilst waiting to enter the house between takes. Meanwhile in the house, Q is recording the most heart wrenching and beautiful double stops on violin whilst standing in an absolute pigsty of craft and camera equipment.
Would you approach a project in the same way in future?
I think whilst we’re all working full time and completing projects ourselves, this will be our standard process for completion because it seems to be the best method for us.
You launch the EP at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge this Saturday night. What can we expect from this new bunch of tunes?
I think you’ll hear more depth than our previous EP, Old Maps/New Roads. The last track of the EP in particular is an intimate ode to a stranger at Jag’s work that passed away in unfortunate circumstances. I think there’s more spark behind this recording too, something I know Nick was keen to ensure would come through in the production.
Your music seems to have become more intricate and articulate over time. The newer material you showcase live, some of which is on the EP, is more frenzied and involved than ever. It’s pop music dressed to the nines. Is that something that’s manifested intuitively or an evolution you intended upon, as a band?
I think it’s definitely an intuitive manifestation. It’s kind of like driving a car, the more you drive it and get to know it, the better you are at pushing the boundaries; how soon to brake, what the smallest space you can fit in is, etc. Playing and performing with other musicians is just like that – once you because accustomed and well used to the other’s style, you’re able to try new things and have an idea of what fits where. This eventually translates to more exciting music with more room to try new things.
What’s the latest on a debut album?
If all goes well, we’re hoping to have a debut album out next year.
What’s keeping you busy until the end of 2012?
Aside from being overly excited to go to Harvest, Radiohead and Meredith in the next two months, we’ll be busy debuting ourselves in Byron Bay November 23 and Brisbane November 24th. Oh and Jag, Nick and I are heading to Japan for Christmas and New Years!
The Good China will embark upon their 'We Knew That We Had To Leave' tour this October/November, playing the following dates:
Sat 27 October - Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne VIC
Fri 23 November - Beach Hotel, Byron Bay NSW
Sat 24 November - Tempo Bar, Brisbane QLD