Jack Bourke of City Calm Down (Melbourne) chats ‘In a Restless House’, reinvigorating live shows & more!

City Calm Down have, after a while away and the some recent extremely well-received shows, finally released their debut album to the world. Fans have been getting bits and pieces of In a Restless House in recent months, both with single releases and it’s current position as triple J’s Feature Album this week, but there’s something so complete about finally being able to discuss a record in its entirety and as a music fan, being able to sit down and listen to the whole collection of material. For City Calm Down especially, the buzz around their debut offering has been generating for some time now and as their recent return to live stages has proven, the fans have been ready for some time for these guys to drop what already looks to be one of the Australian albums of 2015.

Vocalist Jack Bourke sounds ready for the ‘album release day’ hurdle to be cleared, as we chat on Wednesday evening. He’s the first to admit to feeling particularly weary that evening but even so, when the conversation turns to In a Restless House, the frontman is open and reflective on the process that has led him and the band to this point.

“There’s always a bit of apprehension in releasing new music,” he admits. “It’s the final step into the unknown with that. Having heard the songs so many times, you do go through phases where you can hear all the minutia and all the things that you would have otherwise fixed if you had more time, but I guess that we had a long time and at the end of the day, you need to just lock things down. You can’t get everything 100% perfect. I think most bands are generally of the view that the first person they’re trying to get it right for is themselves, so I think there’s always that tendency towards being meticulous with things. With a lot of stuff, no one outside of the band would actually notice, not even our label or Malcolm, who produced the album – they’d be in the dark about a lot of things we whinge about! I think that’s just part and parcel about being who we are, I think most bands would be like that, to be honest. It’s not a unique trait.”

The recent live shows have seen City Calm Down tour the country with some of the new material, with multiple shows being smashed in Melbourne, Adelaide selling out and an appearance at BIGSOUND also going down incredibly well with the crowd. To be able to replicate the emphasis on different moods and tones on this album in a live format has been a challenge, though as Bourke mentions, having too much focus on matching the live shows exactly with how the music sounds on record is not too much of a priority.

“It’s always really challenging to completely accurately represent what’s on the record in the live setting.” he says. “We try and pull as much out of that possible; we do try and pull those little things out but at the same time, we’re quite conscious of not getting too bogged down in perfectionism live. We essentially want to be able to play in a way whereby the audience can feel that we’re not sitting there agonising over every single detail.”

“We were lucky with this album.” he continues. “We wrote a lot of it in a live setting, so before we went to start rehearsing, we were quite familiar with playing the material live and because we wrote it in a live setting, the details were already starting to be present in that setting. When it came to the studio, it was more about really drawing those little things out and making them more apparent than they otherwise would be. When we went to start playing the songs live again, we just didn’t want to be too concerned with being meticulous and just wanted it to be enjoyable. When I see bands play, or the bands I’ve most enjoyed seeing live, are the ones who make it feel like there’s only a handful of people in the room and they’re playing just for you. When I’ve seen other bands play, who are amazing musicians and I’d love to be as talented as lot of those guys…I think you can be too fixated on the details.”

Comparing the venues City Calm Down recently showcased their newer music in through October and November, Bourke notes the recent connection the band has been able to cultivate with their audience and in terms of how the In a Restless House material has resounded so far, what these shows have meant to the band.

“I think Adelaide and Brisbane were similar,” he remembers. “They were small, little venues but at each of them, the audience was fantastic. The thing you get with small venues is that you can almost touch them; you can feel the band, it’s not like you’re separated by barricades in watching them. We find those shows extremely enjoyable to play; they’re harder because you’re cramped and in acoustically, it can be difficult as well, but they are incredibly fun to play. It’s always a really good experience.”

“The gig at Rocket Bar [in Adelaide] was a funny gig,” he says. “I remember when I looked at the worksheet it was late, but then something happened with one of the support bands and they got put back about 20 minutes and it just ricocheted down the line and it ended up being half an hour late. I remember walking and being like, ‘Jeeze, this is late!’ I was surprised people were still hanging around! It’s always pleasing when people are willing to hang around, but I definitely wouldn’t want to take people’s energy for granted on that front. Just relating back to band’s I’ve seen, when they run over and it starts dragging, it can turn the whole night into a bit of a miss. It was pleasing that people stuck around, it was an interesting venue to play. It was probably the hardest venue on the tour but at the end of the day, the response from the audience was fantastic and to go and play songs that a lot of them had never heard before was quite affirming. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Before the year is out, City Calm Down will have locked down a run of festival appearances including Falls and Southbound, no doubt an excellent way to get an album tour cycle off and running. For now though, the band finally gets to enjoy any relief and contentment that will come with being able to release the batch of music they’ve been working so solidly on over the past few years. Though they might be at the stage where the songs have been listened to too many times, everything may be sounding the same and they know the arrangements inside and friggin’ out, City Calm Down remain a bit positioned on the edge of taking In a Restless House to some great heights as a live band. Having already proven themselves once again a dynamic group of performers, the band is looking to bolster this great reputation heading forward with the new album.

“Having now done that tour in the lead up,” Bourke says. “We really started to get a sense of how to play the new material live and going forward into those shows, trying to just deliver the best performance we can. Particularly in Sydney and Brisbane, it took us a while to warm into it, but those two shows were probably the best two shows we’ve ever played as a band. I think we’re all starting to feel that we’ve got more to give. It’s exciting, because I feel like there’s always room to improve and as soon as you rest on your laurels, you come undone a bit. I mean, the album hasn’t come out yet, but to reinvigorate the performance continually, whether that’s in adding more performers on stage; we’ve been touring with a two-piece horn section in Melbourne and Sydney, but they’re expensive to move, unfortunately! Bringing them into more of a live set and a few other things we’re looking to do that will make the show better, that’s what we’re excited about.”

In a Restless House by City Calm Down is out now via I OH YOU.

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