In the lead-up to the release of his second album, Larry Heath sat down with Chance Waters at BIGSOUND to discuss the evolution of his songwriting, the possible death of the “superfan”, and the ever-changing form of music.
Let’s talk about the launch of the new imprint of Shock Records. You guys have partnered up with them for the release of your first– of Infinity.
It sort of is the first album. It’s the first album and second album. I like to think of it as “first Chance Waters album”, “second Chance Waters album”.
That’s a good way to put it, because you’re not re-inventing yourself by changing your name.
No, not really, although my sound, I mean obviously you can tell I’m the same guy, my sound has changed a great deal since – to be honest, I would be embarrassed, now, to release anything off Inkstains, any single song on that record including the singles and stuff, I would be very embarrassed to release. The acoustic stuff, not as much. That was much more the direction that I wanted to go in, but I feel like this record is just infinitely stronger than any of that stuff.
No pun intended?
Yes! No. No pun intended.
Congratulations on the success that you’ve had off it already with the new single. How has that felt? It must change your perception of the triple j and that sort of stuff.
Yeah, well I was hitting the wall, cause we’d just been pushing so hard, I mean I’d been doing the independent thing really aggressively for close to six years.
At least. 2003, wasn’t it?
Yeah, but first album 2009, so to be fair… But it takes a long run-up when you’re doing it completely DIY, as well, because you have to learn what to do, especially when you’re young. So I was semi-hitting the wall, and obviously I was going to keep going, but I really needed a break and it was very nice to get it at that time. But we had the right song. I think previously we hadn’t had the right song, I think I only recently learn how to write the right song. It’s not something that happens naturally for everyone.
It’s not so much about making the song that you wanna hear. It’s about making the song that other people wanna hear.
Yeah, and different songs have different purposes, and different songs have different appeals. My mistake was taking my favourite songs on the record and using them as singles, which was something I did, sort of religiously. And your favourite song on the record is usually going to be the most personal to you, and… in a day to day sense, people aren’t looking for that sort of connection with music. Most of the time, when you go home and you put on your headphones and you listen to your favourite artists, that’s not like when you turn on the radio and cruise to work, so it’s good to have a bit of both now. There’s a lot of personal tracks, and some of the singles are personal tracks too, but they’re written in a more consumable way.
Was it just maturing as a songwriter, as someone who was seeing the industry in a more professional manner? Or was it advice that you received? What helped facilitate that?
It definitely wasn’t advice, because we’ve just signed a licensing deal, but to be honest, the entire album was made before we did that. This album is just us. Everything’s just us, right down to the art. So it was more just growing up, and developing, and also listening to music less as a subjective appreciator, and more in a critical fashion. I started to that a lot more, and kind of look into the science of why great songs are great songs, as opposed to just doing it in this hodge-podge kind of “youthful” way – which is something people can really resonate with, and a lot of people will, but it’s not the “grown up” way to do it. I’ve grown up a bit in terms of how I’m doing things now.
I think it’s all easy for anyone to say that that’s not the right path to take. When you’re young, you’re stubborn in the fact that you will take people’s advice on board, but at the end of the day, you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, and you’re gonna learn things the way you wanna learn them, because these sorts of things – you can come to conferences now, you can talk to people, but you can only really learn by doing.
Yep, 100% can only learn by doing.
I’m a strong believer in that as well, so I think it’s been exciting to see you on that journey and finally turn that corner.
When it comes to the album – you mentioned briefly that there’s some personal songs on there and there’s some more consumable songs on there. What do you hope people take away from it when they listen to it?
Well, I think, in terms of what I’m talking about, it’s very reflective of me. I’m a really introspective and existential guy, and there’s a lot of that stuff on there. Even the singles, even “Maybe Tomorrow”, that’s still… there’s some pretty heavy stuff in that as well, even though it’s obviously such a lighthearted song. People often they talk about it as bittersweet, and I think I’ve taken, with the more pop-y songs on the album, it’s still bittersweet. There’s a lot of stuff in there that is a bit more serious in the undertones, so hopefully people will take different things. I hope a lot of people will just take “that’s-a-good-song”, which I know is going to be the connection most people have, is just, they enjoy that song or whatever, but hopefully some people will look deeper into it.
We’re doing sort of a box-set of the album, with all the lyrics, ‘cause the writing side is really important to me, so we’ve done a full lyrics booklet with every word on the album to go as a companion guide for people who are obviously early adopters and care about the music and want all the words as well, and something to hold in their hands, so we’re doing that which is a bit old-fashioned, but I think it’s cool, we’re going to number it and stuff so, you know, hopefully different people can take different things.
That’s wicked. It’s so important – I think for anyone who’s over 20, that tangible aspect is still so important. I remember buying my first cassette, I remember buying my first CD…
I only bought one cassette, and I think it was The Corrs or something, but my first CD was the unsuccessful followup single to “Blue” by Eiffel 65 called “Too Much of Heaven”. That’s my first CD claim to fame.
That’s great! My first cassette – and again, I would have been just that little bit younger, and people would buy me cassettes, but the first one I bought myself was The Presidents of the United States of America, self-titled, so that was the first one. I saved up for that one. My first CD that I actually bought… I can never pinpoint exactly what it was, ‘cause I liked weird shit as a kid. I liked film soundtracks and I liked orchestral stuff…
I remember hearing about this…
And I also liked The Beatles, obviously, we had every album, every release, every anthology, every red, blue–
They’re the best band of all time.
They remain, and always will be, my favourite band. And I don’t think I could ever get into a band like I got into them when I was young. And that changes as you get older too. You stop becoming a “superfan”, you become a bit more of a passing fan. And the kind of scary thing for me, about things like Spotify, is that the idea of the “superfan” outside of this reality world, this reality-tv world, doesn’t really exist anymore. Thoughts?
Yeah, well… It sucks, because… Although, people are autonomous. Even with Spotify, you’re still gonna… Just because you have Spotify, doesn’t mean you can’t listen to a song a thousand times on Spotify, you know? Even if the system lends itself to quick easy consumption, and even though that’s the road most people are going to take with music – which already happens in a huge way anyway – even iTunes, a lot of people have 20 000 pirated songs on their iTunes that they listen to once, maybe–
And now it’s in the cloud!
Yeah, yeah, yeah! So you can’t really blame the system people are using so much as it’s just reflective of what people want, but I think there’s still gonna be, especially with kids… Like if you are desperately insecure and sad, and an artist represents something to you, you’re still gonna latch onto that artist in a million different ways, and they’re still gonna become a huge part of your life, so it’s not necessarily the end of the world in terms of the “superfan”.
It’s different. And I just finished reading Dave Grohl’s biography, and I think every good rock – any good music biography always starts out with the story of those first records, and how they were involved in the cassette trading time, or even pre-cassette for some of them.
And it’s so cool! The best one I’ve heard recently, I think the most interesting music scene in the world right now is in China, because there’s still so much censorship that people are still having to go out of their way to find music, so especially in the more modernised cities like Beijing and Shanghai, there are these underground communities that are as underground as they get, because they can’t really advertise, it’s all word of mouth, and… to discover new music, they would go – this is still recent – they go to the dumps. America ships all their unused CDs to these dump sites in China. So these kids would just go and just dig through and try to find all this stuff. And out of that, they started trading punk-rock. For one reason or another, that was the music that seemed to find its way into their hands, and people were trading these scratched up punk-rock records, and now in Shanghai and Beijing, there’s this underground punk-rock movement because these kids have been trading. And they’re all tight black pants, and they’re doing this whole schtick, and it’s fucking good music as well!
But it does still exist out there, which excites me quite a bit.
Yeah, well I don’t know how long it’ll be until Shanghai gets a truly open Spotify, so they’ve probably got some time to do that stuff. But yeah, I think as long as passion for art exists, you’re gonna get your “superfans”, they’ll just be in different forms. Like, when you think back thousands of years ago, it was patrons. You know, that was your “superfan”. Somebody who would actually, like a wealthy person who would simply support an artist, they’d be like their Centrelink or whatever for an artist. And I think that patron system is slightly coming back with crowdsourcing and that kinda thing. Even angel investors, and that sort of stuff where it’s not directly crowdsourcing. I mean sometimes that’s just family members, like I know I got loaned a few thousand dollars when I really needed it to do things, and that helped me a shitload, because when you’re a young guy trying to make a CD, before there’s any label interest or anything, it’s really difficult. So, there’ll still be “superfans”.
It’s a good point you raise with crowdsourcing, that has changed things immensely, and I think that one thing that people are crying out for, is – and this is evidenced in the results of crowdsourcing – is people want to get involved. They want to feel a part of the process. The Voice is an example of that in it’s own right, because people are buying the CDs, not because of the music, but because it’s a souvenir because they felt like they were part of it, they voted and it’s because of their vote that so-and-so did such-and-such… People love feeling a part of stuff, because in this day and age where you can just download… Everything… And you can have any music you want from any period in time…
Full discographies! And it’s so ironic because you get a full discography from an artist so you’ll never really explore them properly, because there’s just too much music there. To really grow with an artist, you have to get song after song. It has to be, “this is your time with this song”, and this is why the single system sorta works, but at the same time, most people aren’t taking it further. They aren’t going ‘these are the singles’ and then jumping into the album, most people are just, ‘these are the singles’. And you see that in the sales, it’s like 20 000 singles, 1 000 albums. That’s a bad ratio.
Exactly. Especially with the amount of songs on each. And, as evidenced at a festival. They sing along to two songs, unless you’re Foster the People, where the actual album is broken through, or you’re Mumford and Sons, where the album has broken through.
Or you’re from the early 90’s and you’ve got 40 singles. Like when I go see the Hilltop Hoods, every song is a goddamn single, so it doesn’t matter, every person in the crowd knows every word because all their songs were singles that they play. So they can do it.
The Jezebels as well. The last time I saw them, I couldn’t believe it was literally a “Greatest Hits” set. Everyone in the crowd knew every word of every song.
Which is just amazing. Some bands just manage to do it young. I mean, Seth Sentry, who we were talking about earlier. The guys got an EP out, and a record – he’s pretty much got a “Greatest Hits” set, because people have just connected to every single song that the dude has put out, like every one has gone on high rotation on triple j.
He’s the most played artist on triple j in the last year.
Definitely, in the last couple of years, he’d be right up there, like “The Waitress Song” when right to the very top, then “Float Away” has been massive for him, and he had “My Scene” right before it. He can’t put a foot wrong, basically. So you still get those artists who do that. You just have to be very lucky, I think. They have a particular talent and a particular timing.
When are we going to hear the record? When’s the release date?
I’m not meant to say this, but November 2nd, just for the AU review. I have a new single with Bertie Blackman dropping in a week and a half, I think, which… may be in the past if you’re hearing-slash-reading this in the future, and I think it’s a really good song. We’re going to do a crowdsourced video clip, so. That will be cool.
Has that process already started?
Yeah, we’re making the website, we’re getting everything sorted together now. Again, this is an exclusive, nobody knows about this yet. This song is easily the most pop thing I’ve ever done, I think I rap twelve bars on the track title, but it’s one of my favourite songs on the album, and the production is just fantastic, so that’s what’s next. Then I’m gonna go off on tour again, probably twice. Once late this year, October/November, we’re doing it. Probably more November. And then I’m going again early next year. I go overseas in December, which will be fun.
Where are you going?
Just a holiday, to Indonesia. But hopefully next year, we’re gonna try to license the record. We’d like to be one of the first acts that really break out in Europe – I think soundwise, we’re a bit different, so we’d probably be a good fit there, so that’s going to be a big priority for us in the next year… Yeah, so that’s sort of our schedule, everything on the plate.
And I understand with the Bertie Blackman single there’s a certain brass section?
There is, Lime– is it “Cordi-el” or “Cordi-ahl”?
Yeah, yeah, cause I agreed it was “Cordi-ahl”, but then everyone says “Lime Cordi-el” so, I never know. But yeah, Lime Cordiale, I met them through the AU review actually, at the Beatles party, and they were amazing. They’re fantastic, actually, and they’re playing with The Griswolds who I also really like, and they’re also playing with Hey Geronimo, who I also really like. It’s a very small world. I think, at Big Sound, I actually bumped into them, and Hey Geronimo, which was cool, and they’re awesome guys. They’re doing a cameo in the clip, I think, I’ve been trying to kind of… push them into doing it, so.
Good one. Well, congratulations on the record, I can’t wait to hear it.
Thank-you, Larry. I’ll get you it to you early.
We’ll see you on the road soon, I’m sure.
Grab a copy of Infinity when it drops November 2nd!
Interview by Larry Heath