Grazer began life in a bare-brick basement in Melbourne, crafting propulsive dream-pop singles while recording vocals in an open wardrobe draped in blankets. But the band’s origins extend much further back, starting with bassist Mollie Wilson moving next door to bassist Matthew Spiller at age eight. Tethered by shared tastes in books and music while growing up in the rural New South Wales village of Uki, the pair became best friends and eventually romantic and creative partners.
You can hear that close bond in Grazer’s music, which entwines Wilson and Spiller’s vocals and artistic sensibilities alike. Their self-recorded songs also often arrive accompanied by videos that the pair make themselves. As painters who have also dabbled in photography and poetry, the two work incredibly well together, whether it’s making music, writing lyrics or filming and editing those videos.
“It’s all part of the same end,” Spiller tells NME of that collaborative relationship across mediums. After enlisting friends to help make the Andy Warhol-inspired video for Grazer’s 2020 debut single ‘Fever Dream’, in which Wilson gets her hair cut in real time, the couple have since taught themselves how to do it all on their own. The same is basically true of their music, though NSW-based producer Rob Wolfe has mixed all of their self-produced material so far.
“We’re quite fast people, and we do things quickly,” says Wilson. “I think when we delegate, we get impatient.” Spiller agrees: “What stops a lot of creatives is that they don’t know when to pull the trigger and get it out there.” Wilson adds: “There’s always much more to do. I don’t even know that we do that much.”
“What stops a lot of creatives is that they don’t know when to pull the trigger and get it out there”
Grazer’s activity has certainly felt like a lot, especially when many bands were languishing during lockdown. Though their live performances were curtailed by COVID’s initial wave, Wilson and Spiller simply retreated to that makeshift basement studio and began releasing single after single of gorgeous, gauzy pop. It didn’t really matter that they couldn’t play to in-the-room audiences, because their songs found listeners around the world thanks to streaming: Their chiming 2021 single ‘Nostalgia Seed’ boasts more than 300,000 streams on Spotify alone.
Now with a firm five-person line-up and a strong debut album in ‘Melancholics Anonymous’ – not to mention a spot on the NME 100 2022 – Grazer are finally ready to take their intimately conceived sound on the road. “[Grazer has] always been a band, from the very beginning,” notes Wilson of their full line-up, rounded out by Thomas Lee (guitarist), Thomas McMullin (drummer) and Sam Knight (synth). “But in terms of how it’s been recorded and written, [the two of us have] had creative control. The others are pretty chill with that – they all have their other projects.”
Despite their longstanding connection, Wilson and Spiller didn’t start making music together until they moved to Melbourne, following a brief stint in Sydney and before that a few years in London. When Spiller couldn’t find anyone to play with in Melbourne, Wilson learnt how to play bass and Spiller devoted himself to the DIY art of home recording. Other members began to fill in the gaps by late 2019, but it was only a matter of months before the pandemic pushed the couple back into the basement. That explains the pair’s focus on individual singles – and 2020’s self-titled debut EP – rather than waiting to record a proper album.
“That definitely stems from it being the two of us for so long, just trying to scrape together some singles,” recalls Spiller of the pandemic era. “The only sign of progress in lockdown was getting a few new Spotify listeners and a few new YouTube subscribers.” Wilson adds: “We definitely would have focused on the live stuff first [otherwise]. But it worked out well.”
Well might be an understatement: With their locked-in dream-pop, Grazer make a savvy foray into shoegazey sonic world-building without ever losing their strong forward drive and warm melodic nuances. Signed to Los Angeles/New York label Cascine (also home to Banoffee and Yumi Zouma), the band cite the influence of soft-focus US bands like DIIV, Beach Fossils and Launder while continually circling back to the touchstone of Joy Division’s 1979 classic ‘Unknown Pleasures’. The pair points to that album’s unlikely combination of dark lyrics and resilient bass lines, which Wilson describes as creating “a depth to the music, but then a guiding light out of it”.
Echoes of Joy Division (and New Order) can be heard across Grazer’s own record, especially on the percolating single ‘These Days (Pass Me By)’. The band even start every song by writing the bass part first, contributing to that signature sense of urgency. And while Spiller says that Grazer have become more post-punk in vibe in the live context – foreshadowed in the brooding album track ‘Subverse’ – several other stylistic settings emerge throughout ‘Melancholics Anonymous’. Observe the twinkling synth-pop of ‘Ride and Die’, the Replacements-esque rock catharsis of ‘I Want Control’ and the sleepy, droning closer ‘Isn’t It Strange’, which evokes both Mazzy Star and the quieter side of The Velvet Underground.
“Output has never been our problem”
Those latter two tracks sit at the end of the album, as if to point the way to what Grazer might do next. “They’re definitely hints,” says Wilson. “We’re sort of going in both of those directions: those slower ballads with the ’60s influence, and then the slightly rockier side is definitely coming out in the live set.”
“There are a lot of varying sounds on the album,” Spiller adds. “I like to change my voice a lot and see what I can do: a little croony here, screamy there, breathy here. And Molly does the same. But because everything is recorded on the same equipment – a little bit dodgily – they all still work together.”
While the couple have now graduated to a different apartment – this time perched on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD, overlooking leafy Carlton Gardens – they still have fond memories of their basement tapes. Because their makeshift vocal booth was anchored by some of Wilson’s paintings, one of those eventually fell and broke Spiller’s nose. He remembers it as a purple, swollen mess, but readily admits that he got some surprisingly decent vocal takes while recovering from that injury.
The home recording setup also suits their particular style of working, which includes adding new touches to songs several weeks after the fact. That said, the pair double down on their earlier statement about knowing when to cut things loose. Citing manager Brian Epstein’s famous call for The Beatles to release a single every two months and an album every six months, Spiller prides himself on Grazer’s similar productivity after less than three full years as a band. “We’re just writing all the time,” he says. “We’ve always had so much in the bank.” Wilson laughs, admitting, “Output has never been our problem.”
Just imagine how deep that bank would be if the two had started making music together sooner. As it is, it took Wilson jetting off to London as a teenager and Spiller eventually following her and accepting her invitation to share her single bed in Chelsea, despite still being just friends then. Romance came soon after that, followed by a creative partnership that has yielded a lush, layered debut record in ‘Melancholics Anonymous’.
“I let him in and that’s where it all began,” muses Wilson.