As the 2010s drew to a close, Quivers found themselves on the ascent. They’d established a new lineup, and permanently relocated to Melbourne from their native Tasmania. They’d released two acclaimed singles, ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’ and ‘When It Breaks’, which balanced a summery jangle-pop exterior and melancholic inner turmoil. American broadcasters NPR and KEXP co-signed their music, while at home they crossed a rare divide by getting played on both Double and triple j.
Like the band once prophetically sang, however, “When it breaks / It’ll break your heart.” March 2020, as with every other working band across the world, saw Quivers’ plans – from playing South By South West to recording the follow-up to their 2018 debut ‘We’ll Go Riding On The Hearses’ – disintegrate before their very eyes.
“We’re so glad we finally got it over the line,” says Sam Nicholson – Quivers’ lead singer, rhythm guitarist, primary songwriter and founding member – when speaking of the band’s new studio album ‘Golden Doubt’.
“When the major stuff happened and we had to cancel the US tour, we still had the last bits to do on the album. Obviously, that got delayed – what should have taken a few weeks ended up taking nine months. It just completely slowed down. We still had the strings to do, as well as the choir.”
Some might argue that these two musical layers could be classed as luxuries rather than essentials, but Quivers saw these parts of their songs’ arrangements as the fulfilment of their greater sonic landscape they envisioned – and, as recent singles ‘Gutters Of Love’ and ‘Chinese Medicine’ are testament to, it’s hard to imagine ‘Golden Doubt’ without them.
“It’s never about perfection with us – it’s about completion,” reasons Nicholson. “I don’t really think there’s such a thing as perfection. Even if there was, we wouldn’t want it. We found ourselves with the opportunity to add these elements, and we all really wanted to do it. It’s nice to have a few things on every album that are a bit out there and you might never come back to.”
He adds, “Creating the choir, especially, was really fun. Angie McMahon, Merpire, Jo from Big Scary… they’re all in there, and they sound really cool. The whole choir was filled with people we admire and whose voices we love.”
“There’s this motif of water from the first record that comes back around here – also pissing, for some reason”
One surprising element of ‘Golden Doubt’ is its cohesion, as the lion’s share of the album was written without the long-player framework in mind. Indeed, neither ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’ nor ‘When It Breaks’ was intended to be part of any album, let alone ‘Golden Doubt’.
“The initial plan was to record an EP to back a few singles we’d released,” says Nicholson. “That changed when we got into the studio. Once we started, we just kept going. We were compelled to write while we were there – ‘Videostores’ and ‘Laughing Waters’ were both born out of those first sessions.
“In a way, we kind of fell into this album accidentally. It’s this impulse you get when you’re in a really nice studio” – the band recorded at Woodstock Studios and The Aviary, both in Melbourne – “you obviously don’t have much time because you don’t have much money, so you want to make the absolute most of it.”
The piecemeal, low-stakes creation of ‘Golden Doubt’ may have helped alleviate the pressure of following an album as personal as ‘We’ll Go Riding On The Hearses’. The gallows humour of its Daryl Braithwaite-referencing title alludes to the untimely death of Nicholson’s brother, a tragedy explored throughout the album’s lyrics. While ‘Golden Doubt’ doesn’t hold a similarly overriding arc, Nicholson still sees it as somewhat linear in thematic structure.
“A lot of what you write is really based on where you are in your own life,” he says. “It’s another aspect of the album that almost felt on accident, having these themes we’d come back to. There’s this motif of water from the first record that comes back around here – also pissing, for some reason.” Nicholson laughs, continuing: “There’s a lot about togetherness. Friends and friendship seem to come up a lot – this notion of helping one another and getting through stuff with each other. I really hope it sounds like a ‘together’ record.”
Indeed, said togetherness is apparent when one considers the dynamics of the band itself. ‘Golden Doubt’ marks the first album this iteration of Quivers has recorded together, with bassist Bella Quinlan and drummer Holly Thomas joining Nicholson and mainstay lead guitarist Michael Panton. Both new members came with their own prior musical experiences – Quinlan a solo artist, Thomas a drummer for the likes of Fraser A. Gorman and Husky – and have since made their presence felt with both their locked-in rhythmic work and impeccable backing vocals.
“It’s coming up on almost three years now,” says Nicholson of the current lineup, which has gigged in the US and around Australia. “It’s settled into this really nice unit, I feel… Obviously, a lot of our tour plans were put on hold, but we’re going to take the album out on a national tour this year. We’re so keen to get out there and see some faces again.”
It can be difficult to gauge the hopes and aspirations for an album that, for all intents and purposes, wasn’t meant to be an album – not to mention one landing in a world upended by the pandemic (“You feel so lucky when you get to play [live] now,” Nicholson remarks). But it’s a nebulous landscape ‘Golden Doubt’ anticipates – and one it can hopefully be a balm for.
“We wanted this to be an album that makes you feel a little bit better about uncertainty,” Nicholson says. “Part of naming the album ‘Golden Doubt’ was embracing that very thing. There are parts of the album that personally make me feel really good when I hear them back – like the choir singing ‘Loneliness / Don’t go getting used to it.’ Hopefully, it can make someone else feel the same way.”
“We wanted this to be an album that makes you feel a little bit better about uncertainty”
‘Golden Doubt’ is finally out in the world, but Quivers have already begun writing their third album – “It won’t take as long to follow up this time, hopefully,” Nicholson nervously quips – and in October released a whole other studio album they didn’t write. For Seattle-based music-and-food site Turntable Kitchen’s ongoing vinyl series, the band covered R.E.M.’s 1991 breakthrough LP ‘Out Of Time’ in its entirety.
Nicholson and his bandmates were already big fans of the Athens alternative rock veterans, who were a noted key influence on ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’. “We originally considered ‘Automatic For The People’, but I think I knew it too well from listening so much as a kid,” says Nicholson. “Covering ‘Out Of Time’ became this fun little sideways adventure – it was a real challenge. Some songs I knew and loved, some songs I didn’t know as much and some I hated. I don’t know where you stand on ‘Shiny Happy People’, but that’s definitely not a favourite of mine.”
Once again bunkering down in the studio, Quivers tracked the whole thing in four days. Likening it to “playing dress-up”, Nicholson says that the daunting task of covering an entire album by another artist gave him a fuller appreciation of the band, the record and the creative process as a whole. “I think it kind of helped us to finish our own album,” he adds. “In a funny way, it also helped us start to write new material again. I think it gave us a sense that there was so much we could do as a band – it was this great little experiment.”
Nicholson is proud of the end result – even ‘Shiny Happy People’, which they’ve turned into a jam-heavy version – but also confesses he was worried the band themselves might hear it and hate what Quivers had done. “I had [R.E.M. bassist] Mike Mills appear in my dreams twice,” he laughs. “He seems like the nicest one in the band, but maybe he’s also got a mean streak? I don’t know!”
Quivers’ ‘Golden Doubt’ is out now. The band will tour Australia in August and September