Unless you’re King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, announcing a new studio album barely a year after you’ve released one is a rare sight – especially right now, where many understandably find themselves struggling to get even a single new song out. In the case of Melbourne’s Snowy Band, however, some of the initial shock subsides when you discover who’s behind the project.
Liam Halliwell – aka the titular Snowy – was formerly a member of The Ocean Party, the sextet that released some 11 studio albums between 2012 and 2018. They ranged from bright jangle-pop to whimsical indie-folk to breakneck garage-rock – sometimes even on the same record. If anyone knows a thing or two about rapidly developed follow-up albums, it’d surely be Halliwell. But that’s not the full story of Snowy Band’s second album, ‘Alternate Endings’.
“Being in Snowy Band is probably the first time in my life that I’ve gone about writing albums for myself,” he tells NME. “In the past, it’s always been about getting together and hanging out. We’d write together socially, for fun, and that resulted in being prolific. In this case, though, I really wanted to make something cohesive.”
Snowy Band’s debut – the lo-fi, understated and folksy ‘Audio Commentary’ – was released in late March 2020, just as the whole world was shutting up shop for the foreseeable future. But instead of being deterred by lockdown, Halliwell was encouraged to return to work sooner rather than later.
“As soon as the first album was out, I realised I still really liked it,” he says. “I wanted to make something that felt like an indirect response. I guess I’d never really had the freedom to do something like that before. A lot of people said nice things about it, so I just felt like making a sequel to it.”
Exactly 17 months separate ‘Alternate Endings’ and ‘Audio Commentary’. When you juxtapose this with the usual two- to three-year cycle between studio albums, the question inevitably arises: how do you concoct a follow-up without repeating yourself? Especially when Halliwell is the sole songwriter in Snowy Band, when in The Ocean Party he was one of multiple songwriters.
Halliwell notes the difference in musicality between the two albums, emphasising that ‘Alternate Endings’ is more informed by the way Snowy Band sound live than ‘Audio Commentary’ was. “When we recorded the first album, we’d only actually played a couple of shows,” he says. “Since then, we’ve been playing whenever we can.
“I think we’ve developed a bit of a language when we play live – it can feel improvised and in-the-moment when we get to certain parts. This album layers in a looseness that we’ve gotten from being comfortable playing with each other. I wanted to try and get some of that energy across, so there’s a bit more of a playfulness to it.”
This inter-band connectivity is exemplified by the album’s lead single, ‘Living With Myself’. With its all-in chorus and bright guitars accentuating its summery indie-pop leanings, the song shows the band growing out of their enclosed and timid nature into a more expansive bloom – both in musical arrangement and lyrical outlook.
“This new one, I feel, has a healthy dose of cynicism to it”
But ‘Alternate Endings’ also revels in its quieter moments. On opener ‘Don’t Want to See You (Again)’, for instance, Halliwell’s voice quivers in a faint falsetto, with sparse nylon-string acoustic guitar ringing out its sparse notes to accompany it. This toying with space and silence, as Halliwell testifies, was entirely by design. ‘Audio Commentary’ “was some of the quietest music I’d ever recorded,” he says.
“Without it becoming a parody of itself, I wanted to expand on that. It’s extremes between the whispered stuff and the larger-than-life moments. It’s both as small and as big as we’ve ever been.
“Everyone is already such a sensitive player,” Halliwell adds, eager to sing the praises of his bandmates of two years now: guitarist Emma Russack, bassist Nathalie Pavlovic and drummer Dylan Young. “It wouldn’t be physically possible for me to do anything approaching what Dylan does,” says Halliwell.
“He has all these flourishes to his playing, which inform everything that’s built on top. That includes Nathalie, who’s a phenomenal bassist. There’s a feel she brings, always having this interesting input and completely different approach to playing to me.”
And Russack, a fellow singer-songwriter in her own right. complements Halliwell’s songs in the best possible way. This includes creating arrangements for vocal harmonies, which are the glue on key tracks like ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Call It A Day’. It’s for these reasons, Halliwell says, that it has to be Snowy Band, not just ‘Snowy’.
“I’m terrible at harmonising,” he confesses with a laugh. “I can’t come up with good ones to save me. Emma, Nathalie and Dylan are absolute naturals. I would say that’s almost the main thing that is the Snowy Band sound: all four of us singing together. Neither of these albums could possibly be solo records. For me, it’s always going to be very tied to the fact that it’s a band.”
“I think we’ve developed a bit of a language when we play live – it can feel improvised and in-the-moment”
Snowy Band may be coming into their own as a unit on ‘Alternate Endings’, but the music’s mood has also darkened somewhat. “The first album was a little more gentle and reflective, I guess even optimistic at times,” Halliwell reflects. “This new one, I feel, has a healthy dose of cynicism to it. I guess it comes naturally after the last year that we’ve had, but I just wanted to write another honest album. Lyrically, I think it’s got a bit of a rougher edge to it.”
As a case study of sorts, talk turns to second single ‘Call It A Day’, which opens on a curious lyrical motif – “I prayed to God in a parked car” – and goes on to commiserate on a life spent “waiting in the wings”, where Halliwell misses “the small things” and “the little wins”. Calling back to what he describes as “a very distant religious upbringing”, the opening line was something Halliwell had written in his Notes app circa 2017. ‘Call It A Day’, Halliwell confirms, is symptomatic of the cynicism at play on the album.
“There’s irony, definitely,” he says. “There’s religious imagery throughout the rest of the album, too. There’s lots of recurring themes of self-betterment, like on ‘Bitter Pill’. It’s looking at all this self-help, ‘get fit in 30 days’ sort of rhetoric, juxtaposed with more religious imagery. If anything, I’m making fun of myself the whole time.”
Halliwell made a lot of discoveries about Snowy Band while making ‘Alternate Endings’: how to craft more dynamics as a producer, grow as a solo songwriter and play to his band’s strengths. Some of his greater realisations about the album’s bigger picture, however, came after he showed the album to a friend.
“They said it was an album about blind faith,” he says. “There’s a lot of lyrics also about settling into a long-term relationship and stuff like that. Putting your trust completely in something or someone. It’s a commitment album, and religious imagery works hand-in-hand with that sometimes. It’s a bit of a mess, sure, but it’s a pattern.”
Snowy Band’s ‘Alternate Endings’ is out now on Spunk Records