It seemed inevitable that Danny Harley and Elle Graham would cross paths. At the respective helms of The Kite String Tangle and Woodes, both artists contributed to a scene of emotive Australian electronica, growing throughout the 2010s, that largely pursued depth over drops – RÜFÜS DU SOL, SAFIA, Crooked Colours and Lastlings among their peers.
What wasn’t a given, however, was the two uniting to create something new entirely. But in April 2021, Harley and Graham unveiled their new project Tornado Club; their debut EP arrived last Friday.
Why a new band entirely, not simply “The Kite String Tangle featuring Woodes” or vice versa? “Having a separate project with a separate title really gives you license to explore different sounds,” says Harley. “It’s a reprieve from what people might expect from you normally. A lot of that could just be in our own heads in terms of what people would anticipate from us, but even institutionally it’s a chance to refrain from that.”
Graham agrees. “A lot of my favourite acts have these established side-projects – Radiohead, Sigur Rós, RY-X,” she says. “They’re a chance to really get inspired and build something that’s really fresh – not necessarily to the ears, but certainly to the head. It’s really exciting to not just create within a singular bubble – you come to realise the potential of creating in all these different spheres.”
In fact, a side-project of the aforementioned Sigur Rós was partly how Tornado Club got their name: “There’s a song on Jónsi’s solo album called ‘Tornado’ that we both love,” Graham explains, “so we wanted to use that from the start. ‘Club’’, I think, just sounds really cute! It makes it feel like a collective. We liked the contrast – the name feels like creating something beautiful out of something that’s quite dire.” NME can’t help but point out that with this new project, Harley and Graham have joined Australian music’s ‘Club’ club – Polish Club, Press Club, Cry Club, Paradise Club and The Gin Club, to name a few. “That’s true!” laughs Graham. “It’s nice to be included,” adds Harley with a smile.
Fans of each other’s music, it wasn’t long before Harley and Graham got to work on ‘Reset’, their debut EP as Tornado Club. The six-track effort meets in the middle between Harley’s textured production aesthetic and Graham’s musical persona, and as such plays to both of their strengths. It offers a strong emphasis on introspective songwriting, as well as detours through both the darker and brighter corners of the electronica spectrum. One of the unique points of the EP is the dual vocal approach, with Harley and Graham mostly singing the lead simultaneously.
“We didn’t want to do harmonies too often, if at all,” Harley explains. “I don’t know… I guess harmonies can feel a little too sweet? We both really liked the idea of singing in unison – it felt really good to us. It’s that element at play where if two people sat down and sang a song together, this is what it would sound like. It feels really honest – like, ‘this is the song, these are the words, this is the melody.’” Due to their interstate distance – Harley in Brisbane, Graham in regional Victoria – they recorded the last set of vocals for the EP separately, which Graham likened to “taking apart a vehicle to learn how to put it together”.
“It was a fun little lockdown activity, at least,” she laughs. “If Danny started the vocal, then he’d send it through and I would have to match it – figuratively down to breathing at the same time as him. If he had any unique little run or melody in there, I’d have to learn how to replicate it. There was a real challenge in creating this perfect, locked-in thing.”
After months of working under cover of darkness, Harley revealed Tornado Club on a grand stage – quite figuratively. The Kite String Tangle supported The Avalanches at Brisbane’s open-air Riverstage in late April, and brought Graham out halfway through to perform the duo’s debut single, ‘Something Was Missing’. No pressure for the first Tornado Club performance ever, then? “Not at all,” laughs Harley.
“It was the first time – and only time to this day – we’d ever performed as Tornado Club in front of anyone. I was way more nervous about that than any other part of the set, but as soon as I got the gig I knew that was our opportunity.” Graham recalls similar nerves, but was thrilled by the audience’s response. “It was really special to see people’s reactions in front of us, bringing out their phones to film it and dancing along,” she says. “Because it was just the one song, I really made a point of being in the moment during that performance.”
“The name feels like creating something beautiful out of something that’s quite dire”
Released a matter of weeks after the performance, ‘Something Was Missing’ recalls the likes of The xx and London Grammar with its subdued verses. A bouncy synth line provides colour amidst the darkness in the spirit of Underworld or even Hot Chip. It’s The Kite String Tangle and Woodes, yes, but not as we know them.
“There’s something quite nice about starting on an upbeat note,” says Graham of picking ‘Something Was Missing’ as their debut single. “We were very proud of it – there was something immediately special about that song.” Harley agrees: “It felt right as our introduction to the concept. We could set the scene before we told more of a story with the other songs on the EP.”
The only song on ‘Reset’ that neither Harley nor Graham wrote is ‘All The Things She Said’, an unexpected cover of the early-2000s hit single from Russian duo t.A.t.U. Though retaining some of the original’s melodrama and melancholy, Harley and Graham also subvert its maximalism and pop sheen by turning the synth-driven, sharp-edged song into a softer-spoken piano ballad – in turn, forging something that feels just as much like Tornado Club as a song like ‘Intuition’ does.
“Danny had wanted to cover that song for a long time,” Graham explains. “He showed me this piano arrangement, and we immediately got excited by it. I remember getting an email a few days later, where Danny had just spent all day on the drums. It sounded amazing – I turned it up so loud at my home studio and couldn’t contain myself.” Graham has always been drawn to the art of the cover song, she adds, making covers a big part of Woodes’ early days: “It’s a great way to work out your sound without any pressure. The song is already amazing – all you have to do is add your personal touch.”
“It’s really exciting to not just create within a singular bubble”
‘Reset’ was mostly created in a window where Tornado Club were able to meet in person – and, for better and for worse, came at a challenging emotional crossroads for Harley. “The day before we started working on ‘Intuition’, I’d gone through a huge break-up,” he explains. “Elle had moved flights around to accommodate for this session, so I would have felt really bad if I cancelled, but I had to tell her what headspace I was in. I said I was happy to still do it if she wanted, and thankfully she did.
“It was a very vulnerable space to be writing in, but looking back I see that song couldn’t have been made any other way. It was processing what had happened to me in real time. When we listened back after a week or two, we both agreed that it felt special. It felt like Tornado Club.” For Graham’s part, helping Harley through this tumultuous period has inspired her to bring that openness and vulnerability back to Woodes when she resumes work as a solo artist.
“As a human being, you’re inclined to often shy away from being really honest,” she says. “There are songs on this EP like ‘Intuition’ and ‘No Surprise’ where it’s quite raw. Talking about those things, it can be kind of scary. Making this EP has definitely taught me that it’s okay to talk about them. There’s this really beautiful shared healing that comes with it. I’m looking forward to applying that to my own work.”
Tornado Club’s ‘Reset’ EP is out now