“Back in the day, life was just kind of happening to us,” says Scarlett Stevens, one-third of San Cisco. This year, though, the Fremantle trio celebrate 11 years since their formation, nine years since their breakthrough track ‘Awkward’, and most importantly, the long-awaited release of their fourth studio album, ‘Between You And Me’.
If ever there was a time for San Cisco to reflect, it’s certainly now.
“We were in our early 20s, not really fazed by much,” continues Stevens. “And now I think we’re –”
“More conscious about our decisions we make,” suggests Jordi Davieson, another piece of the San Cisco puzzle and a childhood friend of Stevens. It’s not the first time one will finish the other’s sentence during our conversation. The ease of a lifelong friendship is hard to miss, and it’s every bit as endearing as it sounds.
“More self-aware,” agrees Scarlett. “I think you can really hear it on the record.”
It’s true that ‘Between You And Me’, the fourth LP from San Cisco, is a picture of growth and maturity. The indie-pop mainstays have weaved their way into the tapestry of Australian music since their formation in 2009, back when Stevens, Davieson, Josh Biondillo and Nick Gardner were just a group of friends from Western Australia looking to make some music.
The four-piece became a trio in 2018 when Gardner left the band after almost a decade as part of San Cisco. Now, they’re stepping out with an evolved sound, one that combines the carefree ease of 2015’s ‘Gracetown’ with an edge of newfound wisdom.
Introspective lyrics tie this record together, providing insight into a band whose sound has grown with them. Where songs from San Cisco’s early years frame emotions through the lens of a young adult finding their feet (“I don’t know just what I’d do / If I found out all the boys you’re talking to” from ‘Jealousy’ comes to mind), ‘Between You And Me’ is the voice of reason. It’s a maturing mindset, one where lyrics like “If you’re holding on / You should let it go” epitomise what it is to grow older and find yourself more conscious of your actions.
The sound is as San Cisco as ever, only elevated. ‘Alone’ transports you back to the 1965 ‘Rubber Soul’ era, where psychedelia reigned supreme. ‘Tell Me When You Leave Tonight’ brings forth images of spinning lights reflecting from a mirrorball, evoking the hazy casino vibes of the latest Arctic Monkeys’ record. Nothing on this album is jarring, and that’s a credit to the trio whose shared vision is perfectly aligned on ‘Between You And Me’.
Whether you look at the ‘Between You And Me’ cuts packaged in the ‘Flaws’ EP, released in March – think the reflective nostalgia of ‘Skin’, or the calming jukebox vibes of ‘Gone’ – or dive into the wider breadth of material on the new LP, it’s easy to see that this record is one of harmony. But when it came to seeking inspiration, narrowing down just one muse was never an option for San Cisco.
“We were going through quite an array of influences,” says Biondillo. “Most of these songs started out just on an acoustic guitar because we were influenced by, at the time, West Coast Americana and bands like America.”
“Fleetwood Mac,” offers Stevens. Biondillo quickly agrees, adding the Doobie Brothers to the list.
The band split their time between sessions in the serene surrounds of Mullumbimby, New South Wales and their home base in Western Australia to record ‘Between You And Me’. For San Cisco, the writing process itself is wholly collaborative. Ideas are bounced off each other and workshopped until something real is achieved – and, of course, until Stevens signs off on the track.
“You can’t really diss things when you’re not actively having an input” – Scarlett Stevens
“Josh and I would come up with the bones on guitar and throw melodies around,” recalls Davieson. “Then, when a song got good enough to show the idea that we had, we’d take it to Scarlett and she would be the gatekeeper. She’d be like, ‘Yep, this one can come through. That one needs to go. Never play me that one again.’”
Stevens accepts her quality control responsibilities humbly, but with an insight that shows yet again why this group works so well. She admits the title is new, though the role isn’t, and acknowledges the approval process has brought its own degree of personal growth.
“I’ve had to learn to respect other people’s ideas a bit more,” she says.
“Humour us a little bit,” suggests Davieson.
“And humour the boys a little bit,” Stevens agrees. “Also to bring more to the table, because you can’t really diss things when you’re not actively having an input. I like to think I’ve lifted my game a bit on this album. I think it could be the most invested I’ve been in a San Cisco record.”
“We all lifted our game,” adds Davieson, “but Scarlett definitely did. She was there. She was very there.”
“I hope we can stay relevant and keep changing with the times, not drift into no-man’s land as a band” – Jordi Davieson
It’s certainly an attitude that has paid off in dividends when it comes to musical output. ‘Between You And Me’ isn’t just a fourth album in numerical terms; it genuinely feels like the product of a band over a decade in the making. There are elements of nostalgia, but an overarching theme of growth.
“I think ‘Skin’ was one of the first songs we wrote in the writing sessions for this album and it really set the benchmark,” says Davieson. “It came from a very different demo and as it turned into the song it is now. We all sort of took a step back and were like, ‘Alright, so this is the level we’re going for now.’ I think we all felt like it was a level up for us, musically.”
“That’s kind of what this album symbolises in a way,” says Stevens. “Coming out of our early twenties and facing new challenges and assessing everything around you, making those life changes. I think that’s definitely reflected in ‘Between You And Me’.”
For now, it’s uncertain how long it might be before San Cisco can properly take their new record on the road. They are understandably disappointed to be missing the festival circuit this year, and point to Groovin The Moo as a particular tour they’ll miss. “It’s our favourite festival to play,” says Davieson. “We keep badgering them and they’re like, ‘Next year. Calm down.’”
There are still good things on the horizon, though. They’re due to play WA’s Wave Rock Weekender later this month, and will launch ‘Between You And Me’ in Fremantle in October with Stella Donnelly and Adrian Dzvuke supporting. And while the current climate offers a perfect chance to reflect, it’s also the ideal time to look ahead. For San Cisco, there are no limits to what the future holds.
“I’d like to go on tour again,” says Davieson with a laugh.
“I hope we just keep making albums,” says Stevens. “Not settle for mediocrity.”
“And that we can stay relevant and keep changing with the times,” adds Davieson. “Not drift into no man’s land as a band. I hope we can keep reinventing ourselves and moving forward.”
“Full steam ahead,” offers Stevens.
There’s a pause. A voice is missing from the conversation. In San Cisco, the spotlight is always shared. “Is that what you want, Josh?” asks Davieson.
“I agree with all of that,” says Biondillo. “All of the above.”
San Cisco’s ‘Between You And Me’ is out now