Any band that plays capital-G guitar music in 2020 has to implicitly make a case for their continued existence. Until March of this year, Spacey Jane did that with their live show. Despite their limited recorded material, the Fremantle quartet ricocheted from Splendour In The Grass to Laneway with the sort of anthemic singalongs usually reserved for Powderfinger. But in a world without live shows, what’s left?
“In some ways, it feels like we’re not even in a band,” frontman Caleb Harper says.
“To be releasing our debut album without the traditional leg of touring? It’s wack,” drummer Kieran Lama adds.
The Spacey Jane narrative since day one has focused on the inevitability of massive popularity. But the coronavirus pandemic arrested this trajectory and halted their transition to a full-time band: Harper has gone back to casual work and guitarist Ashton Le Cornu has re-enrolled in university. The frontman is quick to say the band aren’t “haemorrhaging money”, but they certainly aren’t making any, either. Their debut album ‘Sunlight’, out this Friday, is about to change that.
When NME reaches the band on Zoom, Harper and Lama are in the midst of a breathless virtual press junket in a Perth sharehouse bedroom. The pair are planning to move in together soon, and they’re already acting like giddy roommates. Lama likes to crack dumb drummer jokes, but when a question is asked, the job of answering defaults to him. Harper listens, pulling at his scraggly hair. Their words are peppered with a garage rock optimism that wouldn’t sound out of place in a ’90s MTV interview.
“We’re never going to be content with where we’re at. We have to do the next thing. Maybe this is a bad thing, because sooner or later we might reach a point where we can’t,” Lama says.
Noticing his tone, he adds that he wanted the comment “to sound less tryhard than it does”. Harper laughs. “There is no other way to put it.”
The attitude is unsurprising – ‘Sunlight’’s release feels more like an affirmation than an introduction. Spacey Jane have steadily released five singles from the album since April last year. Their breakout 2017 single ‘Feeding The Family’, at time of writing, is sitting at over 5million streams. Lama says the numbers are so large that they just feel “detached”.
The band formed unremarkably in 2016 among high school bandmates Harper and Lama in the WA town of Geraldton. Le Cornu and then-bassist Amelia Murray met in a university French class in Perth. The two pairs then met through mutual friends. Murray departed amicably mid-2019 to pursue a career in medicine and sexual health advocacy, and was replaced by Peppa Lane. The first music they ever recorded together, the austere ‘No Way To Treat An Animal’ EP, was a quick radio success.
“We really had no idea how to record or how to write or be in a band or anything like that. I’m blown away they were well-received when I listen back sometimes,” Harper says.
“We’d just rock up and go, ‘That take sounds good?’,” Lama adds.
By contrast, ‘Sunlight’ was written and recorded in hot bursts around band members’ other commitments from 2018 until late 2019. Although it was a hobbyist schedule, Harper relished “fitting it in between life and making it good”. He knows it won’t be like that again.
“We started trying to really strip ideas down to what they are, and build them up in the studio. Just think: ‘What would suit this? What sounds will work for this?’ As opposed to just trying to add something to a big guitar body song that’s there and in your face,” Harper says.
Accordingly, ‘Sunlight’ has expanded the sonic identity of the band – album cuts are couched in Lane’s cooing back-up vocals and punctuated by descending synth lines. Harper is nervous about the textural changes.
“There are songs on that album where people are going to be so shocked that it’s a Spacey song; except for my voice, it’s got no sound to it that is typical of us,” he says.
Harper’s vocals still crack like The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard with a slight Aussie slur. But the instrumentals are now wiry rock canvases, pivoting song to song from a jangly, cathedral-echo wall of sound to a power chord bounce. Their sound lends itself to a historical view of Spacey Jane within an orthodox rock tradition in Australia, one which peaked in the ’90s with the likes of You Am I, Grinspoon and Jebediah. The band reject the categorisation entirely.
“Not for me personally at all,” Harper says.
“I haven’t even really listened to a lot of You Am I or Jebediah,” Lama admits.
“I think our producer Parko [Dave Parkin] did a lot of Jebediah,” Harper realises. (Parkin did in fact produce Jebediah’s 2011 album ‘Kosciuszko’.)
The connection, Harper thinks, is just “something about being Australian”. “You can’t be as enigmatic and weird as Kings Of Leon. We couldn’t sound like them and get away with it and be genuine. We have less allure. We’re forced to be a little conversational as an Australian artist.”
The conversational tone certainly defines Harper’s lyricism, which Lama compares to pop punk and emo writing styles, particularly Modern Baseball. The singer grunts. His sharply self-critical lyrics invite the comparison. Grungy album track ‘Wasted On You’ laments a partner “must feel like you wasted your life on me”, admitting “I’m not the man I wish I was / Not even half of him”.
“I’ve always been like that. I haven’t always necessarily written like that. I’ve just had a few really shitty breakups and family things in the last two, three years. I blame myself for a lot of that. It’s not self-loathing but it’s trying to be really honest. There are apologies throughout the album – it’s an admission of things,” Harper explains.
A press note sent with advance copies of ‘Sunlight’ included the ominous promise that “over time… it will sound like an apology”. Harper laughs recalling the comment, noting it “won’t be heard by the right people”.
Harper’s anti-mystical lyrics abound with simple but poignant metaphors: ‘Booster Seat’ compares being at the mercy of a lover to the blind faith a child in a car puts in their parents. The common cold is akin to a partying addiction on ‘Head Cold’, a song inspired by the time a significant other wanted Harper to go sober. He stops mid-explanation.
“It’s pretty funny that Kieran is sitting here for all this,” Harper says, shifting in his seat.
Lama is unbothered.
“But yeah. Lines like ‘Thinking of you under a head cold / I’ll be dreaming of you until I get old’ – it was to say, even if I’m not feeling right in the head, even if I’m fucked up, I still love you and I’ll still be a good person for you. She didn’t buy it.”
In an uncertain time, Spacey Jane are surprisingly sure of their own future.
“When we first cancelled everything, I had five weeks of literally nothing and did a lot of writing,” Harper says. “We were in the studio in June. We’re looking to basically get another record under our belts, and be as ready as possible for touring whenever that happens.”
But when Spacey take the stage again, it may not be the same fiercely electric music it was before.
“We might be thinking of it less in that capacity – less of how it’s going to be live, less of a rock show and maybe the songs for what they are. We can’t help but be influenced by that live aspect while we’re always playing live. That would go away a little bit and that could be cool,” Harper says.
For now, though, ‘Sunlight’ embodies the live spirit Spacey Jane are still dreaming of.
Spacey Jane’s ‘Sunlight’ is out June 12.