Obscura Hail release ‘Siren’, a new EP and “an act of preservation”

Sean Conran and Tamara Issa tell NME about the project’s hard-won optimism

Today (September 18), Obscura Hail are releasing EP ‘Siren’ – the second half of a double EP – via Remote Control/Dot Dash.

The five-track documents everything from bearing witness to depression to struggling against an impending sense of doom (earlier this year, Obscura Hail were evacuated from Byron Bay while touring precursor EP ‘Zero’ amid megafires, an event that informed the new EP’s single ‘Doomer’).

‘Siren’’s stylistic flourishes descend from diverse influences: Brazilian bossa nova, early 2000s Silverchair and “old blues crooners”, adds the band’s founder Sean Conran over the phone.

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NME spoke with Conran and Tamara Issa (his co-writer and the band’s bassist) about the lyrics on ‘Siren’ and how they meld their vast influences. We also talk the benefits of live-streamed performances, ahead of their virtual performance on Music Farmers’ social media platforms on September 27.

You described last year’s EP ‘Zero’ as being centred around feelings of hopelessness, whereas ‘Siren’ is more optimistic (although still anxious). Where’d that sense of optimism come from?

Sean Conran: There’s a catalyst point where you have all of these things inside of you, and it’s like, okay, it’s good we have an outlet where we can express ourselves. And, gee, [we were] just getting sick of letting it simmer inside of us. So, we’re trying to get it out there and push it in a positive way.

‘Town Cryer’ is probably the most pessimistic of the songs from the EP, and that’s about suicide and loss, and trying to prevent and reassure somebody who is having those kind of thoughts to at least reconsider; to give them more of a place in [a] world that they thought they didn’t have a place in.

In terms of genre, you have such vast influences, and the way you bring them all together and make a tangible thing… well, it blows my mind.

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Conran: So, we just take it step by step. We never have a complete vision for an EP; we collect together the songs that feel like sibling songs – they have some sort of relation.

I mean, [this project is] an act of preservation. So relating back to your question about the optimism in the EP, I think the optimism is there because we’ve had so much time to reflect on each track, and every part of the track as well. Especially now that we’re in lockdown, we have more and more time to think about it and be sure that the way that we recorded it was the way that we wanted to express it, and not just us fermenting in the emotion behind it.

What have you both been up to during lockdown?

Conran: Well, Tam is an essential worker.

Tamara Issa: I’ve been working in disability support, so I’ve had a different experience to a lot of Melbournians – I’ve been able to get out of the house because of my job.

Conran: She’s my scout in the apocalyptic wasteland.

Issa: And Sean is my househusband.

Conran: I take care of the house and the animals, and kind of deal with more of the music side of stuff [in terms of] preparation.

Issa: Everything [has been] slowing down around us; and, for me, that kind of helps. I felt like before everything was just so: go, go, go, go, go.

Conran: Even with music, it felt like a race to release something or to be seen and be noticed, but now things are changing. The whole industry is rearranging to have more of an online focus. People aren’t playing as many shows. It doesn’t feel as egocentric, as well.

Of all the songs on this EP, do you have a favourite to play?

Both: ‘Idle Hands’!

Conran: It’s definitely the grooviest of the songs. It’s more of a pamphlet guide to getting yourself motivated to do something. Like, okay: Step 1…

Issa: …dance to the song.

Conran: Step 2: Put your hands on somebody else’s hips; keep moving. Step 3: Keep rolling with the kicks and the punches.

Issa: By the end of the song, you’re ready to start your day!

I should make that my alarm clock.

Conran: We do actually make alarms and ringtones – they’re all based off loops that we’ve done. We release four three-track EPs a month on Patreon, which has a bunch of different experimental stuff in it. [The demos] all influence the stuff that we’re doing now, officially.

I watched you perform through Zoom recently. How do you feel about performing through a livestream?

Conran: Honestly, I much prefer it, because we have this element of control over the sound.

Issa: I would say that it was much more comfortable, and there were less nerves because we were in control. In that set there were around 70 people – it’s so weird to play; you feel like you’re in an empty room not playing to anyone.

Conran: People feel more inclined to express themselves through the livestream, though. A lot of people were talking in the chat and saying more in between songs.

Issa: It’s probably a little bit nicer because you’ve got the focus of the audience; so all the smaller, meticulous things that you do, that are really novel, are picked up.

We got to actually play around with the space that we were rehearsing in; [we could set] it up in a way that we usually wouldn’t be able to do for a show somewhere else – and that’s a big part of what we love to do: create a vibe and a stage for the show.

Conran: It makes us feel more connected to the performance.

There’s a line that stuck with me from this record: Be your maker, not your master. Can you tell me a little bit about what that lyric means to you?

Issa: That’s in ‘Town Cryer’.

Conran: Tam wrote that line. It’s about taking responsibility for the thoughts that you’re having, but also understand that you can’t predict everything that you’re going to think and feel. Don’t try and keep yourself in line; like, let yourself feel things as they come, but don’t judge yourself too hard.

Issa: It’s basically like: create who you want to be, you know? It’s [about] being the hero of your own story – you could do that at any moment.

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