Credit to Robert Bellamy
Listening to HTRK (pronounced "Hate Rock") after a party, when the hangover is already starting to kick in, you wouldn't think the duo are morning people. They aren't-- "not naturally," at least, according to vocalist Jonnine Standish. But, Nigel Yang adds, they are trying. When we spoke via Skype, it was seven in the morning in Australia-- the country in which they first formed in 2003, and to which they finally returned just two years ago after a six year stint in Berlin and London. Seven in the morning is probably nobody's ideal time for an interview, especially when you have as much to talk about as HTRK do.
The band's relatively small discography belies a long, complicated career marked by perpetual upheaval-- personal, stylistic, and geographic. The band formed in Melbourne as a duo, with Nigel playing guitar and Sean Stewart playing bass, and were joined soon afterward by Jonnine. Their first album was an EP entitled Nostalgia, recorded live and self-released in 2005. That record captures the distinctiveness of their early sound-- dirge-like paces dominated by Sean's monolithic bass, squalls of feedback and Jonnine's blankly intoned vocals-- which betrays the influence of The Birthday Party. Their music caught the attention of that band's legendary guitarist, Rowland S. Howard, who went on to co-produce their debut full length, Marry Me Tonight. The album was recorded in 2006 but did not see release until 2009, the same year Howard, with whom the band had come to share a deep afinity, passed away. In the interim, HTRK relocated to Europe-- first to Berlin and then to London, with Sean splitting time between the two cities. The band immersed themselves further in the electronic experimentation of their second full-length record, Work (work, work), although the album's production was punctuated by the suicide of Sean Stewart in 2010-- leaving Jonnine and Nigel to complete the album, which was released in 2011, as a duo.
The pair returned to Australia shortly after the release of Work (work, work). Their upcoming record, Psychic 9-5 Club, which is due out this April via Ghostly International, follows within this narrative of flux. It is their first record to be recorded entirely as a duo-- a change which is complimented by the record's stylistic shift. The album find's HTRK's sound stripped bare. The noise and dissonance of their previous work is greatly absent-- leaving behind skeletal, dub-influenced arrangements to accompany Jonnine's distinctive voice. The album was recorded in New Mexico with Excepter's Nathan Corbin, with whom the duo developed a particular bond. It makes sense then that a band as nocturnal-sounding as HTRK might be trying to become morning people. Anything, it seems, can happen, although constant change may not be something someone can get used to. "I wish it wasn’t so early," Jonnine said, as our conversation veered from the Spice Girls to Vladislav Delay, and from Melbourne to Los Angeles. "My brain’s just slowly kicking in."
Ad Hoc: What was the compositional process like for the music on this new record?
NY: It kind of came out of Jonnine and I jamming a lot, really. It was kind of a new thing as a two-piece to be working without Sean, who always started every song with the bassline. So this time around, we tried to really re-think that and get together as often as possible and play with ideas. Jonn was using a sampler a bit more, and I was enjoying the idea of making songs without basslines-- although they kind of crept back in there.
JS: When we moved back to Australia, we started jamming together. It kind of felt like a new beginning for us.
Ad Hoc: I was going to ask whether these songs were more or less written in Australia or New Mexico.
NY: A bit of both. Probably in Australia. We wrote a lot of it in Sydney as well, becuase I moved here just recently. Sydney is really different than Melbourne. I was getting quite interested in the differences. I guess it’s kind of like an LA / New York difference, you know?
JS: Yeah, people are still wearing snakeskin in Sydney. Kind of like LA.
NY: The whole town is an outdoor gym. It’s actually pretty crazy. It blows my mind, being there for almost three years. It’s getting very surreal, actually-- the amount of fitness that is just thrust in your face as you’re walking down the street.
JS: That found its way onto the new album [laughs].