Melbourne, 3 April 1996.
- The Earthmen,
- by Guy Blackman
perseverance of The Earthmen's Scott Stevens and Nick Batterham over the last five years,
in the face of Melbourne rockism, label hassles and fraught line-up changes, has recently
been awarded (in a fiscal sense, at least) by their landing a record contract with East
West / Warners.
The first fruit
of this deal is the new single Scene Stealer, with an album well underway. It seems
strange that despite The Earthmen's considerable and convoluted history, their imminent
album will actually be their first, only having released singles and EPs so far.
"In the US, the Teen Sensations EP
was released on Seed as an album", qualifies Scott, "but we've never actually
recorded an album before, which I think is an important definition."
"It's very different," according
to Nick. "On an EP or even a single, you still tend to think about the way the tracks
are going to be heard. You think 'this one finished on this chord, that'll feel nice
leading into this one'. But on an album, there's even more than that to think about."
"You need a longer attention
span," adds Scott. Fine details is obviously something crucial to the Earthmen, and I
get the sense, talking to them, that this may have something to do with the burden of
History (with a capital H) weighting very heavily on their shoulders. They hope that their
music will withstand the test of time, because so much of the music they love best is
music that has remained valid and influencial for decades.
"Your favorite classic albums, all
those sixties albums like Younger Than Yesterday and Pet Sounds, they always
sat together so well," adds Scott. "It's so different now."
"There's a lot to be said for the
contemporary album that's just a bunch of twelve songs which one by one get used as
singles, but then that's like doing a record just for the saleability factor," states
This conversation inevitably waxes lyrical
about the sculptural benefits of vinyl albums as opposed to the more linear CD format
("Everyone's got a favourite side of a favorite record which they always listen to
over and over", says Nick with a dreamy tone in his voice), then is gently steered in
the direction of actual musical content of the new Earthmen record.
"Maybe two or three of the songs have
been played live before," says Nick, "but the guts of it is all brand new stuff.
In the last six months that we've been writing, we haven't been playing live, so the album
has a lot of fairly conceptual stuff." "I'm really glad we weren't playing
live," Scott pitches in, "because a lot of bands think, 'We've got to play this
one live, let's just rock out'. It's really good to have tracks that you don't approach
like a live beast."
Of course, much of the reason for the
Earthmen's non-appearance on stage of late could be put down to their apparent
difficulties in retaining a consistent line-up. Rhythm sections have come and gone over
the last few years, and it seems they've gone more often than they've come, to the extent
that Batterham and Stevens actually found themselves in Sydney recently about to embark on
a full-scale recording project, without a band to back them up. Nevertheless, the pair
seem quite unfazed.
"For the small amount of people who
have actually followed us all along, the line-up changes have probably been a bigger deal
than they actually are to us," says Scott quite pointedly. "Of course, we were
sad that some people left, some of them were really good friends..."
"It's the same with any
relationship," says Nick. "It's always going to be really volatile, but it can
be volatile in a creative fashion. Line-up changes in a band affect that band on a
creative level, and you can't say that it's a good or a bad thing."
"The Byrds had more line-up changes
than we've had," says Scott with a smile, "and they are one of my favorite ever
bands. It sort of depends on the music - with some bands, if someone leaves, it's the end
of the world, but hopefully, it has allowed us to grow and change in different
One obvious result of the Earthmen's fulid
genetic makeup is that it has consolidated and intensified the songwriting partnership
between Nick and Scott that lies at the band's core - so much so that they talk of having
written songs separately, only to come together and find that they are virtually
"I'd love it if we got to the point of
being like Jimmy Webb, or Hal David and Burt Bacharach, writing songs together for other
people to play," says Nick with a gleam in his eye. "I think we've got a strong
enough thing going on."