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Beat, Melbourne, 3 April 1996.
The Earthmen,
by Guy Blackman
The 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 Nick.

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 avenues."

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 identical.

"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."

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