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Beat, 23 April 1997
Down To Earth,
by Klaire McLean
They've been the forsaken ambassadors of Australian pop for years, issuing perfect pop songs from the sidelines as their contemporaries stole the spotlight. On the eve of their debut album release Klaire McLean asks The Earthmen what's it like to be Australia's formost rising popstars?

Scott Stevens and Matt Sigley, singer and bassist respectfully, stride into Warner's Melbourne office with an air of relaxed confidence befitting a band on the cusp of major success. Their album Love Walked In positively shines with melodic pop ethos and assured musical knowhow. From the opening moments of the suave Whoever's Been Using This Bed, it's evident The Earthmen have created a masterpiece of enduring pop perfection.

Not perturbed by the personal pressures of recording, The Earthmen opted to recruit producer Daniel Denholm, known for his work with Frente and Max Sharam, instead of an expensive and over rated overseas producer. Their choice proved to be an apt one for their distinguished, lush pop sound.

"It's such an enormous expense for how much of a difference it makes," Scott says of their reluctance to use a foreign producer. "We'd love to record with all these different overseas producers, but we recorded with Brent Clark previous to the album and he said try out this guy. We tried him out and he was really good and at that point it wasn't an issue - going for some overseas producer for the sake of overseas".

"To get the sound we wanted to get, we could by using him," concludes Matt.

After catching a live show for Polygram Publishing, Warners were eager to sign up The Earthmen. So impressed by a demo that they'd received a week earlier and the strength of their live show, Warners offered The Earthmen a five album contract that was hard to refuse. Whilst the deal upped the ante for the band, The Earthmen are keen for it not to interfere with their direction or sound.

"They don't necessarily say 'You must sound like this', of course", says Scott. "They were really great with all the art-work and all the recording was how we wanted it to sound. And if anything, being on Warners has forced us to take it a bit more seriously which has a better effect on our performance".

"Well you've got to play well if you want people to buy your records" adds Matt.

The songwriting came as a logical progression, with the songs on the album being cast from the creative impulses of Scott and guitarist Nick Batterham.

"About a third of the songs came from old stuff and then we were writing right up until the recording," explains Scott. "So it wasn't like we'd held back these songs for years, for some time after the new millennium we'll have these great songs. So we had a whole album's worth of songs, we write songs as they come about. Also the whole thing about holding back songs seems to me like 'I'll never write another songs as good as this ever again, so let's just hang on to it', whereas the notion should be to write stuff that's more relevant, even better and where you're at."

A constant emotional balance is struck lyrically and musically on the album. Although many of the songs deal with the deterioration and difficulties of relationships, to their credit The Earthmen never let the darker themes overpower the integral buoyancy of the music.

"A lot of your favorite songs have the counter point of light and dark", considers Scott. "And it's funny because it's not necessarily a contrived thing, that counterpoint, but at the same time you don't want that minor key, Goth, I'm so lonesome I could die kind of thing. Even when the songs aren't happy I hope there's a sense of space, some sort of release in them, because they're not all songs about dead end situations. I wrote all but two of the lyrics, so in some ways it's quite personal because all of them are about first person issues - they're all about my friends."

So in that way, do you feel you have to distance yourself from the songs?

"Sometimes it's weird though, you find that the song is actually written about something and the meaning's changed," says Scott.

"There are certain songs you don't want to sing forever and there are certain songs you don't play anymore because they can't mean anything. And we're all lucky enough not to have any hits, we can always bury the old songs that don't mean anything to us. Which I think is important, it's like rehashing old letters."

On a personal level the release of a full length album is an important step in confirming the band's self-confidence and stuatus as professisional musicians.

"It's an indefinable thing. It reacts on you internally rather than obvious external things," agrees Scott. "It is an important thing for us, a lot of thought went into the album and interestingly enough it seems to affect other people more than it affects the band. Because it seems to be that until you've got an album out you're not quite valid. We always seemed to be one of those bands who people used to say 'You''ve heard of them, but you don't know what they sound like."

Whilst the band are playing it cool it seems thier parents are glowing with pride in their sons. "It's actually nice for your parents to feel that what you're doing is valid," says Scott. "Not that you do this kind of thing for your parents. Like when we were on Midday about a month ago we though it was hilarious and funny, when they actually went 'Ah, that's great!', they think it's really cool. Despite the fact that your're still having trouble feeding yourself."

"To do what we've been doing and to have your parents either disown you or support you, and our parents have always supported us. And that's a nice thing that it's something that they would like. Because a lot of stuff you do in a band never surfaces."

"Not really on the playing side, not when you're in a pub every night", adds Matt.

"And never when I was drinking and smoking cigarettes. Now I can now that I'm clean living", laughs Scott.

"Now it's all behind closed doors", quips Matt.

So with the success of Drop City and Deadstar, is Australian pop about to have an renaissance?

"Who knows, it'd be nice to prophesise like that, most genres come back in one way or another", muses Scott. "I sort of think that the pop thing in Australia is having a harder time than when it started up. I think that what we all thought was alternative when we were young is now so mainstream on a general level, and now a lot of things are co-opted into the mainstream. Indie was a real buzzword, it was a kind of popular 7" fanclub and it was never to be accepted by the rock, Triple M type."

"It's all blurred now", murmurs Matt regretfully.

"Commercial radio is happier to grasp overseas music than it is local stuff", argues Scott.

"But then commercial radio isn't all the same now. Different stations have different styles, they're all commercial", points out Matt. "There's somethings, you'll hear on one station that you won't hear on another. You'll get rockier stuff on Triple M than you'll get on TT FM".

"What's the worst thing is that radio in Australia doesn't play very much local content" continues Scott. "There was a situation in the seventies and the early 80s when radio was right behind Australian music, and Australian music was selling heaps, it was a really vital scene. Now that's changed so much. I just don't think that marketing decisions and corporate decisions relate to anything local. Although Warners push local acts a lot and Warner and Polygram have a really strong local base."

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