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In Press, 16 April 1997
Love Struck,
by Anthony Horan
It's not entirely uncommon at the moment for Australian artists to sign to a major label and then spend an eternity waiting for their album to come out. For Melbourne band The Earthmen, though, the wait between signing to Warner (after a long and healthy relationship with local indie label Summershine) and the release of the album that would take them to the world has been, to put it mildly, eternal.

The Earthmen had, in fact, already completed an album, recorded by indie guitar expert Wayn Connolly at Periscope. But by the time the contracts had been signed and the band were firmly ensconced in Warnerland, that record was sounding less and less like the album the band wanted to debut with.

Fortunately, The Earthmen's new label decided to take the route the band wanted, and put up the money for the recording of an entirely new album, leaving the first attempt firmly on the shelf - though tracks from it have surfaced as b-sides, and one was re-worked for this album, eventually given the title Love Walks In. With Daniel Denholm (Frente, Max Sharam, Jan Hellriegel) at the production helm, The Earthmen set about recording their latest batch of euphoric pop songs, this time in Sydney. And the result, finally out this month after a lengthy wait, has proven their decision to be the right one. Denholm and the band click, the elaborate (and at times Spectoresque) production giving the songs a huge, epic sound that suits perfectly.

"He and Brent Clark, the engineer, were perfect for us at the time," says Scott. "I mean, our sound will be different on the next record. But he was perfect for the time, and the both of them had a really good sensibility about where we were coming from, and respect for what we were trying to achieve."

While this album's long gestation period has paid off, lead singer and song-writer Scott Stevens points out that it wasn't a case of ditching a dreadful album and starting again, either to please the label or themselves.

"Nothing was actually wrong with it. In some ways it just wasn't what we wanted - like any record, there are certain things that, given another chance, you would change. And the thing was, we were given a chance to change it. When we singned to Warner we had that album finished, and they said we could either release that, or re-record. By that stage we'd written heaps more songs, for one thing; and if that original album had come out, it would have come out about now, and that record would have been really old. For us, that milk would have been pretty off. We pretty much could record another album now, but we won't - we want to write more songs first."

Ironically, the delayed release of Love Walked In - which was, like much new Australian product, pulled from release late last year to avoid being drowned in the Christmas mainstream rush - has put the band in the same situation, with the album's tracks left behind in favour of new, unrecorded songs.

"It's funny - you speak to other bands and they go on about how it's pissing them off that their album hasn't come out even though it's been recorded for a year," Scott says. "And I think that psychologically, we knew that it wasn't going to come out within a month of us recording it. We were pretty philosophical, we knew it would come out when the time was right. It's just one of those things. We had the chance of being put out around Christmastime, and as much as you don't write the songs to sell, you do have to sell records in order to keep making them."

Wouldn't it have been better for the band's artistic progress to just record and release immediately, though?

"Yeah, but the thing is, some of the songs were written over a period of time, and I think that's a good thing - you have different voices and different moods because they were written over different time spans, rather than punching out ten songs ready for that album next week. And I think that shows, that we did write those songs over a period of time with different moods and different head-sets. All my favourite albums of all time take you on a bit of a trip - they have different sounds and voices, they take you somewhere. That's what we were trying to achieve. I think that's important, that it has ups and downs, highs and lows."

It took until the third Warner single for The Earthmen to score major radio play, with the clumsily titled Whoever's Been Using This Bed scoring long-awaited rotation on Triple J; that the previous single, the veritable pop masterpiece Hug Me Tighter, was summarily ignored didn't perturb Scott at all.

"It didn't surprise me. I liked Hug Me Tighter a lot, and we wanted to put it out as a single because I liked it. But I didn't necessarily think it was going to set the Earth ablaze in terms of getting played by lots of radio stations. The best thing about Whoever's Been Using This Bed, though, is that people have trouble pronouncing the title. It's quite amusing."

Meanwhile, The Earthmen still spend a good deal of time telling people that despite what they may have heard, they're not trying to be a Britpop band. By definition, or course, they can't be - but there's a solid appreciation of English pop music well in evidence on the album, characterised by an unmistakable preference for melody and texture over grunt and grunge. For Scott Stevens, the Britpop references are starting to wear a little thin.

"I think that's a really lazy comparison," he says with disdain. "I mean, the fact is that Britpop was a nationalistic, jingoistic, xenophobic backlash against overseas music by the English press. So how can we be trying to purport the defenders of the crown? It's a good tag, but in our case I think it's incorrect."

Maybe it's the non-dirge policy of UK bands that people are picking up on here, though...

"Well the thing is, a lot of the English bands have a really good pop sensibility. But then, so did the West Coast off America in the 1960s, an amazing pop sensibility. Amazing sounds. And we're just as much influenced by that as anything else."

There's been some criticism levelled at The Earthmen's live shows recently, with those who've seen their gigs coming away disappointed at the lacklustre reading of Hug Me Tighter the band have taken to doing; could this song have fallen out of favour in the Earthmen camp?

"I actually don't mind singing that song, in fact I quite like singing it," Scott replies. "We still play some of our old songs, but there's a couple of issues. Different people wrote some of those songs and were in the band at that stage, and that's out of respect for them - that was part of their heads and emotions too, and we have to respect that. Also, certain songs are about certain times, places and people, and it just seems a bit wrong now."

The study of people, in fact, is the theme of the album's sleeve - a piece of cover art that's actually quite surprisingly confrontational given the album's pop positivity.

"I think it works really well," says Scott of the cover. "All of the songs on this album are about people, representations of people and how people deal with each other. The whole ideas of pixelating over the eyes and the genitals is important - the pixilation, when you look at it from a distance, comes into focus. With people, sometimes things are clearer from a distance than they are close up. Also there's the whole thing of, is this what the people are really about, once you take away their eyes and their genitals."

A visual statement that hopfully won't offent the moral minority in the process...

"I really don't care" Scott says quickly. "It's not the least bit sexually exploitative of women." But we're living in a very unnerving music censorship climate at the moment... "Yeah, and quite frankly, I would be surprised if it did offend anyone. I mean, you can walk into a any gallery and see more than that. And I'm glad it wasn't necessarily what was expected, but I think it makes sense."

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