It happens almost right away; everyone wanting to categorize you.
A succinct descriptor is needed for the awaiting audience. An ear bends toward these dazzling and dark tones, the cinematic-sounding echo-wavered guitars, dashes of distortion over the percussion and those enticingly cryptic lyrics … and they call you shoegaze. Or, they conjure some other word-sandwich genre heavily suggestive of a style from the 80’s.
“Somebody also said we sound like Beach House, I mean, c’mon!”
That’s Danny Venzin, the lead singer/guitarist of Brisbane-based Nite Fields, talking to us from his current home in St. Petersburg, Russia. “I’ve reviewed music before, too,” Venzin revealed. “And, big websites tend to skim the press release and just listen to the first verse and chorus before writing a review. But, the worst is when people say ‘…the singer sounds like Ian Curtis.’”
After a pause, he offers sound advice: “People shouldn’t write about post-punk if they haven’t heard any bands in the genre other than Joy Division.”
Too true. So, Paste asked the songwriter to elaborate on the overarching themes and distinctly dark-ish vibes sewn throughout the quartet’s debut full length Depersonalisation (out in February on Felte). But, Venzin understandably passed.
“I don’t think an artist should critique their own work. This type of music is about if people connect or not, and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if that happens.”
Herein lies the cat’s game of interviewing a band; that query about describing the album’s sound. So we’ll have to do it for you, with Nite Fields. Depersonalisation’s songs merge caustic and apparitional ambient tones, hazy/jangled guitars and a sublime swirl of dynamics to where you can’t pinpoint which timbre, noise or note you’re responding to most. Maybe it’s the low, bristling hum in Venzin’s singing voice, or the ebullient, fuzzed bass grooves or that shimmering synthesizer. It all melds together beautifully. But Venzin surmises it perfectly, that, no matter what…“Honesty is the most important element when it comes to aesthetic.”
In Nite Fields, Venzin is joined by guitarist/co-songwriter Chris Campion, bassist Michael Whitney and drummer Liza Harvey. Their first two singles have been buzzed up by many o’ blog, lately, including the cool, careening guitars and cold-shouldered croon of “You I Never Knew.” The head-swimming, shimmery reverberations of the strummy “Prescription” with its swooning choruses, was released last month, both just hinting at their sensibility for balancing acoustic and digital sounds, with melodies muddied into the mix with the droney/whispery vocals, hovering within some frayed edges characteristic of post-punk. Not that we need to label it.
The members hail from Melbourne, Australia and formed in 2011. They released a single in 2012 (“Happy New Year”) and another 7” single (“Vacation”) in autumn 2014, through Venzin’s own label, Lost Race.
“I was in Brisbane when I started Lost Race,” Venzin said. “Actually there were a lot of bands around that I’d say I was reacting against, both with Lost Race and Nite Fields. Things felt like they were starting to fester. But, in 2011 everyone was still very much into the raw guitar thing and, what I’d call ‘the establishment,’ would turn up their noses that we were using electronics and samplers in rock music.”
It’s been a long road to Depersonalisation for the band, having recorded the songs in several spots over the course of a few years. One song was re-recorded five times, Venzin said, just “to get it right.”
For the songwriters, Venzin and Campion, this is their first band; Whitney was in a couple groups previously while Harvey had only played guitar in a high-school band; that’s about it. “Basically,” said Venzin, “I knew, in my head, exactly how it had to sound, but none of us had the experience at that time to get it right.” Often, then, during this prolonged period of working out the demos for Depersonalisation, it became a period for the band to personally bond. The songs were completed almost entirely without outside assistance.
“(Campion) was the first person I met in Brisbane with whom I truly share a musical taste, like, even when our tastes change they tend to go in the same direction. I was living in Melbourne when (Nite Fields) formed; both (Campion) and (Whitney) were fans of a Brisbane-based shoegaze band called Loomer and they were touring through. (Whitney) ended up crashing at my place after the show and there were somehow enough instruments around that we roped (Campion) in for a jam.”
Although he’s currently in Russia (eating Napoleon Cake washed down with Vodka), Venzin said that the city of Brisbane was the most influential, location-wise, on the band. “That’s where most of the songs have been written and recorded, and that’s where we all grew up.” And, he assures us, “…everything is washed down with Vodka in Russia. It’s not a cliché.”
“The reason Depersonalisation took so long to finish is because I wanted it to have a mood that linked the whole record,” said Venzin. “Rather than it just be a collection of songs. I only like to change dynamics for different reasons.”
Starting out, Venzin wasn’t thinking about who would be listening to this music. “You have to realize that barely anyone gives a shit about what we do here, so no way was I writing lyrics thinking about what the listener would think because I didn’t expect to have any.”
When we later ask him to consider his or the band’s most important accomplishment of the year, he says “Easy: the fact that I’m sitting here in Russia, talking to you! We didn’t expect to have an audience outside of Brisbane, so to release a record on Felte and tour overseas is a total trip.”
It’s also a trip for the band to realize that people are listening, as far as thousands of miles outside of Brisbane. “I’m trying my hardest for every word to be as loaded as possible, now,” said Venzin. “I wouldn’t say I am writing for the same more therapeutic reasons that I once had, anymore. Because we have an audience now, I think I need to have something to say. If not, why stand up? I hate nothing more than inane lyrics.”
Venzin said that he and Campion were already finishing songs for a forthcoming EP. “We want to finish that and then we’ll lock down and start writing the second LP.” Our fingers are crossed for a U.S. tour later on, but no word yet.”
So, finally, what about that certain aesthetic they conjure … “Aesthetic is a funny one,” Venzin concludes. “It’s really not something we preconceive and that’s the beauty of having a collaboration. Being in a room, together, as a band, is both tension and release. I just sing the way I sing. (Campion) plays guitar in his style. Whitney the bass and Liza the drums. We don’t sit in the room and say, ‘Let’s put down a hip-hop beat, jazz chords, a funk bassline, and Danny, how about trying a vocal like Prince?’ … Leave that shit to people in Brooklyn.”