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Interview: City Calm Down


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Melbourne’s City Calm Down returns with Television, which sees the band taking the introspection of Echoes in Blue, and using it to reflect on the social issues of the modern human experience. Swapping melancholy for liberation, the band is igniting engagement for a conversation on everything from tactics of social activism to destructive online behaviour.

Image courtesy of City Calm Down 

Third albums can often be a test of endurance for artists, testing the malleability of their sound to experiment with new sonic realms. This is something that frontman Jack Bourke and the rest of the band recognised, though it took the band's, long-time collaborator, Burke Reid to prompt the band with the ‘You can’t do what you did on the last two records" comment to get the wheels in motion.

“We had reached a point where it felt like we were just reaching into the same bag of tricks again and again. Although we disagree on a lot of things as a band, the one thing we have always agreed on is that we must make music for ourselves first, and part of this is doing something that excites us.” 

As music alone becomes a less viable source of income, partly because of the way streaming fails to reward indie acts, a growing number of musicians have to resort to a part-time job. Being a musician is no longer the hedonistic glam that’s portrayed in the biopics of eras gone by. Finding the equilibrium between life as a musician and full-time work began to take its toll lead singer Bourke’s health. He says that "It can be physically and emotionally tiring trying to keep everything rolling along, particularly if you throw in other commitments like a romantic relationship, family, or even a good friendship or two. At some stage, something has to give”.

After transitioning into life as a full-time musician, Bourke tells us that Television reflects the “freedom I felt after I quit my job." He adds, "Removing the pressure of having to go to work on top of making a record meant I was a lot happier during the writing process and more inclined to pay attention to the world around me."

But work versus personal life isn’t the only duality that infiltrates the bands latest album. Growing up in the modern age can be especially anxiety-inducing. You can end up living two intersecting lives between your online presence and day-to-day existence. In a world where you can unlock your phone through facial recognition and military advancement has surpassed the dystopian fears of the past, technology can have a conflicting effect on people's consciousness. Bourke comments, "I might be wrong, but I sense that our generation carries a deeper level of cynicism towards new technologies than our parents. [...] Although this may lead to a more parlous political environment, it demonstrates that some people are paying attention.”

Considering the ease with which we can communicate in the 21st Century, it seems to be slightly ironic that it’s harder than ever for people to listen to one another. This is something that Bourke feels is the main obstacle when it comes to politics and social activism: “All too often, it seems people are speaking for the sake of being heard [...] and think the recent Australian federal election result really exemplified the fact that we’re not listening to each other and we don’t really care about the viewpoints of those who disagree with us."

An overriding sense of cynicism has resulted in the formation of ‘cancel culture’, where one wrong against the socially liberal status quo can result in becoming blacklisted by online communities. The effectivity of this form of social activism is something that permeates the band's lyrics in songs such as  ‘Flight’, which sees Bourke addressing a generation who “Watch [their] friends through their filtered lens”.

Bourke explains, “That behaviour is the focus of the song and what worries me most about the current online environment is the idea that being a keyboard warrior/instafamous is the most effective way to connect with and enrich the lives of others.“

After sharing Nick Cave’s open letter to Morrissey on Twitter, Jack expressed his discontent with this state of affairs. In reference to the ceremonial ‘cancelling’ of The Smiths frontman after making the bigoted comment that ‘we all prefer our own race’, Bourke refers to a quote by José Ortega y Gasset that "liberalism [...] announces a determination to share existence with the enemy” . This seems to be, in relation to political opponents, what modern "liberals" have forgotten about.

Bourke concludes, “Ultimately, I think that if we’re in the business of making and critiquing art, we should be interested in changing minds, as opposed to punishing those who hold different views.”  

This open-minded approach seems the overarching message of Television, which can be summarised by the lyrics of ‘Stuck (On the Eastern)’ urging us to “Face the fear and don’t pretend”. As a generation, we ought to confront our obstructions with compassion and tolerance, in order to exist in a more progressive society. 

City Calm Down will be making a pit-stop at a venue near you in autumn, so what can we expect?  Bourke tells us that “you can expect us to be well-rested and not have bags under our eyes when we’re in the UK – as a result, energy should be running high!”

City Calm Down release Television on 23rd August.

Lead image courtesy of City Calm Down 

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