An interview originally syndicated for Tone Deaf, just in time for the band's launch at The Northcote Social Club tonight.
Through no conscious effort, Melbourne four-piece I, A Man are adding to the tally of unGoogleable band names, “Yeah, we probably shouldn’t have called ourselves that” laughs singer/guitarist Dan Moss, “It’s probably the one part of the band we’ve put the least amount of thought into” admits fellow axeman Ash Hunter. “The majority of the time, you have to repeat it to people after a gig. They think ‘Iron Man!?’ The Robert Downey Jr. comparisons come flying” adds their drummer, the fabulously named Sumner Fish. Despite the confusion that suggests they’re named after the popular comic book character, or a Black Sabbath song; the quartet have put far more attention towards crafting their music.
With only two EPs and a handful of shows to their name, I, A Man have already developed a reputation for a distinctive and inventive guitar sound, structured around the dialogue between the twin playing of Moss and Hunter. It’s no surprise to learn that “it’s been guitar focussed from the get-go” Moss reflecting that “it’s always been pretty organic, in particular the textures.” Whether rippling in ambient washes, strumming with a drone and twang, or coiling together for big, shimmering chords, their playing possess both intelligence and flexibility. Anchoring the guitars as they scrape and stretch into novel directions are the durable rhythm section of sticksman Fish and Matthew Pinxt’s lithe bass-work. The latter remarks, “I think that’s what we try to stick to sometimes, locking it all together. There’s so many contrasting rhythms and sounds, if they’re not gelling, it collapses and gets a bit lost. We’ve had that sometimes, it just doesn’t work. It’s a gentle balance.”
An equilibrium that’s perfectly poised on their latest EP, You’reBoring Us All, from the gleaming chords of lead single Sometimes to the steady hum of Haight, Ashbury, the way their music shifts and swells is at once calming and thrilling, each element adding additional voices to the textural layers. “That was once again, early on” reflects Moss “the way our writing was evolving, with multi-layered parts to them. It unintentionally defined our sound.”
A process reflected in their writing, the core of which stemmed from Moss’s written lyrics and sketched guitar parts, “then we all start adding things” adds Hunter “or pulling things out. Until we actually have a place where it all sits.” “But then it’s defining it too,” Pinxt jumps in “even when we get it to a level of happiness, it’s playing it out for another eight weeks. Someone tries something different and you have that ‘ah! That’s it’ moment.”
Reduction is as important as addition, enabling a remarkable space to the landscape of Chores’ chordal shifts or the bobbing Five-Four. “It’s important” Moss agrees, “pretty much with every song we reached a point where there’s too many ideas in there, we thought ‘that’s too much, now let’s go back.’ Usually that’s where you settle.”
Hunter elaborates, “It’s about note being attached to parts either. It’s having that discipline, letting the songs be as good as they can, whatever they need – or don’t need. Make sure you’re always thinking of the songs – that’s the philosophy we’ve always had. If that means I play one note, twice for a whole song – so be it.” Even the ascending peaks of Sometimes, rising and falling as naturally as breathing, took some careful honing, “we wrote the core of that song in ten minutes” admits Moss, “then the final five percent took forever. Just ordering it, as simple as the song is, we played with it so many different ways.”
While a lot of young bands typically rely on electronically generated sounds or studio trickery to arrive at new ideas, I, A Man instead experimented with their traditional four-piece set-up to achieve fresh sounds. The band do however tread carefully around the term ‘experimental’ when discussing their style, Hunter confirms “we try to avoid that loaded term, but it is an experimenting process, with each song individually. Trying things out to see whether things sit – maybe they work, maybe they don’t. Giving it that chance and starting to see how different things grow in their own right.”
Key to their growth and studio trials of the recording process was the team of Tim O’Halloran and Dave Williamson, who produced both of the band’s EPs, the duo encouraging the group’s unique brand of testing. “They were friends of ours” Moss details, “on a personal level we had a good relationship as far as tastes and ideals go, so from both our part and theirs, we went into it knowing we’d try to push it further with the time we had to work on it.”
So what were some of the more ‘out there’ techniques the band attempted while recording? “Banging suitcases. Using guitar amps for bass. Vocal takes outside,” comes their response, further listing “We hit powerboards for a click track. Everyone equipped with a drumstick just banging something. There’s a big shoe drop as well, it’s more like a thud, an earthquake. I don’t think anyone could pick there’s a can rolling along the floor on the EP.” Nevertheless, it’s al l there, the subtleties that enhance their sound, even if it’s at a subconscious level.
However, Moss reiterates the importance of grounding these qualities with traditional methods, “with the guitar takes, a lot of the colour is already added to them by the effects pedals and amps we choose. So it’s not always so much an experiment as capturing the sound.” Hunter adds, “we had access to a lot of equipment as well. So you don’t need to try anything too ‘out there.’ You have enough resources, whereas an acoustic instrument , like a drumkit say, you need to extend things so it doesn’t end a straight-up, live sound.”
The results speak for themselves, clever and diverse tunes rich in mood and texture that really take flight in the live setting. Or as Hunter puts it, “[they aren’t] bound by the recording. We look at them fresh again, which has been nice spending so long with them in the studio.” Pinxt asserts “that’s always been the force of our music, once the song’s written or recorded it doesn’t stop there. If want to keep growing, it can.”
It seems the evolution of their ascendant alt-rock, characterised by intelligence without ever obscuring the outfit’s love for a tender hook, will continue as they embark on a national tour in support of latest release, You’re Boring Us All. Even with some radio-play, a slot at St. Kilda Festival and some gleaming reviews under the belt, the band remain modest in the face of impending exposure, Moss nervously commenting “It’s pretty daunting – the first time we’ll be headlining interstate. We’ve got really good supports so it should be good,” adding with a jovial sense of humility “so even if no-one’s there, it’ll be fun.”