Darvid Thor has a beautiful voice. Not that you’d know by listening to his albums.
The Cactus Channel, the ten-piece neo-soul band for which Thor serves as guitarist, eschew vocals altogether, save for the odd collaboration with the likes of Chet Faker. It’s a shame – resonant and deep, Thor’s tones make every word coming out of his mouth sound wise and considered, even when he’s not saying much at all.
“We just got back from playing some shows in Sydney so we’re a bit… we’re a bit tired,” he says, chewing over every word. “We went a bit hard for two, three days. And all the driving and that. I kind of do all the tour managing as well – the tour managing and all that shit. So it’s a bit full-on.
“We did have a manager about a year or two ago but some things happened with that,” he says vaguely. “So now we self-manage. But I work at the record label that we are on as well [Hope Street Recordings], so I do have an interest in that side of the business. And I guess I’m learning about it and getting used to it.”
For the most part, Thor enjoys navigating the twinned worlds of art and commerce – though he admits it’s easy to find yourself mired in deadlines and details – and is frank about the issues that can arise when one finds themselves liaising with venues and the press. “Sometimes it’s a bit much,” he says. “It’s important to try and remember to make art as well. Sometimes the admin shit gets in the way.”
‘Admin shit’ aside, Thor has spent close to a decade as a member of The Cactus Channel. Over that time, the band has released two albums and a host of singles, and though the Melburnians have a distinctive voice – a raucous mix of horns and affected, bluesy guitar riffs – that doesn’t mean they’re one-trick ponies. ‘Cobaw’, 2015’s joyfully insidious single, marked a change for the group: a gradual migration away from the funky rhythms of the past and towards a kind of voodoo horror, a lively but distressed new style.
“I feel like after our second album we kind of established a bit of a dark tip,” Thor says. “I don’t know why that is really. I guess that’s what appeals to us. That’s just what happens when we make music. It’s definitely something that appeals to most of the artists in the band.”
The Cactus Channel tend to write individually these days, rather than as a group. Perhaps that’s sensible – it’s easy to imagine the madness that would break out if ten people crowded into a room and tried to write a song. But Thor attributes such a change in working methods to simple timetabling, rather than a desire to avoid creative pandemonium.
“It’s more common for someone to bring in an idea that is pretty well fleshed out and then we work on it from there on in,” he says. “There’s a lot of space for things to change [while recording], but within a pretty solid framework. I think it works better now this way, because we’re all extremely busy and don’t have time to get together as often.”
When the band members do write songs together, they find themselves thinking about textures and tones rather than extraneous influences. They are concerned with specifics; with which instrument can make which noise. In this way, there’s something almost craftsmanlike about their work – something unpretentious and direct.
“We do think a lot about sounds,” Thor explains. “At least for me, that is number one: the sound and the tone of the instrument. I guess we have a pretty particular guitar tone, but we also think about the organ sounds and all that quite a lot. And textures, I guess. Usually our music is quite dense, but I guess we’re experimenting a bit more with space at the moment.”
Since the release of ‘Cobaw’ last year, The Cactus Channel have kept surprisingly quiet, hinting at a mysterious ‘project’ on their Facebook page but releasing no substantial new material. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to imply that they have been completely silent – following on from their recent Sydney tour, they’ve announced they will be joining The Gum Ball Music and Arts Festival, a weekend of tunes that will see the ten-piece rubbing shoulders with the likes of You Am I and Kristin Hersh.
“[Gum Ball] will be fun. I’ve never played up that way with Cactus Channel. We’ve either played Sydney or Brisbane or those coastal towns, but not in the Hunter Valley. So it should be fun,” Thor says. He’s excited – he loves performing, particularly when surrounded by the gaggle of musicians and friends that make up his band. And though he admits playing live can be “quite difficult”, there is something that brings him back to the challenge; something he can’t ignore.
“It’s always different playing with ten people, and because we don’t have a singer there’s no one focal point. But we’ve been doing it since we were like 16 or so, which is a good six, seven years. So I think we’ve got our thing going,” he laughs softly.
The Cactus Channel play at The Gum Ball Festival 2016, withYou Am I, Oka, Dan Sultan, Caitlin Park and more. The festival takes place in Dashville, Lower Belford, Friday April 22 – Sunday April 24.