As the scene ostensibly recognised as ‘alternative dance’ starts making inroads to mainstream attention, so too do its key components. This, of course, means that Crooked Colours – comprised of longtime friends Philip Slabber, Leon De Baughn and Liam Merrett-Park – are garnering some much-deserved notice after a few years of pushing the proverbial stone up the hill.
Their debut album Vera was released at the end of June – the end result of a convoluted and oft-delayed process which meant the trio had to pack up their entire lives in order to complete it. “Leon’s family has a cottage in the south-west of WA, so we went down there for a few months initially to get the ball rolling on the writing of this album,” says Slabber, who provides vocals, guitar, keyboards and various electronics to the group.
“We always knew that Vera was what we were writing towards, but things kept coming up that delayed us finishing it. We went on tour for awhile and then gradually the three of us made the move over east. Liam moved over to Melbourne, while Leon and I ended up in Sydney. Eventually, we found our rhythm again here in Sydney. We were able to finish the demos of all 20 songs that we’d been working on, and from there we were able to sort through them to get to the ten songs that made it onto the album. It’s a process that should have realistically taken only 12 months, but life kept finding ways of interfering. I’m just glad we got there in the end.”
As an album, Vera works both as an introduction to the band for those who haven’t yet caught on, and as vindication for the fans that have been following them since the early days. For those in the latter camp, however, it may come as a surprise that Crooked Colours has made such a literal seachange after being proud representatives of Western Australia’s ever-burgeoning music scene.
Slabber wishes to make it clear that the band’s relocation was strictly business – although location was always a niggling issue to begin with. “I think the thing with us was that we were all kind of in the rural, outer part of Perth,” he says. “We were never really based in the city. We kind of knew everyone, but we never really felt like we were in that particular scene, if that makes sense. At the time, we were just doing the band thing for a bit of fun – it was something to do, y’know? I don’t think we ever really had career goals or aspirations to go with it.”
“Once we signed to a label and got management and stuff like that, it became a bit more of a reality. Part of that reality was most of the people we were working with happened to be living in Sydney. It became clearer that it was going to end up being a lot easier if we relocated to the east coast. I don’t want to reflect badly on the Perth music scene, of course – it’s really, really good. It was entirely a practical decision for the three of us.”
In the studio, we really treat it as though the sky’s the limit. We don’t really think about the songs from a live perspective at all.
As the profile of Crooked Colours has grown, the nine-to-five life has eluded the band – something Slabber is completely fine with. “We pretty much only work outside of the band now when we need to,” he says. “At the moment, it’s all focused on touring and playing shows. We all kicked around with normal day-jobs for awhile, though.” He also notes that both he and drummer Merrett-Park were enrolled at university in Perth, while keyboardist De Baughn occupied himself with project management for a building company. “I was doing a Media and Communications degree,” says Slabber, “but when we started touring more I think I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that I wanted to give this music thing a go.”
In tandem with that, Slabber and co. had to properly calibrate their own approach to songwriting to get the very best out of making Vera. Interestingly, this meant that Slabber and De Baughn would write independently of one another, composing and collaborating via correspondence. While this may seem like an unusual approach for a band set-up, Slabber reasons that it’s the most streamlined and beneficial approach that they have developed from years of working together. “When you’re in a band, you have to find a way of working together without stepping on one another’s toes,” he says.
“I think Crooked Colours benefits from having Leon and I working on music separately. Having those two different inputs as writers means that we’re not going to write a whole bunch of songs that sound exactly the same. Leon has a very different background in music than I do, and I think melding those two is really important to how we sound. That way, I’m always being sent something fresh – a new idea, or maybe looking at something I’ve done in a way I wouldn’t have thought to. For us, it’s the most productive way of working.”
August sees Crooked Colours embarking on a national tour in support of Vera. It will be the band’s first headlining run for the year, as well as their first set of shows since opening for Crystal Castles back in March. “Those were some of the biggest shows we’ve ever played,” says Slabber. “It was definitely a little intimidating walking in and seeing Ethan [Kath], hunched over his synthesizer and working away.” Recently, the band also made the trek out to New Caledonia for a unique experiment involving field recordings. “We travelled all across the island, recording sounds, and now we’re going to make a track out of all of them,” Slabber explains. “It was really fun – especially considering, previously, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where it was on a map.”
The tour will also be the first time that the band have had a chance to play most of the songs from Vera live. Don’t go in expecting some shot-for-shot replica of their recorded material, though – the band want to experiment with their live show, and properly step up the energy from studio output by any means necessary. “In the studio, we really treat it as though the sky’s the limit,” says Slabber.
“We don’t really think about the songs from a live perspective at all. Obviously, once the record’s done and we need to put a show together, it gets kind of hard. We have to look at the songs and start figuring it out – there’s only so much that you can do on your laptop that you can also do playing live. It’s fun, though – the challenge of doing it makes things really interesting for us. We’re manipulating certain songs and sounds, and it’s cool to see how we’re able to make it work. It’s just the three of us on-stage – we don’t have any extra people with us. There’s a bit of multi-tasking, a bit of looping, using triggers and stuff like that… it’ll be the busiest we’ve ever been on stage, but we’re going to make it work.”
Crooked Colours’ debut album Vera is out now through Sweat It Out. Catch the band with Ivan Ooze + Muto supporting at Oxford Art Factory on Thursday August 10 and Friday August 11, before they play Yours & Owls Festival at Stuart Park, Wollongong (Saturday September 30 – Sunday October 1).