Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus attained alt-prog titan status after releasing their debut, This Is The Warning, certified Gold by ARIA and named one of triple j’s Hottest 100 Albums of All Time. The Catalyst Fire is its follow-up – and the story begins in the Amazon rainforest, as vocalist Kim Benzie recounts.
“Once we got a hint of where the album was going, we were just the vessels for it arriving in people’s ears,” Benzie explains. “At the end of 2010, the band and our producer Forrester Savell travelled to the Amazon and Peru. We went to a jungle city called Iquitos. We went right up the river and trekked into the jungle and we stayed at this retreat there with this tribe. I had this incredible experience there drinking ayahuasca.” In tribal lore, ayahuasca is a psychedelic ‘healing medicine’, discovered and used by Peruvian Amazon tribes. It ‘breaks down the ego’, giving insights into consciousness and beyond.
“I met the most incredible woman there, Klara,” Benzie continues. “She’s a shamanic artist there and an apprentice shaman. She made this symbolic artwork and it has these lines and patterns that don’t repeat; it was the most intricate artwork I’ve ever seen. It was like seeing the language of an alien race. I told her what we sing about, and it was one of those ‘meant to be’ moments.”
Klara agreed to tattoo Benzie’s chest with one of her unique mandala artworks. Benzie, joining ranks of philosophers and psychologists, believe mandalas are expressions of a collective consciousness.
“I came back and showed the guys. We asked her to do our artwork for us. We started with Cameron Gray, our artist on the last album, to create the DLC mandala. We wanted to tie it into the theme of the album. We wanted people from any walk of life, from the yoga guru to the bricklayer, to stand in front of it and have some kind of experience. That way everyone can know what our album’s about.”
The Catalyst Fire took three yearsto spark and catch flame. Taking swathes of time off to explore the jungle and themselves, the band dangled scraps of the record on their website throughout 2012. Ever the community process builders, DLC kept fans in touch with their meticulous writing and recording. By record’s end, they had layered countless instruments atop an undulating ocean of sound. Did they cling to a raft of deadlines? Not likely. Making The Catalyst Fire took as long as DLC saw fit.
“We are of the persuasion that you don’t get through a shit bit [of a song] to get to a good bit,” Benzie says. “If you’re trying to be deep and meaningful within the boundaries of rhyme and rhythm and a limited word set, it’s a mega challenge. We couldn’t force it; we just had to let it happen.”
Dead Letter Circus proudly wear their hearts on their guitar strings and keyboards. Their last album shot to number one on the ARIA charts in 2010. This Is The Warning was Benzie and the band’s awakening; a realisation an anti-nature, anti-human structure traps our world underneath its soulless veil. Benzie thinks we should reject the roles society dictates for us.
“Three years ago, we tried to plant signposts,” Benzie says. “We tried to say, ‘Look around you, there’s definitely some kind of construct at work here.’ There’s something guiding us on a way to live. Bricklayers around a barbecue are even talking about it. They see what’s wrong but think, ‘What could I possibly do about it?’”
If Warning tore blinkers off, The Catalyst Fire is DLC’s call to arms. It affirms that change is possible. “It’s not a Malcolm X, standing on the podiums, screaming at the masses kind of thing,” Benzie says, putting the album into context. “It’s more like you’re the guy in the crowd, listening to someone speak or having that little revelation within yourself. That’s the way this album comes across. I’m not well-spoken enough to do political rants between songs on stage,” he laughs.
In our most paranoid delusions, we think the government spies on us. We have nightmares of earpiece-wearing stuffed shirts tuning into our phone calls while they’re reading our emails. With Edward Snowden’s revelations about Prism and the NSA, it turns out our inner Oliver Stone was right.
“I don’t think anyone trusts the government – I think we have to get over the thought that nothing can be done,” Benzie says. “Have you ever seen that movie, [Antz]? All these ants are controlled by a small group of grasshoppers. One of the ants is an awakened individual and he has a go of putting some positive thoughts into these programmed minds. He shows them there’s so much more to life.” Benzie pauses to collect his thoughts.
“Everyone’s waking up to the fact we’re not separate. Right now, if you hear someone screaming, you’d lock the door. In the old days, you’d come roaring out there to help. We’re becoming more of a community. As soon as that community spirit can happen again, we can all walk out on to your front lawn and stand together.”
BY TOM VALCANIS