Sometimes it feels like we’re saturated with bundles of pop culture content every day. The way people hurry to feast on the freshest online stimulus suggests content itself has superseded substance. Meanwhile, Melbourne/Sydney duo HTRK defiantly uphold patience as a virtue. Jonnine Standish (vocals) and Nigel Yang (guitar/electronics) make music that exhibits extensive compositional deliberation and encourages a distraction-free listening experience.
“Me and Nigel like to sit with our music for maybe longer than most people,” Standish says. “It’s amazing what happens after several months. The song that was your favourite can soon start to grate on your nerves, or the song that you weren’t sure where to take it, several months later you realise it’s perfect exactly how it is. We’re not in a rush to play the industry game of releasing and pushing forward into the game, so having that extra time to reflect on music is kind of a freedom.”
HTRK formed as a trio in Melbourne in 2003 and the band’s moody noise experiments quickly became a talking point in underground circles. Then in 2009 the Rowland S. Howard-produced debut Marry Me Tonight brought the group major recognition.Early last month HTRK unveiled their third LP, Psychic 9-5 Club. The album is the first to be constructed without founding bass player Sean Stewart, who tragically committed suicide while they were based in London in 2010. Psychic 9-5 Club isn’t a drastic departure from its 2011 predecessor – the hypnotic and sometimes industrial Work (Work, Work) – but many of the tracks possess a warmth and immediacy they didn’t previously emphasise.
“The direction Psychic 9-5 Club has gone is probably how we were wanting Work to go,” says Standish. “The production of Work (Work, Work) was really infiltrated by what we had at our disposal. It was really important that Sean played on the album. We were three-quarters of the way through when he died and we were left with a lot of demos, a lot of mp3s, so the whole album became quite murky and lo-fi.
“The idea for that album was that it was going to have more clarity. We were looking at the producer of [Roxy Music’s] Avalon and the engineers for albums like that; [albums] that had leaner qualities and higher production values and a pop radio aesthetic.”
In 2012 Standish and Yang travelled to New Mexico to work with Nathan Corbin of New York experimental noise outfit Excepter. The plan was to record an EP, but the constructive synergy established with Corbin meant that producing an entire album soon became imperative.
“I think me and Nigel took over five demos,” Standish remembers. “Then, when we were with Nathan, we’d just be talking and the next minute Nathan would put down a synth line and then we’d all start working on top of it and we had some new songs. He’s just got a really intuitive and amazing way with sounds. He’s really precise and warm and clean.
“There’s something about the energy of three people compared to two,” Standish adds. “It’s kind of magical with three. It’s hard to fit in with me and Nigel because we’ve got ten years of making music in a bubble together. It’s really hard for someone else to enter that space. Nathan’s perfect because he’s like a spiritual cat. You know how cats know when to approach you or when to back off a bit? He’s a bit like that.”
Given that HTRK have successfully stood apart from prevalent contemporary trends since day one, it’s rather surprising to hear Standish note a pop influence. Rest assured there’s no commercial agenda behind Psychic 9-5 Club, but it does sound altogether brighter.
“Once you realise that there’s no career in music and that that’s all a mirage, it’s so fantastic because you can really just get on with the pleasure in music. Every band’s got all the same stories of tragedy and near misses and near fame, and it’s so fantastic when you can actually just step back from that and make music at your own pace. That can be really fast or it can be really slow – it just doesn’t matter.”
HTRK are clearly determined to make sure all of their output has an enduring quality. And despite how insular it may sound, they also pay close attention to audience reactions.
“It’s very important that our music has a longevity to it,” Standish says. “I think that might be our overly romantic side – wanting people to revisit our music at different times in their lives. It’s certainly something we’re interested in. We’re conscious of our fans listening to our music and what effect it will have on them.”
Refraining from making hasty decisions certainly yields creative rewards on Psychic 9-5 Club. It’s not quite a buoyant record, but it makes for a meditative and imaginative listening experience. This aligns with the album title’s conceptual basis.
“Towards the end of the album we had this space in mind, the kind of club that this music would exist or be played [in]. We were talking about great new dance music scenes [that] come out of new street drugs and that hasn’t happened for a while. We envisioned a place that, if there wasn’t any drugs but you could get to a higher consciousness, what music would be in that club?” We can only enter Psychic 9-5 Club to find out.