Over the course of the seven years since Northeast Party House first came together, the band has undergone a change of identity. With a revolving door of old members leaving and new ones stepping in, the Melburnians have finally settled into the six-member lineup they are today.
Singer Zach Hamilton-Reeves has been there since day one, and he’s experienced first-hand the shift in their sound from their first album Any Given Weekend to its follow-up, Dare.
“Changing people really changes the direction of the band,” Hamilton-Reeves says. “All of us write and we want to keep that ethos in the band and that vibe – it can change with each member.”
It’s not difficult to hear this change in Dare. Northeast Party House have certainly matured since their triple j Unearthed days, and this album is more cohesive and challenging than their first release. Hamilton-Reeves puts this down to a different writing process – they tried to analyse what they’ve done in the past, improve their writing skills and set new goals.
“We wanted it to be better, more polished, less of a focus on ‘boring’ rhythms. The whole of Any Given Weekend is just the same rhythm in every song, kind of the same BPM, so we tried to mix it up a bit from that.”
Northeast Party House have typically written grungy indie rock tracks, but in Dare they step into electro and dance, an attempt to include more variation. While ‘For You’ became an undeniable summer anthem, Hamilton-Reeves has a special connection with ‘Calypso Beach’ – an album track that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. The band is currently playing a string of shows around Australia to celebrate the new single, and the frontman says it represents a fresh approach to songwriting.
“We have always written more indie rock or kind of Foals-y music, so it’s a departure from that. It’s the first song I’ve written that I would actually classify as a dance song for our band. I have some personal ties to it because of the beginnings of the song – it connected to a specific memory.”
That specific memory, Hamilton-Reeves says, was having a “big fat comedown” on a Wet’n’Wild theme park ride that forced him to contemplate his life so far. It’s a heady theme, but Northeast Party House really are all about having a good time. Hamilton-Reeves stresses that people should interpret their lyrics at face value.
“Writing lyrics, we’re not Leonard Cohen,” he laughs. “It’s something that people should be able to switch off to and enjoy. And I’m sure it will still resonate with people when it needs to or when they want to, but it’s about having fun.”
The Northeast Party House lineup isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the last few years. Hamilton-Reeves says he’s constantly trying to improve himself; that “knowledge is power”, and he values learning from other singers and talking to as many people as possible from all over the music industry.
And there have definitely been some humbling moments for Hamilton-Reeves during his career so far, like working with Nkechi Anele from Saskwatch on a triple j Like A Version performance of Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’.
“It really highlighted to us that other people have different strengths within their voices, and how much a different sound can stretch what you’re doing, and her voice is so amazing. When we were practising, she came in to practise with us just before it, and I was just blown away. She’s much better than I am!”
If anything, though, Hamilton-Reeves has become too humble. Like many Australian bands that have risen to fame over the past two decades, Northeast Party House first received attention from triple j Unearthed. Their song ‘Dusk’ led them to radio play, and they even won the coveted triple j Unearthed slot at Pyramid Rock festival in 2010. But looking at the level of talent on the Aussie music scene today – artists like Tkay Maidza, Julia Jacklin and more – Hamilton-Reeves genuinely can’t believe his band even made it on the radio in the first place.
“I cannot believe we got Unearthed with our song – it sounds ridiculous listening to the quality of it, and you listen to the quality of someone else from triple j Unearthed or anyone that can go on triple j Unearthed – it’s not even comparable. I think we got lucky!”
Most recently, Hamilton-Reeves has started learning how to play the guitar. Though his parents are both musicians and he’s picked up an instrument or two over the years, nothing has really stuck, and he’s already found that learning guitar has been his biggest challenge over the past year.
“I figured that I hadn’t withheld any knowledge about instruments, so that’s why I’m trying to learn guitar, which is pretty fucked. I’d say that’s probably the hardest thing I’ve dealt with. That and money.”
I could sing anything on my voice or create any drum beat, and then just go to a computer and work that out. But it’s not a very natural process.
When asked how he managed to become a musician without learning an instrument, he says it’s been pretty organic. But it certainly hasn’t been easy.
“I could sing anything on my voice or create any drum beat, and then just go to a computer and work that out. But it’s not a very natural process, and it’s not a very quick process I’ve found. It means you get the initial ideas out quickly, and that’s good because that’s how I write, but then you have to spend the time to make it sound good and what works for that, and that’s not an aspect of music that I particularly enjoy.”
The live shows, on the other hand, are something he is definitely passionate about. Though Northeast Party House just played Groovin The Moo, and they’ve been around the festival scene for many years, Hamilton-Reeves says there’s something about a more intimate show that can’t be beaten.
“The big shows are definitely satisfying – to see so many people enjoying something that you’ve created is amazing – but you find sometimes that the small shows surprise you and it’s a lot more intimate so it gives you lots of energy.”
But next on the agenda, Hamilton-Reeves says it’s time for Northeast Party House to relax for a bit and focus on getting better before they hit the studio again.
“It’s really easy to fall into a trap of trying to pump things out, but it’s also really important to just sit back and reflect on what you guys have done and think about what you’re going to do next, and how you’re going to do it better, then try to achieve that.”
Because at the end of the day, as he puts it, “We’re just a happy band having a good ol’ time.”
Northeast Party House play the Factory Theatre on Friday May 26. Dare is out now through Stop Start/Inertia.