Conrad Standish was away for a long time. He arrived back in Australia last year after nearly a decade abroad. “Things have changed here a lot,” Standish says. “When we left Melbourne and Australia in general we were in a particular space musically, and to an extent it was hard for us to do what we needed to do.”
The necessary work was that of Devastations, the three-piece formed by Standish, Hugo Cran and Tom Carlyon in 2002 from the ashes of their previous group Luxedo. Devastations abandoned the rock meanderings of Luxedo for direct and intended sound; they also abandoned an Australian scene obsessed with faux-rockers for the space to flex creatively in Western Europe.
“I was in Berlin for a few years,” Standish says, “and then moved to London for six years.” The move to London coincided with their signing to influential British label Beggars Banquet (Gary Numan, The National) in 2005, who released Devastations’ sophomoreCoalin 2006 and final albumYes, Uin 2007.
Devastations played a run of dates in Australia in early 2009 before announcing the next year that they had broken up. Carlyon had moved back to Melbourne some time beforehand for family reasons, but kept in regular contact with England-based Standish about matters musical.
The result is this year’s debut release by Standish/Carlyon, titledDeleted Scenes. It’s an accomplished collection of sinister and sexy tunes whose crooning somehow enthrals and appals the listener in equal measures. “Tom and I have been working on this for the last few years,” Standish says. “We were constantly sending files for overdubbing to each other online, but the lion’s share was done in London.”
“The gestation was a long time ago,” he continues. “There have been a lot of ideas. I think the first song to go on the album was recorded back in 2010. It has been a long period because we weren’t able to work fast, but that’s the way it is.”
Standish moved back to Melbourne with his wife Jonnine (one half of down-pop adventurers HTRK) in early 2012. It was a period that he describes as very traumatic for both of their families and one that involved significant adjustment. “It was difficult at first, partly because of what was going on in our families and partly because we’d been away for so long,” Standish says. “It’s different now, of course – there’s no sense of culture shock anymore. I’ve become so ensconced in the culture of [Melbourne] I can’t recall how it feels to be outside of it.”
Standish and Carlyon’s cultural immersion was done no harm last July when they played a month-long residency at The Tote. The shows were typically strange affairs: the last night featured the main men onstage while Jonnine and Ying Li Hooey (Bryan Ferry’s in-house graphic designer) played chess at the stage’s rear.
“It feels like there is a new generation of kids doing things artistically and taking chances,” Standish says. “It feels like a really good period for Australian art and music right now.”
Standish’s attitude is undoubtedly influenced in part by the wayDeleted Sceneshas been received. “People in Australia really seem to get it,” Standish says. “My past work has been more embraced in Europe, but we’ve been really warmly embraced here this time.”
Not that the positive reception will change how the Melbourne artist does things. “Once an album is mastered I never listen to it. I’m more interested in thinking about what’s next. We’ve got a remix 12-inch that’s coming out in a couple of months with work from White Car, HTRK and Bell Towers. In the meantime we’re just working on things slowly.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER