Published in Drum Media (WA) | 11.07.13 | Issue # 346
VIEW FROM THE TOP
Memoirs of an intoxicated teenager became Glass Towers’ smashing debut album, Halcyon Days. On the eve of its release, Daniel Cribb chats with the band’s “nostalgia-holic” frontman Ben Hannam about a simpler time – one where all he had to worry about was partying and relationships.
The lyrics and concepts for Glass Towers’ debut record were conceived back in 2009-10 when the band’s frontman Ben Hannam was still in high school and deeply admiring artists performing on Like A Version and others who scored triple j feature albums. So it’s fitting that when the 21-year-old answers his phone, Glass Towers are triple j’s feature artist of the week.
“You never think that one day you could actually be doing that yourself… when you’re younger, when you first start a band, you always think it’s going to be easy; like, you’ll record some songs, release them, get immediate triple j play, but it’s been a hard road,” Hannam begins.
Since forming in 2008, they’ve received steady airplay, but it wasn’t until last year that Hannam actually tuned into the radio and heard one of their songs. The song was Jumanji, off the band’s second EP, Collarbone Jungle, and a sense of accomplishment filled him as he drove with the song blaring.
And now, with their new record Halcyon Days being the feature album of the week, there’s no doubt he’d tune in and hear a song off it. But he’s chosen to avoid the FM frequency. “I did the short little interviews for each song, explaining what they’re all about. I’m fine hearing my voice recorded like singing, but my actual talking voice, I hate it. Listening back to it, I’m just like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that’,” he laughs.
Forming the band when they were 16 and in the depth of their final years of study, they had some immediate success when invited to open the main stage at Splendor In The Grass for their second show ever in 2009, but since then have been “slogging” away trying to make their mark. It was during those years that Hannam was unknowningly writing the lyrics for Halcyon Days.
“Basically, I got really into Jack Kerouac, the writer, when I was about 17, like his kind of style of writing from experience and that kind of thing. So say if I went to a house party when I was like 18 or whatever, I’d come home from that house party – I’d come home really drunk, but whatever – and scroll down any kind of incident that happened and I’d kind of build songs from that, so basically all the songs are from my personal experience and they’re all written from a first hand perspective. Basically the record is called Halcyon Days because halcyon means idyllic or peaceful, and halcyon days means a time in the past that was peaceful, so the album was written in a time when I hadn’t left school yet and so obviously my whole life revolved around going to house parties and relationships.”
To some, digging out lyrics from a few years ago might render the subject matter stale. For Hannam, it made them perfect. “I’ve always been a really nostalgic person, I kind of call myself a nostalgia-holic,” he laughs. “I write from experience, and so, I wanted to change things in the songs, but I’m one of those people who feels that if I go back and change things, they won’t be real anymore, because it’s not honest. All the songs, lyrically and conceptually, they’re all the same, but the music went through a couple of phases. In terms of concepts, the album was written when I was 18 and we just kind of sat on it for a couple of years because we were finishing high school and maturing.”
The songs on their first two EPs were written during the same time as the lyrics of Halcyon Days, but it was letting them sit on the sidelines for a few years while the band matured that really resulted in a smashing debut. “Our first EP a couple of years ago, that was songs that I had just written in my bedroom back when I was 16, back in high school, and a lot of the songs on the album were written back then, but I think the songs we chose to put on this album are a lot stronger and a lot more immediate, and a lot more accessible than our first EP.
“The next record, the one that I’m writing at the moment, is going to be completely different because I don’t want to write the same record again. If I wrote the same record again I’d be rehashing the same kind of ideas I had when I was younger,” explains Hannam, “but I’ve always liked bands that change their musical style and I definitely don’t want to write the same record again. So the second record is going to be completely different to the first one, even in terms of concepts and stuff…I want to release the second record really quickly after our first one. I don’t want to sit around, waiting years like some bands do to release our second record.”
Not being complaisant to ride on their current wave of success too long, they’re already chipping away at their next release. Hannam has shifted from writing on his acoustic guitar to samplers and synths: “I don’t really know what direction we want to take it yet, because I write so much music constantly that I’m always writing different kinds of styles. I’ve been thinking about doing my own kind of thing, a solo thing, but I’m always writing for Glass Towers as well.”
With a second album in the pipeline and international touring kicking into gear, already visiting Europe and Japan this year, their initial post-graduation plans have been put on hold. And while they’re not making a living off touring the world, they’ll continue to do so as long as they can. “We’ve never really earned any money at all. All these changes happen, like you get played on triple j and you’re touring with crazy bands like The Kooks, but we’ve never seen any money before from the band, so we don’t expect it.
“I was going to go to uni when I finished high school, but I’ve always loved music; it’s my passion, what I love doing and the only thing I can see myself doing forever, so the band’s the number one thing. We’ve all got day jobs to support ourselves, but the band is the main priority.”