Last Dinosaurs are more musicians than artists, frontman Sean Caskey tells Stuart Evans, as they chat about happy melodies with sad lyrics, the disbelief that a great number of people like their music and the challenge of creating a story worth remembering.
At time of writing, all the members of fledging Brisbane collective Last Dinosaurs are under 23 years of age. The Brisbane boys have been steadily plugging away, mastering their music, live shows and tightening their sound since 2007 and for lead singer and guitarist Sean Caskey, it has been a long but rewarding experience thus far. Caskey formed Last Dinosaurs with his high-school friend and drummer Dan Koyama, who was followed by Caskey's younger brother Lachlan and bassist Sam Gethin-Jones.
Despite their youthfulness, they display a level of maturity way beyond their years. “I certainly have ambitions to take the band as far as I can. All of this has happened so quickly that it's hard to believe,” says Caskey.
The adage, time waits for no man, is certainly applicable for Last Dinosaurs – they have progressed from playing one person shows a few years back to now packing out venues. It has been one hell of a ride for the boys and Caskey reveals that he owes a debt of gratitude to his father. “Back when we first started,” he laughs, “my dad used to drive us all to Sydney to play gigs as we were all too young to drive!”
Caskey reflects on the band's progress for a moment before choosing his next words. “It's awesome and ridiculous, particularly the last year or so. We started at the bottom – to playing gigs in front of only my dad – to where we are now, with an album. I still can't believe that so many people like us and our music.”
For all band members, Last Dinosaurs formed with a clear vision – to bring musicality back to live music. “We wanted to focus on instrumentality. At the time we formed, a lot of others bands were using little more than a guitar and calling themselves a band. I certainly respect what those artists do, but they are more artists than musicians. With Last Dinosaurs, we are more musicians than artists.”
The vision that brought the band together is, of course, shared with many rock acts – the point of difference with the Brisbane boys is their collective mutual love of contemporary music, from American rockers The Strokes to French band Phoenix. The latter influence would cement the band's bond. Caskey chuckles, “All of us love Robert Smith and The Cure as well and we really like a lot of modern bands. The Strokes were certainly an influence for me as they were the reason I started to play guitar. I like Phoenix for their perfect Fender sound though.”
Caskey surmises that when The Last Dinosaurs formed in 2007 and n writing songs, the wider focus of bands at the time was tilted towards gloomy and murky lyrics. Caskey sees the attraction. “I am fascinated by melancholy and wanted to write happy melodies with sad lyrics. I like writing happy melodies and every time I start to write a song it generally turns out to have an element of melancholy.”
His fascination with melancholy comes courtesy of animated Japanese films he used to watch. But not everyone 'gets' the morose words that Last Dinosaurs continue to cleverly weave into melody. “I hope people get an emotional connection to our music, but I understand how people may not listen to the lyrics as I generally always pay attention to the melody first.”
Case in point is their track, Hawaii, which on the surface is a supposedly upbeat pop song. “Hawaii is strange and very ironic as it's supposed to be a sad song,
not the happy song that most have interpreted,” Caskey explains.
Their Back From The Dead EP, released in 2010, set the tone for bigger and better things. With its uptempo and danceable harmonies, Back From The Dead was well received by the media and fans alike. The EP also exposed the songwriting ability of Caskey and Koyama to the public.
That Last Dinosaurs supported Lost Valentinos and current pop favourites Foster The People has only added weight to their already stellar reputation. Since the band first found success after posting their demo to triple j, they've continued to stick their collective necks out. In Australia, they've signed to Brisbane label Dew Process – home to The Grates – and have now released In A Million Years, their debut album.
In music history terms, Last Dinosaurs are at the commencement of their musical expedition and they've taken their time in recording In A Million Years. “It has been a long process but somehow we did it,” Caskey admits. “Around eighty per cent of songs on In A Million Years were written in the last six months. There has been a lot of pre-production and slogging it out but I am very glad we took our time.”
Of course, there is a caveat with In A Million Years as the pop element - drums and the Fender-like sonic reverberations - scream out for commercial love, yet the lyrics continue to tell a deeper and dark story of universal struggle. At its core, In A Million Years has a running narrative of relationships and the struggle between mortality and immortality, or those things most important to the human spirit. Yet beneath the melancholy sits a message of positivity – the overlying pop components in the songs, arrangements and heart-felt lyrics reveal a level of depth and substance
A candid Caskey explains that his grandfather died during the album's construction, adding that the best way to preserve his memory and legacy was to think about him habitually. It all links back to his and the album's overriding message of immortality. “I've always thought about immortality and what it would be like to be remembered in death. To die knowing I'll be remembered is a comforting thought. The challenge is creating a story worth remembering.”
Caskey states that the majority of lyrics throughout In A Million Years were written from a different perspective; a futuristic standpoint. “All lyrics were written from a future perspective as I tried to distance myself by writing that way. I call it futuristic nostalgia,” he laughs.
And in more good news for the band, they've recently signed with UK label Fiction, home of Kaiser Chiefs and Crystal Castles. The UK has taken to Last Dinosaurs with a raging appetite – the more they hear of the retro '80s pop beats emanating from Last Dinosaurs, the more they apparently want. “I still can't believe that the label wanted to sign us. I couldn't believe it when I first found out and it's pretty exciting about what the label can help us achieve.”
Honolulu and Zoom, the singles that are doing most damage in Australia and the Motherland, contain elements of what the band is about. “Zoom is about fire fighters who start fires and the reasons and meaning behind it, so I guess the song struck a chord.”
Still, those who have followed the band's progress will not be too surprised to see how they've advanced and are garnering an ever-increasing fanbase.
For some, Last Dinosaurs may be perceived as youngsters simply having a good time, strumming around with guitars. However, with a few years of touring already under their belts, they know all about the demands that the industry expects. “So far we've been pretty chilled about it all and we try very hard to do things right. I like doing media interviews but not film.” The latter is a pity as Caskey is gearing up to appear in a music video. “I don't like being filmed at all as I feel like an idiot,” he jests.
But sometimes acting the fool has comprehensible benefits. Their stage presence, persona and attitude take their collective carefree spirit to another level, and they are known to play around with a few gimmicks onstage, including donning pirate hats and fake moustaches. Yet unlike the giant reptiles after which they are named, Last Dinosaurs are looking increasingly far from extinct. If the future needs to be written, Last Dinosaurs are in no hurry to write it. “We've done everything right and have made our songs as tight as possible. We always try to step up to make sure we always improve.”
Musicians are a creative bunch. Last Dinosaurs, so named after band members Sean Caskey and brother Lachlan interpreted two Japanese names to get the word dinosaur, are just one of a number of bands and artists who looked to the animal kingdom for inspiration.
Was (Not Was) famously climbed up the charts back in the late '80s with their annoyingly catchy Walk The Dinosaur, while Marc Bolan plumbed for the Big Daddy of all Dinos when he selected his band name, the infamous Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Not to be outdone, Dinosaur Jr got in on the act and so, too, did Dinosaur Feathers.
And then things got a little strange. Follow the evolutionary tract from dinosaurs to, well, anything really. Animals crop up here, there and everywhere. If Marc Bolan was compensating for a lack of goods south of the equator by naming his band after the biggest and most fearsome creature the world has known, then what is the explanation and rationale behind Arctic Monkeys, The Black Crowes, Counting Crows or even The Mountain Goats? Surely there was a reason behind Damon Albarn naming his group Gorillaz and not pigeons, while John, Paul, George and Ringo would have had reason to name themselves after an insect. Modest Mouse obviously have an explanation, likewise The Wombats, Eagles, Crazy Frog and The Pussycat Dolls, the latter interchanged with another animal – the Pussycat Moles. Echo liked bunnies so much that he named his band after them (the Bunnymen) and Adam was so into ants that his group were tagged after the little pests.
Even American hip hop artists have looked to the animal world for inspiration as God knows what possessed one-time gangster rapper Snoop to name himself after a pooch. Yet arguably the best of the bunch is Alien Ant Farm, famed for their decidedly average cover of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. Well, they have disappeared just like the dinosaurs.