Leave Your Soul To Science sees the return of indie-rock favourites Something For Kate. Cam Findlay sits down with frontman Paul Dempsey to talk shop, getting back in the SFK groove and wasting time on lyrics.
"It's great, it's putting on an old t-shirt,” Australia's favourite lanky musical gentleman, Paul Dempsey, answers affably on the topic of Something For Kate and their first release in four years. That's not to discredit other Australian lanky musical gentlemen, however; over the years Dempsey has just seamlessly and impressionably pulled it off to a great extent. “There's familiarity and comfort,” he expands on the analogy. “It's good, it's nice.”
Leave Your Soul To Science is Something For Kate's 11th album, counting various B-side compilations and live issues amongst their studio long-players. It sees the trio of Dempsey, his wife and bassist Stephanie Ashworth and drummer Clint Hyndman return after working on their own projects since 2008's exceptional live album, Live At The Corner. Dempsey, for one, embarked on a greatly succesfull solo tryst, taking his first album, 2009's Everything Is True, around the country. Entering the space of communal songwriting has been a breath of fresh air for the hard-working artist. “I guess in both cases it sort of starts with me sketching something out,” Dempsey details the workings and differences between writing solo and with the band. “I guess when it's solo stuff, I sort of have to take it all the way to completion by myself. Whereas on Something For Kate Stuff, Clint and Steph get involved and that changes it a great deal in ways – they make decisions and choices about songs that I wouldn't necessarily have made on my own. So by the time the three of us are done with something, it just naturally sounds like Something For Kate.”
As natural as Leave Your Soul To Science is, it admittedly is an entirely different beast. The last few years did see the various members settle down, at least in the aesthetic sense. There's less of the vaguely sinister tones and obscure literal hobnobbing of previous SFK albums and favourites like Echolalia; in its place more of the introspective dealings that started to appear from 2006's Desert Lights. “On this album they're probably a little more involved in different ways, and it's hard to put my finger on it but they just feel quite different to our previous records,” Demspey shares of the variance in tracks on Leave Your... “Obviously, in the last five years I've been playing with lots of different people, Clint's been playing with lots of different people and our general styles have changed quite a bit, so there's something about playing these new songs that just doesn't feel like the way we used to play our old songs.”
One natural developent in Something For Kate's repertoire that's obvious on the new album – and one that you really can't blame them for – is the expansion of the old SFK sound through effects and studio development. “We sort of in turn… You know, 'Here's all these other little boring side effects that probably nobody really gives a shit about, just things like having to invest in all these different effects pedals and toys and then figure out how to use them all in a way that makes sense',” Demspey laughs with more than a little joking self-deprecation. “We've just been having all these rehearsals lately, where I'm trying to figure out how to program all these stupid pedals and trying to get all the sounds right and then trying to build this pedal board that looks like a spaceship.”
The other side of the coin, so to speak, is of course the lyrical content of the new songs, something that deinfitely resides in a place of passion and pride for Dempsey. Dempsey has openly and candidly talked about his battle with depression, and has inadvertently become something of a role model for others who suffer from its debilitating effects. Songwriting has been, and in some ways still is, his way of dealing with those demons. “When I'm writing, I just feel like I don't know what I'm doing, I feel like I've never written a song in my life and I don't know how I'm gonna write lyrics, and I don't know where to start or what to write about,” he admits with that wry sense of humour. “And then I don't know what happens, I just spend hours scribbling and scribbling and all I know is that at some point it's done. And then I kind of look at it and go, 'Wow, that's finished.' And I feel pretty good about this, and I think it works, but I have no fucking idea how I did it. And then I'm back to feeling like I'm an idiot again who's never written a song in his life and I don't know how I'm possibly ever going to write another one.
“It's just really hard to explain – I don't know where or why or how I get started. It all begins with music: music I can write really easily. Every time I pick up a guitar, I write another piece of music and then I'm sitting there going, 'Okay. Shit, now this needs lyrics, how the fuck am I gonna do that?' Somehow six months later, there will be lyrics and it's hard to tell you how they got down.”
The eventuating lyrics are a mixed bag, to say the least. There's the strikingly relative and emotional, like in Captain (A Million Miles Away) from their debut album, Elsewhere For 8 Minutes: “I built an aeroplane/It was just like the real ones that I saw when I was younger/But it was too small for me/To crawl inside the cockpit and fly away.” Then there's Hawaiian Robots, a B-side that appears on Phantom Limbs, in which Dempsey loudly croons, “I'm better off as a robot, I'm better off in Hawaii,” by way of a chorus. “Often there's a few, kind of, overlapping stories or ideas [in the songwriting], and I'm not gunna bullshit here – sometimes it is just pure abstraction,” Dempsey chuckles. “I think with a lot of my lyrics you can probably get the sense of what the song is generally about and it's kind of up to the listener how far into it they want to delve and how much they want to [connect] the dots, because that's the kind of lyrics I like. I like lyrics where there are many little dots to be connected, and it's kind of up to you whether you do or not. It can work on a pretty superficial level, and then it can also work on several other levels, depending on the amount of time you have to waste.”
Something For Kate will be playing the following shows:
Friday 26 October - The Gov, Adelaide SA
Saturday 17 November - Golden Days Festival, Coolum QLD
Friday 23 - Sunday 25 November - Queenscliff Music Festival, Queenscliff VIC
Saturday 8 December - Homebake Festival, The Domain NSW
Monday 31 December - The Espy, Melbourne VIC