Rested and reinvigorated, Something With Numbers return from an unintended hiatus and the odd side project with album number four, Eleven Eleven. Michael Smith talks to drummer Lachlan West.
Forming on the NSW Central Coast in 2001, Something With Numbers recorded their last album, Engineering The Soul, way back in 2008 with American producer Tim O'Heir in Mission Sound Studios in New York. The band has gone through a few changes in the interim, guitarist Lachlan Scott opting out to start a family and work as a substitute teacher at a selective Catholic high school on the Central Coast, replaced by Trent Crawford, and similarly drummer Dave McBeath has moved on and been replaced by Lachlan West, who also plays in The Vines – but the other founding guitarist, Tim Crocker, bass player Scott Chapman and, of course, the band's singer, songwriter and, though he admits his limitations, now proudly third guitarist, Jake Grigg, are still very much part of the firm.
This time round however, the band opted to stay in Sydney to record with the engineer/producer of their 2004 debut album, Etiquette, Lachlan Mitchell. As Grigg told me in an earlier interview, done while the band was recording new album, Eleven Eleven, “I guess I just wanted to work with him again. We already have a relationship with him so half of the point of when you start a record with a producer is that initial period of trying to get to know the person. We already knew Lachlan and he already knew me and the band, so we didn't have to go through all that red tape; we just got straight into it.”
Adds the band's 'most recent acquisition', Lachlan West, of Mitchell, “that was the first time I'd met him, and he's really, really good to work with. He's a very nurturing sort of producer and not too hung up on what your snare drum sounds like but cares about what the song as a whole is.”
The drummer was obviously impressed enough with Mitchell to recommend him to Vines frontman Craig Nicholls. “I remember speaking to Craig about how much I really loved Lachlan's work process, so we ended up doing the second half of the [forthcoming Vines] record with him.” The other half of the new Vines album, due for release in the latter half of this year, was produced by Paul McKercher.
West was the natural choice, at least in Grigg's mind, to replace the departing McBeath, after the drummer became a part of the side project, Maniac, Grigg formed with Shawn Harris of California pop punks The Matches.
“They'd met each other on tour,” West, originally a Central Coast boy himself, explains, “Something With Numbers and The Matches, a few years earlier, and they started writing songs together. Then Shawn moved to Sydney for about a year [2010/11] and I played with them here and then played with them in America as well, so when Dave, the original drummer left, I was the next call, which was good. I'd toured supporting Something With Numbers in other acts as well, and I've always really liked the band, so it was an honour to get the call. So I joined for this record but I was with Jake when he was writing a lot of the songs for this record, in the formative stages, which was good.”
So what was driving Grigg's songwriting at the time you might ask? “He's the only person that would be able to truly answer that,” West admits with a chuckle, “and I'm sure he wouldn't truly answer it himself. A lot of it was his life at the time, living overseas and any sort of relationship stuff that went on in that time… yeah.”
In that earlier interview with Grigg, he'd made the point that, unlike with previous recordings, the band hadn't rehearsed the material to precision strength before going in to record Eleven Eleven, but rather the band had run through the songs only enough times to get a rough idea of what to expect and had then jammed them out in the studio. As West admits, “Jake may have finished a song lyrically, but we still had to flesh it out as a band.”
One song, however, wasn't part of the original track listing Something With Numbers went into the studio with, opening track, Runaway.
“We came into it starting another song and it just completely got turned on its head. The [original] song, Fuck Winter, was a bit too happy – it sounded like a, you know, Coke ad or Channel Ten ad or something like that for summertime – so it wasn't really where we were going in the studio, so we had to get a big dirty sound up. It was kind of good because Scott, the bass player, and I were tracking the rhythm section for that song as Jake was in the [studio] kitchen penning the lyrics down and coming up with form ideas and stuff like that. That one is a favourite of ours because it's just so new and came out of absolutely nothing but sheer boredom in the studio.”
As 'the new guy', West hasn't only had to adapt his playing to the band's template as established in that department by McBeath, but has been a part, along with guitarist Trent Crawford, of the reinvigorating of the band's sound.
“I guess I've come from more of a background and joined a band that had mainly come from punk beginnings. So the drums, particularly on the record, would be a lot roomier and maybe a bit heavier, but definitely not anywhere near as fast or precise as Dave was before me. But it's not just adding a new member that's changed the sound. I think everyone's taste has matured and changed between now and when they did the last record.”
There's certainly a lot more 'air' in the sound these days, with a certain toughness and yet a lightness apparent at the same time. The band has already had the chance to play a few of the new songs in a couple of shows towards the end of last year and a short east coast run earlier this.
“It was really good to be able to gauge a reaction from a handful of songs. Runaway always does really well, and another song, Touch The Moon has become a live favourite since we started trying it out. We're definitely not going to ignore the old stuff though – we're playing stuff from the three records before of course. A vast majority of the fans there to see us are there to hear their old favourite songs.”
This week's new sets include music from locals Gurrumul, Josh Pyke and West Thebarton Brothel Party plus new tunes from The Maccabees and Albert Hammond Jr.