As the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. Not Glass Towers frontman Ben Hannam, though. Tyler McLoughlan gets a glimpse of life through the eyes of a 21-year-old who is all too aware of the youth he beautifully captured in the Sydney outfit’s debut album Halcyon Days.
It seems inevitable that everyone at some point will think back to their youthful glory days and wish for a simpler time. Not long out of his teens, Ben Hannam has already done a great deal of looking back from the perspective of a young man between his fancy-free school days and the responsibilities of adulthood, and he's channelled it all into Glass Towers' first album, Halcyon Days.
“I think it's because I'm a really, really nostalgic kind of person,” says Hannam of the overriding themes of the record. “I fell in love with Jack Kerouac when I was 17, and basically that kind of transformed my life. The way he writes his books, he typed up On The Road in a couple of weeks and that's basically what I started doing; I'd go out to a house party or something when I was in year 12 and I'd come home and I'd just start writing everything I could remember: details, interesting characters, experiences I had. I guess that's how the record kind of formed; it's all from personal experience. I'm just a weirdo, I'm just a really nostalgic person and it's something I'm actually working on,” he says, aware that it's not a usual pastime of a rock star 21-year-old who has already experienced some serious career triumphs.
Crafting the songs of Halcyon Days largely through bedroom experimentations as a Byron Bay school kid, Hannam explains the significance of the album's title that is very accurately depicted with a cover shot of a young bloke swimming in the sea as a cigarette hangs from the corner of his mouth. “It goes back to the whole nostalgia thing. Halcyon means idyllic or peaceful and Halcyon Days means a time in the past which was idyllic or peaceful, or a happier kind of time. Basically the concept of the record [is based on] when I was 17 or 18 in high school and I was just going to house parties, and you know, [having dramas about] girlfriends, ex-girlfriends – nothing really mattered. Things mattered, but those things are so trivial looking back; they're not trivial things but like in the scheme of things now that I'm 21, back then everything was much easier. I'd hate to see what the biggest thing was in our life back then. I kind of wanted to write an invitation back to those times,” he says wistfully.
With tight, intelligent rock melodies soundtracking poetic explorations of youth, Hannam is proud of the record but certainly doesn't want to stay stuck in the past. “No way!” he exclaims when quizzed on whether nostalgia will feature on the second album. “That's what's so good about releasing this record – I'm so excited about it because we've been sitting on these songs and this whole kind of concept since we were 17, 16 or whatever. The next records we do will definitely be a lot different.” Hannam is well-spoken and articulate; he's as clear about the themes of Halcyon Days as he is about what he wanted to achieve from the recording process, and why wunderkind producer Jean-Paul Fung was the man for the job. “I picked him because I'm really into producers like Rich Costey who did Interpol's third record and mixed Bloc Party's first record. A lot of the bands at the moment are making lo-fi surf, punky kind of sounds like Bleeding Knees Club; I wanted to go against that and make a really nice sounding, rich, luscious, layered record. That was why I chose JP. I'm really happy with how it sounded; he's a bloody genius. He's really good at what he does, and he's so young as well – he's like 24 or something and he's done so much already.”
The same can certainly be said of the young Glass Towers lads who recently returned from their first international dates that coincided with news of a Japanese record deal, following up with coveted triple j feature album status to celebrate the July release. Hannam's pinch-me achievements, however, have been the quieter moments of connecting with other songwriters. “Touring with The Kooks a couple of months ago, that was insane 'cause their first album was one of the first records I really obsessed about in high school. Meeting Luke [Pritchard] and the guys and becoming friends with them as well, that was a major trip. And we toured with Neil Finn about two years ago. We chatted with him and he said just keep going at it; if you love it and if you keep trying at it, it will work out eventually. So that's what we've kept doing and it seems to be happening now,” Hannam says cheerfully.