Doin' It For Themselves

2 April 2013 | 10:39 am | Celline Narinli

“Once the whole album stuff’s done, I’m sort of personally still writing some stuff. But it’s not necessarily Hungry Kids Of Hungary songs. It’s a little personal pet project of mine."

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Dean McGrath, lead vocalist and guitarist of Hungry Kids Of Hungary, is taking some much needed rest and recuperation before they're back on the promotion treadmill for their second record, You're A Shadow. With a national tour on the horizon and Groovin' The Moo festival dates, McGrath's “not doing much at all” in his hometown of Brisbane. “I'm just sort of resting up before all the hard work of touring and promoting an album. So, yeah, it's starting to ramp up again. We're only a week out now.”

The four-piece released their debut record Escapades in 2010, and two EPs – Hungry Kids Of Hungary (2008) and Mega Mountain (2009) – just before that. Over those three years the band garnered a solid fanbase, but they still experienced “a mixture of emotions” prior to the release of the follow-up – in particular, nerves. “There were definitely some nerves,” he says. “We'd sort of been waiting for this for a while, and the record had been finished and in the can ready to go for a little bit. So, we were just sitting around going 'When can we put it out?'” McGrath laughs. “When do we get to do all the fun stuff?'”

You're A Shadow sees the indie crew taking on bolder and more ambitious avenues than their debut record, which McGrath admits is their attempt at breaking out of the indie-pop act mould that they've been locked in. “We're still a pop band undeniably, and we're not ashamed to say it. But [our aim was] to try and burst out of a certain mould of just being a simple happy-go-lucky pop act, and there's a bit more behind these songs.

“We had our own personal expectations of wanting to do something bigger and better and more satisfying, on a personal level. We try not to get too caught up in the 'will this be embraced by everyone and will this be a success?' [way of thinking]. We're selfish like that,” chuckles McGrath. “We made our record for ourselves, first and foremost. We knew what we wanted to do – what would make us happy. So we went and did it.”

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Keeping that in mind, McGrath and Kane Mazlin (vocals, keys) – who share the songwriting duties – were overjoyed with the outcome of their self-proclaimed “best effort yet”. “From anything we've done, I think all four of us are most proudest of this record. And yeah, we finally have that feeling that we nailed it. And it's a hard thing to achieve. You are your worst critic.”

McGrath puts the success of the album down to a more “forward-thinking” approach, as he explains: “[The songs] are a lot more considered. On my part especially… The last record and all the stuff that sort of preceded this one, it was kind of just like, 'just bash out the song', and the first idea that comes to you is cool, and just go for it and get it done. Whereas this time around [the entire process was] a little lingered, just to push myself a little bit more, just to maybe take less obvious avenues with my songwriting.”

But it wasn't all smooth sailing for McGrath, whose songwriting inspiration came from a tougher period in his life. “Pretty much the whole year of 2011 for me was, you know, a bit of a write-off. It was a really challenging year,” muses McGrath. “And it's not something I can really go into detail on, because it has repercussions for other people who I was close to at the time, but I just had a lot of heavy shit going on. And you know, all that sort of informed what I was writing lyrically. So, yeah, all my songs are all about struggling through that time in my life.”

And so he approached his songwriting as a form of therapy. “It's a really sort of cathartic release in a really positive way,” he says. “I find, to deal with the tough stuff is to try and write a song about it. And you know what's a really weird thing about it now? Playing these songs and promo-ing the album and just being like, 'oh, when I wrote these songs it was pretty full-on and it was pretty, you know, right in the thick of it'. But right now it's just sort of this, you know, it's just a pop song – a pop record.”

In a turn of events, the Brisbane outfit recruited Wayne Connolly (Dappled Cities, Something For Kate) for producing duties, which was previously assigned to ex-Philly Jays member and “interesting musical thinking” Simon 'Berkfinger' Berckelman, who is based in Berlin. “We had talked to Simon about the possibility of going overseas and doing it with him, yeah,” admits McGrath. “And we were sort of looking at different studios that we considered working in and looking at our budget and thinking 'can we afford to do it this way? What's gonna be affordable? And what's gonna give us the best result?' And, yeah, we were having curious conversations with Simon about all of that… It wasn't viable to do it once we got back to Australia, trying to mix on different continents, different time zones, over the internet. It was just too difficult. And it was going to take way too long. But then, yeah, we ended up with the opportunity, served on a silver platter, and we went and did a couple of songs with Wayne, so we took that opportunity. We found our guy; we can stop looking now.“

On the brink of a national tour, the quartet have buckled down to start pre-tour preparations. One important addition to their prep: their “daggy” roadtrip mixtapes, which keep them sane on the road, and provide a highly entertaining karaoke opportunity. “We've got big driving weeks, so we like to make mixed CDs,” McGrath says. “And it's usually our drummer [Ryan Strathie] who makes them and they're usually daggy as hell, like purposely daggy as hell. So, we had like the '80s hair-metal band tour CD, and we've had the really cheesy '90s R&B tour CD. So, yeah, it's always good to have some super-corny CD to sing along to in the van, when you're starting to get cabin fever.”

And what can we expect after the tour you may ask? Well, alongside his commitments to Hungry Kids, McGrath also reveals he has spent his spare time working on some new solo material, which he isn't planning on releasing just yet. “Once the whole album stuff's done, I'm sort of personally still writing some stuff. But it's not necessarily Hungry Kids Of Hungary songs. It's a little personal pet project of mine. I don't know whether it's going to be released or if I'll actually do anything with it. It's just cleansing the palette between Hungry Kids records. I just want to write a bunch of stuff that just belongs to me, I guess. Bit of a vanity project.”

Hungry Kids Of Hungary will b eplaying the follwoing dates:

Friday 5 April - The Hi-Fi, Sydney NSW
Saturday 6 April - Mona Vale Hotel, Sydney NSW
Thursday 11 April - Newport, Fremantle WA
Friday 12 April - Capitol, Perth WA
Thursday 18 April - Kings Beach Tavern, Caloundra QLD
Friday 19 April - The Hi-Fi, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 20 April Great Northern, Byron Bay NSW
Sunday 21 April - Alhambra Lounge, Brisbane QLD
Friday 26 April - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 27 April - Groovin' The Moo, Maitland Showground, Maitland NSW
Sunday 28 April - Groovin' The Moo, University Of Canberra, Canberra ACT
Sunday 4 May - Groovin' The Moo, Prince Of Wales Showground, Bendigo WA
Sunday 5 May - Groovin' The Moo, Townsville Cricket Grounds, Townsville QLD
Saturday 11 May - Groovin' The Moo, Hay Park, Bunbury WA