Counting Down The Days

11 September 2013 | 3:30 am | Brendan Telford

“There’s certainly no game plan about what we do; we might have an idea or two, but not much else."

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The formation of Melbourne collective Dick Diver could have read like most other piecemeal collaborations between members of other, well-respected bands (ie. a chance to play with mates, but with no true cohesion or focus). Yet with their sophomore album Calendar Days the quartet – Rupert Edwards, Al McKay, Al Montfort and Steph Hughes – has surpassed the “supergroup” tag and any potential negative connotations by crafting a meticulous album of lyrical vignettes, ultimately forming the basis for a rich tapestry of plaintive yet fully immersive storytelling.

“I only have one other band to speak of (Boomgates), but that feels like more of a group explosion where we get together and we may have this tiny single plan but generally we just come in and jam,” Hughes explains. “But Dick Diver's just as natural. We're all working on our own ideas or parts, themes even, then compiling it all together, but we definitely don't spend a lot of time doing that. We spend a lot of time in our own heads.

“I think we only jammed together once or twice the weekend before going in to record Calendar Days, we might play some of these songs live but they're still solidifying. The hard work is done in the brain, rather than hashing it out in the room. Two Year Lease we wrote on the spot, so we do have that spontaneity there, but generally the process is quite internal, which sounds different when you say it out loud but it's totally natural to us.”

With such an insular creative process, it goes without saying that there's a great degree of trust within the Dick Diver camp, and egos are well and truly checked at the door. Calendar Days exemplifies this even more than its predecessor, as the marked shifts in mood, tempo and lyricism coalescing into an elegant whole suggests.

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“There's certainly no game plan about what we do; we might have an idea or two, but not much else,” Hughes laughs. “We did want to change things from (2011's New Start Again); originally we wanted to go to a beach in winter, have that juxtaposition as we wrote and recorded. We were looking for this morose setting, but we ended up at a friend's house that was basically the suburbs. It was amazing, though. I think we just know each other a lot better, so there's no need to force a single thing.

“We came together as a band by knowing someone else in the band, but we weren't close-knit, like we all went to school together or lived in the same house, so those internal connections didn't exist. Now they do, and I think that comes through with the confidence and experimentation of sound that we're willing to take on. I'm a bit of a sook or a wuss when it comes to getting my ideas out in front of people, even if I'm really happy with them, and because I know these boys now, that fear isn't there and I don't worry about piping up anymore. I think it's had a direct effect on how our music comes together now, and how comfortable we are to cross over with instruments or for me to take the vocals.”

The addition of go-to guru Mikey Young on the mixing desk certainly helped further augment the Dick Diver aesthetic. “That's the good thing about Mikey, that he can push in directions that our mindset mightn't allow us to. We did a few jams or musical interlude things in the studio that he encouraged. He's part of the bunch of friends we have that are warm and funny and really encourage us to go for things, to pull our finger out sometimes.”

One of the true key successes of Dick Diver is the marriage of maudlin, downbeat lyrics with a sunny sonic disposition and vice versa, the kind of binary opposition that contrasts but also adds a confidence and vibrancy that heightens the subject matter exponentially. It's been a successful trait for many of Australia's higher echelon of songwriters, from Grant MacLennan and Robert Forster to Ed Kuepper and Paul Kelly.

“We get hit with The Go-Betweens references a lot, but I think it's valid,” Hughes asserts. “I remember talking to Rupert and he was saying how McLennan is really down on himself a lot, yet puts these criticisms in high art pop songs – major chord self-criticism – whilst Forster doesn't have that kind of self-criticism in his own work.

“So we don't see ourselves in that realm, but then we kinda do. We're more confident in that we know each member of the band has a particular voice, and that each voice fits in with what Dick Diver is. We sing each other's songs too, because we feel that someone else will be better at conveying what it is we want the song to fulfil. So there's this constant complementing that goes on when we're together, and that makes sense that it also crosses over to how we write music.”

The culmination of Dick Diver's hard work is a show in the famed Spiegeltent as part of this year's Brisbane Festival, a fact that the band is stoked about.

“I'm over the moon that we get to do this,” Hughes enthuses. “We were going to come to Brisbane as part of the album tour, but when we scored this we felt we'd save ourselves for it. I've been to The Spiegeltent for other shows here in Melbourne, and they've always been these weird and eclectic things, so it feels like we have to step up, turn into a cabaret show, or play the violin saw or something. It's going to be a lot of fun.”