Battle Ready

4 July 2012 | 6:30 am | Bryget Chrisfield

“For the old stuff, I dunno if I’d call it punk but what people call punk these days is, like, The Used or Green Day or something. You know, both not very good.”

We last checked in with Hunting Grounds in Collingwood's Red Door Studios during the In Hindsight mixing process and one of the band's alternating frontmen, Michael Belsar, expressed his regret over having sold a particular reverb pedal. Has he replaced it yet? “No, I haven't,” he replies. “I need to buy one. I've actually started making pedals. My friend, his name's Jay Carey, he's been working on pedals and designing pedals for a couple of years now and I've just sort of overseen it and basically waited 'til he created one that was good enough. And he came around to my house recently with this amazing fuzz pedal that he created himself so we're sort of in the process of building enough to start selling them. So look out for Vitamin J,” he laughs of the chosen brand name before adding, “and they're all gonna have customised artwork and stuff on 'em. I think we're gonna do a release of 20 of them or something and then there's a few other ones on the way as well.”

In the lead up to In Hindsight's release, a plethora of posts on Hunting Grounds' Facebook wall put Photoshop to good use and certainly brought the LOLs with various historical characters and celebrities holding up the band's album. “Callum, a friend of mine who also was one of the artists on the album, sent me a picture of Oprah holding the album and that just got this great reaction and then Deon, another person that did artwork on the album actually, did the one of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, so I put that one up as well. Then it sort of started snowballing from there and everyone sent them in, and some of them are really good. Some of them look amazing, like, the Barak Obama one and what is his name off Home & Away? Alf Stewart.” Very soon after Melbourne's recent mini earthquake, an artistic submission saw In Hindsight emerging from a crack in the ground. “It's really funny, a few people think that we're pretending they're real and sort of dispute [their authenticity],” Belsar chuckles. “I remember there was one comment that was like, 'Yeah, this would be real if it wasn't in broad daylight'.”

When asked what he'll be doing the day In Hindsight, the debut album by Hunting Grounds, drops, Belsar shares, “I'm gonna get really, really drunk. Probably at the Karova Lounge, which is the Ballarat venue that is sort of our home. We don't have a show on or anything that day. I might go down to JB [Hi-Fi] and have a look at [the album].” Has Belsar checked out which category the band formerly known as Howl's two previous EPs – Howl and Brothers In Violence – are filed under on record store shelves? “Yeah, it was always in 'alternative', which I guess works well for the new album,” he ponders. “For the old stuff, I dunno if I'd call it punk but what people call punk these days is, like, The Used or Green Day or something. You know, both not very good.”

The band won Unearthed whilst attending Ballarat High and it's no secret that there's a “really insane creative thing going on” in the Victorian town. “It fuckin' blows my mind,” Belsar opines. “[Ballarat]'s just always been this insane place of amazing talent and we grew up with lots of amazing bands that shaped us into who we are, and there's this really great community of artists.” Hunting Grounds drew from this pool of artists to create In Hindsight's accompanying CD booklet. “With the album artwork, I gave five different artists from Ballarat three different colours and the lyrics to the song and told them to paint it, so it's everyone's own interpretation of what the song means to them.” So none of the artwork existed before they were commissioned for In Hindsight then. “Not at all,” Belsar confirms. “They're all painted to the songs, which was a really interesting process. It was a lotta fun working with them all and they're all artists I've always respected.”

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A conversation Belsar had with Luke Peldys (from fellow Ballarat band Gold Fields) back in the Howl days and “before Gold Fields were even the beginning of a band” inspired him to seek these visual depictions of individual tracks. “He said to me after we played this show [that] he really loved this lyric, which is, “Those people we love are tearing me apart,” which is basically the lyric that ends the album [from closing track Cold Feet]. And he had this totally different idea of what that lyric meant to what I sorta meant. And when writing the lyrics for the album, I wrote them in the way that they're straightforward enough for people to understand what they're about and, I guess, vague enough for people to take their own meaning as well. And I think that's really important with music, is if people take their own meaning from a song.”

On In Hindsight, Belsar shares the songwriting load for the first time. “It sort of came down to the day when Galen [Strachan, keys/vocals] had written these three songs – two of which made the album, Clearly See and Wings – and he played them to all of us at Tim [Street, guitar]'s house. I just couldn't believe it because he'd never really written much before. I always knew he was a songwriter, but he'd never come out with these huge, full songs it was always, like, random pieces of music or he just wouldn't sorta show anyone. So when he came out with these two songs, I was pretty blown away… He just showed us like they were nothing and everyone was pretty amazed. But I think, for me, sharing the songwriting load was really fucking good because it gave me a new source of inspiration, I guess. You know, just constantly listening to your own songs – it just gets really boring and you don't know if you're doing it right or wrong or whatever, and then when someone else comes along with a song it's really refreshing.”

Strachan also makes his lead singing debut on In Hindsight and, together with their rambunctious singer Lachlan Morrish (who led Howl's triple j Unearthed High-winning song Blackout in 2009), makes three proficient vocalists. This makes the cohesion achieved on In Hindsight all the more awe-inspiring. “That was something I was really scared about going into the studio,” Belsar admits, “because, to me, it didn't seem like it was gonna work to be honest. I was really unsure how the album was gonna go and then I guess maybe five days into recording the guitars and keyboards and stuff it sort of started to make sense a bit more – that there was gonna be this cohesive sound.”

The styles of these three Hunting Grounds vocalists could not be more diverse, yet it's not glaringly obvious which one of them takes the mic on any given track. “We did a lot of layering,” Belsar explains. “I think in the first song, In Hindsight, all three of us are singing that, which makes this really unique, other person's voice – it almost sounds like it's not even anyone in the band's. And then Star Shards is Lachlan and I… and Clearly See is Lachlan and Galen – most of the time there's at least two singers on a track. I'm actually really surprised that the whole album's ended up such a [cohesive] piece of music… We took 11 tracks in and 11 songs made the album, which was really rewarding.”