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City Calm Down's Jack Bourke On Not "Constantly Dealing With Your Own Battles"

21 August 2019 | 10:34 am | Michelle La

'Television' is a radical shift in direction for Melbourne's City Calm Down. Lead singer Jack Bourke tells Michelle La that there's no point in retreading the same musical ground.

Photo by Maclay Heriot.

Photo by Maclay Heriot.

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It's only been a year since their last album, but Melbourne band City Calm Down are unrecognisable on their latest LP Television.

Gone are the escapist layers of Echoes In Blue. Absent is the filtered synth shine from 2015's In A Restless House. You'd be hard-pressed even to find a hint of lead singer Jack Bourke's smooth baritone, which made their 2012 debut EP Movements instantly recognisable.

The change was not tentative. They enlisted Burke Reid (The Drones, Courtney Barnett) as the album's producer, who pushed the four-piece to delve into their rougher, rawer sound. The album’s lead single and title track proved a turning point, the band stripping away the guitar effects on the track to tackle their songwriting with bare knuckles. Bourke says it was a moment that "crystallised where everything was heading."

"It's all well to say we're going to change and do something different, but the hard part was executing it in a way that was convincing." 

"We've been around almost 11 years now. There's not much point to redoing that."

Without a doubt, the change was well worth it. Across ten restless tracks, Television finds the band bright, brash and simply electric. Initially, their purge was a way to follow in the footsteps of their childhood music idols – it's easy to recognise the chameleon-like roots of The Clash in the new songs, for example.

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Bourke says revisiting the music he listened to as a teenager felt like being struck by a lightning bolt: "Music feels totally profound when you're that age.” 

The shift was also symptomatic of a band more aware of the world around them, and tracks like Stuck (On The Eastern) instil a sense of place missing on their previous releases. "I find sitting in traffic to be a thought-provoking experience because I really get the sense my frustration," Bourke laughs.

Tongue-in-cheek, he says the song makes light of a strange social situation. "Someone's going to cut in front of you and you'll think, ‘What a dickhead.’ But you probably did that two minutes earlier. There's this real cognitive dissonance that takes hold.

"That’s more what the song is about as well: being in this environment where we are against each other and don't empathise the position the other person is in." 

The album began with mundane problems and snowballed into exploring Australian politics – climate change, franking credits, social media. The band even played a show on the same night as this year's Federal election, and Bourke expresses disappointment at the result. However, berating others into siding with his worldview wasn’t the goal. "It's really easy to get bogged down on single-issue politics," says Bourke. "At the end of the day, if you just change one person's mind – which is really hard to do – the only way you can do that is to be willing to have a respectful conversation with someone that you might disagree with."

On a more personal level, the newfound clarity of the album's lyrics can also be read beyond politics. Around this time last year, Bourke quit his day job. "I was really stressed out all the time and having a shit one," he says. "When you feel like you're drowning in things to do, it becomes your only conduit for writing. You just look inward. You’re constantly dealing with your own battles and I think Echoes In Blue was a symptom of that."

"You just look inward. You’re constantly dealing with your own battles and I think Echoes In Blue was a symptom of that."

Quitting his day job put Bourke in a healthier headspace, and he was able to take on a new outward view with his songwriting. On Flight, he scorns the filtered facades we build. A Seat In The Trees seeks retreat from media noise. “I just had the time to think about those issues a bit more, which I'm really glad for,” says Bourke. “You don't need to come up with answers, but you do need to mull over these things.”

A sample of the fictional Howard Beale’s rant in Sidney Lumet's lauded '76 satirical film, Network, opens the album: “We’re in a lot of trouble!” In the same way, the band disrupts the broadcast with an upbeat guitar strum, urging listeners to turn off the TV and “get out and breathe”. 

Television aptly shows that taking a step back can bring a new perspective to progress.

Television (I OH YOU) is out this month. City Calm Down tour from 11 Oct.