Inside The ‘No-Drama’ Reunions Of 78 Saab & The Devoted Few

16 April 2024 | 10:42 am | David James Young

“I spent my 20s and 30s stressing about getting people to gigs, and I didn't want any of that this time."

78 Saab / The Devoted Few

78 Saab / The Devoted Few (Supplied)

Two men in their 40s – both named Ben, and both frontmen for crucially-underrated indie-rock bands – are smiling at one another through Zoom windows. Indeed, that very medium might be the only indication we're in 2024. 78 Saab's Ben Nash and The Devoted Few's Ben Fletcher (herein referred to by surnames to avoid confusion) have not performed with their respective bands for over a decade, but that's all about to change: the two bands are teaming up to reunite at the Polish Club in 78 Saab's native Canberra and a sold-out show at Sydney venue The Great Club.

The shows will coincide with the 20th anniversary of their second studio albums: Crossed Lines for 78 Saab, and Billboard Noises for The Devoted Few. The ambitions established on their respective debuts were actualised in living colour across their follow-ups, which garnered high-rotation triple j airplay and packed shows both in Sydney and afar. Though the decisions of their 20-something selves aren't necessarily the ones their 40-something selves would have made, each frontman looks at that period with clear understanding of what they were going for.

“When I look back, Crossed Lines was easily the most focused we ever were as a band,” says Nash. “We were inspired by albums like It's A Shame About Ray by The Lemonheads, or Copper Blue by Sugar – direct, concise, 40 minutes. We were brutal with one another at points, but with that honesty came trust. If I was telling Jake [Andrews, guitar] I wasn't happy with a part, I also trusted he could nail what we were going for. We were dead broke, running on fumes and living off riders, but we were as cohesive as we ever were.”

As for Billboard Noises, the album was significant for Fletcher given it was his first after leaving previous band Bluebottle Kiss. “I didn't have anything else to lean on, so I really wanted to make a point,” he says. “I was so ambitious and driven; as a songwriter, I was trying to toe the line between poetry and being a wanker. I was inspired by The Sleepy Jackson Lovers had just come out, and I was just obsessed. I was full of anxiety, as well: I'd left a band, I'd just gone through a break-up and was caught in this really strange time. That's all on this album.”

Crossed Lines was made with producer Tim Whitten, with whom 78 Saab had worked previously on their 2000 single Sunshine. “It was always pretty magical in the studio with Tim,” Nash recalls. “He was very laid-back, but he had tells: If he didn't like how something was sounding, he'd just go quiet. If we noticed that, we'd ask to record whatever wasn't working again. We had a great relationship: We had the songs, he had the sensibilities.”

Billboard Noises, meanwhile, was made with Jonathan Burnside – the producer behind the aforementioned Lovers. “He'd get us to record our parts and then make us go out for the night,” he says. “He'd be in there from 10pm to 10am, and when we got back there was slide guitar and keyboards all over the songs. We never even met the dude who played keyboards! I was a bit taken aback, because I wasn't used to working like that. It was a process of loosening the reins, and not trying to make this beautiful shiny record.”

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At the time, both bands were institutions of inner-west Sydney. If they weren't running into one another in the halls of Troy Horse rehearsal studios, they'd be out at the Townie on a Wednesday night catching bands – or performing themselves, at venues like the Annandale or the Hopetoun. “I think one year we played there about 15 times,” Fletcher says of the latter.

When asked to reflect on the humming city at that time, both Nash and Fletcher present different sides of the coin.“There was a real sense of community,” says Nash. “We'd become good friends with the Rule brothers at the Annandale, and we knew all of the bands that we played with really well.” Fletcher, while agreeing, also noted that the tight-knit nature meant comparison would often come along to steal joy. “You'd always be popping your head over the fence, seeing who got what deal or who got what support,” he says.

78 Saab ultimately came to a close in December 2012 with a final show at the Annandale, while The Devoted Few folded with little fanfare as Fletcher relocated overseas. Nash stayed in touch with his former bandmates as they relocated across New South Wales and raised children, reconvening to put together what was originally planned to be a greatest-hits album.

“We'd wanted to put it together from the masters, but that became harder when tracking down stuff we did in the ‘90s,” he explains. “When we realised Tim still had the DAT tapes for Crossed Lines, we pivoted to that – and it just so happened the next year would be the 20th anniversary. We figured we may as well do some shows while we were at it.”

When picking supports, the band wanted to look to those that were playing with them at the time – which has lead to a reunited Love Outside Andromeda opening in Melbourne and Intercooler getting back together for Brisbane. Nash asked after The Devoted Few, then, given they played together at Crossed Lines' original launch show at the Annandale all those years ago.

“To me, this is just a Saab show – we just happen to be there,” Fletcher says with a laugh. “I spent my 20s and 30s stressing about getting people to gigs, and I didn't want any of that this time. I just wanted fun, no-drama shows with my friends. Same with Bluebottle Kiss. I'm just happy Saab are playing again, and I'm happy I get to play some songs as well.” Nash, equally as humble, replies: “We were just happy you guys were on board!”

78 Saab and The Devoted Few will play at The Polo on Friday April 19 and The Great Club on Saturday April 20. 78 Saab will also play at the Brunswick Ballroom on Friday April 26 and the Black Bear Lodge in Brisbane on Saturday April 27. All remaining tickets are on sale – find them here.