Perfect Harmony

18 April 2012 | 12:17 pm | Sam Fell

Local band Saint Jude bonded over music with harmonies, Brooke Penrose tells Samuel J Fell.

It's not too often a record drops that grabs you just right, doesn't require any growing time, ticks all the right boxes and has you hankering for more as soon as the last notes have died away.  Melbourne quintet Saint Jude, after a gestation period of more than a year, have released one such album for me, their self-titled debut no less, and this is one which is destined to stick around in the ol' CD player for quite some time to come.

Born of southern-fried rock'n'soul, Saint Jude harks back to a time when the power of a band behind some good old-fashioned country rock harmonising was the key – think The Band, Little Feat, perhaps a dash of Drive-By Truckers in there (minus a guitar or two) and you've got what these cats have been cooking for the past 12 months, a record which sees the light of day this week.

Saint Jude are a relatively new entity too, the story beginning a couple of years ago when vocalist and rhythm guitarist Brooke Penrose and drummer Bill Deeble – who also act as the rhythm section for fellow Melbourne purveyors, Little John – were on the lookout for something new. “We actually met through our exes, we were both dating architects,” laughs Penrose on the origins of the group.

“We both had a shared interest of music with harmonies, of music with, well, it's kinda hard to describe, but we had a shared interest in music,” he goes on. “So we started playing together a couple of years ago and started doing some home recording and started to build it up, which was when we both joined Little John. So we've been honing our skills through that, and then we started recruiting [for Saint Jude].”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

As a duo, Penrose and Deeble released what's become known as The Mountain EP (officially unnamed, but so known because, “it has a mountain on the front cover,” laughs Penrose) in 2009, before recruiting, as he says, a crack band around them, all five of these players coming together in the studio over the past year. “We were a recording band before we were a live band,” says Penrose, and what a recording band – it seems they locked in tight almost straight away.

“It was over the recording process [that we locked in],” he concurs. “Bill and I had laid down a couple of tracks and then Ryan [McCarthy, lead guitar] came on board and started making it a bit more jangly and a bit more riff-driven. And then Bern [McMahon, keys] came on board, he's just the most fantastic keyboard player, he added these tones and things that just really lifted the whole thing. And then Mick [Stylianou, bass] has just got this great vibe and a great kinda boppy bass playing style. So as we were recording, it all just started to come together, and then we started rehearsing it, it was like, this is easy, this is just what we wanted it to sound like.”

The results are, as I've alluded to, a great effort for a band who had not played live together prior to recording, everything gelling into this big-sounding, four-part harmonising, country-tinged rockin' beast – just how Penrose and Deeble originally pictured it.

“I had this sound in my head, this kinda country/rock'n'roll sorta soul sound, and it developed from there with the addition of [the guys], but it's definitely what we had in mind, that kinda Faces thing where you've got the perfect band of guitar, keys, bass and drums and vocals,” he says. “And I always think of this band as a pop band, we're making pop music… sing-along music, it's about the song and the way that we play it.”