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Straight To The Top Floor

5 September 2012 | 5:30 am | Doug Wallen

"I wasn’t at risk of offending anybody by them thinking the whole record’s about them..."

“No one's living off baked beans or slowly dying.” That's Sean Pollard's deadpan way of saying that his band Split Seconds have settled into Melbourne life just fine, after relocating from Perth a few months ago. The five-piece, who are launching their writerly first album You'll Turn Into Me, made the move with surprising ease. Of course, it helps that three of them now live in one house together with a couple of their girlfriends, and that the others found places within a 15-minute radius of it. But it's still a handy enough feat to be admired.

“It wasn't as tricky as we thought it might have been,” he reckons. “We found a house pretty quickly. It just took a lot of planning.” And now there's a firm headquarters for a band that are getting more popular by the day. Although Split Seconds are just a few years old, everyone involved had long ago cut their teeth. That includes Pollard with his previous, country-tinged indie pop act New Rules For Boats, which sprang from himself and two other students on music scholarships at Perth Modern School.

As for Split Seconds, “It was one of those bands that came together when everybody ran out of bands to be in,” Pollard recalls. “We just pooled our resources.” The other newly transported members are guitarist Rhys Davies and bassist Vaughan Davies (both formerly of Faith In Plastics), keyboardist Ben Golby (ex-New Rules For Boats and a solo artist) and drummer Jack T.

Not long after forming, Split Seconds lucked out when triple j mogul Richard Kingsmill caught them live and spoke highly of them the next day. “People still actually talk about it,” says Pollard. “It wasn't expected; we didn't even know he was at the gig. He said the next day that he thought we were really good. He's endorsed it, so we do pretty well at that particular station now. Or at least they're behind us, because they've stuck their necks out for us a little bit… It's hard to tell what's tangible and what's not [in its lasting effect]. But it really gave us a boost early on, because we'd only been together about six months. It expedited the whole process. People started caring about us almost straightaway, which is something that's often hard to do.”

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You'll Turn Into Me is a moody guitar-pop record that's rife with narrative details and a sense of place. Perth's Sterling Street is cited on She Makes Her Own Clothes as a result of Pollard seeing a prostitute trying to work there during a fierce hailstorm, and Adelaide comes up on Maiden Name alongside some fairly damning commentary on marriage. Then there's the character Oliver, who recurs throughout the album, including on the centrepiece song of the same name.

“There's a lot of themes that pop up in every song,” admits Pollard, being careful not to resort to the loaded term 'concept album', “because I wrote all the songs at a similar time. I just thought it would be better to tie these little characters together with one name. I thought it'd be better if I picked a name and went for it. And I don't know anyone named Oliver. I wasn't at risk of offending anybody by them thinking the whole record's about them.” That said, the album title has a incisive edge that could end up leaving some of Pollard's past flames a bit miffed. But it's not a mean-spirited jab; more a summation of the merger of a couple.

Before starting Split Seconds, Pollard spent a year in England, where the band later mixed their first EP. During his overseas stint he went to Portugal and did a solo residency at an English bar in a touristy area an hour outside of Lisbon, among other gigs. It was an odd way of publically airing what would become the core material of his new band. “That was where I played the most, doing these songs for British tourists. That was when I was writing all the songs for Split Seconds,” he notes, quipping: “Testing them out in front of these pretty hefty British people with pink faces from being in the sun too long. It was probably not the best place to road-test them, because they didn't give a fuck, to be honest.”

You'll Turn Into Me strikes an interesting balance between jangling guitars, wry storytelling and moody undertones. It captures both the romance and lurking despair of classic British pop music, with a few hints of wiry post-punk too. “We grew up listening to British music,” Pollard confirms. “Our parents are mostly English, so it's been a big influence. Even the obvious stuff like Blur and Supergrass was big when we were forming our musical opinions.”

But there's no doubt Split Seconds are an Australian band, and not just because they reference Perth streets by name. It's easy to trace their breezy demeanour and sudden mood swings, not to mention their bookish songwriting, to a flagship Aussie band like The Go-Betweens. And they've been embraced with good reason, scoring five WAMi awards and a dream run of recent festival slots, from Homebake to Pyramid Rock to Big Day Out. They also got to make the record with Perth dynamo Matt Giovanangelo, who's worked his magic on spacious synth dreamers Voltaire Twins. It was then mixed by Aaron Cupples (The Drones, Snowman, Dan Kelly) and Dave Parkin (Felicity Groom, Jebediah).

Of all the songs on the album, the deceptively simple Top Floor is an immediate grabber, as evidenced by its heavy rotation on triple j following exposure for All You Gotta Do and Bed Down. Now the band's calling card, it captures them at their most crisp and hummable, without betraying the storm-clouds backdrop that helps lift their songs above merely disposal and sunny pleasures. It may not be quite as deep as other songs on You'll Turn Into Me, but it's the real charmer.

The film clip is pretty effective itself, relying on clips from the infamous 1963 bike safety film One Got Fat. They're not the first band to appropriate those reckless kids in creepy monkey masks: the short film has also been mined for clips by Dr Dog, Boards Of Canada, Phantogram, Nerf Herder and many others.

But that doesn't mean the song came easily. It was in the band's set list for a while and then dropped away when they found they couldn't get it just right. “It got kicked around and disappeared and came back in our lives,” says Pollard.

Finally and fortuitously, a random encounter with a borrowed drum machine unlocked the whole thing out of the blue. It still didn't feel like a 'hit', though. But then again, they never do. “I always get it wrong, in terms of which ones people end up liking,” he confesses. “I never thought it would be a single. It felt special, but they all feel special.” Laughing, he adds, “I don't want to separate them.”

Split Seconds will be playing the following shows:

Saturday 8 September - Ding Dong, Melbourne VIC