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Interview: Jack Bourke of City Calm Down


At this point in time you couldn’t really be forgiven for not hearing about City Calm Down. As the second coming of the post-punk bands of the 80s (just Australian and slightly more cheery) the Melbourne 4-piece has been gaining adoration from just about everyone. Their fans run the gamut of Morrissey die-hards to Bill Shorten. As they embark on their latest tour, we had a chat to frontman Jack Bourke about their song writing process, The Smiths, and the mums that stalk them…

It has been a big 12 months so far. You had an album release last year, a sold out tour at the beginning of the year, a performance at Splendour, your soon to embark on another national tour and then there’s Falls at the end of the year…is it overwhelming?

Definitely, a lot has changed in 12 months. It’s been good obviously, but it’s required us to have a different mindset to the mindset we’ve had previously. It is definitely invading almost every aspect of our lives now though… in a good way, in a good way! But it’s very different to 18 months ago I guess…

Yes, well last month you played Splendour in the Grass, I was in the crowd and it was a lot fun, but how was that for you guys?

It was fun for us too, but it was daunting performing on such a big stage, and by such a bigger degree of a stage.  We discovered that there is a knack to performing on these large stages and to these big audiences. Hopefully we keep going well and keep doing that sort of thing, but it’s pretty surreal!

I really enjoyed the fact that you kept saying you were going to do a cover – I thought it was going to be Foal’s Spanish Sahara because that’s what you played for Like A Version, but it was Bowie!

Oh good, we were hoping that people would enjoy it. I’m really glad people responded well to that!

Let’s Dance is always a great song choice. Yeah, well I think it’s fair to say that nearly every musician in the world is influenced by Bowie…

Oh definitely.

But I have a feeling City Calm Down has a fair amount of influence from the post-punk bands of the 80s like Joy Division, The Smiths and New Order. Is that a correct assumption?

Yes, that is an appropriate assumption I think. A lot of those bands have influenced what we’re doing and have filtered through. That sort of energy and melodic style has made a mark. I mean, The Smiths are obviously quite different to Joy Division – we enjoy both bands equally and we definitely admire their strengths and what they’ve been able to do. Well, The Smiths stuff isn’t…exceptionally complicated, but sort of breaking it down it’s so easy to engage with because they’re not doing anything too tricky but they’re creating something quite profound.

Yeah, that’s interesting. There’s a definite distinction between songs that are technical and songs that aren’t necessarily technical, but are complex.

Yeah, well I don’t know much about how they wrote their music, I know Johnny Marr and Morrissey obviously wrote the songs, but at least not in terms of the process they used. They seem to have a very intuitive approach to writing songs, it doesn’t feel like it’s been overthought and it’s sort of exceptional when you think about it like that. Particularly given pop music today.

Pop music nowadays seems very overthought. A lot of the bigger bands 30 years ago had a markedly different approach to the approach that dominates the popular music industry now. I have no problem with thinking about things and labouring over particular parts of songs. But the impression that you get from the older music is a stream of consciousness and I think that’s something that’s been lost in a lot of modern music.

Well relating that to your writing and City Calm Down’s writing, how does that work? Firstly is your writing a team effort or done through an individual?

Well, it sort of varies. We’ll individually work on the little ideas at home to try and get the kernels of the song together. Then, we’ll kind of share that around and people will respond to it and we’ll work on that together. That’s how some songs develop. Others develop just out of jamming. We try and go away at least once every month for about three days, outside of regular rehearsals and stuff.

We’ll generally just go out to the country somewhere and bash around for a few days and come up with more kernels of ideas that we work on and develop and try and turn into full songs. In saying that, we’ve had a few songs that have emerged out of trying to complete other songs. Sometimes we’ll have a bit of an idea for a song, and we’ll write a new section for it and we’ll listen back and realise, the new section’s good, but it’s not right for that song. I think, Rabbit Run actually came about like that.

Yeah, out of curiosity does Rabbit Run come from the Jonathan Updike book ‘Rabbit, Run’?

Oh! Actually, it came about because I was playing with the lyrics to that Pink Floyd song Breathe, it was kind of at the front of my mind at the time, you know (starts singing) “run, rabbit run, dig that hole forget the sun”…

Oh I see, I just ask because I happened to be reading that book at around the time I first heard Rabbit Run.

How very serendipitous, hey!

Yes, it was a weird coincidence. But, speaking of weird coincidences, I have to ask. My mother happens to be a big City Calm Down fan. In fact, she once cornered you at the breakfast buffet at the Virgin Lounge in Perth airport…

Oh! I remember that! That’s awesome!

She brags about it all the time, so good to know it actually happened. But yeah, you seem to have a sort of old school style of sound that really resonates with both the younger crowd and the older crowd that my mum would fit into, do you get that feeling?

Yeah, when we’re standing at the merch desk after the show the variety of people that come up and say ‘hi’ can range from 18 to 50. It’s enjoyable to see such a wide range of people that are enjoying our music. I mean, it’s generally a good indicator that such a big group of people are getting into it, and we really appreciate that. Although, it’s sort of a bit surprising in a way. I wouldn’t really guess that there are many kids out there who really like going to gigs with their parents. But who knows, maybe we can start something? A homely kind of environment where everyone’s welcome.

Absolutely. Well, I mean you are pretty old school in that there aren’t many modern bands with a horn section you know. But yeah, I’ll be taking my mum to the show so she’s excited!

Ripper! Well yeah, we’ve got all the horns ready to go I think. We have the same guys with us that play in Melbourne, but sometimes it can be hard getting everyone around for the festivals and gigs that are farther away. So we generally play with different groups of people wherever we go. It’s always pretty funny when you get to sound check and these guys roll in. They know all the songs back to front and are telling you what parts go where. It’s good though, they know it so well that we don’t have to be in panic stations.

That must be comforting…

Oh yeah. It sort of started after we began piecing together the show after recording the album. We were trying to think about how we were going to get the songs to translate. You know, we kind of realised pretty quickly that we needed additional musicians just to carry everything. I mean, we sort of tried to do a lot on the backing tracks to try and create a presence of the sound. But you can only do so much with computers, and from a performance perspective, it’s definitely not as engaging. Overall, it’s definitely been worth doing because it’s made us enjoy performing so much more.

Moving forward though, do you think your next 12 months will be as crazy as your past 12 months?

Hopefully! If it all stays crazy and busy, then hopefully it’s busy for good reason. We’ve started working on a second album and piecing together bits of ideas that we’ve got. I don’t know if we’ll have the next record out in 12 months – maybe? That would be ideal. I know I OH YOU would be stoked. So hopefully all goes well and we’ll have another crazy 12 months. If not, we’ll keep chipping away. We’ve been together for eight years now, so I guess we’ll just have to keep plugging away and see what happens…

If not, rest assured you will always have a fan in my mum…

Ripper, that’s all that counts!

City Calm Down National Tour

Republic Bar, Hobart
Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide
Maroochy Arts Festival, Maroochy
Capitol, Perth
Max Watts, Brisbane
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Waves, Wollongong
170 Russell, Melbourne

Get Tickets HERE