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Interview: Stephanie Crase from ‘Summer Flake’

Summer Flake

With several albums already under the belt and a second full-length release on the way, Melbourne 3-piece Summer Flake might be one of the busiest bands in Australia. We had a chat with their leading woman Stephanie Crase about musical momentum, angst, and aliens.

Where did you get the inspiration for the band name ‘Summer Flake’?

I used to play in a band called Birth Glow with two bandmates, Ellen Carey and Nick Walton, and we each came up with these weird names that we would credit to the album and Ellen was Raven Blue Winter and Nick was Dried-Up Leaf and I was Summer Flake, and I kind of just thought I’d run with that. I think we were sitting around in the backyard thinking [of] seasonal things that were kind of sweet but gross, and I thought that kind of suited me. I don’t think it’s a very good band name, though. I don’t really like the associations with it being…just one of those beachy garage kind of names, but all band names are kind of sh*t if you think about them too much.

You released your first album ‘You Can Have It All’ in 2013, and your EP ‘Time Rolls By’ last year. Are you excited to be releasing another full-length album this month?

Yeah, I just want to keep on going and do albums, I think, and it took a lot longer than I had thought. I started working on it straight away after doing the first one, just started recording at home and just sort of scratched out and started recording with Jeff when I moved to Melbourne…things take a lot of time if you have to work out the masters and getting vinyl pressed and stuff like that so we kind of did the EP afterwards in the downtime waiting for all of the boring, technical album stuff.

You guys work pretty hard, doesn’t it all stack up? How do you manage being so busy?

It feels to me like they’re really slow and there’s heaps of gaps and long waits, I don’t know. I think the album has taken a few years, and then the EP…that definitely felt like pushing it, being in a bit of a rush. I kind of like feeling like I’m working and…keeping on moving with the momentum of things, and I get sort of scared that…if I don’t write many songs or if we don’t play much or if we don’t practice, I feel like we’ll just have to start from scratch, so I just try to keep going. It scares me.

So you’d rather build on where you’ve come from than start fresh?

Yeah! And maybe that’s a silly thing, but I’m always scared that if you put things down for too long, you forget how to pick them up. I think we’ll be alright.

I think so too. What’s your secret for dealing with writer’s block?

Umm…I definitely struggle with writing the lyrics and things, and I don’t really know how to sort that one out. In terms of writing new music for things, always a new toy! I always come up with a new song, like I’ve got a tremolo pedal, and I’ve probably only used it on a handful of songs, but I suddenly got a bunch of stuff out of it. Same with the keyboard, I don’t know how to play keyboard, but when I had a keyboard to just tinker around with, [I’d] get something new happening. Something different and exciting always gives you a new angle.

So you like having a bit of a play around with things and changing it up?

Yeah, totally! I recommend anyone who has writer’s block [to] borrow someone’s fancy guitar and get a new pedal or something. A new toy, that’ll do it.

Most of the tracks from your new album have a pretty unique, summery vibe about them. What inspires the sound?

I think it’s maybe me growing up with a lot of bands who play power chords and things like that. Just my taste in chords, and how that sort of lends to how everything sounds, and then also…I own this Fender Jaguar guitar that’s got this tremolo arm whammy bar kind of thing where it kind of dips and waves all the notes, [it give you] that 60s sound stems from whammy little notes. I think that just has that history of sound…you hear it and you think of summery things. I reckon that’s just like a real subconscious kind of thing, it’s just the history of guitar sounds.

So the sound just happened that way?

Yeah! I definitely don’t think I started off wanting to sound light and summery, it’s just kind of got these signifiers there that it’s got something to do with the time and place I’ve come [from],and the type of guitar [I’ve] got.

What does your writing process involve? Do you do it as a group or by yourself?

I always do it as [privately] as possible. If my girlfriend’s sitting around, I’ll get her to leave the house and do lots of horrible-sounding things – [I] sort of have to go through all of that, and get to something I like. Now and then I’ll do something really quickly that just comes on the spot, but usually it’s just having lots of little recorded things on my phone in the little demos section and coming back to it over and over and over again, writing out little lines of words and phrases and ideas…I’ve got all this crap stored on my phone and in emails and my computer and I have to go through and delete them all. It can kind of go on forever, having all these bits and pieces of songs, and having almost all the music written but no words. Usually I have to get to a point where I’m like, “This is it. It’s going to come together today.” You know, I just force myself to do it. That ‘Time Rolls By’ EP was a bit like that – I was like, “I’ve got all of these little ideas, and if I don’t get them done by next Friday…that’s how they’re going to live forever.” Yeah, you’ve got to force yourself. Well, I do, that’s how I do it.

So when it comes to that make-or-break point, where does the lyrical inspiration come from?

That’s a tricky one. It’s usually more of a feeling or a general idea – just a real interior, personal, quiet thought rather than an event or anything. I find it hard to talk about it because I can’t remember how things get done, but I usually just jot a bunch of stuff down, write lots of stuff, and then erase and scrub it out until [I’ve] got a bit less. I think if you look at the lyrics for the ‘Hello Friends’ album written out, there aren’t heaps of words in it. It’s usually two or three words per line, a couple of lines per bar, and then that’s repeated. There’s really not much – we came up with a few short poems and they’re sort of left hopefully to be ambiguous so that they could be applied to lots of things, lots of people’s lives, but also enough there that it means something.

Do you have a favourite track from ‘Hello Friends’ to perform?

I think Shoot And Score is really good to perform. I think it’s got that anxious kind of energy, you know? It feels good doing that one…at the moment there’s the song called So Long, and it’s a really scary one to perform because there’s heaps of weird singing parts and unless the dynamic is right and unless you totally commit to it and do it, it’s really, really bad because it’s really sweet, [but] I reckon it’ll come off. I reckon we’ll do it (laughs).

I like that confidence! What was the inspiration behind Shoot And Score?

I think I was in a rare angry moment. Usually the songs are about feeling sad and isolated and insecure, but I think [Shoot And Score] was inspired a wee bit by being disillusioned and feeling a little bit cynical about a world of creative people [being patted on the back] without contributing much. Yeah, it [came from] a dark little patch, that song.

I loved those angsty guitar riffs! I was watching your new video for Wine Won’t Wash Away the other day – a series of tracking camera shots in a variety of different scenes with a sort of alien abduction theme going on – it’s really interesting! What’s the meaning behind all of that?

Jules Kelly Rosland from Rice Is Nice made that clip…which was very nice, I think I was very spoilt by her! Jules made this video [while] she was holidaying around America, and I think she and her boyfriend Brent were driving from LA to Roswell because she loves aliens and she wanted to see if she could feel the eerie vibes from the aliens’ presence  (laughs). She shot so much stuff just like we told her, holding [the camera] up to the window, and I reckon it’s such a cool clip because you get the massive blue sky, America, heaps of landscape, heaps of cool places – you know, malls, strip clubs, Las Vegas, Roswell, but there’s barely any people. There’s a man sitting in the driveway of the Breaking Bad house, and then there’s aliens – really tacky display aliens at Roswell, and it’s just got a cool, shiny, summery, poppy look, but it’s kind of creepy and weird and big and empty. I reckon she nailed it, she did a really cool job.

It is a pretty awesome video. You guys are gearing up for an Australian tour in May, how have the preparations been going?

Yeah, they’re [going] (laughs). Slowly! I [have to do] all this boring stuff  like organise and email the ticket organisers for all the shows, and we’ve got all the bands down, but some of them have to confirm what their band name is (laughs) and stupid stuff [like that] before I make the last poster. It’s tiny, annoying things. With the recording, it was my buddy Mannix playing drums, James Mannix, and Sarah Chadwick playing bass, and they are both super busy doing other things like they’ve started up a new band over the last six months to a year; [I had] my buddy Tony Bourmas on bass and Joel Carey on drums, so we had worked out six songs or so last year, and we said “This will do” and did a bunch of shows. Now we’re learning all the other songs, so we still have that sort of awkward, fresh [sound happening]. That’s why learning So Long is kind of funny at the moment because we’ve only run it through about four or five times, so everyone’s really tentative, and I sing really quietly, but the more we get to know it, I’ll sing louder and louder and louder! I’m glad that none of these songs feel overdone or boring – actually, they’re probably a bit underdone, but it’s exciting. I look forward to doing more shows. [I thought when I moved] from Adelaide to Melbourne that I’d play more shows here, but weirdly not! It’s a busy life and I’ve got to work more and even though there’s more shows and more bands playing, there’s less that I play on, whereas in Adelaide you can kind of play every couple of weeks to your same 50 friends.

I’m surprised that you think of the tracks as ‘underdone’, because one of the things that I find really impressive is how in-sync you guys are. How long has it taken for the three of you to develop that kind of band synergy?

Well, in terms of vocals it takes a while – with the recording, I’m a bit of an a**hole and I sing everything, and that does take its time for me to work out, but recording’s kind of cool because you can just try everything you can think of and then edit and just strip it back, and that’s how I do it sometimes, especially with the guitars. The first album has a lot more [making it up as you go along], like “ooh, I like that, I’ll leave that one there. There’s another one over the top, I’ll leave that there too. I like them all, I’ll leave them in,” but this time I tried to pull back and edit and strip it right back to one guitar melody. Yeah, [playing it] live with vocals is hard. Basically I think doing stuff live you need practice, confidence, and where possible a foldback speaker [so] you can hear yourself.

It’s always helpful when you can hear yourself!

Yeah (laughs). I’ve actually got a few recordings from gigs where there were no foldback speakers, at a time when I would be too scared to insist, to be like, “Can’t I just hear myself?” I’d just play through, and I’d record the EP, and I don’t know why but I sound like Eddie Vedder. That just must be what I do when I can’t hear.

What’s been your favourite show that you’ve ever done?

I don’t know! I really enjoy playing live. That’s kind of like my social life, really, I just kind of like all aspects of it – hanging out and seeing other people and floating around and having a night out. I played this little festival a few years ago in New Zealand called Camp A Low Hum which is kind of like a low attendance over four days, spread out in the wilderness. [It’s] a really strange place where they don’t announce the lineup until you get there. There were 50 bands playing and they were all amazing, it was really cool. We played one gig just on a lawn near the mountains one day, and another one the next day in front of a lake…it’s cool going to a festival and being able to play twice, that’s really unique and strange. Also if you’ve got 50 bands then you’ve got like 150 musicians, and [you get to be] amongst a really nice, considerate, open group of people. Any kind of festival or show where you get out of the city, they’re always really good.

It sounds amazing, I’m jealous! You’ve been working so hard over the last few years and producing so much new music – are you planning on taking a break from recording or are we going to hear another release from Summer Flake next year?

I feel desperate for momentum, I’ve only got a handful of songs but I was messaging my friend in Adelaide saying, “Maybe I’ll come over and record stuff in June”, and then I messaged her back saying, “I don’t have any songs, I don’t know why I’m doing this.” I’m just making heaps of plans and I just want to keep things moving.  I don’t have all the materials to do what I want, but I think I will fill some of the gaps while I’m working on new stuff with other bands. I play in this little punk band called The Skids, and a band called Fair Maiden and we’re going to do some recording in July… I want more and more, I just want to keep going. I love recording and doing all this stuff and I don’t really like the downtime.

Summer Flake’s second full-length album ‘Hello Friends’ is out Friday 8 April.

Summer Flake ‘Hello Friends’ Tour Dates 

Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
Union Hotel, Sydney
Trainspotters, Brisbane
The Tote, Melbourne
The Eastern, Ballarat
Hotel Metro, Adelaide

Written by Jess Martyn