If the U.S. played host to the British Invasion in the '60s, we're surely in the midst of an Australian Domination right now. For the past few years, it seems like indie-rock/pop's most compelling artists arrive straight out of the land down under. If you aren't paying close attention, it'd be easy to overlook but here's a short (perhaps revelatory) list: Tame Impala, Empire of the Sun, Courtney Barnett, King Gizzard & the Wizard Lizard, Cut Copy, Gang of Youths, Amy Shark, Dune Rats -- all Aussies and all excellent in their own way. Here's yet another addition: Melbourne's own Sub Pop-signed, buzz-band supreme, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
Often abbreviated as Rolling Blackouts C.F., the quintet is comprised of drummer Marcel Tussie, bassist Joe Russo and a three-headed songwriting beast that is vocalists/guitarists Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney. Debuting with 2016's "Talk Tight" EP, the group has been busy pumping out assured, guitar-led gems that straddle the territory between reckless, early-era R.E.M. jangle-rock and off-kilter jam-band exploration. Thankfully, they never wander out too far but they also don't play their cards too close to the chest either. If musical restraint and abandon are a high-stakes see-saw, they're balancing both sides with an effortless cool.
After 2017's "The French Press" follow-up EP, this year's debut full-length album, "Hope Downs," has been lauded by pretty much every publication on the planet, and with good reason: It's an invigorating rock & roll affair that pulses, breathes and weaves through its all-too-brief 10 tracks -- while imprinting on listeners a wistful nostalgia for a time that now feels all too far away. The record is beautiful, haunting, buoyant and as near-perfect as a rock & roll album can get in 2018. [Buy/listen to it here]
With a large U.S. tour looming (they play Soda Bar on Aug. 25), Fran Keaney chatted with SoundDiego via email about Rolling Blackouts C.F.'s global success, the "global fatalism" of their latest record -- and which member of the band desperately needs a "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" makeover.
Dustin Lothspeich: Greetings! How goes it? What are you guys up to?
Fran Keaney: Hi Dustin, we’re good, thanks! We’re just in the van driving through Denmark. We played Aarhus last night and now on our way to Copenhagen for a show tonight. Joe Russo our bassist has found a place on the floor of the van to sleep. I’m surrounded by apple cores and cards from an Italian game called skoppa.
DL: Your U.S. tour is right around the corner and the San Diego show kicks it all off. We’re probably most famous for things like year-round pleasant weather and Blink-182 -- is there anything you’re looking forward to when you get here?
FK: I was a big Blink-182 fan when I was growing up. I’ve got a picture in my head of what San Diego might be like. I’m imagining shiny hot streets, big houses with nice lawns, and very long beaches with quite a long run in between your towel and the water. I may be way off though, we’ll see. We’re actually meeting some friends in San Diego at the start of the tour. They’ve moved over to San Diego, so we’ll get shown the local experience which we’re looking forward to.
DL: Awesome, you're in for a good time. Let's chat about the album: I was immediately obsessed with "Hope Downs" on first listen and it looks like most of the world's press was as well. Is there any validation receiving such good reviews from critics and listeners on the new record?
FK: Yeah, it is nice. You don’t really want to hang your hat on whether other people like it or not, ultimately you just need to be really happy with it. But yeah, obviously it is nice when people say they like your songs.
DL: There are some great guitar tones on the album, were there any records/songs you had in mind as far as sonic inspiration?
FK: No, not really. Obviously influences find their way in and out but I can’t remember anything we explicitly wanted to reference. We just wanted the album to sound like us.
DL: Some of the greatest bands in the world have boasted multiple songwriters (the Beatles, I think, would be the most obvious example) -- do you think having multiple minds at work on songs benefits them more than if one person was doing most of the writing?
FK: Certainly for us. We haven’t wanted the band to be about us personally, but about different characters. So it’s good to have a number of different people offering different perspectives. We sort of try to divorce our own selves from the writing and just become a component part of the whole. It would probably be different if we wrote autobiographically, it would probably be a bit hard to manage three different personalities in one band.
DL: You’ve mentioned in an interview before that “Hope Downs” was written in “a moment where the sands were shifting and the world was getting a lot weirder.” After channeling those anxieties into the new album -- have you and the other band members felt any relief about the state of the world? Does writing/making music help you guys cope with the stress of an increasingly turbulent world?
FK: Yeah, I think there was something cathartic in writing this album. Everything felt like it was being turned on its head. The songs we were writing at the start of the process were a bit somber and a bit darker. For example, "An Air Conditioned Man," the first song on the album, is about the slow-burning panic of a business man as he realizes he’s lost what he once had. But as the process went on, it felt we got that harrowing stuff out of the way a bit. The last song we wrote for the album was the closer, "The Hammer," which sort of has this hopeful fatalism to it. That song is more about making sure you do something with your time. I think throughout the process, we were grappling with these big uncertainties and found the things to hold on to.
DL: On that note, let's jump into some light-hearted questions: If you had to listen to one specific song for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
FK: Do you mean it’s constantly on? 'Cause that’s tough. But if you mean just one song to ever have the option to listen to...maybe Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." But if I was to have a life montage, like a highlight reel with all the goals kicked or killer gags, kisses in doorways, the biggest ice cream, etc. -- there’s a song by Cut Copy called "Zap Zap" which would be pretty good.
DL: Which one of you needs to be nominated for a “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” makeover the most and why?
FK: Probably me. I don’t know why and that’s why.
DL: Name and describe something popular in Australia that needs to make its way to the U.S.
FK: Cricket. It’s like baseball but less happens and it goes for five days. But I genuinely love it. It’s the best summer sport going around.
DL: The Grammys call and want you guys to perform at next year’s show -- with the caveat that you have to cover a Drake song: What song do you choose and why? Or do you decline?
FK: Hmm, I’d say politely decline for everyone’s sake!
DL: Finally, if Rolling Blackouts C.F. could book a tour with any act in the last 50 years (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
FK: I’d like to tour with the Clash. I wanna hang out with Mick Jones.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever headline Soda Bar (3615 El Cajon Blvd.) on Saturday, Aug. 25. Purchase tickets online here while you still can.
Dustin Lothspeich is a San Diego Music Award-winning musician, associate editor at NBC SoundDiego since 2013, talent buyer at The Merrow, and founder of the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.