The Boys from Ballarat: A Chat with Gold Fields

Gold FieldsCan’t stop dancing and don’t know why? It’s probably because you’ve been listening to Gold Fields, masters of hypnotic, synth-infused, tribal, dance pop, hailing all the way from Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.  Chosen by Billboard, Dailymotion, and MTV as artists to watch in 2013, this energetic group of 20-somethings is bringing a sound to the industry that’s all their own. Growing up together in Ballarat, the guys spent their time on music, as there wasn’t much else to do.  The boys have been making music and frequenting shows at the local Korova Lounge since high school. It was at one of these Ballarat shows the guitarist Vin and lead singer Mark decided to start writing music together. In 2009, the boys ran into guitarist Ryan at The Falls Music & Arts Festival and that’s when the band began. They agreed, at the time, a goal for the band would be to play the Falls Festival in 2014. As it turns out, they ended up playing, with Rob on keys and Luke on bass, at The Falls Festival in 2010. In 2013, their success continues as they release their debut album and tour the US.

Before their show at the TLA on February 7th, I got a chance to chat with Vin, Rob, and Luke from the Gold Fields and hear about the creation of their unique sound and the recording of their debut album Black Sun.

S: Where does the name Gold Fields come from?

Rob: Ballarat is part of the historic Goldfields area. Vin and Luke were driving home from a rehearsal in Melbourne back to Ballarat, and there is a sign, just before you arrive into Ballarat, that says “Welcome to Ballarat: Home of the Goldfields.” At that time, we were called “The Woods,” but we couldn’t use it internationally because it was used by someone else.

Vin: We promised to change the name before we played our first official show. I just saw [the sign]. I wasn’t thinking of the town. I just thought Gold Fields sounded cool. I sent a text around to everyone. Mark wrote me back and said “Yea, Let’s name it Gold Fields.” He was actually watching the news at the time I sent the message and there was a news report on the goldfields as he got the message. It’s as if it was meant to be.

S: I’m sure that you get asked this one a lot but we are going to take a little different take on it.  You each get to pick a word that describes your sound and then we’ll mash them together and see if we get what your sound approximately sounds like.

Rob: Listen

Vin: to

Luke: Us

Rob: We struggle with describing our sound.

Vin: We prefer people to listen to the music and make up their own take on it. We don’t want to tell people what it sounds like because we don’t know what it sounds like.

Luke: I think it’s hard because we’ve got our head in the project as well. We know everything Gold Fields so it’s hard to actually categorize. We listen to so many types of music, that when it comes to writing, there are so many influences coming out.

Vin: We make an effort to make every song different from the last. We just take things from everything that we love. The whole thing about Gold Fields is we write music that we love.

Luke: We do it all together. We all have our own say in the final product of the music.

S: Run us through your songwriting process:

Vin: It will come from an idea, whether it’s a melody, a lyric, a guitar line, a drumbeat, or a little loop that Ryan’s done. We email it around to everyone. We bring the live element of it into the rehearsal and start figuring out what parts should be. Once we have a basic idea of how the structure should be, we bring it into the studio… our bedroom. We just keep working on it. Once everyone’s happy with whatever it is, we start recording. When that is done, we will usually sit on it for a while. Then, we try to play it live and just see how it goes. A song usually takes us a while. “Dark Again” came about in 2010, around when we first started. But, it wasn’t really finished until we started recording it. So, it’s taken us two years to write that song, just because we are always changing it. We have a sort of democracy when we write music. We aren’t going to finish it until everyone is 100% behind it.

Rob: More often then not, everyone as a collective would like where the general song or the idea is going. So, it’s a good start when you start working on a small loop that everyone is into and everyone can sort of collaborate.

Vin: I think that’s the good thing about this project is that we are free to just do whatever we want. Because we write every song differently, it’s just really fun to just take it wherever.

S: What inspired the name of your debut album Black Sun?

Vin: Black Sun, the name, represented the look and the sound of the album. The Leonard Brothers, these two brothers from Ballarat, we collaborated with on the album to make all of our artwork. Recording the album the third time, we just did it ourselves in Mark’s garage in Ballarat. We just put up all the pieces of artwork and basically the music was influenced by the artwork. When we recorded it in the garage, we made our own little world, with all the artwork and fairy lights. When we listen to the record it just reminds us of that time and that name best fits it. The visual aspect of the band is just as important to us as the music.

Check out the making of the space they created here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xhrTM0F9Ds

S: How did the recording process change for you this time around, or did it just revert back to exactly the same as before?

Vin: All the demos we did ourselves [with the help of] a friend, Malcolm Besley, who is a mix engineer in Melbourne. He did all our demos and then he helped us with our EP. When we first did the album, we were recording it in L.A., in a studio. We’d never really been in a studio as band before so we didn’t really know what we were doing. We came home with a half finished album that we weren’t happy with and then we tried to fix that in Sydney. It was just unfixable because we didn’t like it to begin with. So, the second time failed. The third time we thought, ‘Lets just do it ourselves.’ We borrowed a load of equipment from our friends and any way we could because all the money from the album had been spent. We hit up Malcolm who had done all our demos and he agreed to mix the album. The whole experience was just a learning experience for everyone. We were recording, not really knowing what we were doing, just making it up until it sounded good. Malcolm was doing the same. It was a pretty drawn out process but it was fun.

S: What is the biggest lesson you learned from that experience?

Rob: I think we learned a lot from the whole songwriting process. All our demos we listen back and there are so many different parts and so many conflicting rhythms and melodies. When we worked with Mickey Pertalia, when we first recorded in LA. He sort of taught us a lot about, less is more in terms of parts and melodies.

Vin: We are suckers for good parts. We’ll put it on even though the main part doesn’t go with it and the song will be just a mess. We couldn’t hear that until he told us. The biggest lesson we learned was just trusting our own judgment, trusting what we like as opposed to taking lead from other people. We know what we like. It will be easier to work with someone that way.

Luke: I think going into our second record, whenever it comes, we will be a lot more confident with what we know now. We will just take control of the process ourselves.

S: Is there any song off the album that has a good story behind it?

Rob: I think the last bit in “Happy Boy” is pretty interesting.

(Listen to “Happy Boy” here: http://soundcloud.com/gold_fields/happy-boy)

Vin: In “Happy Boy,” when we were recording that in Sydney, we got this violinist form the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Basically, we had a line for her to play. We told her to just keep tracking stuff and improvising. We let her go and she just started improvising the whole thing. When we came to do the album the third time, we had those sessions. We got the improvised bit, after deleting the bit we told her to play, and literally just dropped it in the song.

Rob: Yea, it was uncanny how well it fit with the way the song ended and the way the other parts trailed off. It was one of those moments you have when you are recording.

Vin: And that’s our favorite song across the board from the album.

After my talk with Gold Fields, I was able to catch their live set and I was not disappointed. Their music is experiential for the ears and the eyes, just as they described. Clouded in smoke, an array of lights, and walls of sound, their dance tunes fill the room with an electric atmosphere that almost forces you to dance. So, watch out for Gold Fields in 2013 – I will be!

Black Sun will be released on February 26th. In the meantime, fill your need for anything Gold Fields at www.goldfieldsmusic.com.

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