September 1, 2010 | Author: Jesse Shrock
Custom Kings are back with a new album, ‘Great Escape’. AM’s Jesse Shrock chats to King pin Nick Vorrath about that very thing.
For a group who incorporated folk, hip-hop, reggae and even punk influences into their sound – as The Custom Kings were doing through their early years – you could not imagine a more appropriate title for a debut album than 2007’s At Sea. But if the group’s debut was characterized by its eclecticism, then the imminent follow-up Great Escape is significant for revealing a much more focused Custom Kings than existed three years ago. Maintaining a fairly consistent flavor of vocal harmony-enriched early rock ‘n’ roll throughout, lead singer/songwriter Nick Vorrath acknowledges that the album was intended to be a consolidation of the Custom Kings sound.
“We wanted to make a this a solid album…” Vorrath explains. “One where we don’t skip around genres as much. An album where all of the songs actually sound like they belong on an album together, to put it another way.”
While partly a reflection of a shift in Vorrath’s taste in music – away from hip-hop and more towards “90’s indie rock, old blues and country” – Great Escape’s shift into rock ‘n’ roll territory was motivated in large part by a desire for consistency between the band’s live and recorded sound. The use of samples from aged vinyl, for example, previously a prominent aspect of The Custom Kings sound, are kept to a knowing minimum on Great Escape.
“With At Sea, we found we had to change a lot of the songs to take them on the road,” Vorrath explains, “I mean, we don’t drag samplers and turntables on to the stage. It’s a different kind of thing. So I think we just decided to make this album sound more like we actually sound live.”
Vocal harmony is apparently a significant part of the Custom Kings live sound these days. (According to Vorrath, the band “all go on stage with a microphone”) The interesting thing about hearing these harmonies in a recorded context is to hear how alike all the band members’ voices sound.
“I think that our voices are becoming more and more similar,” Vorrath observes. ” I think just from singing together a lot… It’s what you naturally do when you harmonize – just try to match each other’s timbre. A lot of people have been commenting on that. I’ve had friends go ‘I really like that song where you sing like this…’ And I go: ‘Well, actually, that’s Jarrad [bass player] singing’. Jarrad didn’t actually start out as a singer in the band, but he’s turned into quite a powerful vocalist.”
In taking a more ‘live’ approach to making the album, Vorrath and company changed their method from sporadic and freely experimental home recording sessions, spread out over several months, to just a couple weeks of intense, full-band recording at Melbourne’s Sing Sing studios. Vorrath acknowledges that this method left him feeling a bit out of his comfort zone at first. “It was a bit nerve-racking,” he says, “because most of the stuff I’ve recorded before has been very much a home-made affair, where everything is done on your own terms, and you’ve got an endless amount of takes to get things right, and try all sorts of stuff. But you know, when you book a block of time in the studio, and you’ve got the engineers and assistants there, you’ve really got to have your shit together before you go in. There is obviously some production trickery (on the album), but the meat of most of the songs were recorded in single takes.”
Another thing which has profoundly affected the future direction of The Custom Kings has been Vorrath and bassist Jarrad Brown’s decision to go it alone for a side project called Joe Neptune, which yielded the 2009 album No Time To Grow Up. Lauded by critics, Joe Neptune’s mellow sun-drenched folk vibes now appear to have a yin-and-yang relationship with the latest sound of the Custom Kings. “It’s almost as if the Custom Kings has split into two now,” Vorrath says. “I mean, Joe Neptune is obviously a folk music kind of thing, and Custom Kings is more of a live band. We used to mix them up, but it kind of got tiresome having band members going on and off stage all the time, while Jarrod and I play a folk song or something. So we wanted to separate them a little bit. And you know, there’s still mellow songs and stuff on the new Custom Kings record, but they’re band songs, as opposed to solo acoustic or something like that.”
But for those who find themselves more enraptured with the Joe Naptune side of things, Vorrath assures that the side project will be more than just a passing distraction. “We really, really enjoyed making the album, and doing the shows,” he says. “At the moment we’re just getting the Custom Kings album and tour wrapped up, and now Jarrad’s got a side project as well [Eagle And The Worm], so there probably won’t be much going on in the Joe Neptune camp for another nine months or so. But hopefully there’ll be another album eventually.”
Great Escape is out now through Liberation.