Words by Keane Fletcher
You know what time it is folks! New music Fridays, and we're closing out the year strong with a couple of hot new releases. First off the bat, Under A Distant Sun, the debut album of Australian instrumental outfit Darkness & The Light, a bristling, moody collection of songs that -- whether intentionally or not -- speak directly to the current state of the world, pandemics and all.
Says Eamon O'Kane, one half of Darkness & The Light (as well as the album's engineer/producer and head of Sydney-based independent label the Antipodes Music Group):
The reality is we live in a very fractured, divided and downright crazy world. I started the sessions back in December 2019, so it started with bushfires…then floods…then COVID…So a lot of the emotion and melody did end up being melancholic minor key, veering on bleak.
The result is a startling and thought-provoking piece of instrumental storytelling in the vein of David Bowie's Blackstar, equal parts electronic, alt-rock, and jazz-influenced. And don't be put off by the term 'instrumental' either. Says O'Kane:
Think of it as a soundtrack…Your soundtrack. There may not be main vocals or vocal stories on the album BUT there is a journey, one that the listener can bend and shape inside their own imagination.
1- First of all, congratulations on the new album. How long has it been in the making?
Thank you! Making this album has been a true labour of love. I started laying track ideas about 2 years ago. Proper recording and arranging took about 18 months of continual recording, then re-recording..and so it went until about 6 weeks ago when I had to shut the process of (otherwise I can go on forever). We are very fortunate to have our own studios which makes the process almost stress free. The only down side is you can go on and on...
2- How would you describe the overall sound of the piece? Were there any particular albums or artists you referenced during production?
Darkness & The Light of course has influences. Ranging from Pink Floyd to Mogwai, God is an astronaut, The dirty three. But (!) once I get locked into a project I tend to close myself off to most outside forces (lest I get distracted). I work as a free lance music producer and this approach helps me to focus better on the project at hand.
3- Tell us a bit about the songwriting process for Darkness & The Light? How does a song go from an idea to a fully realised piece of music?
Most of the songs that made the final cut started as guitar and drum grooves. Gerard and I (Gerard Presland is the other half of DnL, the ‘engine room’) tend to work off guitar and drum (as they are our main instruments). Then I do loads of key/piano and synth overlays. As an engineer/producer I tend to start at the foundation of the song and work my way to the vocals and top melodies.
4- There’s an ominous tone to a lot of the songs here, and with track titles like 'Nowhere (city limits)’, ’The dying rays (of a distant sun)’ and ‘Dystopia’ the album almost feels apocalyptic. Was this intentional? What are you trying to say about the current state of the world?
It was not intentional to give the album ‘an ominous or end of world tone’. But in saying that, the reality is we live in a very fractured, divided and downright crazy world. I started the sessions back in December 2019, so it started with bush fires…then floods…then COVID…So a lot of the emotion and melody did end up being melancholic minor key, veering on bleak.
The title ‘under a distant sun’ refers to (for me anyway) living on a molten ball of rock spinning at 1000mph somewhere out on the edge of the Milky Way.
5- Talk to us about the role of the label in helping an artist shape an album. How much input do you give? And at what point do you know when the album is ready for release?
As a label owner well, artists always want to release NOW. But there are certain times and windows when (for various reasons) an album will perform better. Of course tour dates and promotion play a major role in this. The label has final say on certain things (art work, song order, song promotions etc.). As a label if we are investing (and paying) for studio time then we have more input. As a producer my role is to give each song as much life and energy as possible.
6- Instrumental music can sometimes be a hard sell to listeners who are unfamiliar with the genre; what would you say to those people who might have a hard time approaching an album of this sort?
I would say...think of it as a soundtrack…Your soundtrack. There may not be main vocals or vocal stories on the album BUT there is a journey, one that the listener can bend and shape inside their own imagination.
7- As head of a label, what’s your opinion on services like Spotify and Bandcamp? How have you adapted your business to suit the streaming model?
So, two very different services. As a label we love Bandcamp ( https://antipodesmusicgroup.bandcamp.com/). They act as our main online store. Spotify however is a very different service. Unless you are a major label artist then Spotify will never ever feed you or sustain you in any way. From 1 million streams an artist will earn approximately $4,000. If you split this between artist, label, publisher, manager etc.) then everyone is going hungry. The only way for indie artists (especially here in Australia & New Zealand) is to play live, do as much of your own merchandising as possible, create as much of your own online buzz. Spotify is a good promotions site, it gives some visibility for artists but don’t let it dictate your career.
As far as streaming and releases goes, as a label we do a lot of single releases. It is important for artists to be ‘visible’ as often as possible. So we advise doing 3-4 releases per year then maybe an album or EP after the singles come out. This approach also goes for social media; keep your music presence up as much as possible.
8- And finally, what’s next for the Antipodes Music Group?
Big changes are coming for us at Antipodes Music Group. We are in talks now to have our music catalogue published worldwide. This will give our artists access to more markets and also for film & Television sync deals.
Our other news is our recording studio 'The Music Room’ is being upgraded. We have ordered a Neve recording console which arrives early next year. This will give us the ability to record world class music in our studio. Every record, every hit has been recorded on either a Neve or an SSL console (both British made).
We are also currently looking for female solo artists for the label. So, if you think you have the madness of music inside you, get in touch!
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!