In the time that I’ve spent writing for LA Music Blog I’ve never been as amped for an assignment as I was for this one. It’s no secret that I’m a borderline fangirl of Sydney-based electronic duo The Presets. Seeing as how I’ve gone on record stating the band is “one of the best things to happen to modern music,” I was a jumbled mix of unbridled enthusiasm and nervousness when it came time for me to chat with the band’s lead vocalist and keyboardist, Julian Hamilton. I managed to keep it together long enough to discuss the past, present, and future of one of my favorite musical discoveries of the last decade.
I’m going to be totally honest here. I was a huge fan of Beams and Apocalypso, but I was initially a bit lukewarm on Pacifica because, to me, it was such a huge departure in sound. It’s since endeared itself to me, but I definitely had to grow to appreciate the smoother instrumentals and lyricism of it.
A lot of people have mentioned that the album took a lot longer to get into. It’s definitely not as hard-edged as Apocalypso was. I think that’s because we’re not as hard-edged as we were four years ago when we made that record. We’re a bit older now and have children.
Maybe it was a dangerous record to put out in the Youtube/Spotify age where there’s so much music out there and you almost have to have these big, smashing numbers to cut through all the noise otherwise people don’t give your albums the time. I know that’s something I’m guilty of as well.
Certainly when I listen to Apocalypso now it reminds me of the time when we were making it, similar to looking through a photo album and reminiscing. We still love it, but we made Apocalypso already, and we would have been bored making it again. Pacifica I think accurately represents us as we were in 2011 when we were making it.
Some fans of The Presets have remarked that Pacifica was an attempt to sell out, but I saw it as more of an experimental leap than anything.
That’s what we think, too. If we wanted to sell out, we could have easily done it by making three more “My People”s. It is a little bit crummy because I know some of our fans were a little bummed that there wasn’t a track like that on Pacifica. While working on the album, we actually started some tracks that sounded similar to ones from Apocalypso, but they just weren’t happening. The worst thing we could have done was finish those songs and put them on the record when we weren’t really feeling them.
It’s interesting because critics, especially in Australia, have loved this album, but commercial radio doesn’t play much of us anymore and not as many people have bought it. At the end of the day, the only thing you really have control over is making music that you like. We’ve done that every time we put out a record or EP. If we can just keep having a career doing that, we’ll be really happy. If the fans dig it, if the radio wants to play it, and if people want to buy it, that’s all awesome, but we can’t control any of that.
Is this trajectory that you’ve established with Pacifica going to continue for your next release? Have you even begun thinking about a fourth album?
Kim and I have started making music for our next project. Whether it’ll be for a record or something else, I don’t quite know yet. I can tell you what it won’t be: it won’t be Apocalypso again and it won’t be Pacifica again. It’ll just be the next step. I’m sure it’ll still be something you can dance to, and I’m fairly certain I’ll sing on it, but those are pretty much the only things that are guaranteed.
Any songs from your catalog that are particularly meaningful for you right now?
Lyrically and musically “Fall” is a track Kim and I both believe in. Actually, all the songs from Pacifica feel very true to us today. It’ll be interesting to see how that ages in a couple years time.
Funny you should mention “Fall” because that track in particular was one that I wasn’t sold on until I saw it live. It’s since grown to be one of my favorite tracks on the record. It has to be one of the more romantic songs you guys have ever written, no?
Oh good! It is still worth playing then; that’s reassuring! For sure, yes. It’s definitely a song that’s a celebration of love.
You mentioned earlier that each album is a snapshot of the era it was made in. Do you ever get tired of playing some of these songs that people expect from you when they don’t represent how you feel now?
Thankfully, no. There are a few songs that I get a little bit sick of, and honestly, we just don’t play them anymore. Particularly some of our earlier stuff from Beams that are character-driven songs where we’re speaking from the perspective of these larger-than-life versions of us. These are characters that just get harder and harder to inhabit honestly as you’re growing older.
But the big hits — “My People,” “This Boy’s In Love,” “Girl And The Sea” — those we still really love. We are trying to get closer to songs that really and truly represent who we are, but we still play what we want to.
You both have a background in classical music but now produce predominantly electronic music. How did that shift occur and does that background influence what you make now?
It’s one of those things like any other classical art — ballet, painting, etc. — that is very hard to shake later in life, for better or for worse. Sometimes that training is great help, and sometimes it gets in the way a little bit because it can be limiting.
I almost think of the synthesizer and drum machine as an orchestra at times. Even though the sounds are wildly different, their roles are very similar. That background is certainly not necessary to make good music, though. Some of the most interesting, talented musicians I know don’t have a clue what a D-major chord is and still produce great work.
A lot of people who make electronic music typically collaborate heavily with their peers, but you guys have yet to release any collaborative tracks on your albums. Is there any particular reason why and is that something you’re open to?
It’s definitely something we’re open to, given the right opportunity. As far as why, we’ve never really had the time. Kim and I spend a lot of time doing other stuff with other people outside of The Presets, but then when we get together, we focus our energy on this band.
We did do a collaboration with my brother, who’s a choreographer in Melbourne. That was super fun and something we never really had a chance to do before. We’d love to do more of that kind of stuff.
Your following in your home country (Australia) is pretty massive, and you guys frequently sell out large venues and headline festivals there. Is it an adjustment coming over Stateside where you play smaller club venues and the like?
It’s quite nice, actually! There’s something really fun and intimate about playing to a room of 500 people. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great time playing on stage at a festival with thousands of people, but there’s something really cool about being able to play shitty little nightclubs. The audience is right there in front of you, and you can grab hold of them and be in the moment a bit easier than at a festival.
You guys seem to have a gift for creating music that translates incredibly well in a live setting. Is that something you keep in mind during the songwriting process?
Not really. We do have that faith and knowledge that we make music that’s fun to dance to, but at the same time, we’ve got more ballad-y love songs that I wouldn’t feel confident pulling out at a dance club that we still choose to make for the record. You kind of have to dress the songs in clothes they’re comfortable in with regards to style, production, and color. If that means you can’t play them live, that’s fine.
I’ve got to say, the Señor Coconut remix of “Ghosts” is one of the most fantastic remixes I’ve ever heard. I know you guys have a habit of playing remixes of your songs when performing live. Is there any chance you’ll be working that into future live shows?
It’s great, isn’t it? Kim and I were big fans of his work, and we were so happy he agreed to do this remix for us. We have talked about using it live, actually. If we did, we’d probably do our own little techno, dancey, coconutty remix of it. Keep your ears peeled! We haven’t got one yet, but we might well put one together sometime soon for our live sets.
What are your brutally honest impressions of LA?
Let me put it this way. The first time I went to New York, I instantly got it. With LA, the first few times I went there, it took me a long time to get into it, but every time I’ve gone back, it’s grown on me more, and now it’s one of my favorite places in the States. Maybe it’s like our new music in that it takes a long time to grow on people.
The people are cool, the restaurants are awesome, the weather is nice. There are actually a lot of Australians moving there, so in some ways it does sort of feel like Australia. We share the same ocean, the same kind of climate, and the same chilled-out vibe. I really, really dig LA now.
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