Mansfield’s biggest export, Violent Soho, had a huge start to 2016. Not only did they stake out a top 20 position on the 2015 Triple J Hottest 100 with their lead single ‘Like Soda’, they did the rounds nationally as a part of the Laneway Festival. Despite the array of notable international acts on the bill, Soho were a major drawcard – they even drew the largest crowd of the entire day in their native Brisbane. “They were some of the best sets we’ve played,” affirms Luke Boerdam, the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist.
“At the Melbourne leg, we played the Dean Turner stage. That meant a great deal to us, as Dean was such a huge supporter of this band really early on. It meant so much to pay tribute to him that way. The line-up was fucking amazing too. Usually, we feel like the real outliers at festivals like this – it’s a lot of electronic acts and then us and maybe two other token guitar bands. This time around, there were acts like DIIV, METZ, The Smith Street Band – who we’ve toured with – and Courtney Barnett did the New Zealand one too. We got along really well with everyone, just talking gear and hanging out. It really is the best festival in Australia. We played it back when we started out, just some scruffy kids from Brisbane, and they gave us a chance when no-one else would. It was an honour to be asked back.”
Violent Soho’s third album, WACO, follows on from Hungry Ghost, their 2013 breakthrough that saw them elevated to being potentially the biggest name in contemporary Australian rock; cracking the ARIA charts and selling out national tours. For a band that existed on the fringe for nearly a decade, it was a big-time payoff – and songs from that album, such as ‘Covered in Chrome’ and ‘In the Aisle’, have remained rock radio staples since their release. When it came to WACO, the elephant in the room had to be acknowledged – just how do you follow up on what is ostensibly one of the biggest Australian rock records of the 2010s?
“I was so confident,” says Boerdam. “I thought that I’d be able to finish writing for the album in four months. When that was up, I realised that I had two songs – and I wasn’t confident enough in either to show to the rest of the band. I remembered Hungry Ghost took three years to write, and I decided to start fresh. I guess what I’ve found is that I never make a single song in the one go. I’m always scrapping together bits from three or four different ideas. I tend to work in fragments – a riff here, a sound idea here, some lyrics there. You mix and match, you collate until you have something cohesive. It’s about the gut feeling, really – it’s about knowing what direction you want the songs to take. We got stuck into it every day and we came out of the process with something we were really happy with.”
WACO was recorded throughout 2015 at The Shed in Brisbane by Bryce Moorhead, a long-time friend of the band who has worked on several of their releases in the past. Mixing and mastering was completed in Moorhead’s basement, and the end result is an expansion of the mane-thrashing, abrasive alt-rock that the band has cemented their name with across the 12 years they have been together. “I guess the foundation of this band is those three-chord/four-chord heavy pop songs,” says Boerdam. “We wanted to see what would happen if we explored away from that.” Sonically, too, it has given the chance for the band to expand their horizons – as Boerdam explains, it all comes down to getting the balance just right.
“When we’re doing demos, it’s all just clean guitar, clean bass... I’ve even used shitty little drum machines when I’ve been making demos by myself,” he says. “When it comes to actually laying things down, we have to figure out what flourishes work where. How do we dress this song up? We all have our go-to pedals – I’ve even got two delays in my set-up now, which sounds really cool. There was a part on Hungry Ghost that I got to use an Eventide Space pedal. It’s a classic rackmount that’s been converted into a stompbox – super-wet reverb, super-sheeny. I wanted to keep following it down the rabbit hole, so to speak, on WACO. There was also a point when we were recording that Bryce pulled out an EXH Deluxe Memory Man from the 80s. They literally can’t make them anymore – I read that one of the actual metals inside of the pedal doesn’t exist anymore or something along those lines. That made its way onto the album, too. There was this Tubescreamer mod that we used – it was a clone that this guy made by ordering all the original parts individually and then adding a few parts of his own. It sounded really big and really awesome – just this rich, saturated sound. Once you’ve found your sound – the right pedal, the right tone – it makes everything so much easier.”