In 2015, We Lost the Sea released the album of their career. Departure Songs is destined to be remembered as not only the most important post-rock album to come out of Australia in the 2010s, it's also a standard-bearer for the genre itself. It's been streamed millions of times, had its songs featured in film and television and had every conceivable physical format release promptly sell out. Needless to say, following it up was always going to be an unenviable task – and certainly not a time for the band to be repeating itself.
“If ever we got to a point where something was sounding too much like Departure Songs, we would cut it,” says Mark Owen, a founding member of the band and one of its three guitarists. “We wouldn't even explore it. We were pushing to do something really consciously different to anything we'd done before. Of course, we worried about whether we'd be alienating our listenership by doing so. After we did some more writing, though, we all kind of realised that it was always going to sound like us regardless. You're still going to get crescendos and big riffs at the end, don't worry about that.”
Owens laughs as he gently teases the band's calling cards, but he's not kidding when he says that the band's fourth album, Triumph and Disaster, is yet another change for a band that has more or less been defined by its evolution over its decade-plus trajectory. Heavier in nature and more explorative by design, the album follows a conceptual through-line that tells a sci-fi children's story that is told through the complete artwork and booklet – as designed by the band's guitarist, Matt Harvey. “This is something Matt and I have been working on for a long time,” says Owen.
“Originally, the plan was actually to write an accompanying novel to the album – to have the songs we'd written serve as the soundtrack to it. That idea didn't last, though. It was like, 'none of us can write a novel – what are we doing?' Changing it to a children's book ended up making a lot more sense. It's still a bit of a fucked-up story, kind of like Where the Wild Things Are, but it's simplistic and broad enough that people can connect their own stories to it. If you create something with that human element, people will invariably do the work themselves.
Triumph and Disaster also marks the debut of new guitarist Carl Whitbread, who is best known for his time at the helm of sludge-metal band Lo!. A longtime friend of the band, he was brought in initially as a touring member towards the end of the Departure Songs cycle to replace absent guitarist Brendon Warner. Eventually Whitbread assumed the role on a permanent basis, bringing his own unique expertise on the instrument to the band's creative process. Owen could not have been happier to induct Whitbread into the We Lost the Sea family: “He's an incredible guitarist, a smart songwriter and an amazing dude,” he says.
“He has always been close-knit with the band. He was very good friends with [late vocalist, Chris] Torpy, he was a groomsman at Matt's wedding – vice versa too, I might add. He just gets everything to do with this band. There wasn't any explaining that needed to be done. When he came on that first tour and he was talking to people over there, he already felt like he was a big part of it. It didn't even really feel like any sort of big transition – it just happened, and now here we are.”
Owen and co. will be taking Triumph and Disaster out on the road this coming November, where in many cities they will be playing for the first time in several years. The new live set is coming together, although it's still in its early stages. “You know when you're in a jam space, and you can hear the band next door that sounds like they're all playing completely different things?” asks Owen. “That's what we've been sounding like.” He laughs, adding: “The bands coming in after us always tell us it's good, though.
Triumph and Disaster is released independently on Friday October 4. Catch We Lost the Sea on tour around Australia this November.