Published Jul 25, 2010Although it's not the first time an electronic artist has undergone a stylistic overhaul (Caribou and YACHT come to mind), PVT's Church With No Magic remains a vanguard in flexible, forward-looking songwriting. After two LPs of muscular, math rock-inspired rhythms and old-school Warp Records beats, Church With No Magic sees the Sydney Australia trio distributing nimble synth lines and gothic vocals across echoed song structures. Their first LP since changing their name from Pivot opens with "Community," an icy rhythm that sveltely seeps into the rubber-made vocals of "Light Up Bright Fires," a song flawlessly demonstrating PVT's newfound knack for melody and momentum. Guitarist Richard Pike's lanky phrasing and contained energy completely saturates songs like "Window" and the title track, giving their sound a whole new gravitas. But it's murder ballads "The Quick Mile" and "Timeless" that sum up PVT's conversion, drawing comparisons to both Nick Cave and Nine Inch Nails, as album closer "Only the Wind Can Hear You" sees Pike lamenting over a burning log backing track that beautifully crackles and pops. On Church With No Magic, PVT look re-energized and repositioned, proving that it's truly amazing what leaving one's comfort zone can accomplish.
What's the general vibe in Australia right now surrounding your album?
Multi-instrumentalist Dave Miller: We're all sharing the load right now. There's sort of an odd anomaly in Australia; it seems that if you're "electronic" than you're "dance" and if you have a guitar you're in the "rock'n'roll" world. We're sort of this odd thing that people can't categorize, which, for me, is good. We've done a lot of press here, which is a good thing. I mean, we're not going to be on the Australian version of Top of the Pops, but I think there is generally a buzz here.
Can you talk a bit about the recording of this new album?
When we recorded O Soundtrack My Heart, it was the first album we'd done as a three-piece and it was the first record I was on. We hadn't played a live show together as a three-piece at that point. So, it was kind of a studio thing and a lot of the time we were in different countries; I was in London and Rich [Pike, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist] and Laurence [Pike, drummer/keyboardist] were in Sydney. After the album came out, we played quite heavily across Europe, Australia and a little of the U.S. We probably played 170 shows, so we know how to play with each other now as a band on stage and we tried to utilize that in the studio as well. A lot of it came from improvisations in the studio; we'd sort of jam on a couple of ideas for 20 minutes, then we'd chop things up until we had some semblance of structure or style and then we'd re-record the vocals and add overdubs until we'd get a cohesive sound. Obviously the biggest difference is that there is singing and that was mainly through jams. Rich had a mic in front of him and instead of playing melodies on the guitar or keyboard he was singing them; it was pretty basic. We didn't have words, at the time; it was really just improvisation. As far as the feeling, it was more of an organic thing. We were all playing in the same room and we left a lot of mistakes on the record. If we were U2, we would cut them up and make everything perfect, but instead we left a lot of things raw, much like a live show.
I've noticed that the vocals utilize so much space on each song.
I think it might be because we used vocals as an instrument. In the live shows over the past few years, Richard was using his vocals more and more and I would have a feed of that to my equipment, so I could turn his voice into loops and weird effects. It was one of those things where we were trying out ideas and blurring the sounds in the live show and that followed through to the record. If we were going to start singing, if we had something to say, I didn't really see the point of obscuring that too much. There are a few instrumental tracks on the record, but we wanted to make a pop record. Sometimes it's verse-chorus-pop structure and sometimes it's not, but it's pretty diverse, in terms of range and songs.
You said that the sound came from playing live shows. Is there something specific that influenced your sound?
Well, we've been listening to old music ― '70s, early '80s stuff and further back. As far as musical influences, that would be more the era than the '00s. I think we just challenged ourselves on stage a lot where we always are trying out new things. And you would say, "Oh, I remember that thing from that song." And then we'd end up doing that in the studio. It's more about surprising each other on stage and keeping things interesting for us and people that have seen us before.
Your video for "Windows" has garnered much attention of late.
Yeah! It's funny because people kind of complain that it makes them dizzy. When I saw it, I was so stoked that we did it. We had to wear these ridiculous headsets for a couple shows to get the footage and it felt very odd, but I'm very happy with the overall outcome and I think people see it as a unique thing. I think music videos can be about one good idea and having it well executed and that was one of those things where the director said, "I have an idea" and, at the time, we had a few shows lined up and it all worked out really well.
There's been a lot of good music coming from Australia as of late. Are the Aussies going through a musical renaissance?
I think the world is just getting smaller. For example, there are a couple of bands from the mid-'70s and early '80s ― there's a band from Perth called the Scientists, from the '80s, and I think they just put out one or two records. They're absolutely amazing records and from what I understand, they had absolutely no recognition outside of Australia. I just found out that they're playing their first U.S. show this year at ATP, which is one of those things like, "If it wasn't for the internet, they would have just faded into obscurity." There's also a group called the Saints and they're kind of widely regarded as having released the first punk song. When the single "(I'm) Stranded" came out, it came out before the Sex Pistols and I think it had one blip on some UK music magazine, which at the time, was how people found out about music, and that was it. They were popular in Australia in the pop rock scene in the '70s and '80s, but it was post the punk explosion and, from what I understand, they're not that well known. I'm happy that people have access to this kind of stuff via the internet; it gives us a lot of hope. (Warp)