Even As We Speak is often categorised as an indie pop band, however they continued to evolve from a raw indie pop sound in the mid 1980’s to eclectic pop experimentation and sound scaping in the early 1990’s.The band formed in late 1985 in the Sydney inner City as a three piece comprising Matt Love, Scott Leishman and Neil Johnson.
Photo by Dave Tytherleigh
The band gained a new bass player, Paul Field almost immediately, when Matt discovered that he couldn’t sing and play bass at the same time. (It subsequently transpired that Matt couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time either).
The Sydney inner city music scene of the 1980’s was a legendary time and place, with a pub on every corner and a band in every pub. Even As We Speak threw themselves into this frantic music scene and were soon appearing on bills all over the inner city.
The band initially drew their early influences from New Zealand’s Flying Nun record label which was at that time producing raw edgy lo fi pop - the band’s expatriate NZ drummer, Neil Johnson, having some connection with the NZ scene. Due to this influence Even As We Speak scored the support spot with touring Flying Nun acts including the Bats, the Clean, the Verlaines and the Straightjacket Fits.
Even As We Speak began by producing an angry pop sound which seemed to set the band apart in the busy Sydney music scene which largely produced darker sounds (Died Pretty, Beasts of Burbon), sixties influenced pop (The Hoodoo Gurus, the Moffs, Ups and Downs) or post punk (Happy Hate Me Nots, X, the Hard-ons).
In May 1986 the band went into a small studio in Chippendale to produce a fast four track 7 inch slice of hate filled pop call “Small Fish in a Big Machine”. On the eve of the recording Neil Johnson brought in his then girlfriend Mary Wyer to do some backing vocals. It soon became apparent that unlike the other members of the band, Mary could in fact sing, and so she became a full time member singing backing vocals and playing a cheesy portable home organ which couldn’t be tuned.
In a moment of DIY madness the band decided to hand paint the covers of all 500 copies of Small Fish essentially because they had no money and were all on the dole. It turned out to be a stroke of marketing genius as the record’s rough home made appeal found immediate favour with Sydney’s independent music shops, Phantom, Waterfront and Redeye.
The “Small Fish in a Big Machine” received good airplay on Double J and the band continued to gig regularly in the inner city.
Even As We Speak went on to record an album worth of material between 15 September 1986 and 17 December 1986 with the working title “truck driving songs” (an ironic play on the band’s art pop sensibilities) however only a number of track were ever released, on a three track 7 inch containing “I won’t have to think about you”, “Single to Central” and the dubious cover of Glen Campbell’s “Galveston”. Aside from that single, the majority of Truck Driving Songs remains Even As We Speak’s lost album. The lost album was recorded by Richard (Rick) Newell at Bakers Lane Studios in St Peters.
However, by the time the single was released Paul Field had left the line-up.
By early 1987 Scott Leishman had also left the band and was replaced on bass by Bjarn (Real name ________?)
This line up recorded the Blue Suburban Skies/Bizarre Love Triangle Single which was to become both a curse and blessing for the band. Blue Suburban Skies/Bizarre Love Triangle Single contains a bare three chord cover of the New Order song which had been released by New Order in the previous year. Mary Wyer chose the song and with the help of Rick Newell pared it back to a basic three chord structure. Richard Newell also engineered and produced the recording.
This single had the same home-made cheap instrument fuzzy pop asthetic of earlier works however the teen angst had evaporated leaving a purer more uplifting pop.
The single arrived in the UK as an import on the tail of the C86 movement which was to become known as the launching point for music which is now widely categorised as indie pop.
Even As We Speak’s history of home made pop records, micro label releases and lo-fi asthetic made the music a sure fit with the C86 movement’s ideology, and the perfect pop of the single afforded the band immediate indie pop status in the UK.
Despite the overseas interest in the Blue Suburban Skies/Bizarre Love Triangle single throughout the early part of 1987 the band was finding it increasingly difficult to extend their audience base in Australia due (in the bands view) to the complex politics of the Australian music industry cartel which managed to keep alternative music marginalised in import record shops.
The band therefore followed the trend of expatriate Australian bands, such as the Triffids, the Go-Betweens, the Saints and the Birthday Party and attempted to relocate to the UK where there was wider and more accepting audience for their music and greater opportunity.
The band made plans to depart the country however at late notice Bjarn and Neil couldn’t afford the expense of the air fares and as a result only Matt and Mary managed to get to the UK in late 1987 or early 1988.
Matt and Mary remained in the UK for about 6 months promoting their music and working to fund the recording of yet another 7 inch vinyl release.
The Goes So Slow E.P was recorded at a small home based studio in Islington and there Matt and Mary, who were at that time without a rhythm section, became interested in so called “midi revolution” by incorporating electronic rhythm tracks and samples.
Matt and Mary took the recordings back to Sydney in 1988 for some further mixing and where they were released on Sydney’s iconic independent Phantom Records label in 1989.
On arriving back in Sydney in the late 1980’s the once frantic Sydney music scene had been virtually shut down by a double blow of fire licensing laws which banned music in most of the small venues in the inner city and the “nationalisation” of Sydney’s alternative radio station double j to become triple j.
Whilst awaiting the release of Goes So Slow, Matt and Mary recruited Rob Irwin and Anita Rayner who from that point onwards became the most stable EAWS backline so far.
The new line up began recording a new EP in Trackdown Studios in Bondi Junction and this was subsequently released on Phantom Records as Outgrown This Town.
Whilst the Outgrown EP received critical support it was unfortunately caught up in a dispute with the wholesale distributers and effectively warehoused for a period of time. When the record did eventually hit the stores in 1990 the interest in the record had passed.
Fortunately for the band, their previous single, Goes So Slow had in fact been making some substantial inroads in the UK, although it was available only as an import.
In 1989 the single was picked up by the famous independent music broadcaster John Peel and received repeated airings on the John Peel Show.
As a result of the interest generated via John Peel the band received an offer form Sarah Records to re-release the Goes so Slow single together with the Blue Suburban Skies/Bizarre Love Triangle single on a five track 7 inch.
Accordingly the earlier material was re-released on Sarah Records as the Nothing Ever Happens EP in 1990.
Ironically by the time the band signed with Sarah records it had already moved on from the indie pop sound which characterised the label and was now delving into stranger more experimental territory.
Meanwhile Even As We Speak continued to be signed to Phantom Records in Sydney and maintained a foothold in the now much contracted Sydney live music scene. The band became a regular headliner at the Landsdown Hotel and the Annandale Hotel, packing the venues whilst at the same time being steadfastly ignored by the mainstream Australian music industry cartel. There were a limited range of bands which had survived the wholesale destruction of the once vibrant Sydney music scene, most noticeably Ups and Downs, Crow, the Hummingbirds, Living with Robert, the Falling Joys, Tall Tales and True, and the Dutiful Daughters
During this time the band was becoming increasingly fascinated with the technological advances which were making it possible to deal with sound in new ways (Pop will Eat Itself, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys et. al) and were at the same time could not wholly abandon their love of a great pop hook.
The band started working around these conflicts in unexpected ways and the result of this new push is first evident on the One Step Forward EP recorded in 1990 and released on Sarah Records in 1991.
The band brought in Julian Knowles of the Shrinking Violets, Dutiful Daughters in 1990 as a producer to assist in reaching Matt’s grand vision of a pop music that was without boundaries and without genre. Julian soon became a full time member of the band. In addition, music video producer Paul Clarke was brought in to make a video of the One Step Forward track. Paul connected well with the band and he was brought in as a second guitarist to allow Mary to move into the position as front person.
This became the line up from 1990 onwards.
From 1990 onward the band’s vision held that all musical boundaries were open to challenge. Also, in a an unorthodox and potentially self destructive act, the band decided that it would have no particular sound other that what it wanted from moment to moment.
The band stopped “editing” in the sense that no formal decisions were made by the band as to whether its output was consistent with any one vision or even any good. The band adopted the attitude that if they thought it, they would make it, and if they made it, they would release it.
This later approach of the band makes it almost impossible to identify an Even As We Speak track as having some intrinsic Even As We Speak identity.
In keeping with this vision the band would seldom record in the same studio twice and would often record a single track across a number of different studios, for example, drums and bass in one studio, programming in a home studio, vocals and guitars in another , and mixing in a third. At the time this approach was unheard of, however it has since become common place to record in this manner.
In addition to changing studios, the band also would also use different recording techniques and mediums as suited their immediate needs without thought for any consistent creative direction, at times recording in Kitchens straight to tape and at other times in high end professional studios without any sense of discrimination as to the medium.
One Step Forward, was an anarchic barrage of sound that manages to consistently evade any one style whilst at the same time holding the mass together with those unmistakable pop hooks.
The One Step Forward record was taken up by John Peel on BBC 1 and the band once more set forth to the UK, this time with a full band arriving in January 1992. During this period the band recorded their first four track session for the John Peel Show and performed across the country before returning to Australia.
The six piece line up of the band also recorded their magnum opus “Feral Pop Frenzy”, an album which can truly be said to defy categorisation, with its spoken word intervals, soundscapes, hillbilly meanderings and several varieties of guitar pop.
The album with its unique approach received critical praise and received high rotation airplay on BBC1 throughout 1992 and 1993.
Feral Pop Frenzy remains a work which is so full of contradictions that it cannot really be described. The album pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the music technology of the early 1990’s such that it sounds current 20 years later with it’s radical cut-ups, abrupt segues and broad palette of instruments and sounds. There is a sense that the album predicts the possibilities of the digital music era from a time before pro tools.
The band spent time between Australia and the UK during 1992 and 1993 and during that time recorded four Peel Sessions and a Goodier Session .
The BBC Sessions represent an outpouring of sonic madness interspersed with those perfect guitar pop moments which the band seemed to now generate effortlessly. Many a BBC producer was driven almost to the point of walking out by the chaotic and unpredictable choices of the band (“No, we just stopped doing that song, this is a different one” “Can anyone get their hands on a theremin?” “I really want this to sound like Peter Frampton”)
Following Feral Pop Frenzy the band recorded the Blue Eyes Deceiving Me EP for Sarah Records.
By this time the band was at its peak, however the band was feeling it had been a long and hard road. Wider commercial audiences remained elusively out of reach whilst the band surfed from couch to couch wondering where the next chicken korma was coming from.
In late 1993 the band returned to Australia with the intention of having a short break however the short break turned into years. It may be said that after 8 years of living the music, enough was enough.
During the period 1993 to 2012 the band members occasionally made small unpublicised performances and recordings however the full band line up never never seemed to come together.
Despite being in hiatus the band has continued to receive a great deal of interest, largely tied to the Sarah Records label. Sarah records subsequently developed a large cult following as a hot house of indie pop.
In 2005 Egg records released a compilation of the bands early works aptly titled “A Three Minute Song is One Minute Too Long”.
In 2014 the band secured the rights to release the BBC Sessions, which are now available on the album “Yellow Food - the Peel Sessions” .
The band has also recorded some new material in 2014 which was released as a five track EP entitled "The Black Forest".
In May 2016 Even As We Speak was invited to play at the New York City Pop Fest 2016 and performed alongside Secret Shine, The Railway Children, the Chills and others. Rumor has it that the band may have performed a song or two dressed as Australian wild life in order to meet a funding pledge and to also prove the point that there is no humiliation too great for this band.
Following NYC Pop Fest the interest in the band continued to grow and in 2017 the band was invited by by U,S. indie label Emotional Response to release new material, and this inspired the band to mix and finalise the 2014 sessions for the The Black Forest in September 2017.
As the fans continued to remain loyal to the band and in particular loved CD and vinyl formats Emotion Response set about re-issuing Yellow Food on CD in and a 25th Anniversary re-issue of Feral Pop Frenzy on CD and vinyl in the first half of 2018.
By this stage bloggers and music critic were frequently referring to the band as now being "legendary" and Feral Pop Frenzy was often referenced as a "classic" and high point in the Sarah Records catalog.
In July 2018 Even As We Speak undertook a two week summer tour of the UK headlining a number of shows with Sarah Records Bands Boyracer, Secret Shine and Action Painting as well as 2 shows in the Rough Trade Record Stores as well as closing the Railway Shed Stage at the highly regarded Indie Tracks indie pop festival. The band also provided 2 new tracks for promotional release on CD and Vinyl entitled "Four Band Compilation" which featured the touring bands.
At the time of writing Even As We Speak are hard at work recording their first full length album in 25 years and looking towards further touring in the later half of 2019.