Viva Computer may not have been on the Australian music scene for all that long, but they certainly prove that individuality and unique musical soundscapes are alive and well. Guitarist Jonathon McCarthy recently shed some light on what makes Viva Computer tick. Based in Tasmania, this group of five strapping young lads are still figuring out exactly where they want their music to take them, but wherever that is they’re likely to be joined by many fans on the journey.
‘Experimentation is good and we’ve tried lots of things. We try to avoid repeating ourselves but I guess it’s pretty inevitable having a recognisable sound. Each member prefers different aspects of our sound. I like how our songs sound like a bunch of guys doing different things and want to write more songs like ‘Send it Through the Wire’, whereas Will wants pop.’
On their recently released EP, We Are the Fourth Emergency they produce atmospheric music with a dark, dirty edge which may come more from their musical influences rather than be part of a conscious decision to create a certain sound and feel. ‘The atmosphere might be a result of being influenced by, but being nowhere near as good as, Sonic Youth. We were trying to use feedback in our music like they do as it tends to texture songs. We also recorded our EP in a big open house, which tends to drown everything in natural reverb and Will likes to cover his vocals in absurd amounts of reverb. The tone of our next release is looking to sound far more pop and upbeat than We Are the Fourth Emergency. So there are no solid ideas about how our albums should feel.’
Just as a famous bard once said, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’, the same also seems to be true of any recording process. Bringing We Are the Fourth Emergency to life most certainly came with its challenges. ‘It dragged over about 6 months. Our drummer Tim was sick for a few days of the recording; we recorded the EP ourselves and didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t have an 8 track so we could play as we do live. There were problems with cover art designers and we were endlessly re-recording pieces as we started to dislike a few of the songs. Jordy joined the band half way through the process so we wrote and added his parts. Also Will was in London for the bulk of the recording so we had to record his parts when he got back.’
In a group of five, there are bound to be different musical influences and inspirations that come together to make up the band’s sound as a whole. ‘The differences have a positive influence, probably because no one is adamant about playing a particular kind of music. We figure it’s probably harder to be original if every band member’s influences forced a band to work within one genre. We think the best songs strike a balance between accessibility and inaccessibility, pop and noise.’
An example of the positive influence of these differences is the approach taken to write and develop each song. ‘It’s collaborative, Will tends to write the bulk of the melody lines and lyrics and each member tends to write much of their own parts. But we wouldn’t sound like we do if it wasn’t for every member in the band. Each member influences each other member’s parts. It’s a pretty long critical process that requires everyone’s input. I think, in reality, it would be pretty hard to be in a band and not have a collaborative process, especially if you think being in ‘a band’ isn’t just about your songs.’ While they are often positive, these differences also introduce diversity in the way band members approach the task at hand, even though everyone is striving for the same goal. ‘Will is quite capable of winging some things and Jordy frustratingly likes to improvise. It takes a long time to get songs right. Even after all that I end up hating some songs after I’ve felt that we’ve done everything we can to them, whilst other members love them.’
Aside from writing and recording, Viva Computer has also been building a reputation on the live circuit for being solid rock performers, and this is something with which Jonathon readily agrees, ‘We’re probably at our best when we’re loud and in a small room.’ The inspiration for getting out on stage no doubt in part comes from their own experiences of great live music. With that in mind I asked Jonathon what band he’d like to perform alongside. ‘I can’t speak for the other guys but for me it would be Gerling; sounds a bit low key but I really loved their live show. I saw them in Launceston once just as I turned 18 and there were about 12 people. They came onto the stage and said, “Ok, I know there’s not many people here but PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR” and went completely insane. They also seem like nice guys, they’re not too big. Hopefully we’ll fall into that one day.’
With their first EP already out and about, I asked what the immediate future held for Viva Computer. ‘We’re recording (hopefully an album) with some other artists “Charles du Cane” “Peter Escott” and “Lily Pearce”. We’ll play shows again when our drummer Tim gets back from Thailand and when our bass player Kieran gets back from Colorado around April 2007. Unless the new album goes amazing and we can get it together live with our collaborators.’
While Tasmania may sometimes seem to be a world away from fame and fortune, I think Jonathon sums it up best when he talks about why location doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. ‘We’ve always been of the opinion that if you are good enough you’ll “make it” no matter where you live.’
I originally wrote this article for ‘The Dwarf‘.