How Northeast Party House created their best record yet by learning who they are
Being in a band for ten years is bound to bring with it some fundamental shifts over the years. You’re growing up together, not just within yourselves but as a unit, and when you’re as successful as Northeast Party House, you’re also doing it in front of the country. From their 2014 debut album, Any Given Weekend to their second in 2016, Dare, the band’s trajectory to becoming one of the country’s most loved party bands is easy to hear. Songs like ‘Youth Allowance’, ‘The Haunted’ and ‘Calypso Beach’ have provided the soundtrack to some incredible moments in a live setting, from heaving, sweaty venues to packed out festival tents, and it’s where the band has always shone the brightest. But, in 2016 after the release of Dare, they had a decision to make: where to next?
Realising they’ve always been about those very “moments” and its these that make them who they are, Northeast Party House chose to lean into being this kind of party band — only now they were ready to level up in every way possible. Dismantling habits and traditions within the band and everything they’d tried before when making their music, the band set their sights on becoming not just a party band, but the BEST party band they could be. Each member turned inwards, focused completely on perfecting their own skill sets from production skills, songwriting, collaborating, creating videos, mixing and more. They began to write together in different combinations of members. Lead singer Zachary Hamilton-Reeves and guitarist Mitch Ansell went overseas to write in different environments. For the first time ever, they signed to a major label (Sony Music Australia), hired a recording studio outside of their Melbourne homes and usual studios (The Grove), and tapped not just any external producer to come on board but the one and only Kim Moyes for The Presets to collaborate with. As the years ticked by, the band’s vision on where they were heading became more and more focused as they slowly and steadily began to create what would be Shelf Life, their third and best album yet.
Across ten tracks, Shelf Life is at its core a concept album that somewhat soundtracks a night out. You’re excited at the potential of the night ahead and getting ready with your mates (Magnify), you head out and start to party (Dominos), things get pretty wild (Shelf Life, The Desert), a little too wild (Lose Control), reality starts to rear its head and the night takes an unpredictable turn (Tear In A Club). You wonder what it’s really all about (American Diamond), maybe feel all is lost (St Valentine), the night starts to wrap up as you look towards tomorrow (Take Tomorrow Faster) and as you make it home and your head hits the pillow while the sun rises outside, you know it’s all going to be okay (Sunset). But, taking a step back, Shelf Life is also the end result of a band coming together like never before to deliver their most refined, concise work.
Polished without losing its authenticity, heartfelt and emotional where it needs to be, dynamic in its ebbs and flows, raw and real in its unedited celebration and examination of hedonistic lifestyles, Shelf Life marks a turning point for Northeast Party House. It’s a statement from the six-piece who have harnessed the power of knowing who they are and what they do best, and used it to their advantage. Just like life itself, they aren’t shying away from complexities or difficulties on Shelf Life; instead, they run towards them and take it all in their stride. Channeling their influences from the bands they grew up listening to like The Presets, Midnight Juggernauts or Cut Copy and infusing it with their own now self-assured sound, Northeast Party House have become a band that plays to their strengths and aren’t afraid to be who they are. From taking a look at the less-than-fun side of partying on the heartwrenching show-stopper ‘Tear In A Club’ to the celebration of new beginnings on the explosive ‘Magnify’, the all-out embrace of dance music on ‘Dominos’ and ‘Lose Control’ and the electrifying title track, to the one-two punch of brilliant songwriting on ‘American Diamond’ and ‘St Valentine’, Shelf Life is a thrilling, captivating, emotional record that sees the band connect with not only their fans, but themselves as well, like never before.
A band that has always delivered punters “moments”, Northeast Party House are now having their own. Maintaining their party band authenticity but elevating everything that comes with that, they have arrived in 2020 with a “serious” record that at once never strays from their roots as an explosive, magnetic force in a live setting while raising the bar as a band capable of creating a technically-skilled, critically-impressive album. It’s a testament to the challenge they set themselves four years ago, and it’s proof that not only do party bands have feelings too, but that they’re able to embrace them and create real connections with the people around them as well. To celebrate the release and dig deeper into how it came to be, we took a dive into the world of Northeast Party House recently with guitarist and bassist Jack Shoe. Read on below and stream Shelf Life everywhere now.
Shelf Life’s out February 28th – how are you feeling about it all? Third time around, you’d think you’d be used to it by now?
It feels totally new again. It was so long ago that we released our last album so it’s totally fresh and exciting. It’s a little bit scary, but I think excited is the main emotion at the moment.
You’ve said that“This album is exactly what we set out to achieve,” meaning it’s an album that leaned into your party vibe more than ever before and created huge dance moments at your shows – was this the goal all along, or was this something you kind of had to realise over the years that this is the direction the band needed to be heading in?
It’s definitely a much more dance-focused direction on this album. We’ve always been a party band or a “festival” band, so we’ve always geared our writing towards that high energy “festival moment.” We really wanted to hone our skills on this album a lot more than in the past. It kind of felt like the last two albums were a bit like a jumble of ideas that we were into at the time and it wasn’t thought out as concisely, so we really wanted to step it up a level on this one.
What were some of the things you did to step up this time around?
We’ve all spent a lot of time trying to develop our songwriting and production skills. We’ve been working on that the whole time, but with this album it feels like everyone’s come a long way. Also just through decisions like getting an external producer on board, linking up with a major label — across the board we were making decisions that would try and elevate this album from what we’ve done in the past. Even just the way we communicate within the band, we treated it like a full time job. We did 9 to 5 on weekdays, we’d have meetings all the time and talk about our feelings. It was like a really long therapy session [laughs].
You also spent a lot more time creating while being physically together in the same room. How do you think that influenced or changed the sound this time around?
We tried a lot of different writing techniques on this album. We dedicated so much time to working on this album, so we allowed ourselves to try different combinations of writing within the band. We hired this studio space in Preston in Melbourne that is big enough to have all of us in the same room and that’s something we never had before. It was mostly in groups of two or three, and less full band jamming at the same time. For the first year, we worked solo and then the second year it was groups, and we just worked out which combinations were producing the best result.
So lots of trial and error over the years, then?
Yeah! Which is why it took us so long too. We allowed ourselves the freedom to write individually and without any pressure of what we wanted the album to be. That first year, the demos were all different genres and they all sounded completely different. Then, in the second year, we got together and that’s when we made the decision to be a dance-focused album and to try new electronic elements we hadn’t in the past.
This album really sounds like a strong artistic statement of saying, “This is what we’re about.” Do you think in hindsight, now looking back on that time when you were creating the record, it was liberating for you to have that deeper understanding of what the band is about now?
It’s nice to hear you pick up on that because it does feel that way. We finished the album about six months ago, and it’s only now that it’s finished and about to come out that we’ve got enough space to think of it in that way. It is true, this album is the most accurate to us and represents what we want to be doing as a band a lot better than in the past.
You’re all more involved with this record. Sean made the Shelf Life video, Malcolm mixed the record. You’re all more trusting in the actual creative process with each other. Did you learn how to trust in yourselves along the way?
Yeah, it’s been really awesome to see how different members have become skilled in certain aspects of the band. Sean’s film clips have been incredible. That’s also come with working with the team and building those relationships and figuring out who’s right for us. It’s been super special to control so many aspects of the band.
On the flipside, this is the first time you’ve worked with an external producer – and its with icon Kim Moyes no less. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
We spent a week with him up at the Grove studios on the Central Coast. That whole week felt surreal. We’ve always just recorded in our bedrooms or in Melbourne studios, and going to a location and working with a producer has always been a goal of ours. That studio also has a lot of history and there’s gold records on the walls from some of our favourite bands. The first two days were intimidating but then we got into a groove and it was a lot of fun. The Presets have been a big influence on us growing up and when we were starting the band so meeting Kim for the first time and getting to know him was really cool.
The Presets’ influence is something I’ve always picked up in Northeast’s music – and how could you not, they’re incredible. From a personal point of view, how was that for you?
It was super exciting, but it threw up challenges as well. We’re all very opinionated in the band and each member can do most roles on their own, so having six opinions is hard enough and then to have someone from the outside come and offer theirs was quite a shock to the system. We thought he’d be driving this electronic side and mold our sound to be more Presets-y, but it was the opposite. He sat down with us and was like, “You’re a band, you should be playing live,” and helped us play to our strengths more. It was a surprise. We released ‘Dominos’ at the end of last year and a few people commented saying it sounded quite Presets-, which I think there is a Presets influence on it, but more so we’re just fans of the band and that came through in our writing. I don’t think he actually liked it, he called it the “sad clown song.” He thought it had a really depressing synth line in it and couldn’t understand why we liked the song.
‘Tear In A Club’ is such a powerful song and a poignant moment on the record. I think clubs are such vital places for emotional release and processing the fucked shit that happens outside. It’s like a momentary reprieve where you can escape, and through that escape comes clarity or heartache or whatever it is you’re searching for. It can also be really isolating too however, so not all clubbing experiences are made equal. Why was it so important to bring that experience to life with this song?
When Zach brought that demo into the band, that was the first track where the lyrics of the song really hit me in a deep way. I could just relate to that song so well. We had these weekly listening parties where we’d all bring our demos in and listen and pick which ones we’d work on. When Zach played that one, we were all floored. It gave the rest of the album a bit of direction. A lot of our songs are focused around club life and nightlife culture. Zach’s goal for this album was to open up and be more personal and it’s kind of hard to do that when you’ve gotta run that through five other people and have us critique it and then play it on stage as “party music.” I feel like that song offers up a new element of his writing and I’m a big fan of it.
It goes back to that artistic statement. You probably could’ve easily written it as another banger and it would’ve gone off at the Mix Up Tent at Splendour, but you’ve opted for the opposite and shown the other side of partying — the side that can be damaging or destructive to either other people or yourself. How does it feel to chip away at that party band facade and reveal that you’re real life people underneath to your fans?
It feels honest. We are all getting a bit older and life isn’t just a constant party and pure highs [laughs]. We have experienced lows as well. It feels honest to have songs that show that side of things as well. It’s funny, that song did exist in two forms and one was a party track. There is a version with a big dance beat and we still feel like we might release that one day. Sean in particular really fought hard for the version that ended up on the album. I think it was basically five to one, everyone was going for the dance-y version. We were in The Grove studio and he sat us all down and said, “Please just listen with an open mind. I think this will be a really special moment for the album.”
He was definitely right.
I think it gives the album a bit of breathing space. I think something we’ve learned from playing live is we’ve got all these songs that are similar tempo and this really high energy, so the crowd gets quite tired! We burn people out over the course of an hour, so we need these moments for people to take a breath and give them something else to think about.
The way the song builds into that kind of completely enveloping moment and just fades away is so beautiful, and then leading straight into American Diamond. For a band that’s obviously spent a long time working on your live show, was your approach to the art of the album different with this one than your previous albums?
Definitely. It was a huge goal from the start. In the past, it was just, “What demos do we have that are written? Which are the best ones? Alright, let’s put it on the album. We’ve gotta get this out.” A clear concept developed early on with ‘Shelf Life’ and ‘Tear In A Club’, it felt like there were these club related tracks in the lyrics and also energy-wise. The first half of the album is pretty pumping and fast-paced, but then ‘Tear In A Club’ comes in and the second half is more ballads and softer tracks. The tracklist we ended up with felt right. We like to think of the album as a night out in itself and the way the energy rolls out.
I can hear that. It starts off with the initial excitement, you’re out with your mates and everyone’s having a good time. But then something goes a bit wrong or things go a bit weird, and then it tapers off when the sun is rising and you’re like, “Shit, I should go home!”
We probably should’ve called the last song ‘Sunrise’, not ‘Sunset’. It’s the only thing that doesn’t quite add up. The energy feels right! [Laughs]
The world feels like a really crazy place to be in at the moment, and it feels like people are almost desperate to not only just get out of reality for a bit, but also to come together and that’s what I’m picking up a lot of in this album. It’s a sense of you guys coming together in a way you haven’t before, and now you’re bringing your fans with you. Does it feel like that for you guys as well?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, like why we make music. It can feel a bit self-indulgent at times, when way the world is at times struggling with such serious issues, to be in a room stressing about minute details of how a kick sounds. But then, when we play shows and connect with people or we get messages online about how a certain song helped someone through a difficult time, it’s those moments that help us remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s a kind of pay off for the whole process. That feeling of connectedness and togetherness is really special and definitely probably the reason we’ve kept the band together for so long and still feeling so excited to keep going.
Before I go, are there any stories you can tell me about the Berghain bender that inspired ‘Shelf Life’?
There’s nothing G rated about the experience. It was a wild time. It’s good because we’re often referred to as a party band, but we don’t often go out clubbing or partying together outside of the band. Touring takes up so much of our lives and we’re around each other so much, when we come home we’re kind of burnt out and going out is not a regular occurrence. It was really special to go out clubbing together and share each other’s company in that way. We were there for 17 hours as well so there was a lot of bonding going on. Ollie, our bass player, had never really gone clubbing before and he had the time of his life. It was pretty wild to see the world open up in his eyes. The week that followed was pretty horrendous.
That might’ve been when the sadder songs started to form.
Those kind of experiences go back to that kind of sense of community. It makes sense you do need to have those experiences together to be able to form that deeper bond as a band. Maybe that’s helped lead to the new trust you have with each other that’s allowed you to create such a special record.
Definitely. After that, Zach and Ollie had some health issues and Zach didn’t party for a year or two. He kept it pretty quiet, and that’s when we started writing this album. We got so focused on writing and we spoke a lot about maturing as a band which is definitely true and we have become more serious. But, I thought that meant we’d lost the fun element. We had tunnel vision and we were only focused on the album until about six months ago, and now we’re playing shows again and the fun side of the band came right back out. We haven’t forgotten how to have a good time, but we have made this album we’re proud of.
Shelf Life is out everywhere now via Sony Music Australia.
Interview by Emma Jones
All images provided by Sony Music Australia