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Halcyon Drive

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At the heart of creative design lies a fundamental understanding of structure and experimentation. Be it music, art, technology or utility, the underlying concepts remain the same. It’s no coincidence that Halcyon Drive was born when Mick Oechsle and Max Pamieta met studying design together at university; their ability to understand the process of creative design – to imagine, conceptualise, improvise, challenge, ideate and to ultimately create something out of nothing – has had great influence on the shape and sound of the project as a whole.Based in Melbourne, their class only consisted of five or six students, so it was inevitable that the pair began to chat, bonding through a love of music. After discovering that they both played instruments, they started hanging out and playing together. Though Halcyon Drive technically began as Mick’s solo project, it wasn’t long before Max, who would initially join Mick on stage to add energy to the performance, became a permanent member. To this day, they split the creative process down the middle.

That background knowledge of design proved hugely beneficial to their unique approach, particularly in terms of finding confidence in their own ideas, and of “knowing at what point one should grovel in the detail, and when it is okay to bin an idea,” Max explains.

Pooling together a massive range of influences from Queens of the Stone Age, Fall of Troy and Spoon to St Vincent, Neil Finn and David Byrne, they carved their own sound through hours of jamming and performing together. Initially taking cues from pop-centric indie, they grew a little “weirder” and more “different”, ultimately releasing two EPs, 2014’s Cruel Kids and 2016’s Untethered.

Following Unthethered, Mick and Max set to work on their debut album, and for the first time, began toying with electronic production. Max in particular developed a far greater understanding of electronic production and instrumentation, having only “very much lived in a guitar, bass, drums bubble” prior to the band’s evolution.

The Halcyon Drive songwriting process is remarkably organic. Typically, the two enter the room “with a blank canvas”, jamming and letting the music form naturally out of guitar loops and experimentation. Recording these sessions on their phones, they would later listen back and sift through their jams, looking for diamonds in the rough. These would form the basis of songs which they would later refine and structure.

While the pair share that fundamental background knowledge, their approach to songwriting couldn’t be more different. Joel Quartermaine, Eskimo Joe guitarist and producer of the group’s upcoming debut album, described the two as “Yin and Yang. Mick bounces off the walls in the studio. Max is the walls.”

“Max thinks of music very differently to me,” adds Mick, “especially in terms of structure, arrangement and melody.” Where Max confesses to obsessing over minute details and embellishments, Mick’s approach is more overarching and conceptual, focusing on the bigger picture and the overall vibe. The songs themselves are written together, while Max also focuses on fine-tuning details within the arrangement, and Mick handles the storytelling: lyrics, themes and vocal melody.

For example, lead single ‘The Birds’ centres around a relationship in Mick’s life, while Max’s instrumentation is what pushed it to the next level, sonically. “It was a cobbled-together song with older songwriting and new ideas, like the entirely instrumental bridge,” says Mick. “It was the first time we’d done anything like that, it was entirely written by Max – it was sheer genius.”

 

The initial melody for ‘The Birds’ was written two years prior, but the song only came together at the eleventh hour. “I remember when we came up with this chord progression in the studio, right at the end of writing the album,” says Mick. “Something clicked. I went back and found those earlier chords, and it just worked. That’s what I love about ‘The Birds’, it encapsulates everything we’ve done over the last 3-4 years. It’s got electronic undertones, a heartfelt sentiment, and some really edgy production.

 

The song itself was written about that exciting yet uncertain period at the start of a relationship, where two people have to learn about each other, their routines, their ways of living life. Beautiful and bittersweet, the concept is sonically reflected by a subtly dark electronic layer, underpinning the smooth instrumentation.

While ‘The Birds’ contains a certain meaning for Mick, it’s also deliberately left open for interpretation, inviting the listener to find their own meaning. That concept lent itself particularly well to the track’s accompanying video, imagined and created by upcoming Melbourne director Greta Nash “Greta interpreted the track in her own way,” says Mick. “She took in the darkness of the song. The only brief we’d really given was that we wanted it to have a Black Mirror element.”

Set in the back of an Uber, a cast of passengers come and go around Melbourne, feeling stressed with work, scrolling through their phones, leaving a wild party and so on. As though from the perspective of the driver, the viewer meets these characters and peers into their lives. “It’s about knowing someone. Really knowing someone, even a stranger. It’s intentionally open-ended, just like the song.”

The album was produced at a small studio within an industrial state in Moorabbin, Melbourne. It’s so small and remote that it almost felt like a bedroom. Here, they would work with Joel, who acted as both mentor and critic for the group. “Joel was the voice of the audience,” says Max. “He’d call out parts that needed to be trashed or tweaks, even lyrics, to make the songs more palatable and rewarding for the listener.”

Lyrically, the songs on the album predominantly come from observations within Mick’s life, from people and relationships to social commentary, and even memorable dreams.

’Kale’, for example, was the first political song he’s ever written. Penned when Donald Trump was elected into office, Mick pointed his finger at the people, not the President. “What does it say about society, that that can happen?” He asks. “Don’t worry about the clown, you’re the ones who voted him in.”

Elsewhere, ’Elephant Bones’ was written during the height of the Pokémon Go craze. “We were on tour, I was sitting on the beach somewhere. It looked like zombie people were coming out of the darkness, glued – addicted – to their phones. It left such a strong impression. The name just came to me, it felt like a weird term you could use for any piece of technology. It just sounded right.”

But the album isn’t all about hard-hitting concepts and dark ideas. ’Satellite’ and ‘Reach’ are softer and deeply emotional. Both written while Mick’s partner was overseas, he refers to these as his “long-distance relationship songs”. “‘Satellite’ is about the odds of finding the person who actually works for you.”

After nearly eight years, Halcyon Drive is ready to present its debut album to the world. Rich in its widespread, imaginative themes and melodies, the album is crafted along a musically diverse topography, as sublime on stage as it is inside headphones. With a national tour and more on the way, the future is bright for Halcyon Drive.

 

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