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Astro Children

Astro Children

Interviewed by
Joon Yang
Tuesday 12th April, 2016 12:27PM

Dunedin band Astro Children first started out more than five years ago playing all-ages shows, and since then have built up a strong reputation for themselves in the local scene. The "spaceship pop / shoegaze" duo had tucked two excellent albums (Lick my Spaceship and Proteus) under their belts prior to this year, however their new release Plain and Fancy Killings veers the pair closer to a darker, sludgier, and post-punk lyrical and sonic territory. UTR caught up with guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Millie Lovelock over email for a chat about the album, the band’s current state, and her current academic studies concerning One Direction...

UTR: On your Tumblr page you describe this album as “a short-form piece, a snapshot of my feelings” - can you elaborate?

ML: I wrote that about the EP because in every way it's a snapshot. We recorded it in one go at the end of 2014, so there is a cohesive mood in the way we played the songs. The recording process was one burst, whereas Proteus took us several months to record. Even so, the songs for Plain and Fancy Killings were written over a period of two years, so they are each grounded in their own separate moment. To me, the EP is short-form because it is so momentary and concise, reducing a lot of content down to a single piece.

One track that stands out is 'Play It As It Lays'. What were your reasons to use that for the EP’s lead single?

We decided to use 'Play It As It Lays' as the single because it’s catchy and we’re really proud of it. It’s also a big part of our live set and the way we play it in front of an audience is quite different to the recording. So it was nice to let people in on the way the song was in my head when I was writing it.

That song sounds to me as the most introspective track of the EP. You communicate these feelings of insecurity, your awareness of being fragile and how prone you can be to being unstable; all qualities that are universal in people. Were you nervous of releasing a song in which you confess your vulnerabilities to the audience?

Everything I ever do in Astro Children is very publicly and viscerally expressing my anxieties and vulnerabilities, so I wasn’t nervous about releasing it for that reason. I was nervous about showing a softer side to my voice because male music critics have often made me feel really uncomfortable by speaking reductively about my vocals and nothing else, and there was a long period where I couldn’t bring myself to sing at all. Releasing 'Play It As It Lays' was a way for me to push back against the anxiety singing was causing me.

What are the overall themes to this EP?

Like I said, every song on this EP is very moment specific, and as I don’t tend to write in big bursts I’m not usually thinking about overall themes when I’m writing. But I think if anything strings this EP together then it is this feeling of simultaneously trying to understand physical embodiment and experiencing this intense, disembodied sensation of being watched and monitored.

I understand that the titles of three songs 'Despair', 'Plain and Fancy Killings', and 'Play It As It Lays' were taken from novels and an article. You also study English Literature. Could you please describe how reading and writing affects your life?

Reading gives me a framework for understanding how I’m feeling. What I’m reading often becomes a part of the writing process for me in that I might start off feeling some kind of way, and then I’ll read a book like Despair (a Nabokov novel in which a man kills who he believes to be his doppelgänger) and suddenly I have this tangible conceptual framework that I can work with. For me, songwriting is an emotional release, but it’s only helpful if it’s a structured and controlled release. So, taking from what I’m reading can really help me grapple with nebulous patches of feeling.

I’ve noticed that the vocals, drums and guitars seem more in front (less effects) and heavier on this album than your previous releases. Was that an intentional decision in terms of the sound you were trying to achieve?

We were recording with a lot more equipment than we had done previously, so it was actually an option to have the drums and guitars coming through clearly. The guitars and drums have always been heavy, we just haven’t always had the ability to capture that on a recording. We’re also a lot more confident than we were when we recorded our other two releases and that comes through in the way we play.

What was it like recording at Chick’s Hotel with Nick Graham (Who’ve also worked with Opposite Sex to make Hamlet at the same space)?

Working with Nick was great, he’s really good at his job and a lovely person.

What are your thoughts on Chick’s closing?

I’m anxious about Dunedin having almost no venues left, and I’m anxious about having to play places in town where women aren’t welcome or safe. But I’m hoping that the closure will push the music community here to think about what we want from venues, what we can do better, and how we can make spaces safer for everyone.

Can you tell me a little about the cover art?

The cover art was shot by our friends Daniel Blackball Alexander and Alex Lovell Smith on this crazy old camera in the beautiful old building they live in.

The album cover is a direct photograph of the band unlike your previous releases Proteus and Lick My Spaceship...

We’ve been a little bit faceless as a band, Proteus and Lick My Spaceship both had illustrated covers, and we thought it was time to come out of the woodwork and own what we were releasing. It’s a little bit spooky and dark, but so are we and so is the EP.

You’ve distributed your previous album Proteus via MUZAI. I know Benjii is a fan of your work. Do you know whether MUZAI is getting the EP distributed in New Zealand and Europe?

We’re not releasing Plain and Fancy Killings through MUZAI, and we don’t have a physical release planned. We’re still big fans of MUZAI though!

What are some of the band’s goals for 2016?

More touring, more recording, and getting out of New Zealand for a little bit. All the usual band goals.

On a different note, how is your study regarding One Direction going?

It’s going great. It’s the best thing I could have decided to spend a year doing. I go into work everyday and think, read, and write about something I love.

Were they an influence to any of these songs on the album?

I can’t say with certainty that they weren’t, but at least they weren’t consciously an influence on this album. I feel like they’ll come through more on the next one.

It was really interesting listening to your interview with Radio New Zealand regarding how their songs were written in mind of a female teenager’s perspective.Do you feel like 1D’s songs emotionally resonate more so for certain demographics of society? Do you feel like anyone could relate to them?

I feel like the beauty and significance of One Direction is that the songs are supposed to resonate emotionally with teenage girls, and it doesn’t matter if no one else likes them. That said, they’re incredible pop songs and I know people who aren’t teenage girls and who have never been teenage girls who love One Direction and really get behind what they do. It’s music, it’s not static and confined to one demographic, but it’s so important for the way it interacts with young women.


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