As Last Dinosaurs get set to tour to support their latest record, Wellness, I spoke to Sean Caskey about the delay between drinks and if the idea of ‘wellness’ relates in any way to the band’s emotional or mental mindset at this crucial point in it’s career.
I’ve always had a bit of a mixed relationship with Last Dinosaurs. I like ’em, though I tend to drift in and out of the realm of Australian indie rock these days, I don’t much follow them like I used to. I remember around 2010 seeing the upstarts on the rise, emerging in the wake of new rave and playing alongside angular and moody indie bands such as The Cairos, Comic Sans and The Surgeons. While many of the bands in that scene fell by the wayside or were incorporated into other acts, Last Dinosaurs endured and thrived, thanks to their clean sound and youthful, capricious relatability. Their debut LP, In A Million Years, catapulted them into the Australian music limelight as everyone expected it to, placing them at the top of the heap that was already piled high with other equally youthful and capricious bands. Hit singles accompanied by good looking music videos helped create a crisp aesthetic and the band caught on somewhat overseas. I guess industry rhetoric is to strike while the iron is hot, but for the band labelled by many as the ‘band most likely to’, nothing was heard in the years post-In A Million Years aside from word of a few international tours.
It’s been three years since In A Million Years has dropped and Last Dinosaurs finally followed up with their second LP, Wellness, in August this year. The record is again filled to the brim with polished sounds, striking guitar notes and lovelorn vocals – a winning combination. The record adds enough new elements to signify evolution but the sounds themselves remain aligned with the brand of indie rock that keeps them accessible. On the eve of a national tour around Australia, I spoke to lead singer and guitarist Sean Caskey about the album and got a sense that the guy – and most likely his band members – have been waiting for the time to offer new material but due to factors outside of their control have been prevented from doing so. Sean’s answers to my questions indicated a confidence in the bands status in the Australian music strata but also a desire to do more than is currently allowed. First things first, I asked Sean what took so fucking long? Why wait three years after In A Million Years to do it again?
“It was really good to get a long life out of that album,” Sean confesses. “Australian touring finished and we, almost by accident, found out that Asia had a really strong fan base. We love to travel, it’s great to experience to good live shows in other countries, in unexpected places.”
Three years, though.
“A lot of the songs (for Wellness) had been written for quite a while,” admits Sean. “I don’t know – unfortunately it’s not up to us to decide when we get to record. There was definitely some self-imposed pressure to get an album out ASAP because no one likes to take too long and miss the wave. I think we were on the dangerous end of taking too long.”
Wellness is an album that doesn’t show many signs of staleness. Songs left to sit can lose their lustre, but the cuts on this record retain a fresh sheen. For a band like Last Dinosaurs there would need to be considerable tinkering to keep their songs as on-point as possible; when conversation turned to the album itself, it was revealed that the major criteria (for Sean, that is) was that a good Last Dinosaurs song was a song he still liked.
“You get older and you develop a different taste of what music you like,” says Sean. “I think (Wellness) is closer to something I’d want to listen to. I’ve been listening to a lot more ‘chill-wave’ sort of music and a lot of the songs start out way less pop than they become – they end up polishing up really nicely, though.”
“Writing songs is sort of a never ending process for us. It starts mainly with me at home doing stuff but it all started almost as soon the first album was done. It was throughout the three years between releases – a lot of the I never considered being Dinosaur songs, they were just songs written for fun. I just wrote whatever style was in my head at the time.”
The songs on Wellness seem to follower similar lines as on In A Million Years – heartbreak followed by optimism followed by heartbreak. I was curious to see what three years had unearthed in Sean’s mind, if he drew upon any experiences from the past three years that informed the content on the album.
“It’s always about girls mainly,” says Sean, cheekily.
Fair enough, I thought. But a story that I had read in my research regarding ‘Apollo’ being inspired by the blue pill/red pill conversation in The Matrix struck me as peculiar, or different. I probed.
“It’s all about having the opportunity then and there to change your life totally,” Sean informs me. “I think it’s about being sick of life, the analogy struck a chord with me at the time – the image of diving off a cliff into uncertainty.”
Sean started to reveal a side of him that was uncertain, unearthing an aspect of his personality that yearned for more or maybe something different to what he has now. Last Dinosaurs carry a lot of expectation of excellence and reliability. As far and ‘mainstream’ indie bands go, Last Dinosaurs is the band many point to as being the measuring stick. Groups like Ball Park Music and The Jungle Giants might be more prolific, but ringing endorsements by members of Bloc Party and consistent international touring help kept Last Dinosaurs aloft despite a limited discography. I wondered if Sean’s Matrix moment had already occurred, or if it was still a fantasy that played in his mind. Has Last Dinosaurs career trajectory been weighing on him? Is the yearning for change still prominent or has he achieved exactly what he wanted? Was I reading way too much into it all?
I asked Sean if the success had changed anything for him.
“I’m pretty much the same as I always am,” says Sean. “I have the same friends and we all treat each other the same. The experience hasn’t changed my personality but doing all this touring has inspired me to be better. It’s hard, making music comes a lot from personal experiences – often tragic situations, but it’s hard to not be constantly creating them. You have to live your life and let these things happen, but sometimes they don’t happen the way you expect. You’re constantly looking at things from every perspective and seeing if you can extract something from it personally.”
The conversation moved to the aspect of ‘wellness’ and if the idea of being physically, mentally and emotionally well played into the album beyond the title. What wellness are we talking about here?
“It’s emotional – it’s the desire to be happy and live like a normal person, to have a healthy mind,” confesses Sean. “It’s about realising that sometimes it just can’t be. That song is itself about falling in love with someone and trying to play down the idea of it; trying to make it an everyday, mundane thing. Like I’m thinking, “oh well, it’s happening again”, because you realise that at the beginning of something it also has an end. I just felt like it was just going to happen all over again. It’s about accepting that you can’t have everything.”
Before I let Sean go I asked him if he thought things would be harder to hold on to and appreciate if Wellness pushed the bands to loftier heights.
“It’s hard to say,” admits Sean. “It’s usually fine when you tour, it’s just a duration thing. Touring has never impacted too much, but being single and touring is interesting. It’s just the pressures of being someone who has to create things that are always awesome – just having to live up to that. Pressure I place upon myself – I always have to write the best thing I’ve ever made because I’m getting older and moving forwards.”
I gathered that Sean was a person resigned to going with the flow. The career of Last Dinosaurs will go as it will, movements dictated by labels and booking agents and the constant demands of fans at home and abroad. Relationships may be strained, love might be delayed, living like a normal person might not seem feasible; as much as Sean and the others might love to be in control of a few more decisions the reality is that once a band passes a certain threshold micromanagement isn’t a possibility. Trust in the process has brought them this far. The one thing Sean and Last Dinosaurs are in control of is the songs – that’s what this ship is sailing on. Hopefully whatever next year holds for the group is fulfilling creatively and personally and that if I get the chance to talk to Sean again three years down the track he’ll still be in a sound state of mind.