For a week in September, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley becomes the focal point for the Australian music industry as the BIGSOUND Festival kicks off. Hundreds of industry members, punters and musicians assemble to see the next wave of acts perform live across several official and unofficial showcase performances.
Weirdo Wasteland, in conjunction with photographer Jeff Andersen Jnr. and Jet Black Cat Music, put a call out to some BIGSOUND artists we admire to enlist them for a series of portraits taken at Bloodhound Bar throughout the week. Melbourne’s DARTS took part in the project, and guitarist, singer and songwriter Ally Campbell Smith was also kind enough to answer some questions about their newest bunch of music. Read the Q&A then check out the full gallery below!
To start, take me back to just after the release of Below Empty & Westward Bound. What were your thoughts on how that record was received? Was there anything that surprised you about the response?
I think we were really in our own world at that point. We had pored so long over the album, and finally releasing it was something we were really nervous about. I guess, once it’s out, it’s a waiting game. Thinking back to the launch of that album, we’d hosted it in a place that was a little out of the way, we had no other bands supporting, it was just us in this big empty space and just hours before we performed we weren’t even sure anyone was going to come, but it packed out, completely. People were there, wall to wall, they’d been waiting, they were interested, and they’d come for only us. That was a big hooray moment for all of us, and following the release we were given opportunities to play bigger venues alongside bigger acts than ever before.
In terms of growth and evolution, was there anything that you were interested in experimenting with post-BE&WB?
We have definitely experimented since then in all aspects. We’ve expanded our sound, our songwriting technique, and the dynamics of our songs is a big focus. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we end up too far from where we want to be. We wrote a catalogue of material so far from the genesis of DARTS that didn’t feel authentic or honest, so it’s been a process to learn to channel all of our ideas and keep fluidity throughout our new material. Having five members all with insane talents is like having an endless supply of Lego, but you still need to be selective about what pieces you choose to make the masterpiece.
What are some key distinctions between your process and sound during the writing and recording of BE&WB and the material you are working on now?
Looking back to when we were writing BE&WB, we’d not long had Paige on keys and Jessie was flung straight into the studio so they, in particular, didn’t get an opportunity to really be involved in the song development process, so we’re more well-rounded when it comes to each instrument’s intention now than before. Angus and I have written almost all of the bones of the new material together, whereas before we’d just bring tracks in we’d done solo, so learning to write together and have all five of us developing the songs together has matured our soundscape infinitely.
‘Distance = Infinity’ and ‘Cinder Bloc’ are two tracks that boast different sonic forms. What was the reasoning behind dropping the two at once?
We’d actually recorded a whole bunch of tracks that we intended to be an album but we weren’t entirely happy with the feel of it as an album. These two songs were quintessential Darts to us, and we wanted to have them out there. It was an idea that had to be sold to us, particularly because we see ourselves as an album band, so we had to let go a little in that respect. It was also partly a gift to ourselves, releasing the tracks, because we’d put a lot into the whole process.
Tell me a little bit more about these tracks. How did they come about and what would you say is the inspirational context behind each?
‘Distance=Infinity’ actually came really easy. Angus and I laid out most of it in a couple of hours one afternoon. He was in the middle of a really hard situation, having a long distance relationship, and all of the feelings that come with that. We’d been talking through it that day and the lyrics naturally stemmed from those emotions and exorcising them. Cinder Bloc was solely Angus, so I can’t speak for what he was feeling at the time, but it was around the same time. He writes really visually, and draws a lot from old westerns, so he has a unique way of putting you into a particular setting.
Does the variation in tone and intensity signify an element of duality in your next long-form recorded work?
It’s something I think we’ve always had. Angus and I can vary so much in terms of our sound so you can probably ascertain which of us has written which song, and it’s definitely a contrast that we’ve played on. As I mentioned, we consider ourselves an album band, and we want to have those differences throughout the album because we view it it’s a story with characters, situations, emotions, and landscapes.
Without giving too much away, can you give us an insight into the themes and concepts that are shaping your new music?
In terms of a particular concept, we use an overriding feeling of solitude. With BE&WB we used a kind of “lone cowboy” concept. Vast nothingness. We’re using those same emotions in a different setting. I think it’ll make more sense alongside the artwork of the album, but consider a modern journey to an endless place.
You performed numerous shows across BIGSOUND. Was it a good opportunity to road test the new material in a live setting?Absolutely. We weren’t sure initially, I mean, BIGSOUND is such a great opportunity to showcase your best, and we had to make the decision to play a mix of older songs and the singles, or offer up songs that were super fresh. One of them we’d only tied up three days beforehand. We went with the latter, which was a big thing considering how meticulously we consider what we perform, based on how well we can pull it off live, our vocals, etc. but we relished showcasing current Darts. It was a breath of fresh air for all of us.
Check out the gallery here: