Melbourne indie rock stalwarts Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird return with their new album Smiles Of Earth, another quality addition to their ever-growing cannon and perhaps their most stylistically cohesive, organic and collaborative statement to date. The record oozes warmth for an uncertain time with the increased use of horns across the gamut of these 10 songs, ranging from observational, whimsical and aspirationalq to quirky to deeply moving ruminations on love lost (and found).
Frontman Lachlan Rose explains: “Like most albums, Smiles of Earth has been a labour of deep love. Thwarted by lockdowns and the creative process itself, we attempted to make this record in numerous ways. Thanks to the patience and dedication of the band members, as well as the nurturing talents of producer Stephen Charles, the album was finally realised at The Aviary in Abbotsford, Melbourne. The inner themes of peacefulness and positive perspective truly levitated the performers throughout the recording process and they embodied its spirit wholeheartedly. I think that spirit is now undeniable in the sound of the album. In a word, this album was written to make you smile.
“As the name leans towards, Smiles of Earth comes from a place of inherent peacefulness. Inspired by Albert Camus’ ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, the phrase captures the natural beauty of the world we live in, which is ever-present but not necessarily always appreciated. While the songs certainly explore the struggles involved in obtaining these positive perspectives, the overall feeling I wanted to leave people with was the choice. The choice between meaninglessness and beauty”.
Those already familiar with the band already understand the earnest charisma of musically gifted singer, songwriter and frontman for the band. Here, he takes us through a track-by-track look at the creative processes and inspiration behind this excellent third record.
There’s a lot going on in this opener. Firstly - it was always the opener. I was obsessing over Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, particularly the way John Bonham plays an unwavering 4/4 beat under Jimmy Page’s iconic 3/4 chord progression. I had this 7/4 xylophone hook I was wrestling to make sense of. I thought of ‘Kashmir’ and realised our drummer Rick Reid should just play this simple as shit 4/4 beat through the whole thing. The song just snapped together into this ridiculous ’80’s TV show theme or something. I had that saxophone hook in my head and started visualising this sexual angel man (Gabriel) just blowing away while the world crumbled around him. When I explained it all to Rick as we were recording, he kind of just assimilated all of that information and said “Right. A homoerotic anthem for the apocalypse. Got it.” I’ll always love him for that.
There’s a lot going on in this opener.
RED DIRT ANGEL
An Australia dreamscape, ‘Red Dirt Angel’ was the first song that opened up the doors to Smiles of Earth. Somewhere during our lengthy Melbourne lockdowns I began dreaming constantly of the outback. The red dirt angel was a faceless usher who continuously led me through the arid, red-earth deserts of Australia. I longed to be behind the wheel of a filthy car with no real destination. For one reason or another, that visual represented ultimate freedom for me, which is the one thing none of us had. The song followed shortly. It’s unapologetically Australian, euphoric and a contribution to the wonderful world of road trip music.
WHEN THIS IS OVER
As far as artistic offerings go, the last thing I felt people needed was a reminder of the pandemic and its consequences. But as it unrolled and began to affect my loved ones so deeply, I started to formulate this hopeful sound that served as some kind of anthemic beacon of times to come. Hearing people talk of their plans to travel, connect, socialise, and party was devastating in its hopeful simplicity, and the phrase “when this is over” was used all too frequently. It wasn’t about dragging people down to the depths of my isolation, but painting this hyper colour vision of the connection - romantic, spiritual, emotional - that awaited us on the other side.
For me, ‘Bluestone’ is a song of acceptance. Heartache and grief reach a certain stage at which you can finally turn around and view it with gratitude for the way in which it has shaped you. “I love you for leaving” to me represents the euphoria of not just acceptance but reverence for the hard journey that led you to this point. In some ways, the metaphor of a relationship as a bluestone house continues the poetic journey of a song off our previous album -‘Best Face to London’, the result of composing music whilst on a building worksite.
This ditty came together in one afternoon. I’d been watching Ken Burn’s incredible 16-hour Country Music documentary and as a result was listening to a lot of Chet Atkins. I loved that particular “Travis-style” country picking he was known for on his full-bodied Gretsch guitar. I ended up hiring a left-handed version for a while to practice that country picking style. A few songs, including ‘Bluestone’, came out of that short phase. Like a lot of people I wrestle with the whole horoscope thing. Some days I believe. On this day I clearly did. The line “to fall in love is to fall - so fall like water” kind of poured out like water itself and made me realise the song had a depth I hadn’t previously realised.
“There’s a part of me you’re gonna have to pay - I’m a smile away.”
Within the band members, ‘Happy Place’ is the absolute favourite. The recording is a single-take played so exquisitely by Rick and Matthew Hayes (bass). I had the profound pleasure of just sitting between them while they tracked it. As the name suggests, this was all about creating a “place” rather than a narrative song. It stemmed from listening to a lot of ambient music and textural bands like Yo La Tengo. During long lockdowns I would often retreat to my studio, plug my bass into a Space Echo Delay, and just play that bass line for hours on end. It became a very real place I would go to within myself. It was peaceful and simple. I became so nurturing of that place of stillness within myself. It seemed only right that the lyrical mantra of the song was about that very thing.
EVERY MORNING, IT BREAKS
So many of these songs came from a place of inner peacefulness and joy, but this one really stands apart. It was a wrestle. For whatever reason I was just having this awful, dissonant day. I went to my piano and those chords came really quickly and really encapsulated how I felt. The chorus lyric “my heart, it breaks every morning. Every morning, it breaks” felt so transparent and honest and just felt cathartic to sing. It was an acknowledgment of the pain that we learn to live with. Much of the time, that pain feels like it lives in the past, but occasionally I think we feel how entangled it is in our present selves.
FULLNESS OF TIME
We used to cover Everything But The Girl’s pop smasher ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Looking for Love’. It has this super schmaltzy sheen that definitely resides in the Cousin Tony DNA somewhere. Especially with Pete Simonsen and Francesca Gonzales in the band, this Rn’B/pop thing sometimes just oozes out of my songwriting. I wrote this song start to finish in one afternoon and I think it all stemmed from that self-assigned permission to just let those surprising ideas come out unapologetically. The song is all the better for it. Lyrically, it was about me wrestling with my encroaching male stoicism. I had all this stuff I wanted to express to someone about love, but could feel this suit of armour wrapped around me and my emotions. It kind of made sense to me that this expression of “in the fullness of time, I’ll let you in on where I’ve been inside” should sound so saccharine and synth-y. Those emotions within me are purple and pink and vivid and I like the way this song interplays between such dry verses and the fuzzy explosion of the chorus.
This song was written about a really special first date I went on which involved sitting in a discarded wardrobe under a streetlight in the rain. We were pretending the wardrobe was a little boat, sheltering us from the storm. Shortly before I’d been writing the piano chords, and had afterwards pulled out a cryptic crossword. The first two answers I solved were “dreamboat” and “odyssey”. All those puzzle pieces came together in a few funny days and the song just torpedoed out. I loved how schmaltzy the opening was but there’s also this loyal krautrock fan within me who was telling me to snap out of the schmaltz and take the listener on a bit of a rock odyssey before the album ends.
BEAUTY & DOOM
In the same way ‘Gabriel’s Horn’ was always an opener, ‘Beauty & Doom’ was always a closer. The song is kind of about life itself, and the nature of story telling. The opening “Hey Johnny” line is a reference to my grandpa who had passed away shortly before, and who is largely responsible for my deep love of story. The last thing he ever told me was how much he’d always wanted to see the rock city of Petra in Jordan. The song was firstly a promise to go and see it on his behalf, but also an almost religious devotion to the idea of story; a promise to fill my life with as much colour, experience and beauty as humanly possible before the inevitable doom closes the book. It finishes with this hopeful sentiment that maybe our life forces will go around again some day, suggesting that maybe we can be friends in another life (“it’s time to start again/ and we can be young men.”) My brother heard me writing that organ line one day and described it as “Interstellar Rock n’ Roll” in reference to the Christopher Nolan film and its biblical church organ score by Hans Zimmer. It was exactly what I was going for.
COUSIN TONY'S BRAND NEW FIREBIRD'S THIRD ALBUM SMILES OF EARTH
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