It might feel like a long time between drinks when it comes to Custom Kings’ new album Great Escape, but you can’t say they didn’t try to speed it along – things like this just tend to happen when you’re as in-demand as this much-loved Melbourne outfit and have the capacity to deliver stunning side projects like last year’s critically acclaimed Joe Neptune album. Anyway, you wouldn’t want them to just release any old thing, would you?
“We always planned on releasing earlier than this, but it just took a little while to get all the pieces together,” laughs vocalist Nick Vorrath.
Indeed, it’s easy to forget that this is only the band’s second album; they’ve been beguiling punters and listeners with their golden harmonies and captivating melodic storytelling for so long. Between that, and the fact that At Sea was such an impressive debut, Vorrath can see some truth in the old industry adage, ‘a lifetime to release your first record and a few months to release the second.
“We’d already recorded three EPs before we did At Sea, so it didn’t really feel like our first record. Approaching the new record did feel different, though,” Vorrath explains. “The lead up was more intense, and more people were involved and the songs were a lot newer, so even our first didn’t feel like our first, this one does feel like our second.”
The lead-in to Great Escape marked a shift in the way the band approached the recording process. Stepping out of the “bedroom”, the band set up camp at Melbourne’s legendary Sing Sing for a two-week recording session – and once the initial shock of the new faded, they embraced the studio world with gusto, working with long-time collaborator and producer Steven Schram (Little Birdy, Little Red).
“I’m used to doing most of the recording at home,” explains Vorrath, “So it was pretty full on recording at Sing Sing. We had to make sure we were prepared and well rehearsed. It could get a bit nerve-wracking; we kept having to remind each other that ‘This is how ‘real bands’ do it’! By the end of it, though, I was really starting to enjoy it.”
That enjoyment is evident throughout Great Escape, an album that bursts with warm melody and the sort of sunny arrangements last seen hitching a ride to the Haight-Ashbury via Ventura Highway. Wild Leaves begins proceedings gently, the Kings drawing the listener into their sonic landscape with gentle harmonies and laidback guitars. There’s not much time to sit back and watch the clouds go by, though; Sunday finds Jarrad Brown’s driving bassline propelling you through a sun shower of glorious harmonies and into the rest of the album’s wonders.
“It’s been really nice to have Jarrad sharing the vocal duties on this record,” offers Vorrath, and there have been other changes afoot at Kings HQ during the creation of Great Escape. “The last album was very home made; we had to change a lot of the songs to play them live. With this record, we really wanted to have songs that we could take straight to the stage. To me, this album represents what the Custom Kings sound like when we play live.”
It’d take a steely resolve to listen to Great Escape and not look forward to letting the songs wash over you live, and a stony heart not to fall in love with the record. Don’t look for any advice from Vorrath, though. “I tend to lose a bit of perspective by the time the album is finished; I can never really tell which songs are going to take.” He finishes, laughing again, “Man, I just hope they like it.”
They’d be mad not to.