ANUBIS: Generating Dialogues

Anubis 2017

After the release of 2014’s successful ‘Hitchhiking to Byzantium,’ Australian cinematic proggers Anubis embarked on a tour promoting the album which definitely catapulted them as one of the finest contemporary representatives of the genre. Now three years after, the sextet from Sydney has come up with their fourth full-length ‘The Second Hand’—a concept record charting the downfall of an aging media mogul, James Osbourne-Fox. 

In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Robert James Moulding and David Eaton talk about the new record.

Define the mission of Anubis.

Dave: The mission of Anubis has always been to write music that we need to make. Our first album was a tribute to a lost friend; our second was a criticism of organized religion and the hypocrisy of some who follow it—cruelty and punishment dressed as charity; our third was very personal and tried to make sense of some of the personal issues in some of our lives, and The Second Hand is very critical of the political and socioeconomic landscape of today.

The Second Hand

Tell me about the creative process that informed your new, fourth album The Second Hand and the themes it captures.

Dave: When we got back from touring Europe after Hitchhiking to Byzantium, we were pretty tightly bonded, and all felt very good about the group and our relationships, so we made a commitment to jam together, select pieces together and arrange them together in a rehearsal room, and then to all be present during recording and work as a team to make the fourth album. And that’s what we did.

It’s strange, in a way, as we knew we wanted to make a statement on the way the world had been changing, but we didn’t quite agree exactly how to do it. Robbie wanted to write a narrative concept, whereas Dean had a slightly different, themed idea which was a little closer to Byzantium, Doug was keen on a character piece and I wanted to rip into the establishment—particularly the tabloid media. The Second Hand took elements of each idea and blended them quite successfully, I feel.

It seems so strange in the wake of the whole Trump/Brexit thing, but TSH predates all of that. We finished the lyrics to “Fool’s Gold” back in January 2016, I think. And it seems to almost be written about the whole Trump thing. It’s quite prescient. And the fact the tabloid media arguably created the whole thing to sell papers and harvest clicks. It’s exactly where our story went.

What is the message you are trying to give with The Second Hand?

Dave: Think deeply, independently and talk to each other. Don’t blindly follow. The last piece, “These Changing Seasons III” is kind of like a manifesto for a functional world. Let’s try being understanding of each other, celebrate what we share rather than don’t, don’t be caught up in greed and behind literal barriers. We’re all one family, logically. Our music has always been about empathising with one another and crossing the divide.

Rob: Think critically, not confrontationally and try and appreciate someone else’s view, and their motives and reasons.

Dave: We made Osbourne-Fox flawed, behind his power, his loneliness and the abuse he suffered at boarding school, it all caused him to retreat behind a wall and the dangers of being emotionally locked off is that you may not be capable of seeing or feeling the damage you’re doing to other people.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Rob: We recorded every moment of the initial jams in the rehearsal room. We all came in with the approach that it was a blank canvas so we had to record every moment so nothing good got lost. They were edited down, dated and given infantile working titles in order to be easily found when we came to arranging them.

Dave: Rob and I spent a lot of time mixing different ideas together, changing keys, matching bits and pieces. And that kind of shows in a piece like “Making of Me” or “Pages of Stone.” Then when we had an idea, we went back into the band room and took it to the next level together.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Dave: Yes, absolutely. That’s always got to happen; like the very end of “Rome” when it all goes bonkers and it cuts to Osbourne-Fox in his study, pouring a glass of wine, listening to old time music while the world goes mad around him. That juxtaposition can only be articulated with strong and sudden dynamic shifts.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

Dave: We decided after Byzantium, which was a very technological record, we wanted to recapture a bit of the vibe of A Tower of Silence which we’d done in a proper studio with all the old school tools.

So we made a resolution to make a performance record, with microphones up, amps, cabs, guitars etc. And you have to be good at finding sounds and you have to be good at playing them. It’s a slightly long winded and unforgiving approach but it’s real. It’s a real Prog record. Steve really benefitted this time around, which is nice; but also there’s very little repair work done. This is very satisfying as a musician who works live regularly; and we recorded about 50 different guitar and basses, real Wurlitzer pianos, my piano at home, Hammond M-111, Roland String Machine, Farfisa Organ, Moog synthesizer and in a first for us, a real Mellotron 400.

Rob: Like the previous three albums, we recorded everything ourselves in our own studios. Dean takes on the main producing role but we’re all very hands-on, producing as a team. We wanted to capture a ‘live’ sound, so we went to great pains to capture performances in their entirety and keep the editing to a minimum.

Anubis

How long The Second Hand was in the making?

Rob: 18 months of writing and recording. Seeing as we only get to do it part-time, we take a bit longer; but we’d all try and be together one night a week and work on it.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

Rob: We watched a lot of Adam Curtis films for this one. And Charlie Brooker‘s stuff; that’s a big influence on us. In the Prog world, there’s not as much social commentary—there’s always Roger Waters, and the Floyd thing is always talked about. Radiohead, maybe.

Dave: And Marillion of course, their new album explores the same sort of ideas but it’s not the same sort of album—then again, I’ll always look at Brave as a high water mark for how to do a narrative concept record. There’s not much else that I know of that has gotten the balance so right.

What is your view on technology in music?

Rob: In the right hands, it can be used to do groundbreaking things. It gives everybody the opportunity to express themselves. It opens up possibilities for musicians and artists that once upon a time was only available to a few.

In the end, the best artists will try to get the best out of anything that they have available to them.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Rob: We’d hope it’s entertaining and inspiring. We make it for ourselves but share it with everyone. Whether it connects with a few people or a larger amount, it’s still a nice thought there are people that are inspired by it.

We always put our thoughts, feelings and opinions into our work, in the hope it will generate dialogue.

Dave: We’re not pretending we can change the world, but if we can make anyone think or feel something, then that’s nice.

What are your plans for the future?

Rob: We’re going to continue doing what we do. It’s our plan to come back to Europe next year, reach as many people who’d like to see us live as possible, and from then on, it’s more songs, albums, whatever. We’ll just keep doing what we do.

Order The Second Hand from Bandcamp here.

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