Huntly on their project of documentation, ‘Low Grade Buzz’
Low Grade Buzz.
That’s the title track and name of HUNTLY‘s long-awaited debut record.
“I remember thinking about how that song would fit in an album, because I knew that I wanted it to be quite held back. I made an Instagram post saying ‘I’ve got that low grade buzz’, and I remember thinking, I wonder if we could call the album that.” Vocalist and writer, Elspeth (Elly) Scrine, quietly reflects on this integral moment amidst the buzz of a busy coffee spot in Surry Hills.
The trio, made up of Elly, Andrew (Andy) McEwan and Charlie Teitelbaum, were in Sydney last weekend for the Sydney half of their headline tour that wrapped up just last night in their home city of Melbourne. I caught up with them before the show, sitting down for tea, coffee and avo toast to muse about the record, its process and how spaces surrounding music can be made more accessible and inclusive.
Forming in 2014, Huntly was born out of more than just similar musical interests. “Originally, none of us really did electronic music at all, but we were all very interested in it. We didn’t know how to do it,” Andy explained. The group’s keenness to learn more about electronic music and the way it could be used was what originally united the project, but now eight years since their first meeting, they’re united by much more than that. Elly put the connection simply into words, saying that their “lives are very much connected and in terms of Huntly, theres a much more explicit defining drive to our music making, like why we make music, how we make it and how we position ourselves. Back then, it was a lot more of us wanting to make electronic music together, so the journey has been shaping what that looks like.”
And what a journey it has been thus far. Listening back on their delicate future-folk 2014 debut, ‘Go Out’, and then the opening bars of Low Grade Buzz‘s opener ‘SMU’, there’s a cosmic world of difference in vision, confidence and power.
There’s a phrase in ‘SMU’ that has continued to stick with me through every listen of this record: ‘I’ve got to fully flesh this / A project of documentation’. Elly wrote those lines explicitly to feature in the introduction of the record, explaining that “A lot of the songs are documenting particular personal experiences, but then that song and that lyric is tying together that our personal experiences are also tied to the band’s process and documenting these moments in our lives simultaneously as we’re documenting our career as a band.”
The record serves as more than just a body of work; it’s a timeline of sounds reacting to events and experiences had by the group, all shaped by Huntly‘s creative process and keen ear for creating a mantra they adopted years back in ‘doof you can cry to’.
That mantra has evolved alongside their sound since then, the ‘doof’ element becoming more refined and evolving towards left-field, forward-thinking dance music. Each track on the record incorporates an element of electronic music, whether it be dance-able, more experimental or a feel that Andy simply describes as ‘post-doof’. The title track serves the perfect example of this concept, bringing forth an emotionally profound narrative achingly positioned amongst a stripped back electronic backdrop. “We have the confidence to pull a song like that together without having to inject all of the dance music elements, but the rest of the record has enough of that that we feel like we can deliver a song like that,” Elly explained. Charlie added, “When you have the context of an album, you can do more with it.”
And listening through the record, it’s very obvious that they’ve taken this album medium and really stretched it out to create one big cohesive ‘project of documentation’ that glides through all sonic corners of their minds. I asked what it was that this process has taught them, Andy offering up to “Keep it simple. There’s definitely a beauty in simplifying things and getting to the actual points in a way that we didn’t used to know.” Charlie added that they also “learned to compromise more”, an essential lesson to learn when working in a creative environment such as Huntly‘s.
The record’s been out now for almost two months, and that time has given the group the space to reflect on their memories of the process. Elly mused on their memories of writing, painting a picture of a time where they would be lying on the floor of their old house thinking, writing, processing. “We had a piano, a real piano. Three of the songs were written lying on the floor when I was really sad, and I remember crawling up to the piano to sadly play these jazzy chords. I often think about that when listening to the tracks as they are now; a very evolved version of lying on the floor, writing these sad lyrics, tinkering away on the piano.” They refer back to moments captured in tracks like ‘Reckoning’ and ‘Drop Gear’, wondering how these profound moments of sadness they had experienced had now evolved into something beyond the sadness.
Andy picked up on Elly‘s mention of ‘Drop Gear’, reminiscing on a moment of frustration, trying to work out a way to close out the track. “There were two stages to that song, but there was a time much later when we were struggling with the end of it quite a lot, and I was out on the coast, working on it, looking out over the ocean, and then I had this moment of “Oh! I know what to do”, and then I did it.”
Elly added their experience of this memory, pinpointing the moment where they felt Andy had really connected with the words they were singing, explaining “I remember… crying because of how intensely I felt them and how much I felt like they did connect to the meaning of the song and the story that I was thinking of in terms of my life.”
There are many moments captured on this record that have immense weight to them. Whether it be emotional or experiential, there’s also a historically transient element to the record too. Track five, ‘Wait (37 Degrees)’, is one written by Charlie in the band’s studio out the back of his dad’s place on a sweltering day. Rooted in time and place, the sonic elements of the track focus on the tension and release of the breaks, feeling manic in some moments, and dialled down in others. Charlie began working on it three years ago, reflecting that “It was very different, like a ten-minute long demo of just piano and voice, and now it’s slightly shorter [laughs]. It’s not that different actually.” There’s a fierce visceral element to it, with the lyrical content exploring the idea of being disembodied with history and the production choices aptly documenting that tension.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, a track like self-described pop tragedy ‘Giving Circle’ gave Huntly the chance to bring friends in to have a tangible involvement in the record. There’s an awesome track-by-track the band put together for LNWY complete with photos from this recording session, their mates providing their voices for the ethereal choir featured throughout. The recently released clip to accompany the track actually features members of the choir, and gives face to this tangible experience.
This was a big moment for Elly who is “really passionate about choirs and the role of singing with other people and normalising people using their voices together because that’s not something that is typically an acceptable thing to do. Incorporating my passion for that with our music and our recording process was a big moment for me.” And it is this sentiment that from the outside, definitely remains true.
“The amount of people who have come on board has been huge. We’ve never felt like we’ve had to give up any sort of control. Everyone’s been really respectful of our ideas and what we’re trying to do, which helps facilitate that and add to that,” Andy said. “It’s crazy, it seems like every few weeks, someone else is getting on board and doing something else and it’s amazing.” Elly added to this, talking about their not feeling protective over Huntly, saying “What we create together, I feel very strongly about it being an inclusive thing and our shows being really inclusive, so I feel like something like a choir is a very tangible way of promoting a feeling of inclusion. You’re literally inviting other people in, teaching them the parts and you’re all standing there together, singing, using our bodies and our voices together, it’s a very tangible way of setting up that sense of inclusion.”
That sense of inclusion extends far beyond Huntly‘s words about it by doing simply what so many other’s fail to do: acting on it. There’s a lot to be considered when making your music and the space surrounding it as inclusive and accessible as possible, but it’s something that Huntly continue to build upon and are great at articulating too.
Andy offered advice on booking, saying “It comes down to who you book and why you book them. If you’re being really thoughtful about actually creating a diverse and welcoming space based on who you’re getting to play, that does heaps to make people feel safe in a space, seeing people who they resonate with who are like them who are on stage and being given that space, that’s huge.” And that responsibility has grown now that the group are playing more shows and have the chance to book support acts.
Elly added that “recognising our responsibility is something that we’re very strong on, not only the structural power and privilege that we hold, but as we increase in our presence and voice in the music industry, there’s also an increased level of responsibility that that holds. Like a portion of ticket sales going to an Aboriginal organisation for example is one thing that is very important. I think it’s a mix of structural and logistical practices that you embed and promote in your identity as a venue, or booking agency.”
This attitude towards instigating positive cultural shifts in how we interact with particular spaces, the people in those spaces and the land of which those spaces exist are essential in not only changing cultural attitudes, but actually forging new ones. Huntly are more than just a trio making good music; they’re three individuals documenting their lived experiences together through music and simultaneously doing their bit to create welcoming, inclusive spaces around their music.
Elly, Andy and Charlie are now preparing to take their record over to the US. With the news that they’ve signed the record with House Arrest, Low Grade Buzz is just the beginning for this unstoppable force.
Listen to Low Grade Buzz in full below.
Words & photos by CAITLIN MEDCALF