Next week, Perth maniacs Psychedelic Porn Crumpets will release the grandiose and in-your-face SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound. The band’s fourth studio album is told from the perspective of a supercomputer piecing together a classic rock album, and it sounds like the musical equivalent of a punch in the face so blissful you keep coming back for more. Jack Parker called up frontman Jack McEwan to delve deeper into the concepts which shaped the album.

Hey Jack. How are you?
Yeah good man. It’s been a strange old day. I drank some old water which I shouldn’t have and I was feeling hella sick from it. I thought, “maybe I need a couple of beers” and that perked me up again.

If in doubt, drink.
Haha, yeah man. Always.

So here in Europe we’ve been in this mess of a pandemic for a while now, but you seem to be doing pretty good in Australia. How’s it all faring at the moment?
It’s fairly fun! I hate talking about it because I feel so bad for everyone who’s still in lockdown but we’ve already had gigs back and we’ve also got some festivals going on. Perth is busier than ever, even in suburbs which were dead pre-COVID it’s now jam-packed. Everyone has been so keen to get out again.

It’s like a modern renaissance of sorts. The Roaring 20s 2.0…
Exactly! I saw that somewhere online. It definitely feels like that, everyone here has a new lease on life and we’re all having a fun time.

SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound is your new album. Tell me a little bit more about the stories which helped shape its underlying themes.
I was listening to a lot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and I loved how they have an exclamation mark in their name. I wanted to figure something out which was triumphant and emphatic and that would build on the energy the album contained. I wanted to feel like a eureka! moment: SHYGA! There were two concepts we had. The first one was about a fictional character called Norton Gavin who lived in a small town three hours south of Perth and who was an old, salty sea dog. He was always very famous and made music but he didn’t know it himself, so then we’d cover his greatest hits. I didn’t know if it would relate to international fans or come across as a joke, even though we’re the most serious non-serious band around. The concepts that came out of this album were very heavy. Have you ever heard of the Google Deep Dream?

Nope, never heard of it.
It can create stuff which you imagine. So instead of us writing a greatest hits, we wondered what it would be like if a supercomputer created a classic rock album. All those glitchy guitar sounds and warps on the album are part of this computer trying to create a record narrated by some guy who’s just come off tour. It felt more like a first person diary of us when we’re on tour; I wanted to write about the high times and how strange it feels when you’re on tour. People are always like, “so what did you see and do on tour?” and the answer is usually just the inside of our van or feeling hungover. You’re in this state of perpetual intoxication which can sometimes be too overwhelming. I wanted that to be a focus on this album. There’s also these moments of intervention from friends and family when you get back home, which is a perfect entry point into this album – this whole feeling of spiralling out of control. COVID gave me time to reflect, rejuvenate and think about where we all were at a particular moment. And then all through the narration of a robot.

The guitar tones across this album are harsh but they also have this glow of sorts, for lack of a better descriptor. How did you approach this album from a tone-perspective?
I think we got a bit carried away with pitching everything up. It’s a good album for your dog, haha. Lots of high frequencies going on! We tried to make it jarring in parts to emphasise where we were at that time, as touring isn’t always smooth sailing. That became reflected in the music; in parts where we could have reverted to strings we decided to go ham on a particular guitar tone by shifting it up a few octaves to use melodically. I was recording at home using the same bad techniques I’ve always used. As a band we’ve gotten worse and worse at recording but our mixer has gotten better at mixing. It’s a nice segway into how we create, but now I really have to step up my game. I’ve learnt more about production. There are so many moments on this album which we could have simplified but which we ended up fucking up. I used to listen to a lot of Eels’ music, and a lot of it was beautiful but purposefully fucked up. Sigur Ros also have this one track where the strings they used would sound really harsh and it would counteract these really nice melodies. I used to think, “what a dick move, make the song perfect” but if you do that then it’s harder to work what you’re going for. There are three core elements to music: rhythm, vocals and melodies. I was trying to make something where it felt like each element was separated and reconstructed in a way that made it feel like a computer had done it. If a computer does that it might glitch and feel lo-fi. Making the songs too perfect just didn’t resonate with the whole idea of this glitched out rock record. Hopefully people will understand the main idea of the tracks. It was almost jammy; I wrote so many different versions of everything – up to 20 or 30 on some songs. By a certain point it’s like, “that’s the version you’re getting”. I got so caught up with trying to pick a final master, so by overlapping the melodies and pitching stuff so high we were able to give the music its own flavour and strange approach. For example, we had acoustic guitars which sounded so perfect that we decided to fuck them up just to add to the concept and theme of the album. We wanted to give these songs their own identity; had we stripped everything bare it would just sound like any old album. 

Do you see yourselves attempting more grand concepts like this in the future?
Concepts are a cool way to go, but at the moment I’m going back to what sounds good. I’m listening to this band called Loving and it’s all so simple; just five instruments and nothing which clashes. I’ve always recorded 60 takes and kept them all in until it sounds like a mess, only figuring out what to remove when we start mixing. Next time, though, I want to build on that but instead of having 11 ideas I want to have two. There’s probably a better way of working, and there will definitely be some kind of concept involved, but I want to work on the album as one whole flavour. We’ll totally be working in flavours of records, so it’s never going to be a strange track here or some spiralling noises there. It’ll be one theme going forward.

A lot of the vocal and guitar lines were recorded in your bedroom. What impact did this isolation have on the album in terms of writing?
It had a huge impact. We were meant to release this record in March 2020 first, and we had a huge tour planned across Australia with Ocean Alley which would’ve been our release tour. We’d rushed a lot of the songs to try and get them to a point where they were finished, centred on that Norton Gavin concept we had. There wasn’t much of a theme overall though as we had so many tours booked and so little time. We were also still riding on the high of High Visceral and And Now for the Whatchamacallit. With SHYGA! it was nice that we had time to work out a proper theme and make 40 minutes of killer music. I remember so many old albums being like an hour in length, which is hard if you want to find time to listen to one. If you’re with friends then someone always wants to change the song, put on their own stuff or grab the aux cord. My favourite albums have always been the 25/30 minute long ones by bands like Mild High Club and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. At least in comparison to a 70-minute long Tool album which leaves you stuck in a mantra state. They perfectly thought about that length, of course, but nowadays the patience in music is missing. I wondered what the perfect time frame of an album should be, and it made me think of Radiohead. They have a different rhythmic approach on every song, so it remains interesting. I love that about albums like Kid A and In Rainbows; everything sounds different yet is still unique to that particular album. For SHYGA! I was thinking about albums I liked which similarly worked with the same tones and such. I went back and revisited Kings of Leon’s Youth and Young Manhood. All those songs follow a progressive path, and even though you know it’ll be the same guitar tones I found myself loving this whole idea and went for it as the solid flavour of our record. 

You said you wanted to “write a really good rock album”. Do you think you succeeded?
Oh man, I could never answer that one. I still want to change everything! For as long as we improve as musicians along the way and don’t get too comfortable with being proud of ourselves then that’s the best way to exist as a creative. We’re only just starting to consider ourselves as a proper band now! We’re at this point where doing interviews and talking to other people about the music feels weird, yet we’re grateful to even have a fanbase willing to buy our records. We don’t want to let them down, so I’m always asking myself how we can make the best possible song or album. And also, how do we make it different enough from the previous record so that people will still be intrigued and continue listening. We don’t want to become boring, that’s our…mission statement?

This record has its own story, but how does it slot into the overarching world of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets?
High Visceral 1 and 2 were nice, and Whatchamacallit had a great structure to it. We were gonna become that band who made ten minute songs and became labelled as a psych rock band who “only release epics” and do what Sleep do when they release an hour-long song. But we asked ourselves how to get as much flavour as we could into three and a half minutes. Like, what is a bite sized way of expressing our ideas and keeping it entertaining? We scrapped the slower stuff – I still have it somewhere – but when we play a gig I want us to be known as the band who are enjoyable. I always find myself going back to stuff like The Mighty Boosh or Monty Python; it will always be fun and entertaining, even when they write a drama or muder mystery and try to do something serious. It’s always in their own style. The same goes for Quentin Tarantino movies – he always sticks to his guns. “This is my flavour”, basically. The same goes for us, it’s our style. We always write uplifting music and we’ve got this real paty band vibe. As sad as it was to ditch the long, epic and dramatic songs I think we need to keep Psychedelic Porn Crumpets in its own lane and allow the listener to know that they’re going to have a good time. It’s always going to be exciting, but it’ll also always be childish and tongue in cheek. That playful aspect where we don’t take ourselves too seriously is there. Those moments jar you more, because rather than being like Sigur Ros, Godspeed or Radiohead it’s just nice to have the pace of an album like SHYGA! make you feel like you were involved and having a fun time on tour with us. We don’t want to write about the down bits. We could have been like, “here’s a COVID record with all our shitty feelings” but nah, we’re here for a good time.

Tell me more about space operas.
The space opera is a concept I’ve been wanting to do for a while. There’s a really big fringe festival here in Perth and I wanted to do something with the continuation of one idea on the same theme and having that music narrated by someone. That isn’t the full concept of course, but it did flow into what we ended up creating on this album. It’s incredibly musically driven in one aspect, but also incredibly lyrically driven in another. Having that all flow together into one concept is as close as we got to a space opera. 

Mr Prism’s video really goes places. What informed the visual side of this album both stylistically and conceptually? Especially as you have a trilogy of animated videos going on.
We worked with Ollie Jones on the previous album and he’s an incredible animator and filmographer. He has a huge plethora of talent and ambition so when realising the concept on this album we decided to do a story trilogy and give it a really strong visual style. I remember we were absolutely baked on tour watching this claymation episode of The Simpsons where Jimbo Jones and his gang hack up the Simpsons. It’s the goriest thing ever, but because it’s claymation it’s absolutely hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Ollie thought our idea of doing claymation was perfect and, after having a great chat where we expressed our ideas, he pretty much just said, “hold my beer”. The videos follow this Alice in Wonderland-type character who ends up eating people. Ollie came up with so many great storyboards, and we just didn’t want to get in his way. He’s having so much fun doing this and he’s so good at it too. We’ve found a great bond between a visual artist and our music, and the two really gel together nicely. When we started out as a band music videos felt like such a burden. We have an idea and a small budget so we just end up trying stupid things. Animation adds this childish element to our music and the playful undertones and energy which come from it are messy, colourful, fun, jarring, weird and strange. You can see every scratch mark and indent, just like with our own music. It’s a home job, a bedroom project which we never expected would get out of Perth. It’s amazing to be talking to someone like you all the way in the Netherlands, for example. It’s nice to keep that movement going with Ollie, because now we’re at this point where if we can sell records and have an even bigger budget for the next album we can plan another series of absolutely crazy music videos. It feels so much more like a collective than it does a singular idea. It’s nice to be able to get that visual pairing to go alongside the record. Music videos have kinda died. It’s not like back in the day where we had MTV, Kerrang! and record labels paying for everything. In Australia we have this one programme on called Rage which is from 1am to 5am at night. If you’re watching Rage, then you’re pretty cooked. You know you’ve had a big night if you’re still up watching Rage. 

So what’s next?
Hopefully we can tour this album: that’s priority number one. Australia is our best bet at the moment, and we’ve been able to do shows in Perth and we’ve also been able to feel like a band again which is great. We never jam songs, all of the ideas are created individually and then pieced together, so when we rehearse we have to learn how to play the songs from scratch. We never have any idea how they’re gonna sound live which is terrifying. It’s so nice to play and make records though, so if we can just keep doing that and hopefully go to Europe at the end of the year then that in itself would be a dream. SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound comes out on 5 February.