Melbourne technicolour folk-rock collective The Elsewheres are on the verge of greatness, with feelings of catharsis, pride, and joy accompanying the release of their newest single Take My Hand. The second taste of their debut EP, Run Away With Me (set for release on August 3), Take My Hand is the raw, twangy sound of the Victorian octet reckoning with elements of anxiety, depression, and defeat, and the importance of the titular helping hand that can set one upon the right path. We caught up for a quick Q+A
First up, can you please give us a quick intro to the band?
Melbourne technicolour folk-rock collective The Elsewheres champion honest storytelling wrapped in thumpingly raucous arrangements. The 8-piece squad are armed to the teeth with ferocious brass, velvety vocal harmonies and lashings of groove. Held aloft by this monstrous collective founder, Oliver Northam weaves enthrallingly vulnerable narratives of morose longings, jovial romances, and battles with the blue devil. Delivered with the gruff rasp of an embittered sailor and the warmth of mum’s vegetable stew he has a knack for making every word find its mark.
Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today?
Today I worked at The Australian Ballet School, had a jam on Reub’s drums (he left them at mine after last rehearsal), and played some online chess 🙂
Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for?
I’ve been playing and creating music on the piano since I could climb onto the stool and reach the keys, so almost 20 years now. I was a terrible student, always preferring to compose and improvise rather than practise my pieces and scales. I suppose I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve found outlets that reward that kind of behaviour. I learnt how to play drums and bass from listening to Prince, and Passenger taught me fingerpicking on guitar. By the end of highschool I was writing lyrics and then I was away.
Who are your greatest inspirations? Why?
Without doubt my dad is my biggest inspiration. He fronted a fantastic new-wave band, MEO 245 in the 80s and he has always supported me in every musical endeavour. Prince was the artist who made me want to learn every instrument, while Passenger and Bob Dylan gave me an education in songwriting.
How do you create music? Are you lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first? Explain your process.
The process changes with each song. Sometimes it starts with a melodic hook which I can hear working on the guitar or for the horn section, other times I do sit down with a story in mind. Regardless of how it begins I have tools that get used each time. Of course as a pianist I always carefully consider the chord structure, and how I can compose a melody that interacts with that structure to achieve my desired atmosphere, but there’s always a compromise in some regard. You can change the melody to fit the lyrics, the lyrics to fit the harmony, the harmony to fit the rhythm, and so on. Usually I select one primary element (often the lyrics) in each song that doesn’t make compromises. Ultimately, when the result cohesively serves that element, I’m done.
What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?
Certainly some memories of learning pieces of Tchaikovsky in a few hours and having to perform them later that day spring to mind, though the most gruelling has definitely been this upcoming EP. The emotional toll and mental strain from the sheer number of logistics as an independent artist has been insane. Of course I am excited to release our music, but overwhelmingly my feeling will be one of relief come release day on August 3.
Tell us about your new release Take My Hand, how did it come about?
Take My Hand is a thank you letter to my ex-partner for saving me in my lowest moment. It’s emotional, it’s perhaps a little confronting, but I wrapped it in an upbeat, twangy shuffle because in the end it’s uplifting, and I wish it to be a hopeful ode to the downtrodden.
What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out?
Play. It doesn’t matter what you play, just play as much as you can. If it doesn’t bring you joy then stop, but if it does then playing will be the best teacher you can find.
Tell us your favourite Zen practice.
Whenever I find my anxiety running away with me I solve chess puzzles on my phone. The more cognitively demanding the less I can focus on the anxiety, it really helps to calm me. I cracked a 2500 elo puzzle rating on Chess.com the other day …I’m anxious a lot.
MORE ABOUT THE ELSWHERES
With musical nods to icons such as Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, recording and mixing assistance from Lee and Michael Bradshaw (Bradshaw Productions) respectively, and mastering by Jeremy Chua, lead singer and songwriter Oliver Northam explains that Take My Hand is the story of a saving, nurturing love during a deep depression.
As Oliver explains, “Amidst an interminable depression during lockdown, there was a morning when every little thing went wrong and my mind collapsed inward with doubt, fear and complete hopelessness. In a bid to snap me out of it, my beautiful partner at the time suggested we take the greyhound for a walk. I recall kicking a stone along the footpath utterly despondent. As we came up to the crossing, she lent down trying to teach the dog to sit. I saw a white bus approaching around the bend and kept moving forward. As I put one foot onto the road, she took my hand and pulled me back. I don’t think she ever knew. Take My Hand is my thank you to her. The bridge says everything; ‘I might not be here now, if it weren’t for you’. I sincerely hope it might be some semblance of hope for the lost soul who finds themself defeated by anxiety and depression. It is for that reason that I feel so much pride and joy at releasing it. However, there are so many friends and family who have no idea how these lyrics could have come through me because I’ve never let on just how far I fell, so I fear what they might say.”
Alongside the release of Take My Hand, The Elsewheres also share the official video for the track, which utilises the animation talents of Jasper Turpie and Yee Hui to contextualise the lyrics. Through a visceral animation style, a stark use of colour, and the appearance of The Elsewheres as a swampy bar band, the creation is one which adds another element of honesty and power to a song that already hits close to the heart.
As Oliver explains, “It was during Ned’s (electric guitar) recording session that a vision for the video struck me. Lee and I had been using ‘swampy’ as the predominant adjective to elicit the feel we wanted out of the band and I began to see myself floating down a swampy river on an air boat singing the song. I saw myself coming to an old tavern with caricatures of The Elsewheres playing inside (much like the animated videos from Gorillaz). I knew we’d never be able to film it, so I reached out to my dear friend Jasper Turpie who is an incredible animator. We fleshed out the storyboard over a few pints and after some months slaving away he produced my vision wonderfully. It was quite a miraculous moment. Unfortunately, Jasper was suddenly unable to continue working on it and luckily Yee Hui Wong came to the rescue, bringing her own flavour to Jasper’s style. What they created is a masterpiece!”
Take My Hand will join The Elsewheres’ recent single, the EP title track, Run Away With Me, on their forthcoming EP Run Away With Me when it arrives on August 3. A five-track collection of songs that address love and romance in different forms, it’s a tender yet forceful, reflective yet progressive release which encapsulates the heartfelt sound that The Elsewheres display, albeit with their own unique flavour of cheekiness throughout. While songs such as Long Long Way, If Your Love Was Still Mine, and Take My Hand ruminate on deeper, more serious forms of romance and love, the likes of Hurricane speak to joviality and wholesomeness, while Run Away With Me is a head-on, all-in celebration of reckless love.
Though Run Away With Me will serve as The Elsewheres’ debut EP, it’s been a long time coming for the group and its founder, Oliver Northam. Penning the initial version of Run Away With Me while at high school in 2010, recording of the EP began in earnest during the heady days of lockdown. With Run Away With Me being finalised at university alongside the formation of The Elsewheres (and winning the approval of Oh Mercy’s Alex Gow), the Push Songwriting Competition gave Oliver the chance to work with Alice Skye to refine Long Long Way and If Your Love Was Still Mine, and the Box Hill Music Industry Mentoring Edge program provided Oliver with guidance from Liz Stringer. The result is a collection of work far more accomplished than most debut EPs, and one that tugs on the heartstrings more than expected due to a masterful command of songwriting.
As Oliver explains, “My songwriting has shifted a lot over the years and the EP marks that change well. I moved from songs with really morose stories of regret, to songs that begin bleakly and culminate in a happy ending. Now I really want to write uplifting tracks, partly for my own mental health and partly because I think writing a truly happy song that is uplifting without being tacky is one of the greatest challenges. I love a challenge.”
In addition to the release of their new single and forthcoming EP, The Elsewheres will celebrate their myriad accomplishments with a special launch show at Melbourne’s John Curtin Hotel on August 10. A special opportunity to witness what makes The Elsewheres one of the most compelling groups in Australia, it will be a celebration of music, life, love, and – one of their most important elements – fun. Urges Oliver, “Come for a boogie, a laugh, and perhaps a tear or two. There will be a display of local visual art exhibited around the venue as well as special guests Fairtrade Narcotics opening up the night!”
THUR 10 AUGUST | JOHN CURTIN HOTEL, MELBOURNE VIC | 18+
Tickets available from https://tickets.oztix.com.au/outlet/event/fd1e847a-ec5d-4833-8798-f60f0bed0c58
STREAM: TAKE MY HAND
STREAM: RUN AWAY WITH ME EP