When considering prolific Melbourne artists of the recent era, Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell and Lachlan Denton sit within a sphere of their own understated success. Following The Ocean Party’s outstanding 9 LP’s between 2011 and 2018, both have since continued working together in Pop Filter whilst simultaneously branching into separate alternative projects; Snowy with his self-titled art-indie band and Denton’s acoustic dream duo with Emma Russack.
Having so much material spread between the two, it would be easy to assume we’ve heard all there possibly is from the Wagga natives. However, Lachlan and Snowy derives its magic from capturing two friends at their finest and funniest. Harnessing a relaxed and freewheeling spontaneity, it manages to shine a light on their friendship and musical symbiosis in a way that more polished works might inhibit. In keeping with the aesthetic of their recently released Phone In LP, we gave Denton a call to discuss how levity became the project’s lynchpin.
Initially releasing their dual 2018 EP of “super scratchy, very acoustic things”, Six Songs and Six More Songs maintained the same moving moments of their primary outfit whilst leaning into a lo-fi sound and relaxed writing process; “We just wanted to have a project that was super throwaway. We have enough projects where we go through the cycle of the PR campaign and all of that and it’s really nice to have a record where it’s super spontaneous and whatever you make is pretty quickly put down”.
Though a follow-up was planned, an inability to capture the impulsiveness of the initial EPs impeded its release until an obsessive compulsion for completion overwhelmed Denton two years later; “I went over to Snowy’s and we kinda just took the piss and finished it. There were a few songs that we weren’t feeling particularly inspired by, so we went a bit more left field with them just to enjoy the process a bit more”. The result strikes a balance between playfulness and wistful self-reflection; “It’s not to say it’s a joke, it certainly maybe is a joke, I dunno. I genuinely don’t know if the record’s a joke or not, but there’s songs on there that are genuine and sentimental that aren’t a joke but there’s some that are a joke (laughs)”.
These light-hearted leanings are evident from the outset on opener, ‘Well You Don’t Have To Agree’. In re-enacting the ICAC hearings for Daryl Maguire, transcripts are dryly recited with pitch-shifted vocals to substitute for the, as yet, unpublicised actual recordings; “He was our member of State Parliament when we were growing up and he just got done for a whole bunch of stuff. In Wagga it’s a real big thing and often when we get together that’s the sort of stuff that’s really funny for us to talk about. You know, shamed Wagga celebrities”. The record sees Snowy and Denton further experiment with spoken word sections, creating crazed characters like the spotter of Pauline Hansen purchasing potting mix on ‘Triple End’; “We recorded the beds for the vocals but it felt really self-serious, post-punk. When I tried to write lyrics for it, I would feel like a knob trying to write something sincere to match that”.
Contrarily are the more tender tunes both artists have come to be known for. ‘Every Song is A Horse’ pairs simple strums with a sweet hook just as ‘Other Side of Me’ bears a subdued serenity grounded by both musicians’ knack for minimalist melodies; “I just love a good hook and I just love a really nice melody. As naff as it sounds, its like the blues. Its not blues music musically its closer to pop music musically but it carries the same weight”. Once wistfully nostalgic and concerned with coming-of-age, both songwriters sound more self-assured with assertive lyricisms, albeit ones not necessarily consciously made; “Recently I’ve gone into song writing trying to reflect on things with a positive mindset. I use song writing as a form of meditation. It helps me look at my thoughts externally once they’re on the paper. I try to put my best self forward when I do that stuff. For the most part, I find that when you do that, you quickly find out where your heads at”.
Another highlight comes via the duo’s arresting cover of Elizaband’s ‘The Preston Front’. Made with a reverence for the 2018 record Junction Hits, the pair’s intention to highlight a hidden gem many may have missed yields a rendition as full of feeling as anything from their discography; “It’s stunning. It’s one of the most underrated songs in the world. I’d put that up against anything. I think every member of the ocean party loves that song and had that record”. It reflects Denton and Snowy not only carving out a name for themselves within the Melbourne scene but contributing to others’ work and offering them a platform of support through their Osborne Again collective.
Having navigated much of the Australian music scene over the last 10 years, Denton explains the simple logic behind opting to hone his craft in Melbourne rather than pursue the mainstream mirage; “I think the other stuff, at the end of the day, is pretty boring. It just sucks the fun out of it really. I think I just realised a really long time ago, without becoming a total shit, I was never gonna make any money out of music, so why jeopardise what’s really good about it?”. Elaborating on the risk falling far short of meeting the reward; “It’s a terrible gamble, as far as gambling goes. If you were a successful Australian musician and you were earning 40 grand a year, which is an average-low income, you would be deemed really successful and you would be selling quite a lot of records. But to get to that point you’d have to burn a lot of people and it’s still really unlikely that you would ever earn this meagre amount of money and probably only do it for a short amount of time while you were young and attractive enough to sell records. For me, its mind blowing that anyone does it”.
With both artists shunning this system of success long ago, Phone In reflects how they’ve re-tooled their own measure for it based around their community; “First and foremost, these projects only exist to hang out. I’m certainly proud of the music we make but these bands act as a vehicle to spend time with friends and have fun, rather than the outcome at the end”. This foundation of friendship, as much as their ability to continue crafting sublime songs, sees Snowy and Denton’s output as a source of inspiration for fans and music makers who yearn for their own similar scene; “I look at where everyone from The Ocean Party is with their current projects and I feel like what we did was certainly right for us. Nobody regrets anything and everyone has taken the same attitude onto other things. I think that’s a sign we all were on the right track and the fact that we all are still playing and aren’t jaded by not making money out of it, that’s pretty cool”.