City Calm Down find creative energy in boundaries on third album Television

NEW TERRITORY: From left, City Calm Down's Jack Bourke, Lee Armstrong, Jeremy Sonnenberg and Sam Mullaly wanted to brighten and simplify their sound on Television, following the claustrophobic gloom of their acclaimed record Echoes In Blue.
NEW TERRITORY: From left, City Calm Down's Jack Bourke, Lee Armstrong, Jeremy Sonnenberg and Sam Mullaly wanted to brighten and simplify their sound on Television, following the claustrophobic gloom of their acclaimed record Echoes In Blue.

HUNGARIAN-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously argued that creativity occurs when someone uses novelty within a symbolic framework of rules.

In other words, boundaries foster creativity.

Melbourne indie band City Calm Down took those lessons to heart when they set out to follow their acclaimed second album Echoes In Blue (2018).

The blueprint was clear. This time they'd restrict the synth soundscapes that provided Echoes In Blue with its brooding and dark Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen-style of new wave.

Instead they'd amp up the electric guitar and the melodic hooks as the four-piece focused on their teenage influences of '70s rock bands like The Clash and T-Rex.

City Calm Down - Mother

The result was City Calm Down's third album, Television. A more simplistic, more muscular and more immediate album than its predecessor.

"Basically we wanted to do City Calm Down's version of pop," says City Calm Down keyboardist Sam Mullaly.

"Whereas Echoes in Blue was more of a sombre and thematic kind of scene. This was trying to get straight to the hooks.

"We thought we'd try that out for a change. By the time we got past Echoes In Blue we were thinking we don't want to do the same thing again and it would be nice to see what that sounds like."

The album was recorded late last year at The Grove studios on the NSW Central Coast with producer Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, DZ Deathrays, The Drones, Sarah Blasko) at the helm.

Mullaly says recording Television, was at times, a frustrating experience for him personally. His synth work was central to Echoes In Blue and City Calm Down's debut In A Restless House, but the new album required him to scale down his approach.

SWITCH UP: Television sees City Calm Down embracing pop elements.

SWITCH UP: Television sees City Calm Down embracing pop elements.

"I remember a couple of times doing synth bits and [vocalist] Jack [Bourke] or Burke [Reid] would be like, 'But that's what City Calm Down would have done before'. So it was almost a fun test to try and be creative in a new way," he says.

"I think creativity always shines best when you have limitations put in place by yourself or they're put in place from the mediums you're working from."

A year ago Bourke quit working as a lawyer full-time and the new freedom allowed him to refocus his creative energies.

MOODY: City Calm Down performing in Newcastle during their Echoes In Blue tour last year. Picture: Paul Dear

MOODY: City Calm Down performing in Newcastle during their Echoes In Blue tour last year. Picture: Paul Dear

On Television Bourke addresses the numbing effect of modern media consumption (Flight), the pressures of our materialist culture (Weatherman) and comparisons are made between the combative demeanour of modern political debate and childhood (Visions Of Graceland and Mother).

Mullaly expects some old City Calm Down fans will be alienated by the more anthemic pop approach. But Television, just like it's predecessors, is a deep exploration of modern society.

"I think it's a misconception to think that because it's more poppy that it can't be serious or as thought out," he says.

"It is different from what we've established, but on the other hand the only measure we have is, do we like this?"

City Calm Down's album Television is out on Friday.

This story City Calm Down change the channel on new album Television first appeared on Newcastle Herald.