Interview: Summer Flake wants to play
We talk to Steph Crase, better known as Summer Flake, about her brand new album, ‘Hello Friends’:
Hi Steph and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Something You Said. I remember seeing your show at the Palace Hotel back in 2013 playing alongside Mope City and Friendsters. It is interesting mapping the trajectories of some bands to see if they break through the stratosphere over time or simply break up but Summer Flake has continued that upward trend. How do you see the last three years and the successful decisions you have made to be where you are today?
I think everyone’s doing the same thing, just making new songs and playing shows. We’re playing with Mope City in May, they just released a great album, Petri Dish, and the members of the Friendsters are all still kicking. Success and successful decisions is a kind of funny idea in music, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a day job. My vibe is – I don’t want to repeat myself, I want to try new methods, and I react to my environment changing. So Hello Friends is thus far the most collaborative Summer Flake album – with James Mannix on drums and Sarah Chadwick playing some bass, and Geoff O’Connor mixing. I think the new album was more ambitious than the last, because the songs weren’t as simple. I’ve benefited from the profile and relationships Rice Is Nice has built with people over the years, and I’ve never slowed down writing and performing, and going to gigs.
You have been picked up by some very noteworthy industry publications including; Stereogum, SPIN, and Mojo Magazine. Do you feel vindicated when this happens as peer recognition and reward for all the hard work you have invested in the band?
It’s surprising and nice, I gotta say! But I don’t really think too much about how songs are perceived or consumed after I finish them, I just do my thing, follow the ideas that interest me. You can’t think about who it’s for or if anyone will like it, I like to be in my bubble, I like what I like and I never perceive that to be popular so I have no problem going in and out of what’s tasteful or palatable to other people. I don’t read or listen back to stuff said about me at the moment. Maybe I will more soon.
Your latest offering Hello Friends is your second full length release, was there an added sense of confidence going in to this project or just as nerve-wracking as the first?
I think I was more ambitious. I wanted the themes to be more abstract and the guitars to be more direct, more solid and less layered and improvised than the last album, which was more a write via recording technique where I layered up ideas and then edited them back. For Hello Friends I wanted to have the songs finished before I went in with Geoff. So I did have to get to a point of confidence in them, especially because I was working with other people on it.
Can you explain some of your motives behind the lyrical content on this album and any significant moments in your life that shaped the course of the songwriting?
I write about quick moments of emotion with other people, love, separation, disillusionment. Make Your Way Back To Me is about wanting someone back but knowing that everything is wrong. And I write a lot about the kind of vague inward looking questions you have late at night – wondering am I doing the right thing? How do I get on top of this? What is my relationship with this person? where do I belong? Why should I keep quiet about something? What will the future bring? Do I contribute anything of worth? Lots of questions with no answers! Satellite is about this kind of stuff, like What’s the point of trying so hard and failing, do I deserve the faith people put in me? I’m not really a dark person, but songwriting is the place where I get foggy and philosophical! I’m not a storyteller.
Are all the tracks on this album brand new or have some of them been with you for years and for one reason or another only now just seeing the light of day?
Make Your Way Back To Me is an older track and I had tried a few versions, but I think I needed to hear it with the band for it to stick. And Mess was almost on You Can Have It All.
Working alongside musician/producer Geoffrey O’Connor on this project… what did he bring to the table that made this a unique collaboration?
Geoff is a technical guy, he knows how to use his recording equipment stuff, he fixes problems, and he takes care of business. He’s also open minded musically, has a good ear, and listens. He knew I didn’t want to sound like Geoffrey O’Connor, I wanted to sound like Summer Flake but with bigger drums and better vocal mics. We talked a lot about the kind of sounds I was after, the double tracking, reverbs, and he would go away, think about it, and come back knowing how to do it. We hung out at his granny flat recording shed in Thornbury and recorded a couple nights a week for month or two recording and mixing, having breaks, talking music bollocks, getting pizza, coffee, cigs. He’s a patient guy.
How do you manage the synergy between creating-recording-playing live as it can be a challenge for some artists to replicate?
I don’t replicate the album live, it’s a different medium to me. Recording, I layer my voice so much, and live I’ve only got one and the mix isn’t always something I can get control of! I like it when the energy is different, you can get different things out of both the record and live. There are songs I probably won’t play live unless I got more band members. I like to play solo sometimes too, and that’s a different version again. But it’s all me, the same artist and sensibilities, just with variety.
On a technical level, what’s in the kit?
I play a pretty bright, shrill Fender Jaguar guitar and balance that through a bassy Musicman amp. Things go a bit haywire on the road playing through other people’s amps! I play around with lots of pedals – Boss reverb, delay, Dunlop tremolo, Rat, Ibanez Tubescreamer, MXR distortion and sometimes a fuzz pedal or compressor. I’m trying to pare it back, but it’s hard!
What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I want to play.
Hello Friends is out now through Rice Is Nice.
Check out the Summer Flake ‘Hello Friends’ Tour:
6 May – Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
13 May – The Union Hotel, Sydney – FREE SHOW
14 May – Trainspotters, Brisbane
20 May – The Tote, Melbourne
21 May – The Eastern, Ballarat
3 June – Hotel Metro, Adelaide
Interview by Courtney Dabb.