Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Roses are red, violents are blue, and Ceres wrote a new album for you. It's goddamn adorable (a stark contrast to the typically bleak LPs the band are known for), and it almost didn't even exist.
Words by Matt Doria. Photo by Kane Hibberd.
Tom Lanyon is in a peculiarly chipper mood. The band he fronts, Ceres, have just wrapped up their biggest national headline tour to date, on the back of their most gratifying album thus far. Their third, We Are A Team couldn’t be more different to 2017’s Drag It Down On You – it’s a concept album of love songs, bright, bubbly, and slicked all over with a palpable optimism.
It’s fitting: in the last two years, Lanyon fell out of love, slumped into a depression, penned his most scathing track to date and came close to offing the band altogether... Then met the love of his life, got his shit together, and found himself with a wealth of cracking ideas. Hell, we’re not sure if we can even call Ceres an emo band anymore!
We caught up with the moustached Melbournite to learn a little more about the backstory behind We Are A Team, and how its ear-caressing homeliness can be attributed to more than just Lanyon’s sprightliness.
So although “Stretch Ur Skin” was a massively successful release, it’s kind of a darker chapter in the Ceres mythology. Are you comfortable talking about what happened there?
I guess in hindsight, Drag It Down On You was a breakup record for someone that I hadn’t broken up with yet. I was obviously unhappy, not just in my relationship but where I was in life at the time, and that all comes out in a pretty dark record. And when we had the chance to do “Stretch Ur Skin”, I’d just broken up with my partner, and Cooking Vinyl were like, “Let’s do a single.” That was the only song I had rattling around in the back of my head, and it wasn’t necessarily about anyone in particular, but it could’ve been completely misconstrued as this sort of ‘f*** you’ to my ex. I just wasn’t thinking. And I knew at the time that it probably wasn’t a great idea – it’s something that I totally regret and I wish we didn’t do, but now it’s part of our history, so I’ve gotta stand by it and just say that I wasn’t proud of myself.
It’s so weirdly bittersweet and such a double- edged sword, because it broke us into Triple J, but it’s the one song that I didn’t want to get added to rotation. I didn’t want anyone to like this song, or even know it, and now it’s our biggest song. There was a lot of fallout from that whole saga – it pretty much broke me, and in the end I just thought, “Nah, we’re not doing this band anymore.” I need to take responsibility with the shit I say, and if it actually hurts people’s feelings... Like, I’m cool with beating myself up every day with the band, but if it has real- world effects on people, then f*** that. So that just got me into this huge funk, and for a whole year, I didn’t write a song. But then l fell in love, and then “Viv In The Front Seat” happened, and then in five months we had a record!
How did "Viv In The Front Seat" trigger your creativity to come flooding back?
I was picking up some picture frames in Abbotsford; they were little drawings that we’ve now used as the artwork for the album, and they were drawn by my current partner’s dad, named Viv, who’s now passed away. I stacked the picture frames in the front seat of my car and put the seatbelt around them to protect them, and out of nowhere I was like, “I’ve got Viv in the front seat.” That lyric just slammed into my head, and I was just like, “Holy shit!” So I drove home and started writing straight away, and I was like, “F***, I think I’ve got a song!”
I can’t remember the exact timeline, but Stu Harvey from Cooking Vinyl has this creepy knack for knowing when I’ve written a song without even having mentioning it to him – he did it with “Stretch” as well, the son of a bitch; he called me one day and went, “Oi, you wanna do something?” And I was like, “Man, I’ve just written this song!” So he was like, “Sick, let’s do it.” So we released the single, but the whole ‘album’ thing took a while for me to get my head around, because I still wasn’t in the right mindset to do it. I was still scared. But everyone loved “Viv”, and I was just like, “This is so sick! We’re back, baby!”
So in a lot of ways, We Are A Team is a concept album. Was the idea to run with a narrative there from the start?
Definitely. Before I wrote “Viv”, I couldn’t think of any reason why I’d write an album. Like, what do I have to say? I think music should be about something, and in Ceres, the way I write is very autobiographical; sometimes it’s ambiguous, but it’s always about something that’s happening in my life. And so for a long time, I was like, “Well, what’s happening in my life right now? Nothing.” But once “Viv” happened, it crystallised in my mind pretty quickly that that could be what the album is about. All these songs just poured out of me, and they were all about things like falling in love, and that giddy feeling. Y’know, there are still some of those signature Ceres gray areas, like the doubt you feel in a new relationship – “Am I good enough for this person?” – and all that sort of stuff. But as it all kept happening, I just knew more and more that this was going to be a happier album.
According to the press release, We Are A Team was recorded over two weeks in “a seven‐bedroom house on an idyllic rural property without phone reception or internet.” What was that experience like?
It was amazing. When you’re recording in a studio in the city, it can get pretty gnarly, but you can sort of switch off by looking at Instagram or going on the internet, or just, y’know, going home. Whereas this was so much more... I thought it would be the opposite. I thought everyone would be able to just totally relax – there was no internet and no phone reception, it was totally secluded, there was a river you could go walking along, and it was the most beautiful spot... But in hindsight, it created a lot more tension than we probably needed. I was fine with it, but some other people just needed the internet, other people couldn’t stand not having phone reception...
There were a lot of elements in play there and it was always up and down – but in the up moments, it was amazing. You can hear the environment on the record; you can hear birds and stuff in the background on songs. We recorded a song called "Stay Awake", and if you turn it up really loud, you can actually hear wind blowing through the house, because it was a super windy night when we recorded it. I kind of love that organic feeling of the house on the record. And to top it all off, it was actually my partner’s family’s home. We were recording an album all about her, and we were actually doing it in her old family home in Apollo Bay.