Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #128. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Four albums in, Luca Brasi have made the ambitious pub-punk masterpiece they always wished they could. Matt Doria finds out what makes Stay click so well with axeman Tom Busby.
Five years ago, this scribe caught Luca Brasi play a ~2,000,000-decibel set to a crowd of flannel‑clad punks in a beatdown dive bar accentuated with the faint scent of middle-age regret. It was far from the kind of setting you’d want to take a first date to, but to stand in a human tsunami – drenched in sweat and dodging wave upon wave of crowd surfers – was the only way to truly appreciate the anti-gaudy and intensely honest brand of noise the Tassie pub-punk powerhouse wore so feverishly on their sleeve… But goddamn, how things have changed.
Their latest king hit to the eardrums, Stay, is as honest as anything the Brasi boys have thrown us in days past – if not moreso. It’s dirt-raw and never veers too far from the fist-pumping jam material our mates have always delivered, but all things considered, it’s also a much more grandiose record. Stay takes itself a little more seriously than prior efforts have, melodies and rhythms showing the virtuosity of a band that sat down and really thought about themselves before stepping into the booth. It’s a narrative echoed by lead guitarist Tom Busby, who – amidst frozen shudders inflicted by the harsh Tasmanian winter – sounds utterly relieved that LP4 is finally in the bag.
“We worked harder and pushed ourselves further than ever,” he says. “I think it’s certainly our most complete record – it’s not a bunch of songs that we’ve just slapped together... Not that we’ve ever done that! We’ve always tried to make ourselves a well-rounded record, but I think we’ve done it better than ever this time around. I think it ebbs and flows pretty good, and we weren’t too fixated on what was ‘punk rock’ or not. We might have thought about that a little too much in the past, but when we were finished with this one, we were like, ‘Huh, this is kind of chill’ – well, chill for what we thought we would ever do! And y’know, there were some times I was pulling my hair out while I still had it, but altogether, we had a f***ing awesome time writing and recording it.”
With ex-Kisschasy frontman Darren Cordeaux in the producer’s chair (alongside longtime collaborators Jimmy Balderston and Nic White), Luca Brasi were free to explore a much groovier and more easygoing vibe in their songwriting. Yeah, it’s less heavy-hitting than we’re used to, but not so much as to say it’s a vice rather than a virtue, because in place of the crunching riffs and scatterpaced drums lie towering soundscapes and rollicking buildups that lead into glorious, goosebump-inducing payoffs.
Stay is best described as ambitious – it feels like the album Luca Brasi have always dreamed of conjuring up, and after close to a decade attuning them to the process, they hit the studio with the confidence needed to kick such a dream into reality.
“I’m glad you used the word ‘ambitious’,” Busby notes, “Because that’s definitely the vibe we had going into the writing process. I definitely feel like there’s a lot riding on this album, because we know that if it does really well for us, we’ll be able to bump everything up another notch. And we really want to be able to do that soon, because we’re all getting older. I mean, when we started this band, we were all 20, 22, 23 – I’m the only one of us that hasn’t hit his 30s yet! Two blokes in the band have kids now, too, so it’s getting harder for us to go as hard as we used to be able to. I kind of feel like this is our last big… Well, I probably shouldn’t say that in an interview, but I feel as though if we just worked our asses off while we still can, then we can take what we’ve achieved so far even further, and that’s a really exciting prospect to us.”
Obviously, we’re going to press Busby on that little ‘last big’ quip – last big what!? Could the end of Luca Brasi be imminent, and could Stay end up being their de facto swansong? “Well,” Busby stutters, “Every time we finish a record, I’m like, ‘Holy f***. I don’t know if I could possibly do that again.’ That’s kind of how I feel right now.”
But don’t start tearing up just yet, because like in any mid-set speech from the band’s frontman, Tyler Richardson, our mate on the guitar is keeping positive. “But y’know,” he continues, “It’s like that for a while, and then you pick up a guitar one day, you come up with a sick riff, demo it, send it to the boys, and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Righto! Let’s start it up again!’
“Especially after the last one [2016’s If This Is All We’re Going To Be], I was so drained. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I have it in me to do this again – not at this caliber.’ Y’know, it’s easy to write those really shit punk songs. When I’m on the couch, those just fall out of me! But writing these bigger and more ambitious songs… At the moment, I feel like going, ‘No! No way!’ But I’ve said that before. I really hope [Stay] isn’t our last record, and I mean, we’ll probably give writing a new crack in a few months time. But I definitely feel like this is our best record, and when the band is done, people will say this was the one that really defined us.
“But mind you, Dave Grohl said the same thing about In Your Honour, and he f***ed it on that, so…”
Stay is also an impressive release for just how gruelling it was to get over the finish line. The past two years had seen the band busier than ever – Busby was buckling down at Uni and working in kitchens to earn a scrap, Richardson landed a full-time teaching gig, and Patrick Marshall (rhythm guitar) and Danny Flood (drums) both had daughters. That’s not even touching on the batshit mental touring schedule they’d juggled inbetween it all, so as expected, writing for Stay was a little more taxing than your average punk album.
“It took f***ing forever,” Busby sighs with the force of a thousand suns. “The first two songs we started writing were ‘Got To Give’ and ‘The Calm And The Ease’, and that happened a couple of weeks after If This Is All We’re Going To Be came out. So it took two years to write ten f***ing songs!
“There were other songs that didn’t make it, where I’d spend an entire week or two working on some riffs, then a month later realise they actually came from a Blink-182 song and have to scrap it. And that did happen! I was listening to Spotify at home one day and a Blink song came up on shuffle, and I was like, ‘Huh, this sounds like a demo I did six months ago that we just started to work on lyrics for… Ah, shit.’ I was so embarrassed. The boys absolutely roasted me for it, too, and I just had to be like, ‘Yeah, fair call.’
“So writing this album took ages, but like I said, we just wanted it to be really special and really great. And when we got a few proper songs out of ourselves and we had a good idea of where we wanted to take the album, that spurred us to keep going. I think we’re all really pumped with what we got out of it in the end.”
Perhaps even more remarkable than the album itself is the fact that, thanks in no short part to the band’s excruciatingly longwinded writing process, the final product came to be without any grand proposition or Mission Impossible-esque blueprints.
“We didn’t really set out to go, ‘Okay, this is the kind of record we’re going to make,’ or, ‘We’re going to make this sort of music now,’” Busby says. “It just kind of happens by accident. Last time we did, though – last time we said, ‘Let’s make a really fast and punchy sort of album.’ We wrote ‘Aeroplane’ first and then went, ‘Okay, let’s do a whole record just like that from go to woah,’ but it didn’t really end up working out like that; we had some slower jams on there and it took a really different shape to what we initially envisioned.
This time, we just focused on the simple philosophy of making the music that we wanted to listen to. We just wanted to push the melodic side a bit more so that when the songs kicked in and got heavier or fuller, it really made an impact. We were chasing more of those ‘kick in the gut’ moments instead of just palm-muting power chords for three minutes and calling it a song.”
Some of that stylistic evolution was borne of necessity rather than choice, though. “For the first time in this band,” Busby admits, “We’d write a guitar riff or put together a few sketches for a song and go, ‘Hold on, we’ve done this already.’ I’ve never had that feeling before, because y’know, usually you’d write a riff and you go, ‘Sweet, new music that we can work on!’ But this time we had to go, ‘Well, that sounds cool, but we can’t do anything with it because it’s just a variation of something we did in the past.’
“So that made it pretty frustrating at times, but it also gave us the opportunity to explore some different kinds of ideas. We’re still the same band, but it’s like we’re in the next chapter of that band.”
Saturday August 11th - Club 54, Launceston
Friday August 17th - The Triffid, Brisbane
Saturday August 18th - Manning Bar, Sydney
Wednesday August 22nd - Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Thursday August 23rd - The Gov, Adelaide
Friday August 24th - The Croxton, Melbourne