Gareth Shute talks to Racing about moving on from their first EP – and from the bands of their past.
It’s been five years since The Checks broke up, but lead songwriters Ed Knowles and Sven Pettersen have been happy to take their time in bringing their new band, Racing, into public consciousness. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time for a second act, when you start your first (wildly successful) band at the tender age of fifteen.
Racing’s first self-titled EP appeared in late-2015 and the band has spent much of the intervening time playing shows and developing their sound. While their early songs picked up directly from the psych-rock of the last Checks album, their newer singles introduce a dance-y, groove-based style (that said, The Checks were never chained to one genre – take their collab with PNC, for example).
Tomorrow, Racing is releasing their new track, ‘If Only,’ but below you can check it out a day early, as well as getting the inside word from Ed and Sven on subjects like why playing live is still important to the band, the left-field influences that go into their music, and Sven’s plans to accessorise his hat.
The first Racing EP had a definite psychedelic side to it which seems to follow on from where The Checks eventually ended up, moving from ’60s rhythm and blues towards psych. Quite a few guitar-based bands seem to have found some freedom by moving in this direction in the past few years, like UMO, Opossom, plus a run of Aussie bands like Tame Impala. Where does that part of your sound come from?
Ed Knowles: We like hypnotic music. Rhythms and grooves that get stuck in your head and then go deeper and get stuck in your body. There is something primal about how people react to these types of songs because everybody in the crowd ends up moving in the same way, like instinctively we all understand it, how it makes us feel part of something bigger, collectively. But also, I think that when people are stuck in these grooves they become more open to going into the scenery of the lyrics, they start to want to go deeper into the aesthetic. I think this can happen in all types of music regardless of if it’s psychedelic or not.
Your current single, ‘If Only,’ and the previous one ‘The Bass’ also introduce a dancey element to your music – with a very processed bass sound and lively drums. Was it always part of the plan to go in this direction with Racing? If so, perhaps it makes sense that you got Izaak Houston on drums, since his former band Space Creeps had elements of this too with him often playing along to electronic beats?
EK: It’s all Jamiroquai’s fault. We are fans of lots of artists that people are surprised by or don’t see as a natural fit for us … but these influences seep into our music slowly but surely. Also, we recorded at Roundhead and Neil Finn has so many amazing synths and toys that it’s hard to resist using them once you start. So, consciously the answer would be no … but we’d just let go and followed our ears and I think in hindsight it’s added a whole new dimension to what Racing is now and what it could be next.
Sven Pettersen: Yeah, we wanted to make electric dance music where it has real tangible voltage and unpredictability. I always loved the idea of a great song sneaking up on you, so to weave one through a heavy groove always gives it levels where your body, brain and being can feel it. I also think that the way Dan [Barrett, bassist] and Izaak approach the tunes leans them towards a taut and visceral funk.
At the same time, you seem to be keen to hang on to the idea of being a “band” in the traditional sense, so Sven’s guitar solos remain a big part of the sound and there’s always the feel of four guys making music together. Why is that important to you?
EK: Well, we did actually play all of the music on the record, as four people holding instruments in a room, so I guess we never thought otherwise. Also, being in a band is not only more fun but it means you can change and morph on a nightly basis how you play the music. Plus you open yourself up to the magic that comes from the four different minds working at the same time, whereas if we just pushed play on a computer it would probably feel a little more predictable or limited. Less room for error is not always a good thing.
SP: Much of our sound comes from the way we naturally write and play live mixed with some of the eccentricities of our demos. I read somewhere that a good song should be able to stand up to multiple treatments so I love imagining if the Beatles could have played Sgt Pepper’s live and dirty, especially the reprise, or imagine the Stooges playing ‘Out of Control’ by the Chemical Brothers. The song and its energy needs to sail through all permutations.
These days, it sometimes feels like the idea of a band is under threat since digital recording allows access to any sound ever made (hundreds of possible snare options etc). Sometimes you’ll see a rock band on a music video and the sound will be so manipulated that it’s hard to associate it with the band you’re seeing. How do you draw the line between taking advantage of the possibilities, but also retaining the sense of a band?
EK: Yeah, I feel like the actual sounds aren’t of much consequence. To us it’s about the different members having an energy when they play together, be it on synths or acoustic guitars. If the members have a little bit of that magic friction between them then it somehow means more, be it Oasis or Justice.
SP: We don’t really have a line that we strictly follow, but we will tend to lean towards things that have a humanistic or soulful feeling. Even the sounds that appear processed on our records are almost all these strange old synths. These things don’t play themselves and often have some quirks which mean it can sound seven different ways on seven different days, and I like that. The placement or juxtaposition of textures abstract and natural can create the most surreal feeling. Feet on the ground, head in the clouds.
Since the band formed, you’ve continued playing live regularly. How important was it to develop your sound and songs on stage?
EK: Playing live is important because of what performance can do for the audience. To see music performed by people who want to perform, who have something to say, or a vibe to impress upon you is intoxicating and good for the soul. Having millions of views on the internet is great but the real deal has always been what have you got on the stage, what can you offer the people? What can you do for the dude holding a beer down the back? I think people are hungry for something de-pixelated. Playing live for us is what it’s all about and we value it highly.
SP: Yeah it still remains an irreplaceable litmus test – the Whammy bar or the King’s Arms isn’t concerned about your feelings.
Looking to the future, what lessons have you brought forward from your previous bands, in terms of how you aim to take the group forward?
EK: No regrets. The Checks, Space Creeps, and Sherpa [Dan Barrett’s previous group] were all amazing bands and, in fact, we all toured together before Racing began. So if anything we learned how to have a good time and that if you do it with love you will always deliver for the people who come to see you. That’s what’s important, blowing people’s minds/hearts/eardrums.
Lastly, Sven, I just wanted to know where you got your great hat from?
SP: I can’t tell you when, where, or how I got my hat. What I can tell you is that it has red tassels on the top of it. I’m hoping I can find more of this tassel so I can put a fringe around it to hide my eyes sometimes…
Racing’s new EP, The Bass, will be out on 25 August. In the meantime, check out their artist playlist to hear a couple of their new tunes, along with a varied range of other acts that have fed into their music…
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