Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Collapsing Cities are back in the spotlight

Lydia Jenkin talks to Collapsing Cities about Britain and why their new album took three years to emerge.

Collapsing Cities. Photo / Supplied
Collapsing Cities. Photo / Supplied

It was during May 2007 at a Music Month showcase at Galatos that Collapsing Cities first captured the collective imagination of the local music industry.

Their snappy, clever songs about being jaded at 23 and awkward, confusing life scenarios of a young adult, were delivered with an astounding energy, and accompanied by a dozen keen young fans thrashing around on stage with them.

It wasn't long before CRS Management (The Naked and Famous, Brooke Fraser, Six60) signed them up, and in 2008 they released Elixir Always, garnering enough attention and praise to send them to Britain to play NME parties, and perform at festivals like Reading and Leeds.

But touring and living in Britain was a mixed bag - a dream-come-true one minute, and frustrating and depressing the next. The four-piece were left feeling a little burnt out.

They were still performing, and writing new songs, but by the time they came home, they were keen to let life return to normal for a while.

"When we came back, I think we'd all kind of decided we wanted to pursue a few things that we'd left behind when we'd gone to the UK. So I picked up studying again, our drummer Tim [Van Dammen] picked up directing again," guitarist and singer James Brennan explains.

"So the band returned to a nice place where we just did it when we felt inspired to write a song."

More than three years later, they've finally finished. Brennan and lead singer Steve Mathieson can't put their fingers on exactly what's taken so long, though they both reckon having all four opinionated band members involved may have had something to do with it.

"As soon as it became a team effort, we've all got such strong opinions, it was guaranteed to take a long time," Brennan laughs. "The amount of data the songs take up on your hard drive is one thing but the amount of email traffic, and conversations and discussions is a different ball game."

This time around, all four contributed to lyrics and musical ideas, with Brennan taking lead vocals on two final tracks. They also spent much more time working with producer Nick Roughan at The Lab and in Roughan's home studio, tinkering with songs they hadn't had a chance to play live.

"This time, we did overthink it and over-analyse it at times. And that's good and bad," Mathieson reflects.

"But it was also about finding a balance between why people liked us in the first place and then progressing, not just doing another album about being so hungover."

Collapsing Cities are still a band who like to write personal songs that reflect their own life experiences though. Death On The Victoria Line is about "feeling like shit" on a London train trip, Favours for Favours was Brennan reflecting on the lack of any relationship with his neighbours, Regret is a tale of a relationship breakdown.

"This Mess was also written in the UK, which was probably pretty appropriate," Brennan laughs.

Mathieson continues "For me, musically, what I like is either a skewed, maybe slightly f***ed-up love song, or social observations. My favourite songs are always kind of fly-on-the-wall, analysing a room or situation, observing human interactions ... They're all quite dark lyrically, which is funny, but yeah it's cool how they're like a snapshot of what you were feeling at a certain time."

Soundwise, Strangers Again is a little more polished, perhaps even a little more melodic than Elixir Always, with their signature frenetic guitars, and a hint of a British attitude.

"Brits are always good at finding the humour in depression, so yeah," Brennan shrugs.

Despite the burnout and the lengthy gestation, the band never considered that the album might not be finished. "We felt like we owed it to ourselves to make an album that we were happy with, and I would've been really bitter if we hadn't finished it," Mathieson laughs.

"There were testing times for sure, and a lot of disagreements, but I don't think there was ever a point where we wanted to give up," Brennan agrees.

"I think one thing about everyone being really opinionated and butting heads is that everyone actually cared," Mathieson smiles. "It's so much better to have that than to have people feeling ambivalent about it."

They may have lyrics that address the issue of ambivalence, but it certainly doesn't seem to be a trait of the band. They're extremely happy to have the album out, and keen to get back on the road for a national tour after such a long break from live shows.

"Playing live is the ultimate," Mathieson exclaims. "And you have to be so grateful if people come to your gig, because they've given up their evening to spend it with you. You can't take that for granted."

Who: Auckland four-piece Collapsing Cities.
What: New album Strangers Again.
Where and when: Friday July 20, at the Kings Arms.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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