“Damn straight. Absolutely.”
The affable Tom Lyngcoln replied to my somewhat limp joke about our phone interview being the perfect use of his hour long drive home. I imagine the Victorian countryside whizzing past him as our chat stretched overtime, full of incredible insight about Harmony’s latest release Double Negative.
The third studio release in ten years is a deep dive into the complexity of human emotions and relationships. A record repurposing common language and sonic interaction, it’s a dark post-punk bed of sound accented by signature vocal harmonies and arrangements.
The album title, Double Negative was the phrase which drove a thematic exploration of the album well before the title track was written. The conceptual depth behind Harmony’s song writing is expressed through the deep play on language and idioms in Lyngcoln’s lyricism. It is evident in the adoption of this phrase, a non-sequitur, which in itself is a comment on the band’s output; “For a band that has produced [music] that feeds off negativity and much horrendous subject matter – a lot of it deeply personal to the people around us, the double negative is probably the happiest we are ever gonna try to present.” With that in mind, the title track lyrics perfectly draw upon the metaphor and contradict of physics: “It’s not negative/its double negative/resulting in a positive charge.”
For a band who purports to feed on negative content for their material, the birth and continuation of Harmony relies so heavily on the positive and close relationships of the members. “It’s more social than anything else” Lyngcoln confides, describing that Harmony is the best example of creating bands by gathering people that he wants to be around. Scattered “all over bloody country Victoria”, the members are actually geographically closer that they have in the past. To create this album and play the tour, none of the members were flown in, as one of the singers Quinn Veldhuis did in the past. Though, the sporadic rehearsals can cause problems, “Generally there’s not a lot of practising going on, the conversations last for the vast majority of our allotted practise time. I don’t know how we are three records in because there is so much gasbagging that goes on.”
Double Negative, was recorded in at the Kyneton Mechanics Institute, a resonance and cavernous space which is he describes as perfect for Harmony. The first professional recording for the band was aided by the work of engineer Mike Deslandes, whose experience with the space aided the ability to explore the openness of these tracks. In the past the band’s songwriting Lyngcoln self deprecatingly admits, was based on “forcing people to basically do what I want that to do,” so the tracks would already be written with his wife and drummer for the band, Alex Kastaniotis. “The first time we would play it all the way through would be on the record” with Jon Chapple contributing the bass lines and Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Erica Dunn, adding their distinctive harmonies. “This record I just left heaps more room and cause we actually went to do a professional recording this time we kinda had to be ready on the front end, rather than just backloading everything. There was definitely a lot more collaboration, to and fro.” A potential Song Exploder episode in the making, he describes the endless voice memos between him and Roff, Veldhuis and Dunn. “I have so many voice memos that the first thousand don’t work anymore…I have like three thousand and probably fifteen hundred songs.”
Harmony’s unique sound is due to the counterpoint of the driving and dirty instrument arrangements and Lyngcoln’s vocals, tied in with soaring and strangely angelic harmonies provided by Roff, Veldhuis and Dunn. While he describes the band as a one trick pony with a “pretty immaculate” trick, he also admits that sometimes during rehearsal he becomes so distracted by them that he forgets to play. “It’s kinda unsettling, they can release endorphins in the brain when they all lock in together. It’s crippling.” Perhaps even more so due to hearing the very personal lyrics sung by other voices – but he describes the feeling as being supportive both emotionally as well as musically. “The first time I heard them all sing together…it changed everything.”
Lyngcoln picked up singing in order to negate the need for a frontman in his bands, “I thought, ‘Fuck it, I can do that!’ Twenty years later and no one has been able to shut me up.” The inclusion of these vocalists who “have this heightened singing ability” plays a large part in the way the lyrics are written. “Having people who can actually sing is a really powerful weapon, it opened up the lyrics. For me and every band that I was in, my immediate inclination was to tell people to bury the vocals.” Flipping his inclination of “guitars up, vocals down” with Harmony has lead Lyngcoln to writing more personal content. In his words, “maybe too much so!”
A perfect example of this intensely personal songwriting is the heart-wrenching opening track and second single for the album, ‘I Love You’. Describing himself as the opposite of subtle, Lyngcoln uses highly emotive language to express positive and negative emotions often turning the implied meaning on its head. He began writing this album by trying to use “Negative language to describe positive things. It’s so insanely hard to write about positive things without sounding ridiculous… I kinda hid behind negative things to talk about love and relationships, which is a pretty played out subject matter.” The track ‘I Love You’ sets the tone for the album as the archetype of this discord.
The dark and moody video features friends and collaborators who either stare intensely at the camera or turn away. Both gestures which curiously seem appropriate for the bluntly honest lyrics combined with the dark and jarring instrumentals. “The most confronting thing that I came across is that statement “I love you.” It’s one the least subtle things that you will either, hear or not hear. It’s a really uncomfortable statement I think, one that is fraught with a lot of anxiety. I know the times in my life that I have said it, there’s an unknown to it…and then other times its kinda thrown out there as well.”
The discomfort seemingly present in the clip’s participants isn’t faked. Many of them had never heard the track before, and Lyngcoln admits there’s a strange enjoyment from watching them squirm and feel uncomfortable about it. “It was the most extreme thing that I could probably write” he admits, “I wanted to continue it but finding different ways of coming at it was definitely the challenge, if you start a record with ‘I love you’, you are kinda restricted to what your lateral movements are gonna be.”
The final track on the album though? ‘It Hurts’.
As well as the release of this incredible record, Harmony have already had an impressive year with an appearance at Dark Mofo in June. It was something of a homecoming for Tom, a previous Tasmanian resident. No festival is perhaps better suited to a band which takes so much inspiration from a mixture of similar dark and shadowy places.
It’s at the end of the interview where Lyngcoln reveals a musical experience in Dubrovnik, Croatia which strikes a similar chord and set somewhat of an aspiration or the band. “I could hear these women singing, we eventually followed the noise until we saw it. They were singing in a chapel but it was the strange baroque, very complicated legato, beautiful long notes but insanely complicated harmonies, my wife and I just stood rooted to the spot in the church. It was so mesmerising.” A religious ceremony may seem like a strange inspiration for a moody, post-punk outfit yet Lyngcoln holds onto this experience tightly, “It’s this weird high watermark which I have always had in the back of my mind.”
“Maybe that’s what we do next, we’ll just do a vocal record.”
UNTIL THEN, DOUBLE NEGATIVE BY HARMONY IS AVAILABLE NOW.
If you’re in Brisbane you can see the band live this weekend.
Saturday 18 August – Sonic Masala Festival, Brisbane
Tickets on sale through Oztix.