By Brian Wise.
While the new album from Queensland duo Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou is titled Postcards from the Shell House, it might just have easily been titled Postcards from Gisborne. But that is hardly as exotic and it probably does not quite hold as firm a place in the hearts of the two who have been visiting the island since their childhood.
For their third album, the duo not only adjourned to Great Keppel Island but also headed south to country Victoria to record what is their most accomplished album and one that returns them to some of their earlier musical themes.
The shell house, once a museum and featured on the album’s cover, is a building on Great Keppel that inspired the new recording. It could not be more of a contrast with The Stables in Gisborne, a few thousand kilometres and a dozen degrees Celsius south.
“If we ever do a show in Gibson we’ll say that it could have been that alternate title,” says Marou. “We’ll keep them special. Maybe it should have been Postcards from Gisborne. Probably more the songwriting was Keppel. We kind of felt like it’s home ground territory for us so I think we’d be in trouble from our family back in Rocky, in Central Queensland if we called it Postcards from Gisborne!”
Both locations could not be more of a contrast with where they recorded their previous album, Farewell Fitzroy, in Nashville with a full studio band. Who would have thought that the two musicians who started with a residency at Rockhampton’s Oxford Hotel would be in the heartland of country music.
After a break from touring with a band behind the last album decided to play a few gigs just as a duo again decided that it was time to get back to basics. They enlisted Evermore’s Jon Hume who added his own studio in Gisborne to the recording project for a new album.
“It was funny,” says Jeremy Marou when I ask him about recording on Great Keppel. “We did some song writing over there. Okay we’ll all go and we’ll put our head down and record. Once you get there it’s like, oh we’ll go for a jet ski, let’s go for a snorkel, we’ll have another swim, we’ll get around to it. It’s just a perfect vibe.”
“Extremely relaxing,” he continues. “It’s exactly what we were trying to get. For our last album we went to Nashville and were away from our friends and families in a place we’d never been before. It was fun. We had to get that out of our system but this time we’re a bit older and mature and we worked out that we’ve got paradise in our back yard. We don’t need to go anywhere to do it. We can just stay here and do it. We’re in possibly one of the best spots in the world to write a song.”
Marou explains that while the island was their songwriting base, they recorded just two songs there and relocated to Gisborne to record the remainder of the album.
“All the hard stuff we needed to do in the studio we did in Melbourne and the rest of it – we’ve done acoustic clips so all our film clips – we actually recorded live out in different locations. We wanted to catch the birds singing in the background or the waves knocking on the sand 20 metres away from you. That’s exactly what we’ve done. These days even the bigger artists, even Ed Sheeran, they’re recording stuff in their bedrooms with a laptop. Hopefully, technology allows us to do it in different locations. Places like Keppel.”
Jon Hume’s studio, The Stables, in Gisborne continued the relaxed vibe, according to Marou.
“Jon Hume has his beautiful little place set up,” he explains. “Even that place, we’re out on a big property and horses and that. We felt really at home. It was a bit of central Queensland about it. For this album we spent a lot of time. We spent two years writing and making this one. That was great fun.”
“He’s a great artist in his own kind of sense with Evermore,” says Marou of Hume. “Everything he was doing was turning to gold. All of us took a wish list together of who we’d like to record with. One of our good friends from our publishing company said, ‘Hey I think John is perfect for you.’ That’s how it came about. We did a trial run with him. We went and did a song writing session with him. We wrote the song ‘Best Part of Me.’ We wrote that with him and it was such an easy process.
“For us it was finding the line between producing songs but keeping it acoustic and with the harmonies – which is Tom and I’s bread and butter. It worked with us. It was really cool. We obviously became great friends. If we had ideas, if it worked, he would listen to them, he would do them. We’ve heard horror stories from bands in the past not getting on with their producers. That wasn’t the case with us, great relationship. It was a fun process.”
“It’s very different. You are spot on,” responds Marou when I suggest that that sound on the new album is quite different to the previous recording. “The last album was a live studio album. We went into a live room and plugged every band member in and played the songs. Whereas, on this one we were happy to track. I play all the instruments on this one as well. Between John and myself, we play all the guitars, bass, drums, piano, whatever else was needed.
“So it’s kind of got a different vibe in that we’re just playing on it. We weren’t too worried listening to what was working at the time with the music industry. We wanted to ‘pop’ it up and produce it up without limiting the essence of two guitars and a vocal. We kind of feel that we can tour the album as a duo acoustically or with a full band. That’s what changed.
In fact, Postcards from The Shell House is likely to be one of the best pop albums you will hear this year. Great songs with great hooks sprinkled with fine harmonies.
“Our song writing process was very different for this album, I should mention,” says Marou when asked about the process. “Tom really went outside his box and the last couple of albums were just us. Maybe the odd co-write. We went out and spent some time with some other artists and wrote songs with them. That’s scary for the first time, for an artist. It worked for us and we learnt so much. It’s just incredible what you learn from someone else. Just by sitting down and writing a song.”
While Busby and Marou are very much the main musicians on the new album, they do enlist some special guests including guitarist David Ryan Harris.
“He’s obviously one of my favorites from being a guitarist,” says Marou. “He’s played guitar with John Mayer and he influenced John Mayer and his playing. Sitting and writing a song with him was amazing and just hearing his sense of melody. Our sense of melody has changed and you see how people get the hooks. A lot of these songs came out of it. We just changed our song writing process.
“The way Tom puts his lyrics together I still find absolutely incredible. I’m his biggest fan. I’ll always be his biggest fan the way he does that. Something that I cannot do. I could maybe come up with a melody line or a change of chord here and there but he’s definitely all over putting some beautiful words together.”
I tell Jeremy that when I first listened to Postcards I thought it sounded like a chart topping album and I wondered how he felt listening back after working on it for so long?
“Because it was done over such a long period of time we’re like, ‘Oh my god this is going to be the best one on the album. This is going to be a massive song,” he replies. “And the next one would come along like this is going to be a massive song. We’re loving it. I’m always going to be biased because it’s our music.
“I mean everyone wants to go in and write number one songs. We’ll have to just wait and see. Anywhere in the Top 20 and we’ll be happy.”
Busby Marou are currently in Queensland for a series of shows but will be announcing other dates soon.
Postcards from the Shell House is available through Warner Music.