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Mark Owen – We Lost the Sea ‘Are We Really Too Late?’

The above question is not one from this writer challenging the reader to rethink the state of the world, far from it. While the direction of the question is certainly accurate, the words, or more precisely lyrics, actually belong to vocalist Louise Netting who flawlessly serenades this powerful message reaching divinity on the closing track Mother’s Hymn of We Lost The Sea’s fourth album ‘Triumph & Disaster’ (our review here). Undoubtedly, there is a bit to process here as the NSW sextet have been identified as an instrumental or post-rock band for a number of years now, so the revelation of a singer being present on this LP is one that may take devotees by surprise. Furthermore, what does this question actually represent? For Louise Netting, We Lost The Sea and most likely a vast population worldwide, the question refers to the environmental devastation the Earth has undergone via the evolution of man and if we are in fact, past the point of no return.

Before delving deeper into the mind of guitarist Mark Owen about the message the six New South Welshmen are trying to evoke with ‘Triumph & Disaster’, we thought it best to uncover the process and creation of this captivating song and how it came to fruition?

“We did a writing weekend away on the coast at these people’s home and funnily enough they were actually present during these sessions, they would often come in and compliment us on certain riffs or whatever which was really cool, but we would have to ask them which one because we had no idea which parts they were complimenting, but it was really nice all the same.”

Mark laughs with a fondness then continues – “On this one day Matthew (Kelly, keyboards) was playing this tune and I was enraptured by it, but of course he was clueless on what it actually was, which is pretty much his thing. So I ordered him to remember it and he did somehow, it just felt like a hymn; actually the original title was The Gospel Song. Not too surprisingly, we didn’t come around to writing it until we were three weeks away from being in the studio so I quickly got a rough recording of it, sent it to Louise and told her the hymn feel of it with a choir finish. Obviously that’s not what happened, but it is still amazing. Anyways, she took to it and just soared, she is a big advocate for climate change, she joined the recent protests even though she is expecting a child VERY soon but that’s why it means so much to her and her pregnant friends who marched with thousands.”

Mark continues – “So she sent it to me and asked me if it was ok, I heard it and I lost my mind. I put a bottle of red down, walked around my house with my hands in the air in victory and I was like: ’THIS IS IT’! Then we jammed on it and it was HORRIBLE haha. We had somehow butchered it, it was fruity and nothing like we wanted. It wasn’t a lost cause though, literally days before we went to track the record we decided it wasn’t good enough. So during our studio time we nutted it out super fast, Louise came in and did her vocals and we were understandably awe-struck. Then we knew its true power; I am still blown away, I definitely teared up a bit, I think that is the song that gives up hope.”

As light-hearted as this tale seems to be portrayed by Mark with his polite and comic tone, the whole creation of the new LP was far from light. Fear, stress and doubt would all be very just descriptions of what the band underwent crafting this new work of art. Their former record Departure Songs, the first as an instrumental outfit, pushed We Lost The Sea to heights that were not even thought to be attainable. The endorsement of globally adored comedian and actor Ricky Gervais who not only tweeted about WLTS, but also used their music in an episode of his adored TV series Afterlife was certainly a pleasant shock to try and comprehend; in a sense though, this was just the beginning. The band’s music was needed in countries that none of the members would have ever thought it would be released in, let alone travel to including the far reaches of Europe and even China. So when the idea of constructing their next musical chapter came knocking, as Mark describes, was not particularly enjoyable:

“I’m still terrified. I think the real terror struck us when we actually started writing and we were coming to the realisation that this process was a lot harder than we remembered. We brought in ideas that almost made it onto ‘Departure Songs’ but they were quickly dismissed because we knew they were not good enough. We didn’t even work on them or jam them properly, we would play a bit of them and stare at our shoes and we knew that they weren’t going to work.”

He elaborates further – “Truthfully I think we had the wrong attitude, but then again I don’t think it was one we could have avoided because we are not working musicians who get to do this full-time for a living. We are a bunch of dudes who grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and somehow wrote an album that people have run with and enjoyed. So with that sentiment knowing we had to follow that record, we were terrified but also anxious to see what was going to happen and where we were going to head with our new ideas. 

“We were also extremely determined not to write another ‘Departure Songs’, as much as people from the world over love that album and it is really amazing the connection it has made, we love that, still no-one wants a repeat of it. It’s not going to do ‘Departure Songs’ any justice and it will not help us as a band either.”

So how were the initial steps? What did it feel like when momentum began to build around the newer songs?

“It was really a draining process; the first track we actually shared with the world: Towers, we worked on the first half of that song for about a year. Just constantly second guessing ourselves and thankfully Matt (Harvey, guitarist) who also does our artwork; well he had the most time to sit down and really demo the new stuff properly. So he would send me these ideas to work which is where it initially began and we were actually quite excited about what was being created, then we would agree to meet the next week after jamming and half way through that week Matt would message me saying: ‘Is this song kinda shit?’ (laughs). Then we would both be on that exact page for pretty much the entire week.”

Mark sighs in recalling the painful memory that plagued him and his fellow band mates – “But it was also that creepy little voice in the back of our heads reminding us that ‘Departure Songs’ was the greatest and that it changed people’s lives and we would become understandably pretty upset. However, when Towers finally came together we were ecstatic and I think we found the sound we wanted to follow to a sense; it was different to what we had done and we knew how to back ourselves. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I am happy to say I don’t think I have witnessed anyone yelling at us yet.”

The response was more than positive, it was understandably revered. The emotional wandering We Lost The Sea’s post-rock formula takes their observers on is to a point of indescribable. The intricacies and shimmering of poetic sound can induce a dream like state which can be awoken with a shattering shock wave of change adding a sense of drama that convulses every sense of those who witness it. Whilst Departure Songs was in a sense, a tribute record to Chris Torpy the band’s former vocalist who sadly committed suicide in 2013 and in that tone, other great people who helped improve the human race; ‘Triumph & Disaster’ is WLTS generating the soundtrack for the devastation of climate change and their outrage about the ignorance toward it.

“The last few days I have just been ranting on the internet at people in regards to climate change amongst other things and how ignorant Scott Morrison is to major issues with the world and how much of a fuckhead he is being.”

Mark admits – “I mean it might not be something that my generation can really make an impact with, but possibly something the generation below or even my kids can, it is time to get angry and talk more. If we can find a way for people to connect to that through our art and the issue, then we are doing our jobs as musicians.”

He illustrates further: “I think it is something that terrifies people, that there is change coming and it is from what they consider youth. I mean I believe many are threatened by Greta Thunberg because of the fact she is so young and that she is female. You want men in power to be agitated by something, get a young female to tell them they have done something wrong. Their response is guaranteed to be: ‘You can’t talk to me like this’ – well actually they can and it is your job to take it, you are meant to represent the people but really you are just representing people with money or ageing baby boomers who will not see the detrimental effects of the decisions they are making now. Sure, you are building a strong economy, but no-one is going to care when there is no food.

“Bees have just been proven to be the most important animals in the world right now, of course they are, it is common sense. I mean essentially, what is it going to cost if we are wrong, that is the younger people who care so much about climate change and the environment? If we have cleaner energy, better ways to transport everything, use less plastics – all vital issues, if we bring about that change and we are wrong, we have still made an improvement. If we do nothing and ignore it by placing importance on an industry that is dying anyways for example, then it becomes too late, what is the response then? We should have done something? What is there to lose really? On one hand it is everything and everyone basically faces death or you may lose some time and money but everything becomes better to an extent.”

Unquestionably a topic that has become all the more significant in recent times and an awe-inspiring catalyst for framing the newest release for We Lost The Sea. As aforementioned, the emotional value included with album number four does indicate a darker notation, but there has also been a mention of “hope” which is littered musically throughout the seven tracks. When questioned about this, Mark’s response was one of encouraging conviction:

“That’s interesting, I think the idea of hope is intriguing. I mean, if you want things to be better, if you want to motivate people to do better, there needs to be positive outcome. So regardless of whether I truly believe that it is too late, I feel I have a duty and a responsibility to my kids to offer them some kind of hope.” He then clarifies personally – “What I take away from this record, especially with the artwork which I cannot wait for people to see, is there is a story involving a mother and son doing the apocalypse thing, quite similar to the movie The Road; what I think ‘Triumph & Disaster’ does is paints a picture of how we feel about climate change but it also reveals the reasons why we want to fight for it is because there are good things everywhere. Good relationships, beautiful parts of the world, incredible animals – I’m not sure if we have reached tipping point, we still need to fight for it because it is more than worth it. That’s the hopeful element, things can be better, even if we just slow it down and get a few more centuries from Earth and existence, that’s a positive. Plus no-one wants to finish a record and feel worse about everything, that’s not our job, some other band can do that haha.”

Suitably a quote from the novel version of The Road by Cormac McCarthy seems impeccably pertinent: “Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.”

Triumph & Disaster is out now. Buy it here!

Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill

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