More patient quartet emerges on ‘Lithium Zion’
Deaf Wish singer and guitarist Jensen Tjhung spoke of the important role urgency plays in the Australian noise-rock quartet's music in a 2015 Alive interview. “There's a timeframe you need to complete something in, otherwise it gets kind of lost,” he said. “I think it's important you get [recording] done really quickly.”
Considering this, it must have felt opulent for the band to spend multiple days working up its most recent album, Lithium Zion (Sub Pop), the first the group has ever set to tape in a proper recording studio. But not so, said bassist/singer Lee Parker.
“We did it in two days, which seemed luxurious at the time, but I might want to take more time on the next album,” said Parker, who joined the band just prior to its 2015 U.S. tour and makes his first recorded appearance on Lithium Zion. “Being in a studio was something different, a natural kind of progression. … We did want to do more sort of considered overdubs and spend time building a sound rather than just thrashing out a song in one take.”
The music reflects this consideration, placing sneering, metallic pile drivers like the 76-second “Hitachi Jackhammer” alongside comparatively airy cuts like “Smoke,” a dreamy number that unfolds over a hypnotic six-plus minutes and features vocals from singer/guitarist Sarah Hardiman. (Drummer/singer Daniel Twomey completes the band's current lineup, which will be on display in a Spacebar concert on Tuesday, Sept. 4.)
According to Parker, the band's evolution is purposeful. Since joining Deaf Wish, he's spent little time with early records, including its 2007 self-titled debut and the 2009 follow-up, Reality & Visions.
“I've tried to avoid immersing myself in the mood or style of the early stuff because I've sort of sensed the other members want to get away from that, too,” Parker said. “They don't want to try and directly build off what's been done before. They want to treat this lineup as a new entity, separate from that, to an extent. So as much as I've enjoyed the old songs, we're not doing them much anymore.”
For Parker, integrating into Deaf Wish has been a gradual process. The bassist said he felt like a replacement player for much of the band's 2015 tour, which included a Columbus stop at the now-shuttered Double Happiness alongside local noise trio Unholy 2, whose members also put Deaf Wish up for the night. Indeed, it wasn't until a European tour the following year that Parker started to feel entirely comfortable exerting himself, unlearning some of previous bassist Nick Pratt's parts and injecting his own personality into the material.
“The idea of being in the band was exciting, but at the same time I was quite terrified. I hadn't sung in a band before. I hadn't written lyrics, really. Playing bass in a band was new to me; I'd been a drummer pretty much exclusively before that,” said Parker, noting his initial discomfort was entirely self-inflicted (“They were always welcoming”). “So there were all these new sorts of things. … Since then it's been a gradual process of finding my place and finding the confidence to start contributing.”
The first song Parker penned lyrics for was Lithium's “Metal Carnage,” a tense ripper with lyrics inspired by an intense mental experience the bassist experienced while driving in the French backcountry on tour.
“I remember Jensen talking about a war history book and getting some image and trying to create that musically and lyrically, and I think that approach works for me to an extent,” said Parker, whose song makes lyrical reference to “metal carnage” as the guitars mimic a high-speed highway pileup.
Regardless, Parker said he actually enjoys playing slower, grander songs like “The Rat Is Back” as much as the band's noisier cuts — “Deaf Wish has been the best band I've toured in because it's not as predictable as playing in a punk and hardcore band; we get to play with a broader range of styles,” he said — noting the band's evolution follows lock-step with his own musical progression.
“Around the time they were doing the first Deaf Wish album, I was playing in a hardcore band … based on that fast, abrasive U.S. hardcore from the '80s,” he said. “That, to me, was a huge release: Playing these 30-second or minute-long songs that were really fast and loud, with piercing guitar that these days I probably wouldn't have the patience or tolerance to listen to.”
At that, Parker paused and laughed before continuing.
“Maybe don't put that in there. It makes us sound old or something,” he said. “But, to that end, I'm thinking the next phase of the band is going to be a little more considered. The way we're going is we're trying to make vocals and songwriting and narrative and that kind of thing a little bit more of the focal point rather than going and just blasting it out.”