After a ten year hiatus, The Lovetones are back with their new album ‘Myriad’, and it’s like they never left. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Matthew J Tow has got the band together again and the signature 12 string sparkle and melodic mastery are to the fore.
Completely steeped in a shimmering cloak of chiming guitars and melody, this is a fantastic return from an iconic Australian band. If there’s one thing Australian indie guitar-driven bands have done well, it’s the ability to rejuvenate and augment a sixties-flavoured paisley-tinted genre of psych – from The Stems, The Hoodoo Gurus, The Triffids, The Scientists, Tame Impala and Tall Tales and True from the west of the continent to The Church, Died Pretty, The Vines, The Clouds, Youth Group and Rat Cat (to name but a few) in the east. The Lovetones are an integral part of such a movement – and a veritable institution.
There is a connection to the legendary Brian Jonestown Massacre – Tow is a friend and collaborator with Anton Newcombe – and there is certainly a harmony in the sixties-tinged sounds of both bands.
Opening track ‘The Circle Turns’ is a slow burning fuse that simmers along in a majestic flow, themed on the inevitable cycle of life and fate – ‘a myriad of beauty and despair’ – and layered with gorgeous guitars and piano. It is moving stuff and a powerful reminder of why Tow is such a vital songwriter.
Tracks ‘About The Girl’ and ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness/Caylus 74’ underline why Rolling Stone magazine compared Tow to Ray Davies and Lennon and McCartney: there is undeniably a Lennon-esque timbre to Tow’s voice but the imperial beauty and delicateness of the melody and lyrics are unique and moving. The latter song embodies the humanity and optimism Tow expresses in his lyrics: a certain amount of welcomed naivety and devotion, a kindness so often missing in the contemporary world. ‘About the Girl’ is a sixties-infused peon to unrequited love and obsession accompanied by a suitably psychedelic video:
‘Everything You Ever Had’ is another imposing, moving anthem: impossibly tender lyrics that drive the emotional music and quickens the heart. ‘Rescue’ has all the hallmarks of The Lovetones – chiming jangling guitars, layered harmonies with a sweeping melody. Again Tow’s endearing sense of hope and joy shine through the melancholic tone – a satisfying tension indeed.
‘Modern Life is Killing Me’ darkens the tonal mood slightly with Tow’s railing against the vicissitudes of the contemporary world – backed by a gorgeous string sweep and a far more dirty guitar sound, but leavened by a certain self-deprecatory tone.
‘Myriad’ is a profoundly enjoyable experience: delicate, intricate, romantic and melodic. Certainly rooted in a Beatles-esque era, The Lovetones have an inherent ability to nod at the past but look forward to the future. This is songwriting of the highest degree.
I threw some questions at Matthew J Tow.
Thanks for chatting with Backseat Mafia. You’ve been away from The Lovetones for ten years – what’s been happening in-between and what has brought you back?
I decided back in 2010 to take a break from anything Lovetones related. It seemed like it was a good time to set the Lovetones aside for a while and I wanted to work on some different projects. I kept making music even though I didn’t really perform many shows. A retrospective of Lovetones material ‘Provenance’ was released afterwards and there was the odd solo appearance and a couple of solo records which kept me busy.
My first solo record ‘The Way of Things’ came out in 2013 and I ended up touring on the US west coast for that release. I recorded another record ‘Shadows’ Reign’ released in 2016. The years after that I was just being a dad and working and then realized one day something was really missing and I started to write again. You can only take the sailor away from the sea for so long. The sea will eventually always call you back. 3 years later it eventually tuned out to be new Lovetones record.
After a spell in iconic inner city of Sydney bands like Drop City, you made the decision to relocate to LA in 2003 – what prompted this move?
By 2000 Drop City was all but over. Our label Red Eye Records had been swallowed up by Universal Records and I decided I didn’t want to play the major label game. We ended up doing another album but the interest and enthusiasm had waned and the band had begun to implode. It just didn’t feel the same anymore. It was a tough decision to finish up Drop City, I still hear lots of people love the band but It was new Millenia and I felt like I had accomplished everything I could with DC.
During the late 90’s Anton Newcombe and I had been keeping in regular touch with each other and he wanted me to come over and be in the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I felt like I had nothing to lose and so throwing all caution to the wind, I took off to the States to join them. Musically speaking it would turn out to be a defining moment in my life.
Are you back in Sydney now? (If so) Has Sydney changed for you?
I never really left Sydney to be honest. When The Lovetones were touring extensively in the mid 2000’s, L.A did become our home away from home and we may as well have been living there for the amount of time we were spending there! We have great friends in the U.S and it really felt like an important musical movement was taking shape and somehow we landed right in the middle of it.
This was the time when the new psyche scene didn’t exist the way it does now. It was the beginning of all that and we were riding the small wave that spawned the avalanche of new psyche bands. In the end though, It was impossible for us to keep that touring going. I ended up in a lot of debt and broke and that’s when I decided to have a break. Sydney is always changing, but I never get sick of it funnily enough. I grew up in the inner west, and I have never really left it. I always come back and no matter how busy and expensive it gets, It’s where my heart is and it’s where I’ll stay.
You have been likened to singers/songwriters like Ray Davies, Bowie, Lennon and McCartney: is this a curse or a blessing?
When it comes to songwriting, I am but a fly on the back of a buffalo compared with those guys.
What have been your biggest influences? What are you listening to now – any recommendations?
I suppose I have always been interested in 60’s music, but I started out getting serious about music with a fascination with bands like The Cure, The Smiths, REM etc in the late 80’s. I still love all those bands, but as I delved deeper over time, the 60’s thing grew stronger and I wanted to explore that era more than any other.
It is still so fascinating to me how so much incredible music was released in that time. The music is still so important! I’m still discovering so much. It’s a rich well. It’s impossible knowing where to start when it comes to current influences but you name it.. Indie to experimental, Eastern, world, ambient and folk is where I’m at.
You are famously associated with a productive and creative spell with the legendary Brian Jonestown Massacre (with song-writing credits on …And This Is Our Music): how was it to work with the notoriously challenging Anton Newcombe? Is ‘notoriously challenging’ the right epithet?
Notoriously challenging is a fair way to put it I guess. I look at it this way. Anton has been my friend for a long time. In fact I could say he is one of the great friends in my life. He went out on a limb for me and helped me spread The Lovetones music. Challenging, yes, but no more challenging than regular family members can be at times or long term friendships and relationships that exist in ones’ life. In many ways he has been one of the most loyal friends I have ever known.
When it comes to working with him, I never found it too difficult apart from some differences here and there. That’s to be expected and it’s fair enough. I know I have pretty set ideas too and so do most musicians I know, so no surprises there. Anton makes great music and that’s what I fell in love with. A lot of the craziness around that band was like water off a duck’s back to be honest and it didn’t worry me being around that. Working with him was sometimes tough but it should be like that and I wouldn’t have expected any different. The end results always make the struggle worthwhile.
Who is in the band now – any changes?
The band has the same lineup as before. Christopher Cobb on drums, Liam Judson on Guitar and Matthew Sigley on bass. Michaela Davis sat in on bass for the last few shows we did.
What can you tell us about the new album?
The new album for me feels more like a new beginning in some ways than just a continuation of what we have been doing in the past. The making of the new album found me at the crossroads and with each possible avenue laid out in front of me, so too a myriad of possible outcomes. A synthesis of all that unfolded in my life during the 10 years since Lost was released.
A lot has changed but I think our distinctive sound still remains. Making the album helped me get through. I had no idea how it would sound. There was no plan. Just go in and make music. I would turn up to the studio once every while when I had some spare money to burn and work with Tim Kevin co-producing and engineering and we would just see what happened. He had as much a role to play as myself and would be happy to try anything. There was no strict time frame and It was a great way to work. I was in no hurry.
Appropriate to the name of the band, I detect a great deal of romanticism and hope in some of the songs in the album. Are you feeling positive?
Sure, I’m a romantic from way back! Haha. I guess that’s a good thing when the listener gets a sense or mood from the songs. I haven’t thought too much about it though, but I like to think some of my songs have a romantic, poetic quality to them. A positiveness? I’m not sure. The way I feel about things changes everyday like the winds inside a sail man…
Is it still fun being in the music industry?
I’ll quote Tom Waits for this one. ‘You have to keep busy. After all, no dog’s ever pissed on a moving car’
You played recently with the Underground Lovers – how did it feel to be back on the road? Were you pleased with the reception?
Yeah, it was fantastic to have the opportunity to play some shows with those guys again. Drop City and Underground Lovers used to tour together quite a bit in the 90’s so it was like spending time with old friends. I admire that band so much and they are still so great. I say to people, that I can’t believe that they are just getting better and better with every year with and every album. They are one of the great Australian bands who have transcended the decades.
Any tours planned to launch the album?
Yes, we will be performing some shows in Australia for the release. We have the record release launch planned for June in Sydney and are currently talking with the label to work out a U.S tour for later in the year!
What’s next for The Lovetones?
More music. Now we have started again, I can’t see us stopping anytime soon…
Many thanks. Peace
Feature Photo: Arun Kendall