Some years in the making, The Laurels’ debut album Plains was almost washed away in a flash flood during its final stages of completion. Save for the heroics of producer Liam Judson wading across a raging causeway clad only in his underpants and holding the master tapes high above his head, it may never have seen the light of day.
Through years of touring and shows with the likes of The Black Angels, Wooden Shjips, Swervedriver, Low and Tame Impala, The Laurels have developed a solid reputation as one of the country’s best live bands. In 2011 they were nominated as Best Live Music Act in the SMAC Awards (Sydney Music, Arts & Culture Awards), Best New Talent in the AGE EG Awards and made it to #4 in the Best Live Band category of the Mess + Noise Readers Poll.
Whilst notoriety as a floppy haired sonic assault machine was flattering, it felt incomplete to the band, and instilled the desire to showcase their songs as they were meant to be heard. Although The Laurels have given new meaning to the words ‘highly anticipated album’, Plains is the album they’ve been wanting to make for years.
Gerald Murnane’s novel ‘The Plains’ provided inspiration for the album’s title and Plains is The Laurels’ “Second great age of exploration”, a search for meaning in an abstract, indefinite space; a reflection of interminably long drives from show to show through Australia’s rural landscape; the feeling that anything is possible but not quite knowing how to make it happen.
Intended as an homage to bands who made the recording studio their own, with an emphasis on the dualism of their live act and recorded discography, The Laurels decided to reveal what had been shielded behind their wall of white noise on Plains. Producer Liam Judson (Belles Will Ring, Cloud Control), a long-time friend of the band who helped with the recording of their acclaimed 2011 debut EP Mesozoic, was the man to dismantle The Laurels’ wall of sound brick by brick, and also the man with inroads into rural New South Wales’ short-term rental market.
Recording took place in two bursts over 10 days: initially over one weekend in an isolated cottage in the imaginatively named ‘Big Hill’ in the misty southern highlands of New South Wales, and then over another eight days outside a town called Wollombi, at the southern tip of the Hunter Valley. A sprawling farmhouse set in a lush valley adjacent to a narrow creek became the studio. Recording was limited to daylight hours after a deceptively polite threat was phoned in from times of cowboy justice to “send my husband over” if the band didn’t turn it down.
One of the biggest challenges for The Laurels was transitioning their live sound into their recorded sound. Rehearsals were constant and grueling, arrangements were often contentious, songs were torn apart and stitched back together in increasingly beguiling forms until slowly, something solid and compelling began to distinguish itself from the confusion.
Over the album’s 10 songs, dual guitarists and vocalists Piers Cornelius and Luke O’Farrell distort, wind and loop their formidable guitar sounds around the driving bass of Conor Hannan and unwavering drums of Kate Wilson, highlighting both the depth and the breadth of The Laurels’ songwriting.
Plains opens with the fuzzed out, sprawling guitars of ‘Tidal Wave’ then plunges head first into dangerous terrain with the visceral ‘Changing The Timeline’. The dreamlike states of ‘Glacier’ and ‘Mesozoic’ are interwoven with the snarly edge of ‘One Step Forward (Two Steps Back)’ and the anthemic, driving pop of ‘Manic Saturday’, while album closer ‘A RIVAL’ sounds as epic on record as it does closing out The Laurels’ live set.
Although the recording of Plains began in brilliant sunshine, the remainder was completed in a week where New South Wales experienced its most significant flooding in recent history. As the record slowly took shape, the creek surrounding the makeshift studio began to rise and things started looking a little dire. Predictably though, a band with a name symbolising peace and victory was always going to make it out in the end. The master tapes were transported safely across the flooded causeway, Liam Judson is free to wander the Earth wearing only his underpants for many years to come and The Laurels will finally release their debut album.