Music / Features
No Expectations -
Pop Filter on Pop Filter
Words by James Lynch
Interview by Nick Kearton and Liam Halliwell
Tuesday 22nd September, 2020
Defying the project’s ‘blank-slate’ approach, Pop Filter’s debut album Banksia plays as a beaming celebration of friendship through pop song - blurring jangling guitars and giddy hooks into moments of instantaneous joy and unfiltered sincerity. To get to know the friendships that define Pop Filter a little better, we had the band’s Nick Kearton and Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell interview each other, to pick apart the record and each other.
In an interview surrounding Banksia’s release last month, Lachlan Denton described the project as a “men’s shed’ of a band”. It’s an almost unflattering descriptor, but one that works well - the group serving as an opportunity for its six members to continue to make music, distinct from larger ambitions while still acknowledging and celebrating their shared history. It’s almost an afterthought that this collective have been responsible for some of the most compelling music to come out of Australia in the past decade.

It’s fitting then, that familiarity plays as much a part here as experimentation. As with their previous music, Lachlan manages to score the album’s most wide-eyed pop moments (even if one track here is a cover), Snowy’s tracks play into his captivatingly haphazard tendencies, and Mark Roger’s contributions are still anchored by his sharp eye for detail and subtlety.

However, there’s a giddy, unrefined charisma that shines throughout the entire album, and this rough-around-the-edges charm makes the listen as forthright and affecting as it is thrilling. We can hear that there’s six distinct voices bringing these songs to life, but it’s just as much the sound of a group of friends leaning on each other, as they explore their camaraderie and uninhibited creativity simultaneously.

In the spirit of Banksia, we gave Nick and Liam the reins to do whatever they wanted with this interview and here’s what they came up with.
Nick interviews Liam

N: My uncle once told me to never learn to carve a roast, because it means you'll always be in the kitchen carving while everyone else enjoys themselves at the table. I feel like you engineering, mixing and mastering the Pop Filter record is essentially that scenario. Do you enjoy the responsibility of it, or would you like Curtis to do it next time so you can kick back and play switch?

L: Your uncle has a bad attitude. I resent his laziness and that he’s been a bad influence on you. I’ve really enjoyed doing all of the recording, mixing and mastering of the couple of albums we have in the can so far. I think it’s a really psycho process, especially the constant revolving door of people taking turns recording their parts. As much as I’m proud of shouldering the responsibility of that side of things, it’s also a good way of avoiding any other sort of meaningful role. While you and Lachlan do all of the organising and running around and Mark cooks delicious food I get to what comes most naturally to me -  which is sit quietly at my computer. Considering our last two recording getaways had no phone reception I would have been really bored anyway as I’m pretty reliant on online gaming. I’ve since struck a deal with Curtis though, promoting him from “band funny guy” to “recording engineer” which means I’ll get to kick back, play Fortnite and maybe even contribute some music. 

N: While we're on the topic of your production work, is mastering real or do you just turn the volume up a bit and charge people a few hundred bucks?

L: Oh yeah, mastering is a real thing, but when I do it I don’t turn up the volume OR charge hundreds of dollars. If you’re after the cheapest and quietest masters on the market, hit me up.

N: On a more serious note, Pop Filter is a very different project to what The Ocean Party was on a number of levels and our lives are all very different now to what they were a few years ago. What are your expectations of Pop Filter, or what is the idea of this band for you?

L: The Ocean Party was an unstoppable cycle of a bunch of different processes. We’d play shows, write songs, hang out and record, release something, then hang out and play shows, starting over again. My feeling was that there was a momentum that came from being an established and prolific band that fed back into itself. By the time we made our 8th album it didn’t feel like there was any external pressure to do so, or for us to even make something that might perceived as “good”. At that point I was pretty excited to be making, for it’s own sake, what I considered our most indulgent and personal music and I was actually excited by the fact that it might even be considered “bad”. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was really invested in the continuation of the band at all costs, for it’s own history’s sake. Of course, without Zac there is no “The Ocean Party” and none of us had any interest in continuing that name for its own sake. 

I have no expectations of Pop Filter. I prefer not to think about it beyond getting to spend time with my friends. 

N: You play guitar in Pop Filter and in Snowy Band, yet you were recently added to the 'Bass Friends' group on the internet. Do you feel at all like an imposter given you don't really play bass in a band anymore? Do you miss bass?

L: Bass guitar is a dumb instrument that was invented for stupid babies too dumb to play more than four strings at once. I don’t miss it, especially because I still play bass in a couple of bands. I love bass. In fact I even played bass on a few of the songs on the Pop Filter record including one of your songs, Nick. That was when I decided to give up the bass for good.

N: Your track ‘DVD (Menu Screen)’ is really scary. Did you deliberately make the music scary to suit the scary lyrics or vice versa? Or was it a coincidence?

L: Seeing as I’d written nothing and brought nothing to the recording session, my brief for recording this song was for to play one note (A) on the bass for four minutes and for Lachlan to do the biggest, dumbest drum fills he could come up with. It’s all just funky guitars and bongos on top of that and then some pretty silly lyrics. I’m sorry that you got scared listening to this song.
Liam interviews Nick

L: Pop Filter is a very collaborative band, there are six songwriters and six contributors to each song. For some songwriters this might be a nightmare scenario but my approach has always been to arrive to recording without expectation, and more recently without any musical material at all. Do you like how your songs turned out? Was it what you were expecting or maybe worse?

N: Like you, for this album I turned up with close to nothing, so I had no expectations of how the songs would turn out, because they didn’t exist. I really like the process of just letting your friends turn your bird brain ideas into something more realised though, and it works well for me because I don’t have the ability to do it myself. I feel like I know what a good song sounds like, but I have no idea how to get it there, so I guess I’m just pleased to have songs on this record at all.

L: Apart from you, all of us in the band grew up in Wagga Wagga. You’ve spent some time there with us on tour and have heard countless stories from the rest of us. What are your favourite Wagga stories - anecdotal and historical?

N: To be honest, all the stories essentially blur into one for me, so it’s hard to pick out a favourite. I guess if I had to choose, it’s the one where Curtis watched The Ring, Lachlan got beat up, Zac went to Golden Seasons, Mark shat in the staff toilets because his Dad was the headmaster, Jordan’s brother blended up a Thai salad and drank it and you came second to Short Stack in a battle of the bands.

Oh and obviously the famous 5 O’Clock Wave. Hopefully this answer has been suitably inaccessible to anyone reading.

L: We joke a lot about the fact that we’re all old jangle guys now and that our music is grown-up and middle of the road. We don’t even post photos of ourselves online because there’s nothing sexy about six guys in their 30’s playing sincere indie music. You’re a pretty cynical guy, do think that we’re bound to this fate? Has your perception of what it means to be “in a band” changed?

N: Definitely, I think we’re bound by fate to make exponentially more boring records as we ourselves progressively become more boring. I think it’s fine though as my taste in music is becoming more mundane as I age, so I’ll keep loving whatever we make, even if I start to notice young indies snigger at us on the increasingly rare occasion we’re at the pub.

L: You’ve played in a bunch of different bands in your time - you contribute songwriting and vocals to select Pop Filter and Cool Sounds songs. Do you ever think about branching out into “Nick Solo” territory or do you think collaboration is a better way to express your songwriting generally?

N: Not really. Call me a leech, but I’m pretty content to ride the coattails of my more talented friends. This will come off as self-deprecation, but I’m a pragmatist when it comes to my own ability. I’m not a particularly creative or musically able, so I’m very fortunate to have inclusive friends who are more concerned with hanging out than being a successful band. I feel comfortable that I’m able to contribute to bands in other ways, but I’m really just happy to be along for the ride.

L: As a musician, I wanted to ask you about the “Coronavirus” (or “COVID-19”). What is it?

N: It’s in the eye of the beholder, ultimately. I personally like to think of it as a contagious virus, but I’m a ‘Lefty’, so I would think that.

L: Your track ‘Tried It Out’ is really scary. Did you deliberately make the music scary to suit the scary lyrics or vice versa? Or was it, shall we say, a coincidence?

N: As discussed, I have no agency over my songs, so safe to say that everything about it was deliberate and I’m a genius for executing my vision so precisely. It’s just a song at you’re really lame for being scared by it. Grow up.

Banksia is out via Osborne Again and Spunk Records - head to Bandcamp to grab the album on limited vinyl.