Music / Features
They Made Me Do It -
Talking Influences with GB3
Words by James Lynch
Tuesday 23rd November, 2021
Following the release of Sakura Flower earlier this month, we caught up with Glenn Bennie of Underground Lovers to dig into the influences behind his shapeshifting new record as GB3, alongside Steve Kilbey of The Church.
Eleven years on from their previous collaboration, Glenn Bennie and Steve Kilbey of The Church have once again joined forces to craft Sakura Flower. The album is the fifth under Bennie’s recording project GB3, a solo endeavour which has seen the Underground Lovers mainstay work with an extensive list of Australian music-makers, and this time around, the release is anchored by Glenn’s otherworldly soundscapes yet unravel around Steve’s brooding vocals and immersive lyrics.

Sitting enigmatically between dark indie-rock and ethereal shoegaze with moments of haunting electronica and psychedelic mixed in, Sakura Flower is a murky and enthralling listen. The opening combo of ‘When I Come Calling’, with its pulsating drum machine grooves, searing guitars and looming vocals, and the shimmering ‘Hey You’ instantly set the tone of what’s to come - it’s evocative yet just as unsettling, as Bennie and Kilbey’s distinct contributions perform a balancing act between dark and light that they pull off masterfully. From the humming synths and ebbing lilt of ’Synesthesia’, to the hazy psychedelia of the title track, and onto the uplifting instrumentation and fluid melodies that round out closer ‘No Goodbye’, it’s a vivid album that doesn’t mind throwing curveballs yet maintains plenty of heart to keep us engrossed.

We got in touch with Glenn to uncover a few of the key influences that shapes Sakura Flower into what it is.

TEAC Tascam 144 Portastudio (1979)
The TEAC Tascam 144 Portastudio was a four-track cassette machine used by just about everyone in the early 80’s. A lot of pre Underground Lovers’ songs were written by Vincent Giarrusso and myself using the Portastudio. Its main purpose was for demoing song ideas, although last year I released some of the ambient music that I recorded in 1986 on one of these machines and I think the most recent Claire Birchall album (which I love) was made using similar technology. (Bruce Springsteen made it famous by recording his album Nebrasksa on one). Although I didn’t record this album on a Portastudio (I kind of wish I had now), the 144 (and my past experiences recording on it) was an inspiration for the Sakura Flower tracking process. For the first time in a long time, I started recording at home, on my own, in the spare bedroom, plugged directly into my new recording software. I was reminded of my teenage days in my suburban bedroom, banging out ideas into the Portastudio. I wanted to use those memories to help create new work with a DIY feel. Everything on this album was recorded, mixed or mastered in someone's home. It is the way of the world now I know, but this process (as opposed to watching the clock in a professional studio) was impactful.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Architecture and Morality (1981)
This album from 1981 has influenced just about everything I have written and was a continued source of inspiration on this new recording. I love the way it uses synthesiser and drum machine mixed with traditional instruments. Its use of classic song structures, juxtaposed with moments of experimentation, certainly had a big effect on the recording of Sakura Flower. The way the new GB3 album moves from darkness to light, from pop structures to more abstract approaches, is thanks to the influence of this early OMD record. With Sakura Flower, tracks like ‘Compliance', 'Sakura Flower' and ‘Synesthesia' (and its reprise) are typical of this. I wore this record out when I bought it in 1982 and seeing OMD live at Melbourne University in the early 80’s was a real highlight for me.

Jack Frost - ‘Every Hour God Sends’ (1991)
For track one on the new GB3 album ('When I Come Calling’), Jack Frost’s 'Every Hour God Sends' was somewhat of an influence. Jack Frost was a band that Steve Kilbey had with Grant McLennan of the Go Betweens in the early 90’s. They made two albums and both were really varied and brilliant. 'Every Hour God Sends' is the opening track on their first self-titled LP. The track may not have been in the forefront of my mind when initially creating the music for 'When I Come Calling', but as the song developed, I started to hear the similarities in the driving beat and the angular delivery of guitars and vocals. I have always loved songs that build on repetition, and the end of this track especially, uses that approach to allow simple riffs and melodies to flow over the recurring bass and drums.

Microkorg (2002)
This instrument gets used quite a bit on the new album. Underground Lovers have two of these keyboards and we use them live for simplicity and portability. There are some great sounds in the Microkorg and I have used a few of them on tracks like ‘Synesthesia', 'La Musica', ‘Compliance', 'Synesthesia Reprise' and 'No Goodbye'. Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds is probably the most famous Microkorg player in the world, and you can hear a particular synth string sound he uses on a lot of recent Bad Seeds recordings. I used the same sound on the chorus of ‘Synesthesia’, so it's always had a Nick Cave vibe about it. We also use a swirling sequence sound from the Microkorg on the track, so our song is a bit more electro than Warren and Nick’s work. Still, if the Bad Seeds need a second Microkorg player, then please let me know. It’s a wonderful instrument to play and easy to carry around to gigs.
Sakura Flower is out now.
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Photo by Stephen McKenzie and Lisa Gibbs