Snowman – Haunted by dire visions

July 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, July 11, 2008.

Snowman’s second album is tempered by dreams of the end, writes Dan Rule.

THE Horse, the Rat and the Swan is hardly in need of explanation. You just need to listen, to feel, to cower beneath the swathes of cavernous, visceral noise.

Only eight seconds and nine stark lashings of a snare drum into the second record from Perth quartet Snowman, and the world starts fraying at its seams. A bolt of guitar-led dissonance tears into frame; a screaming, hollering voice follows. Layers of bass in keys and ambience bleed in beneath.

Later there are other voices � softer, female � floating and lilting atop the din. There are tape loops, screeches of feedback, the distant echo of a melodica. There is an earth-shattering finale of guitars and voice and drums, and it is over.

“A lot of the things that were coming out in the songs were paranoias and fears,” says Joseph McKee, staring intently into mid-distance. “Kind of these nightmares I was having of the apocalypse.”

We’re sitting in a crowded Brunswick cafe on the eve of The Horse, the Rat and the Swan’s release and the band’s imminent relocation to London, and the wiry 23-year-old front man and guitarist is a picture of calm. Even though, much like his band’s new opus, McKee seems to have pressing things on his mind. “We’re constantly barraged with these visions of the end of the world, you know, and you just can’t escape these images,” he says. “You turn on the f—ing TV, open your laptop, pick up your mobile phone and there are just these visions of the end.

“It’s inevitable that you’re going to think about these things and your subconscious is going to start ticking over,” he pauses.

“I was just dwelling on those visions too much and I was indoors a lot and only working on songs, and it really did consume me. A lot of this record was just me writing down these visions and dreams, and exorcising those burdens.”

Revolving around three central character motifs � the horse being that of the apocalypse, the rat of betrayal and corruption, and the swan of release and realisation � the album sets a stunning new precedent for the band. Having formed in high school, they made a huge impact in 2006 with the chaos-strewn post-punk, spooky noir-esque inflections and spaghetti western-isms of their self-titled debut, going on to tour with the likes of Interpol and the Drones and earning critical praise.

But The Horse, the Rat and the Swan sees the band tightening their focus. Over an unrelenting nine tracks and 38 minutes, Snowman manage to subtly assuage their jarring, noise-drenched sound with underlays of ambience, drone and atmosphere. The effect is startling.

“We were kind of militant in our restraint,” says McKee. “We wanted to make every part really significant, and that was really about taking things away, rather than throwing everything at it.”

Indeed, according to McKee, who was sharing a house with bandmates Andy Citawarman and Olga Hermanniusson throughout the writing and recording process (drummer Ross Diblasio was residing a few doors down), the album was the result of an intense, factory-like discipline.

“I think it’s probably a common thing for a first album to have every idea thrown in and for it to be a bit all over the place. It was kind of about piling on ideas and fleshing out a skeleton, whereas this record was all about removing some of the bones and fracturing some of those bones and rearranging them in a different way; just really honing them to the apocalyptic vision from which the songs originally came.”

And it’s with this vision that Snowman � each of whom were raised in expatriate families � will be leaving for the more wintry environs of London next month. But, as McKee explains, the end of their tenure in sunny Perth isn’t quite as dour and dystopic as their record might imply.

“We’re just travelling and doing our own thing and then we’ll think about what we want to do next,” he says. “After all this talk of the apocalypse, I think we deserve to have a little break.”

Snowman play tonight at the Corner Hotel.

The Horse, the Rat and the Swan is out through Dot Dash/Remote Control.

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