In the words of the Foo Fighters, “in the end, we all come from what’s come before.” That’s certainly the case with Melbourne, Australia’s Pretty City.
With influences as varied as the psychedelia of the 1960’s, to the 90’s Grunge and Britpop sounds, these three talented guys enjoy experimenting with sound and compositions.
With a successful showing at last year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, and after releasing their first full-length album, Colorize, Pretty City (Johnny Rock – guitars/backing vocals, Johnny Rock – vocals/guitars, Drew Schapper – drums), is about to embark on their first trip to Canada. With dates in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 14, 15, & 16th), they’re topping off this visit to the Great White North with a Canadian Music Week Showcase in Toronto on Thursday, April 20th at the Smiling Buddha.
Recently, I connected with drummer, Drew Schapper via Skype to talk about their innovative sound, songwriting and where do they go from here.
Shannon: You guys come from very different musical backgrounds. What are they?
Drew: Myself, I started playing in hip hop bands when I was younger, this is the first rock n’ roll band I’ve played in, that’s just straight up rock n’ roll.
Hugh, our songwriter and lead singer, he comes from a shoegaze background. He was really into My Blood Valentine, and Johnny, our lead guitarist, he’s into the kind of power pop scene of the mid 2000’s. I like The Strokes, and bands like that.
Shannon: So, that completely explains your sound.
Drew: Yeah, it does. If you dig a little bit through our various influences, you can actually see things coming out quite obviously. We’ve dug into our interests to try and come up with something new and interesting, I hope.
Shannon: That’s how the sound came to be. Just a little bit from each of you.
Drew: Well, originally Hugh came to us ideas of how he wanted to sound. Sort of rough ideas of songs. Then we just started jamming. We had our first gig after like two rehearsals. The gigs were just jamming and finding our feet. Finally, over time we started to write more and more kind of pop structure. Hugh is the main song writer. He really comes to the band with the song laid out, then Johnny and I add our spin to it.
Shannon: One of the quotes from Johnny in your bio was, you wanted the music to speak for the band. What do you want your music to say about you guys?
Drew: I think it really conveys our personalities well. Hugh’s really kind of a deep thoughtful guy. Johnny’s a raging extrovert, hyper energetic, going all the whole time. I’m kind of like the diplomat, the measured one in the band. I think that there’s bits and pieces of that from everyone. Hugh has a really good ear for melody, but he’s quite introverted and really very thoughtful. Then Johnny’s also got a good ear for melody, but he comes in like a cyclone (laughs), comes in like a hurricane.
Shannon: I was surprised to learn you guys have only been a band for four years?
Drew: Yeah, four and a half years. We started in late 2012. But we didn’t really kick off till 2013.
Shannon: Your resume is already crazy. How did you get such a resume in just four years? Crazy work ethic? Lots of drugs?
Drew: It’s really not the drugs. Not as much as there should have been. (laughs) It’s definitely been a crazy work ethic, that’s for sure. The three of us, it’s like our third or fourth band. We kind of made a lot of mistakes. We’ve all been playing music in various bands since 15 or 16. Yeah, this one we just kind of hit the ground running, and try to avoid all the mistakes of past bands. We were kind of like the organized ones in previous bands, so the three of us together, are quite organized. The minute we got our first gig, we just hit the road up to Sydney and Brisbane, and just started playing as many shows as we could. When we got opportunities like with SXSW and CMW, we just decided to go, and take a big risk. We just say “yes” to everything. So, I think that’s helped us.
Shannon: Speaking of SXSW, was that your first trip to the US?
Drew: It was our first performance in the US, it wasn’t our first time there. It was the first-time touring, and it was really fantastic. SXSW was amazing, had such a great time there.
Shannon: I wanted to ask you about your time in Austin. Three Aussies in Austin, how did you find it there?
Drew: I tell ya what, I haven’t been to too many places I prefer over Melbourne, and Austin was probably right up there. You’re in the midst of this crazy festival, that you’re playing at, so it’s a bit of a hyper reality, but I really loved Austin. I think they really warmed to Australians over there.
Shannon: And now you’re coming to Canada. When are you guys leaving to head here.
Drew: We’re actually leaving the day after tomorrow. We arrive on Thursday, then getting straight into it, playing our first show in Montreal on Friday night, Quebec City on Saturday night, and Ottawa Sunday night, and onto CMW.
Shannon: Do you have expectations for any of the shows here, be it Montreal, Quebec City, or even CMW? Is there anything you’re nervous about? Or is it just another festival, or show?
Drew: Well, since we’ve never been, I’m a little bit anxious. I hope the shows go well. I guess, from everyone that I’ve spoken to about CMW, they said it’s really great. So, I’m really excited about that. I guess I’m just nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road, it’s cold over there, all that kind of stuff.
Shannon: Yeah, CMW is, I’m sure a lot like SXSW, with a very cool welcoming vibe for all things musicians. Have you looked at the schedule at all? Are there any other showcases you’d like to see, other artists you’d like to see perform?
Drew: Yep, absolutely. There’s a band from a town outside of Ottawa called Crown Lands. They’re a two-piece Canadian, sort of fuzz rock, bluesy band. I had a look at their stuff online, and they sound fantastic. I’m really keen to see them. I’m excited to see them because I think they’d work really well with us. I’m gonna to try and see Rush as well. Just because I figure that’s the last time I’ll only get to see them. I doubt I’ll get anywhere near them. But I figure it’s like SXSW, you have to cue up for the big international acts.[Our showcase] looks like a really good night. It’s sort of all kinds of grungy, psychic rock. I think it’ll be really good. I can’t wait.
I’m really looking forward to sort of just going into showcases I have no idea about. Just seeing Canadian bands and US bands and see what happens. Just bumble along, go venue to venue. That’s what I’m looking forward to, discovering new music, particularly stuff we might not get over here in Australia.
Shannon: Again, reading your bio, it was mentioned, you guys like pushing the artistic envelop. Colorize is certainly there. So, where do you go from here? What is pushing the envelope past Colorize.
Drew: That’s a very interesting question, and something we’ve been wondering about. So, we’ve been working on our second album. Colorize had a very distinct sound for me, it was a very washy sound, sort of big stadium, which I really like doing, but I think we can’t just release another album the same. We have to sort of change it up. So, when we went into the studio to record our second album, we went in there to do something similar, and it just didn’t work. So, we scrapped it, and started again. We did it all ourselves. It’s much more low-fi. We tried to hone in on song writing. Hone the song themselves, and production wise, try and make things sound a bit smaller. Which is probably where we’re at with our live performance. We’re just kind of backing things off a fraction, and not try to make that kind of bombastic sound. Just because the particular songs we’ve written really suit a more measured approach. So, that’s kind where we’re pushing the artistic envelope I guess is going a step back. A bit more 70’s, and bit more kind of small and seeing if the melodies can carry the message, rather than the energy.
Sometimes what’s old is new again, and Pretty City enjoy working with that idiom to push their artistic envelop.
Check out Pretty City at the following Canadian dates:
April 14th – M. Bar – Montreal, QC
April 15th – Le Sous-Sol Du Cercle, Québec, QC
April 16th – The Rainbow Bistro, Ottawa, ON
April 20th – The Smiling Buddha, Toronto, ON. 11pm – CMW Showcase.