“No, I’m not over it yet.”
The raw emotional power that radiates from every nook and cranny of their debut LP Distractions, released through the preeminent crew at LISTEN Records, reminds you that you’re smack in the middle of one hell of a ride. That ride is intensely intimate, characterised particularly by frustration, angst and loss. It’s no surprise then that we jumped at the chance to climb into the minds of two of Australia’s finest young musicians.
Over time we’ve seen Beloved Elk shift and change, all the while inextricably weaving themselves into the fabric of the Melbourne music scene. From slow nights at the Barley Corn Pub to the intensely visual Stargazed series, the emotional and artistic connection shared by Amy Wright and Tina Nguyen is humbling to witness first hand. They’re as strong a complement to each other as we’ve ever seen, which goes a long way to explaining the fascination and appreciation we have for their creative output.
Drawing on the progressive rock and punk sensibilities of The Clash, Dresden Dolls, and Dramamine era Isaac Brock, they saw some measure of success in the early days of 2016 with their Close EP.
“(Tina:) I found myself attached to a lot of Explosions In the Sky growing up, so you’ll hear a lot of that in “The Light Of Dead Stars” and in a few tracks off Distractions. It branched off into Do Make Say Think, which carry that same post-rock/ambient instrumental feeling. It’s varied, but I’ve kind of taken those and developed my own style where it’s dynamic, there’s those quiet moments building that build into big crashes.”
Their EP gave us a lot to be excited about. Each track was a complete thought and offered something different to the next. Close remained interesting throughout, and benefited from its brevity in that it never began to suffer from its general lack of overarching substance. Even “Made Out Of Glue”, which took over two years to write, feels complete and together, and never feels fragmented (two years is a long time for a song to lose its way). Given that there was only half that amount of time between the release of Close and Distractions, we were curious to figure out exactly how the album came together so quickly without feeling rushed, or without losing any of the production that made Close so enjoyable.
I had around thirty songs that had never been recorded so we sat down and grouped them into categories, and I found there were about fifteen songs that were just about loss and frustration.
“(Amy:) I was writing a lot of songs throughout the last few years. I wasn’t really sure what to do with them because they were falling all over the place. I think that was a little of what Close was, it was a tasting platter, five different tracks over five different genres without a solid theme. I had around thirty songs that had never been recorded so we sat down and grouped them into categories, and I found there were about fifteen songs that were just about loss and frustration. The rest were a bit folkier and not quite as emotionally charged. I re-arranged them all from scratch and we recorded the album over a month, which is why the release sounds really cohesive even though the songs were done over the course of a few years.”
From the opening cry on “Cold” to the lingering, take-me-home guitar of “To End”, Distractions continuously pulls at that pronounced thread of loss. This thematic cohesion pushes the release forward, always building on what came before, giving it an admirable momentum that carries the emotional message all the way through to its final, hanging ambience.
“(Amy:) I really wanted to make a frustrated, desperate, challenging album. If you listen to the story being told, it immediately starts off with this loss. That loss carries on throughout the album. You got through the opening of Cold, now you’re gonna listen to what I’m not over for the next eleven songs!”
Given how powerfully therapeutic this kind of artistic expression can be, we wanted to know if there had been any catharsis of sorts in the aftermath of the release.
“(Tina:) There was a lot of released tension. I voiced out a lot of what I was feeling at the time, and listening to the record now makes me feel out of place with it. I feel out of line with how I felt back then.”
Easily the most consistently enjoyable aspect of Distractions is basking in just how much sound two people can make. It’s pared right back in its instrumentation, yet it never feels thin or stretched out (a testament to the care in arrangement, really). This is in stark contrast to the output of some five-piece ensembles that have come through, where the lack of presence feels like they’ve only sent us the bounced output of the reverb unit.
“(Amy:) We have a lot of musician friends and we were often like, maybe we should get a friend to come in and sing, or play violin, or do this bass line and so on. But I think it’s very much a matter of pride to say we were able to make a really full alt-rock album with just the two of us.”
“(Tina:) We knew we could do it too.”
Distractions is an unashamedly emotional offering throughout and there’s a particularly fine example to be made of “Ninety-nine”. The track slowly works itself up to a point where it eventually fractures and spills over with the overwhelming noise and feeling we’ve come to love from the pair. It’s a perfect example of the complementary nature of the two minds at work.
“(Amy:) That’s the thing with us. I cannot drum, Tina doesn’t really like singing and being able to have that split where I really love singing and Tina really loves drumming, everything just works itself out in the middle. Tina wrote the guitar for “Ninety-nine”, then she had to teach me how to play it, I had to spend two days practising it so I could play it live while she drummed. Sometimes I really wish there were two Tina’s in the band!”
“Where there’s complete trust between two minds, you’ll find a healthy and honest flow of creativity.”
It’s not a complicated equation: where there’s complete trust between two minds, you’ll find a healthy and honest flow of creativity. Where there’s a healthy and honest flow of creativity, relating to the sound and story being told is a simple task. It may not seem like it sometimes, but people want to be immersed in art. Beloved Elk make doing so incredibly easy. As a band, as an artistic and emotional partnership, and even simply as friends, Amy and Tina are one of the most dynamic and exciting duo’s to come out of the Melbourne scene in quite some time.
We’re incredibly lucky that they took the time to satisfy our curiosities, it’s not everyday you get the chance to dissect the thought processes of two people with such a uniquely intimate sense of music and creativity. As their relationship continues to boom, so will we continue to see amazing things pouring from them and with a whole year ahead, we can’t wait to experience what else they have in store for us. We, The Wandering Lamb wish them all the best in their future endeavours.