Crooked Colours are an alternative electronic dance trio from Perth, Australia who have received more than 200 million worldwide streams since their formation in 2013. We spoke with lead singer Phil Slabber and drummer Liam Merrett-Park shortly after the release of their latest single, “No Sleep” in March.
Congrats on the new single. I’m guessing we might be able to expect a new album in the not-too-distant future?
Phil: Yeah. That’s pretty much what we’ve been working on for the last maybe 18 months. And then obviously 12 months ago, everything got a little bit upheaved, so we all moved back to Perth. So yeah, for the last eight months we’ve been all together in Perth just working on music, we haven’t been able to do much else. So definitely an album coming.
Awesome. Prior to COVID, you obviously spent a bit of time touring America. I’m just curious if as a band, you ever debated the spelling of your band name, given Americans spell ‘colours’ without the letter U?
Liam: (Laughs) No. We’re very used to having the U. It makes it a little bit of a talking point while we’re over there.
Phil: Yeah and to be honest, we’ve never had any problems with it, we’ve never gotten to a venue and it’s been spelled wrong or anything like that so –
Liam: I do like it when they go, “Oh it’s because you’re Australian.”
Phil: Yeah. Nah, we like keeping it.
Heat’s the big thing… the sun really fucks with electronics. So the only issues we’ve really had has been at festivals where stuff sits in the sun and it just starts melting down.
Nice. Represent. You must be excited to get back into live shows after taking so much time off. I’m curious if you’ve ever had any issues with backing tracks not working in a live setting? What do you do or what would you do in that situation if it were to occur?
Liam: We’ve definitely had issues in the past.
Phil: We had one, one time we had a really big issue, but it was more so to do with just the set up in general just miscommunicating with a lot of the stuff on stage. Heat’s the big thing, if you’re ever sitting at a festival or playing an outside show, the sun really fucks with electronics. So the only issues we’ve really had has been at festivals where stuff sits in the sun and it just starts melting down.
Liam: We were at The Corner and we swapped from USB to Thunderbolt, Firewire?
Phil: Oh yeah.
Liam: That was a massive difference.
Phil: That was a big difference. Yeah.
Liam: When we went away from USB-A.
Phil: Yeah. But basically, yeah. The biggest thing is usually not so much the machine it’s the environment that it’s in. So that’s the only time we’ve had issues, but touch wood we haven’t had one in a long time. Let’s keep finger’s crossed.
Phil, in a 2014 interview, you commented that it’s pretty easy getting bored with what you play live, just because you do it like 10 times in a row. So I’m curious all these years later, how do you keep things fresh and interesting for yourself hundreds of shows later?
Phil: I think now there’s a much bigger response to when we do play live, because obviously it’s more prestigious venues and bigger crowds, so the reaction and the experience is a lot more engaged. Which makes what you’re playing less important, I think in terms of boredom and what’s exciting.
Liam: I feel like you could never get tired of that energy. When you play one of the biggest songs that people are dancing to and vibing to, I think that’s just electric. And that feeling for me does not diminish at all. But definitely in 2014 we were playing to, like, no one (laughs).
Phil: Yeah, I think when you’re grinding away it becomes – you start looking for ways to make it a little bit more exciting but I think we’re at a stage now where the excitement level’s enough.
I find it interesting that I’m speaking to you both in the same place at the moment. Did you say at the top of the interview that you’ve been working on an album in the same location, is that correct?
Phil: Yeah. It’s the first time in five years that we’ve all lived in the same city. Probably steps apart.
Liam: It was just an accident.
Phil: Yeah. It really was.
Liam: Phil was in LA, Leon was in Perth and then COVID happened. Phil, you came back to Perth, but I was still in Melbourne and I wasn’t going to come back, but then I came back for a show and then just got stuck here. And then I’ve been here since.
Phil: Yeah, just haven’t left (laughs).
Liam: (Laughs) Purely by accident.
It wasn’t so much like we couldn’t work together. It was more like we worked a lot better when we worked separately on stuff.
Yeah. I guess I find it really interesting given in a 2018 interview – and unfortunately the publication didn’t attribute this quote to a specific band member – someone said, “We don’t work that well in the studio together. We just want to get all our ideas out there and it gets a little messy.” How do you resolve disputes among yourself in that studio setting? Was collaborating remotely on your previous album the only viable path forward as a band at the time?
Phil: It wasn’t so much like we couldn’t work together. It was more like we worked a lot better when we worked separately on stuff. And now the scenario that we have now, we actually have our own studio spaces within the studio. So we rarely sit together in the room working on something at the same time, which we’ve never really been able to do. It’s more just a workflow thing. Like, if one person’s on the computer doing whatever they’re doing, you kind of want to get the ideas out and work on stuff like that. What we end up doing, is either we work separately on songs or one of us will work on a song and then finish the parts that we wanted to finish then we just give it to one of the other members and they complete their parts.
Liam: But we’ve always run on a voting system.
Phil: Yeah. Helps that there’s just three members and not four or two.
Liam: Yeah. It’s always two versus one.
Sure. That sounds fair. Now, Phil, I was curious, are you solely responsible for the lyric writing?
Phil: No, I do the majority on some of the songs, but in this last few tracks I’ve had sessions with other writers as well. Mainly in terms of melody writing, I’ve found that over the last two of our albums I’ve kind of fallen into the pattern of writing the same vocal melodies for the production that we’re doing. So we’ve done that. And then it also helps just to work on the experiences and stuff that the other band members have had as well. So when we do come down to writing it we usually go and speak to Leon and Liam and ask what their feelings are about a certain situation, or if they have emotive stuff they want to talk about stuff. And then I usually just write stuff down and bring it to me.
Liam: And then Phil puts it all together. Good collator.
I’ve found that over the last two of our albums I’ve kind of fallen into the pattern of writing the same vocal melodies for the production that we’re doing.
I was reading through some of your lyrics on paper recently. It reads as though you might be singing to a singular person in many of your songs. Is that intentional? Is it a technique that you’re trying to utilise? Do you perhaps have a singular person or character in mind when you’re writing? Or does it sort of vary from song to song?
Phil: Usually, when we are writing something, it’s about a specific scenario or a specific relationship that we have. And I think writing in first person is generally probably the most connectable to an audience. People can usually relate to something in their own lives when it’s from a first person point of view. And that’s usually what comes easiest as well.
I understand that you’re all avid readers. I’m just curious what you may have been reading recently and who are your biggest literary influences?
Phil: We read a lot of fantasy books.
Liam: We nailed our heart on fantasy.
Phil: Yeah, we nailed our heart on fantasy.
Liam: Patrick Rothfuss.
Phil: Yep, we’re big Patrick Rothfuss fans, The Name of the Wind. The last book I read was a book called Dark Matter. But I can’t remember who wrote it. But…
Liam: You want to read June.
Phil: Oh yeah, I want to read June, but it seems like a massive book. So I might just do a synopsis on YouTube or something. Take the coward’s way.
And Liam I understand that you’re a fan of This American Life. I was wondering if either of you have been getting into any other podcasts recently?
Liam: Yeah, I actually, I listened to the podcast quite a bit. I really like that Dax Shepard, Armchair Expert one and No Such Thing as a Fish, Off Menu with James Acaster, Louis Theroux, Grounded.
Phil: You used to listen to a lot Reply All.
Liam: Reply All, yeah.
Phil: Basically anything to keep us engaged, when we’re in tour van.
Phil: The History of Rome. That’s really good. But I don’t really do crime.
Liam, you once said that Triple J support “really, really helps” and you “can’t imagine what it would be like without it”. I’m just wondering if, as a band you feel any sense of pressure to follow trends in pursuit of airplay?
Liam: I think at the start, it was just extremely exciting. I remember when we got our first play and we were just, we couldn’t believe it. It just felt really good to have that support. And then I do think at the start, we weren’t conscious of making music for Triple J, like conscious of the level of support we’re going to get from them. And so you were, there was a little bit of not anxiety, but you’re just waiting and hoping that they’re going to help push you because it – just, it helps so much, especially in the early stages. But I’d say now it’s not really…
Liam: It definitely doesn’t have the same weight or impact that it used to, but it’s really good when someone does help support and push you, it’s a nice feeling, but yeah, we definitely don’t write for that.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Liam: Well, I really like “Supersonic” by Oasis, but not because I can sing it (laughs) because I can’t sing it at all.
Phil: Yeah. I don’t really have a go-to, but there’s, the most fun I’ve ever had in a karaoke booth is when we did “Bohemian Rhapsody” and not because I was singing it either, it’s because everybody in the room was singing it.
If you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, who would it be and what would you create?
Liam: Recently, massive fan of Slowthai. He’s done some really good collabs, which I would love to jump on as well.
Liam: There’s one with Mura Masa, “Deal Wiv It”, is our like, big gee up song at the moment.
Phil: Yeah big gee up song.
Liam: Love to work with him.
Phil: Yeah, that would be cool. I think for me, there’s a director called Romain Gavras who does really incredible film clips. I’d love for him to do a film clip for us.