Track by Track is our new music feature that finds an artists going deep into the origins of each song on their new album.
Australian indie trio Middle Kids today deliver their debut full-length effort, Lost Friends. Stream the whole thing below via Apple Music and Spotify.
None of singer/guitarist Hannah Joy, bassist Tim Fitz, nor drummer Harry Day come from a background of rock music. Joy started out singing four-part harmonies in churches before exploring dance pop, Fitz grew up surrounded by the rhythms of the Papua New Guinea jungle, and Day studied jazz at the Sydney Conservative of Music. Instead of a disadvantage, however, this distance from guitar-based indie allows them to approach their songs without the burden of preconceived notions. Thus, Lost Friends is loaded with booming rockers that effortlessly bridge a gap between Americana and indie in a way that seems completely natural.
“In a time where a lot of division is growing, we want to be part of the conversation that unites people around certain ideals that are universal, like hope and love,” Joy says in a press release. “That’s so much a thread throughout this album: Even though things are tough, it’s worth believing in something good and in the idea that we can heal. And in some ways, I wanted the music to be beautiful and a respite from what’s going on.”
Take a listen:
For more on Lost Friends, Middle Kids sat down with Consequence of Sound to break down the album Track by Track.
Hannah Joy: This song came together probably unlike a lot of the others on the album, because basically we bought a guitar pedal when we were in LA, and it’s called an M9, and it’s a mellotron pedal for your guitar and it can create all these different sounds. And I had it on like a cello sound, and I created this drone, which is the opening cello sound on “Bought It”. I just let it go for so long and built the whole song basically around this drone. So it was kind of cool because I think the sound inspired this song which is not a usual way for me to write songs, but I think what ended up happening was creating this atmosphere that kind of holds you for the whole song.
Tim Fitz: The thing I like about that song was the opening bit sounds nostalgic. It sounds like an old orchestra in a movie, and then there’s those weird bells, and you don’t really know what’s going on. And then it’s a song about seeing someone at a party, and it’s quite intimate and nostalgic and feels cool.
HJ: I think that it’s a good song lyrically for being the opener on the album, because it really sets a certain tone. I think that the strong message of the song is that constant thing we can do being like, “I’m fine,” and underneath it all we’re so not fine. A lot of the themes in this album are trying to work through the inner makings of a person, and their emotions and their framework and their belief system. “Bought It” is a cool way of starting off that premise of walking around trying to feel like we’re ok but actually we’re not sure if we are.
TF: Hannah, you were watching a lot of old TV shows when you wrote “Mistake”.
HJ: Actually, I think I was watching Dawson’s Creek. I think a lot of the emotions can be that nostalgic, even teenage coming of age experiences. So that’s a throwback. It goes back musically, probably Fleetwood Mac-y, even that era was big for us in terms of what we listened to. I remember when I was writing the song I was wanting it to be quite nostalgic, because when I was 14, 15 listening to songs that really kind of hit you in the gut, and you’re starting to go, “What is this world spectrum of emotion that I’m feeling?” You start getting surprised by the highs and the lows that you feel as a young person and so music really can have the ability to accentuate that. I was kind of wanting to explore that in my songwriting for this song.
TF: Because it came from that nostalgic, maybe adolescent innocent place, things aren’t so nuanced and you’re not so cynical then I think. So it is actually quite unashamedly emotional and doesn’t protect itself. And I like the drums.
Harry Day: It’s probably one of the more roomy sounds on the record. Everything else is a little more close marked. On this one we were kind of harkening back to more of a ’90s drum sound in some ways. Also, I think this song is typical of the tendency of Hannah’s lyrics to be quite observational and relatable, because I think everybody’s had an experience like that. I think some songwriters can share their experiences in an alienating way, but I think Hannah does it in a very inviting way.
HJ: It is kind of like putting it all out there, so I think it was important to then keep the guitars quite distorted, and even referencing that Sonic Youth sound, same with the drums. Keep that a little bit more dirty and grungy to offset, so it’s not just like here are my emotions, like insipid pop. To have those really driving drums and kind of grungy guitars you can also go into that places where they’re kind of working together but also in tension with each other to create an energy as well.
“Edge of Town”:
TF: I actually think that it is a really special song to us and we still love playing it and sometimes I wonder why do we still love playing this? But I just think there’s something special about it and every time I feel like we get to enter into the song when we play live as opposed to carrying the song.
HD: It’s also special because we recorded that song before we were even really a band. We were all doing different things. Then it was kind of there for awhile, even before we released it. It actually sort of set everything else in motion, the beginning of us finding our sound and of Hannah finding her writing voice for the band. Eventually it kind of lead to us being a band. I think it’s kind of special to play that. It is very much our origin.
TF: It’s so funny because in Australia we don’t have the country baggage. You guys have so much country music, like some really bad pop country stuff. We just don’t have that in Australia. So I think slide guitar is not as much of a cultural no-no or something, but at the same time, I’m not very good at slide guitar. So it’s a very simple part. So it had to be simple.
HJ: Also because Tim didn’t really grow up in country music it means that he’s used the instrument to the way his ear wants to hear it for the songs. He likes the sound, and we like the sound, then he’s adding it to a song that already exists. So that’s why I think it’s really cool because it’s not necessarily used in such a traditional way, but you’re kind of weaving around a song in a way that feels natural to you.
HD: Yeah, because if you’re entrenched in a tradition you can sometimes be limited by that. But you come to it from a different place there’s like a freedom.
HJ: When I was 17, I ended up moving with a family who was living there and I finished high school in Maryland. The song was actually more about where is home after I was living in Maryland. I was due to go back to Sydney and I felt like I had this really formative experience in Maryland. I felt a little bit like I didn’t know where I belonged at home in Sydney, that’s partly why I left. So then it was this feeling of not knowing where to go next, or what was home. Sydney was kind of home but I think I had this experience where I felt like Maryland felt more like home than I had in Sydney. It was trying to capture that where do I belong kind of thing.
It’s the people, I think. Often you feel at home depending on where you are in your relationships with people. If you feel a sense of understanding and belonging with a group of people, almost regardless of where you are, it can feel like home.
TF: That song was fun to record as well because it was a little bit different in pace, it’s a less intense song so you can relax into it a little bit more. We made these drumsticks that were like brushes but they were made out of a broom. We bought a broom, bunched together the straw, so the drums in the verses you can hear a rusty, straw sound on the drums which I think is kind of cool.
HJ: There’s another cool percussion thing in the second verse. Tim literally put a microphone on the table and got a guitar pick, and was just going tap tap tap. And in the second verse it kind of lifted a bit.
TF: Yeah, there is [a lot of that stuff in the album]. It’s kind of depressing how subtle a lot of it is, because there’s cool stuff.
“On My Knees”:
TF: There’s one line that has a certain effect on it, it’s called a micro shift. It’s kind of like a chorus. It’s on a few lines, we multilayered it. So all those out of phase frequencies could sound like a bell. But then there’s another guitar sound in the big choruses. It’s actually a clean sound that has a big reverb on it and a distortion pedal, so that’s why it doesn’t sound like a guitar, it sounds maybe more like a synth because by the time that it hits the distortion it’s just like a reverb echo and then the distortion adds this, it just fuzzed out to the max.
HJ: [So what you’re hearing is somewhere between that bass and that guitar] and all the sounds in between. It’s a very cathartic song. Just putting it all out there. It’s a very physical song to play, to sing. And then, of course, the big hits, all of us are going gung gung gung. It’s fun doing that altogether. It’s rare when you have moments where the rhythm sections and the guitars and just everyone is on the same rhythm.
TF: It was stolen from Broken Social Scene, kind of that grand guitar line.
HJ: It’s an image of when life can bring you to your knees or when you feel like your legs have been chopped out underneath you. The overarching thing is the experience of trying to submit your life to something that’s bigger than your individuality, and that can mean so many different things when you’re part of a group or a cause or whatever. When you bring what you have and pool it with what other people have, you create something that’s beautiful and bigger. It’s not just you anymore, it’s something. I think we’re all trying to figure out what we can be apart of and what we can get behind.
“Don’t Be Hiding”:
HJ: So much of the feeling of this song is probably from our marriage. We’ve been married two years. When you start sharing all of your stuff, you start seeing the gold but you also start seeing the garbage, the ugliness in each other, and it’s quite confronting. Moreso, the ugliness that you see in yourself that a person so close can bring out in you, to a point where you can’t actually hide it anymore. That was confronting for me, having that experience where Tim was like, “I still love you and I still choose you,” and then me for him, is like pretty incredible.
You can go out from that. The first verse is very clearly body image, and feeling like that’s a really big thing for young women, even men, wanting to speak into that, for all of us to find freedom beyond and acceptance in who we are in our beautiful bodies, regardless of things that we are still working on. The other verse is money; we’re in the West, and it’s always on our minds and it’s always this measuring thing of how we feel we fit in the picking order. Even if we try not to be like that, the society we live in is so like that.
HD: There’s a very strong impulse to hide when there’s something you don’t like about yourself, or are embarrassed or ashamed of, and as soon as you bring that into a safe place with someone or some people that you trust, it often disarms that thing and helps you overcome it, or just accept it. I feel like this is one of the songs that speaks about a wider n issue, more than a personal one, which is cool because it’s hard to do that in song form sometimes.
HJ: I wrote it and we just recorded it in a large room, [on] my childhood piano I grew up playing.
TF: Yeah, in our house. It’s old, it’s dark.
HJ: We were kind of tossing up even for a while whether we should put it on or not, but I think that it helped tie — well a lot of the songs help tie each other in. I think that that one helps “So Long, Farewell, I’m Gone”.
TF: It’s a depressing song, in lots of ways, but when I heard Hannah playing it, I was like, this is an absolutely beautiful song. It’s like a canyon, but you’re following the emotion or that idea of loneliness and loss to the endpoint, and that’s what that song feels like. That’s alluded to on lots of the songs on the album, but this is just that emotion, for one and a half minutes.
HJ: Yeah, it’s about death.
TF: Oh yeah?
HD: So weird, because I thought it was like “Hole”, that you can’t fill it up with another soul, like you can’t fill your heart up with another person. That’s one of the cool things about music is that meaning of its own for everyone who listens to it.
HJ: A lot of psychologists say that at the bottom of every fear is the fear that we’re going to die, so all of the anxieties that we have, it’s all wrapped up in our lives, and existing. It’s such a big song because it’s such a big thing, death. And I think that in many ways the album is a real fight for life over death, and even though we always have the presence of death, kind of nipping at our heels, it’s like how do we find life even though there’s that threat all the time?
HD: And you know, it almost feels like a dirge, because it’s just so stated, everything is on the beat, and it’s really, it’s almost like sluggish, almost like this funeral march. It’s like a slog, fighting against the fear, and it’s hard.
TF: I think the “Lost” is about angst and the pain on the album, and the “Friends” is about the relational aspect of the album. It wasn’t like, “This is the song that’s the distillation of the entire album,” because it’s kind of a weird song, but the theme of the song kind of felt like it fit the whole album.
HD: Yeah, it was actually really delicate to put this one together. A lot of the other songs came together naturally, like this is the logical groove. But there were parts of this where we were like, how do we play this?
TF: It’s funny, Hannah recorded the bass for this song but she was kind of behind the beat, because she plays upside down, because she’s left handed, and she also plucks it in a really big movement. It’s like clumsy slap bass, but that’s what sounds good on the track, so I had to copy her playing and then I was overdubbing the parts.. I thought it was really cool. I like the chorus because it’s got this rawness to some of the guitars that come in and that’s a really cool sound in the instrumental after the chorus. It starts as a folk song, but then morphs into something kind of weirder and cool.
HJ: And it’s got the ¾ feel, so it’s quite different.
TF: It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but I was trying to think about The Strokes in the chorus of it, like “I need to think about The Strokes and it won’t sound like The Strokes but it’ll land somewhere between this folky thing and The Strokes.” There was a thing where it was important for the drums to be really straight, but the guitars to be swung, so straight indie rock drums and more of a waltz-y swing-y thing with the guitar so they clash in together. It was just guitars and snare drum when [Hannah] gave it to me, and it was like I need to make this chorus super energetic, otherwise it will just lose steam in how it all fits together.
HD: It’s just there’s a lot of different influences, and there sometimes be different influences and not sound like a complete song, but I think it’s all how they fit together. When I was playing that drum part, I was thinking sort of an up-tempo, really fuzzy hi-hat, which is very different to the energy of the verse, which when Hannah was playing that snare drum on the demo, she was playing with her hands.
HJ: With my fingers.
HD: It was really quiet, like a cat running on a snare drum.
HJ: It was at a time where I just started writing on the guitar when I hadn’t before, and we have this old nylon at our house and I just wrote it on that. I remember I was making the song, feeling like, “Oh I’m doing a little folk number”, but you could already feel the energy from the melody and the chords along with the strumming pattern
TF: A lot of the bands that we love, they’re all American bands, and all American rock bands are influenced by country music, so that’s kind of just how it comes out. I think it’s more unconscious. I feel like we wish it was less unconscious sometimes, so I guess it’s just going to sound how it’s going to sound.
“Tell Me Something”:
HJ: There’s so much I love about this song. The dynamic range is awesome, there’s more space which is so cool. I love Harry’s drumming so much because the way it builds alone on the drums is so exciting to me. I think it’s very emotional for me to sing too because of the theme, it feels good to sing. I think it’s because there’s less going on it does feel a little bit vulnerable, because you know, when there’s so much going on when you’re playing through these big jams, it’s all out there, everything’s exposed, so there’s a little bit of, I don’t know what the word is… feels like a risk or something.
HD: This song is a good example of how the songwriting process happens, because you’ve got the raw initial parts and the bones of some of the song, and Tim started fleshing it out, producing it, and then came up with a lot of the initial drum parts. Then I would listen to the demo and expand on them a bit. Sometimes when we get in the studio things can be pretty ready to go but this one, in particular the drum part, we spent a while, we tried a lot of things because there were some things we thought were detracting, taking a lot of land. That was a really fun thing to record because it’s not really a lot of things in the chorus, it’s a little more technical and took a lot of takes.
TF: I’ve got two obscure things in there that no one will notice. One of them is a keyboard that we had in the ‘90s, there’s a little drum thing that goes underneath the real drums, and you won’t even hear it but I’m just going to mention it. Then there’s also a guitar line, and in the session you have like Guitar 1, Guitar 2 — this one was called “Smash Mouth Guitar”. It was kind of like the Smash Mouth DJ scratches.
“So Long, Farewell, I’m Gone”:
HJ: It’s a bit more like punk rock-y with a big rock ending, more big jam-out. It’s a little journey within the song, and I think that it’s really reflective in some ways which is also cool for being the end of the album. It’s realizing that I’ve been on the run from certain things, but then you realize that if you’ve been running you just have to keep running, which is not always a very practical way to live, or it doesn’t yield great fruit in your life necessarily. So I think at the end, it’s actually like it’s letting go of that fear and saying I’m not going to run any more.
TF: You know those movie scenes where there’s a character who has to fly his plane into a bomb? I feel that’s what the song is about because they’re like, “Let me tell you my life story before I’m long gone.” It’s like “So Long, Farewell”, and you’re like shooting off into the sunset, it’s kind of like a metaphorical image. It’s like, I was a kid once, everyone who does something brave was a kid once and now I’m doing something brave.
HJ: That’s so cool too, because we feel like we’re not cool people, because we’re not brave, but brave people are just people who are afraid but still choose to stand up against it and be courageous. It’s not the absence of fear, it’s saying, “I’m still going to do this thing.”