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Days of Misfortune: We Lost The Sea Discuss The Pressure and Depression Behind 'Triumph & Disaster'

Friday, 27 September 2019 Written by Matt Mills

On their new album, ‘Triumph & Disaster’, Sydney post-rockers We Lost The Sea tell the story of a world past the brink of collapse. The six-piece use their emotive, ever-building and ultimately climactic compositions to illustrate dystopian landscapes, where climate change and depleting natural resources have finally caught up with us, rendering humanity’s days numbered.

For the band, this exploration of a planet in disrepair is apropos, as they themselves have first-hand experience on the cusp of ruin. In 2013—after six years of graft to establish themselves in Australia’s jam-packed progressive scene—their vocalist, Chris Torpy, took his own life, leaving his bandmates in a state of desolation.

To his five brothers in arms, Chris excelled beyond simply being a singer. His lyrics would come to define his band’s fascination with serene, heartstring-tugging panoramas, which still continues to this day. He was an invigorating live performer, visibly putting every ounce of his being into his roaring vocals. And, above all, he was a longtime friend; his relationship with We Lost The Sea’s original line-up extended back to before the band was even thought of.

“He was such a powerful presence,” guitarist Matt Harvey remembers. “We used to see him at shows and whenever the singer would throw the mic out to the crowd, Chris would always grab it. As soon as he came over the PA, you knew he was there. He was real and it was that honesty and earnest, vocal rawness that would always come out of him.”

With Chris at the helm, We Lost The Sea were purveyors of Cult of Luna-style post-metal, pummelling with down-tuned riffs and deep yells that acted as the ideal one-two punch. It was this hulking delivery that fuelled their first two albums: 2010’s ‘Crimea’ and 2012’s ‘The Quietest Place on Earth’. 

The disappearance of Chris’s voice, personality and writing from that dynamic would create a void that proved impossible to fill. Knowing that full well, it would have been easy for Matt and his bandmates to simply cave in to the grief and not even attempt to regroup. “We were all at a loss after Chris died,” he says. 

“How do you deal with that kind of news? We all sat around and went, ‘What the fuck are we gonna do?’ but, immediately, Mark [Owen, guitars] and I knew we wouldn’t stop the band. It was tough but we had worked so hard—and Chris had worked so hard—on this thing that meant so much to us.”

We Lost The Sea were sure of two things after Chris’s passing: that they wouldn’t split up and, also, that they wouldn’t bring in another vocalist, with Matt comparing that course of action to “putting a band-aid over a problem.” All else was a mystery, with the future unnerving and the past filled with anguish, leading to a period of intense writer’s block. “We knew we wanted to do an album without Chris to honour him and not take the piss, but we needed a direction, we needed a riff—something to focus on,” he recalls.

That one significant riff would eventually arrive as Matt was playing guitar in his then-girlfriend’s apartment. He strummed a series of heavy yet sombre chords, later repeating them for his bandmates at their next rehearsal. “Everybody stopped and went, ‘The fuck is that?’,” the guitarist laughs. “Then Mark said that that riff reminded him of a rocket launch.”

The band, curious to follow that line of thinking, looked for visuals that would complement Matt’s newest melody. They soon found footage of the Challenger space shuttle, which notoriously exploded 73 seconds after take-off in 1986, killing its crew of seven people while the world watched live on international television.

Able to connect that immense tragedy with their own devastation at Chris’s absence, We Lost The Sea suddenly found the concept to centre their third album around. It would focus on brave voyages that ultimately failed—ending in death—yet were still able to benefit mankind. 

Matt’s riff would become the centrepiece of this new release—the climax of the 20-minute magnum opus Challenger, Part 1: Flight. Meanwhile, other tracks would focus on those that gave their lives to contain the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the demise of famous scuba diver David Shaw, and Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole.

The album—aptly christened ‘Departure Songs’—was a far cry from the sludgy aggression of We Lost The Sea’s first two offerings. Not only was it entirely instrumental, but the low, filthy riffs were gone, replaced by clean picking and more melodic chords. Songs clocked in at up to 24 minutes, giving the band the window to patiently build the atmosphere and scenery of their depressive tracks.

“The music became the focal point, and we had to learn really quickly how to write music without vocals,” Matt says. “How do we tell a story, hold a narrative and keep people interested? But, once we figured out what the theme of ‘Departure Songs’ was, it really gave us direction. It became easier to justify writing 20-minute instrumental songs. It wasn’t about the audience; it was about us.”

‘Departure Songs’ arrived in July 2015 and, despite a low-key release and We Lost The Sea’s huge shift in sound, quickly resonated with those who heard it. Its laments and cinematic power gave it an organic growth, spreading worldwide via word of mouth and rave reviews. 

In its wake, We Lost The Sea were able to embark on their first headlining tour of their home country, before extending that to a complete trek of mainland Europe. A live LP, ‘Departure Songs: Live at Dunk!Fest 2017’, was released in its honour, before, most recently, opening song A Gallant Gentleman was featured in Ricky Gervais’s hit Netflix series, After Life.

“‘Departure Songs’ was just pure emotion and that’s what struck a chord with everybody,” Matt says. “When we toured Europe, the merch desk became a place for therapy and hugs and tears. It really solidified why we do what we do. It gave us purpose. We figured out that we’re actually really helping people.

“There’s a sour irony behind the whole thing,” he continues, reflecting on the album’s career-affirming accomplishments. “If Chris was around and still a part of the band, it would have been awesome, but we wouldn’t have done ‘Departure Songs’. The push that Chris gave us when he died was that beautiful depression.”

‘Triumph & Disaster’ is the natural follow-up to ‘Departure Songs’, possessing the same gorgeously-expressed despair, but turning its gaze outwards. It sources inspiration from the destruction of the world around us, rather than internal throes. As a result, We Lost The Sea’s fourth full-length is angrier and less optimistic than its predecessor, providing a more dissonant experience, albeit one no less enrapturing.

“You can’t replicate ‘Departure Songs’, so we didn’t,” Matt summarises. “I don’t want to carry that shit around with me anymore. I’ve had my therapy and catharsis, and the fact that people responded is amazing to me, but we needed to move on from that. We just wanted to play a big fucking riff.”

Going into ‘Triumph & Disaster’, We Lost The Sea had a bigger following than ever before. For the band, this meant more pressure than ever before, and more expectations to defy. Matt now openly admits that, with those ideas plaguing him and his cohorts, the creative process was one marred by anxiety and frustration: “I think we stopped ourselves from having fun,” he reflects.

This stress was only escalated by the fact that We Lost The Sea had just one week to record the album. The studio suddenly became a tight, high-intensity environment that—after seven hard days—left everyone involved debilitated. “At the end, I had fatigue,” Matt explains. “A couple of the guys had the same, and we were arguing about songs: ‘Is this too long? Is this too heavy?’

“Later on, I showed the [finished] songs to my wife. We both said, ‘Actually, this is fucking good!’ When you’re standing in the fire, you can think, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ but, when you take a step back, you can finally examine it as a complete work of art.”

And ‘Triumph & Disaster’ is just that: a complete work of art. Despite its more metallic tendencies, it consistently takes the heartfelt emotion of ‘Departure Songs’ and points it at a topical subject that everybody should be deeply concerned over. “It’s more mature and more complex,” Matt concurs. “We really do think it’s the best work we’ve ever done. We can’t wait to show people."

"Plus," he concludes, with a smirk, "we just want to punch people in the face with some heavy post-metal.”

‘Triumph & Disaster’ is available digitally on October 4 and physically on October 25 via Holy Roar Records.


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