by Sara Seddon at The Bucket Playlist
Interview with Fendahlene: ‘I come out of the studio a better musician, it’s comfortable to be locked away for 10 hours a day’
Aussie transplants to the UK, Fendahlene, brought out their latest single, ‘A New Thread’, last week, a song celebrating new beginnings, and which they appropriately decided to release on the day of the US presidential inauguration.
Fendahlene comprises Paul Whiteley (guitar, lead vocals) and Ashley Hurst (bass, backing vocals), who met at high school. Their influences are broad, ranging from 60’s rock and soul through punk and garage to modern indie. After ten years as regulars on the Sydney live music scene, they moved to the UK, and after a lengthy hiatus, released the single ‘Burnt Out’ in June 2020. Whiteley now lives in Winchester and Hurst is in Woolwich, London. Hurst has also spent time in Leipzig, Germany, and in Vienna for his studies. (He has a doctorate in historical sociology, focusing on imperial power.)
Their name is a reference to an episode of Dr. Who – of which Hurst is a massive fan – which featured a monster, a Fendahl, which had 12 children called Fendahlene.
”A New Thread’ is about new beginnings and stuff that holds you back,’ Whiteley explained. Hurst jumps in: ‘It’s one of the ‘highs’ on the journey in the album. It’s about being ready to turn the corner.’ Interestingly, Whiteley wrote the melody around 10 years ago but it sat around without lyrics until 2019.
As the song goes: ‘You can overplay your hand but what I don’t understand is how some people just don’t try, let the whole world pass them by.’
Last year, they brought out their fifth album (including 2 EPs), High and Low and Back Again – on which ‘A New Thread’ features – which, much as the title suggests, is a collection of tracks encompassing the highs and lows that we encounter along the way. As such, the album poses questions about convention, success or failure – and what constitutes those things – acceptance strategies, moving forward or just moving on. It poses the question: how do we challenge apathy, avoid confusion and combat straight up idiocy?
‘Burnt Out’ is a raw look at the dark side of social and digital media
The album begins with the incredibly catchy ‘Burnt Out’, a raw look at the dark side of social and digital media and its effect on society and ourselves. The chorus references the binary numeric system, which only uses ‘zeros and ones’ to store data and perform calculations. The track also looks at how we instinctively search for something better, even when the best thing is sitting right in front of us. The album ends with a wistful look back to a time before this new world, thereby bringing the narrative full circle.
My favourite track on the album, the titular track, sounds as if it could be about the highs and lows in a relationship and while Whiteley admits that some people will interpret it as such, it’s actually about Brexit: ‘I wrote it about the standoff in Parliament,’ he said.
As the song goes: ‘It’s really not defeat for you to compromise. If only you could see what’s on the other side, maybe you would change your point of view, change your mind.’
Hurst’s favourite song on the album is ‘Cookie Cutter Life’: ‘I’m kind of in love with some of the songs that aren’t singles,’ he said. ‘I love playing it as a bass player. I also love ‘Can’t Feel This Way’, which is about how we are partially at fault for the ills of the world by our cultural amnesia – we all got complacent and that helped with the rise of Trump etc., that caused us so much anxiety. The key line is in the middle 8: “If we wake up and make up with the truth”. I like the bookend songs (‘Burnt Out’ and ‘Dead and Gone’), I like hearing them together. I love playing ‘Two Sides’, I love the structure, it’s rock ‘n’ roll!’ Whiteley says that his favourite changes from day to day: ‘I like ‘Cookie Cutter Life’ and ‘Which Way to Go’, which was actually the first song we recorded for the album. It’s fun to play on guitar because it’s all open chords and so it’s hard to mess it up!’
They have a large backlog of songs that just need to be remastered before they can be released. ‘We’ve also written more in the last 12 months than normal,’ Hurst said. ‘We’ve sent videos back and forth. We’ve tried Zoom but the time delays are hard. We pride ourselves on our sound but we need to get into a studio for that.’ Whitely nods: ‘We’ve got snippets we need to start demoing and we want to get back into the studio as soon as possible.’ Hurst jumps back in: ‘I come out of the studio a better musician, it’s comfortable to be locked away for 10 hours a day.’
I tell them that they remind me a lot of Crowded House. ‘We get that occasionally, I think it’s because I sing in a similar register,’ Whiteley said. ‘We’re huge fans of theirs.’ Hurst starts nodding: ‘In our first gig ever, we played ‘Mean to Me’ at our high school. It was a music night for the parents. Actually, in 1986 on New Year’s Eve, Crowded House did a set on ABC before the fireworks. This was before they were big but I listened to them and thought they were brilliant.’
Neither of them miss much from Australia, other than friends and family. When I say I’m surprised that they don’t miss the weather, given how much it rains in the UK, Whiteley laughs: ‘Yeah but it’s soooo hot every day, there aren’t any seasons. I used to miss how we’d record at night and could be home in five minutes but maybe it’s not like that anymore.’
‘At the moment is a great time for music’
In addition to Crowded House and Split Enz, Whiteley is a big fan of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Hoodoo Gurus. They’re both huge fans of Australian alt rock band, You Am I: ‘At the moment is a great time for music,’ Whiteley said. ‘I really like Hiss Golden Messenger, they’re a bit like us but more Americana/country. Waxahatchee’s new album is great (Saint Cloud, 2020).’ Hurst is a big fan of HAIM. ‘There’s so much indie music, it’s like having a new peer group. We’re all supporting and appreciating each other, there’s some incredible music being made. I listen to around 80% indie music. I have considerably broader taste in music now, it’s a real eye opener.’
If he could have written any song, Hurst picks Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street’: ‘It just connects with you, it appeals to every emotion, whether you’re sad or happy. It can affect me whatever mood I’m in, which is rare.’ Whiteley also goes with Dylan. “All Along The Watchtower’ just has three chords but a fun chord progression. (He picks up his guitar and starts playing it.) It’s just A minor, G and F. It’s quite complex, lyrically, but it always sounds good. There’s a song by an American band, Smog, called ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’. There’s the same chord progression throughout but it’s such a great song!’
I ask them who’d they like to tour with and they both become very contemplative and I can see them mulling it over. After a little while, they ask if they can get back to me. Later on, Hurst tells me: ‘I’ve thought about the band to tour with and although an impossible question to answer, I would have loved to have been touring alongside Sly and the Family Stone around the time of Woodstock. I mean, they had their problems like all bands and would have probably been quite fraught, but what an experience, so groundbreaking on so many levels, just at a time when the world needed a band like them. I think one would have learned as a musician and as a person being that close to that outfit at that time.’
Whiteley adds: ‘I’d love to tour with Pearl Jam, they are such an incredible live band and the set list changes every night, so it would never get boring. And Mike McCready is one of my all-time favourite guitarists, and so any chance to hang out with him and maybe learn a few new guitar licks would be amazing!’
(Photo from left to right: Paul and Ashley)
This story first appeared on: https://inthebucketplaylist.com/ on 28 January 2021