Over 20 years ago, in late 1994 to be exact, three lads from Sydney, Australia, decided to form a rock band called Fendahlene. Two years after forming, Paul Whiteley (vocals and guitar), Ashley Hurst (bass) and Ben Felton (drums) released their debut EP Blue Fortress. Now fast-forward to 2020 and hop over to the UK, we find Paul and Ashley living in London and releasing their new album High and Low and Back Again. We spoke with Ashley Hurst about the new album, band names and much more.
You recently released your album High and Low and Back Again. What was the concept behind the album?
Pretty much every new song in the last several years has been really personal. Some quite abstract, a couple brutally direct. Some introspective, others outward-looking, but always personal. For example, we’d write a song about the likes of Trump and Brexit – like ‘Can’t Feel This Way’ – from the same personal and contemplative perspective as a song about relationships. We were, without realising it at first, mapping out a journey. Certainly not with a happy Hollywood-ending, and not with an ‘OMG dystopia’ ending either; more as a slice of navigating day-to-day life, especially in the current climate.
The key thing about this journey was the swings, sometimes minor, sometimes wild, but never predictable; hence the title, High and Low and Back Again. Addressing the themes of the songs as we worked on them definitely made us feel this way. Also, we found that some songs had entirely different meanings to different people, I suppose just like things in real day-to-day life.
In many cases, people need to compromise when producing albums. Did the band clash when it came to High and Low and Back Again?
Did we clash? Not really, to be honest. I mean, of course, Paul and I have had disagreements over the years, but the recording studio is sort of sacrosanct for us. I mean, it’s too much fun all the time, even at the end of a super long day so we’re never really in ‘clash-mode’. In every session, we’re pretty much in a permanent state of ‘how awesome is this?’ Also, the Urchin Studio guys Matt Ingram (who played drums) and engineer Dan Cox run a really tight ship. This really helped us focus big time.
What is your creative process, particularly when it comes to making an album?
We actually don’t have a set songwriting process. Paul or I will start with an idea for a melody, riff or progression, then try to produce a coherent working arrangement and provisional lyrics which we will work on together or separately. A couple of the songs on the album we wrote from scratch in a rehearsal. Way back when, we tried a set formula for writing which was super restrictive when you got stuck. We are much better just going with the flow.
For our previous albums and EPs, we’d select our best say 15 songs, narrow down the best and record with invariably 1-2 new songs being written during the sessions. For High and Low and Back Again, after we had around 4-5 songs, we started to see this album could have overarching themes and a connected journey, so we started working on new songs with that in mind.
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Changes all the time, seriously! If we’re thinking singles, it’s the title track; however, for me, the one track that I can have on repeat for hours on end is ‘Dead and Gone’. I thought this the first time I heard the rough on Paul’s acoustic in his garage. It’s my favourite song because as the album goes it closes the circle perfectly.
For Paul, I know he really digs ‘Speak Out’ because it uses so few lyrics to make a point, and it’s in open G tuning – typical guitarist answer. Also, depending on the mood, ‘Can’t Feel This Way’ and ‘A New Thread’.
What about a least favourite song?
We don’t have one. Seriously, I suppose it depends on how you’re listening to the songs. We did this as an album first and foremost and like a typical album there are definitely songs on there that hook you pretty much straight away, while others are a slow burn.
For me, ‘Here and Now’ on Side 1 and ‘I Won’t Call Time’ on Side 2 are both growers. When we recorded them initially they didn’t really knock us off our feet, but then by the time we got to mixing we loved them and how they fitted in the overall scheme of the album. We’ve had listeners to the album who have made the same sort of comments.
How did the band come about?
Paul and I went to high school together and formed a few bands for competitions; I think the first one was called The Arthur C Clarke Mystery Band. We were quiet for a few years after graduation, then I was at a house party with a really good blues band playing in the living room – it was a REALLY large house. I was convinced to play a song on bass with them, no doubt after a few cans of confidence. Anyway, straight 12-bar, went for about 20 minutes and that was me gone. Hooked again and this time for good! It turned out that Paul was getting itchy feet about playing in a band at the very same time, so it was a no-brainer to form a new one which this time was Fendahlene.
What about the band name? Was it a unanimous decision or were compromises made?
It was unanimous after a long time of being anything but, if that makes sense. Not so much that we all had mega-favourites that we stubbornly lobbied for, but more that we just didn’t know what would work and were a bit reluctant to make a final decision. At this time, we were pretty full-on rehearsing so it didn’t seem as important.
Our then drummer Ben, who we also went to school with, came up with a list of names that was a bit nuts. I can’t remember all of them, but ‘Solace Personified’ and ‘Pineapple Noriega’ will never be forgotten. It turned out to be a good circuit breaker that made us focus properly and about a week later Fendahlene was chosen, inspired by a Doctor Who serial called The Image of the Fendahl. Even then, we couldn’t work out how to best spell it and had to concoct our own spelling. Naturally, the first two venues we ever played at got it wrong splashing our band name across ads and everything else starting with a capital S. Once we learned how to say ‘F for Freddy’, then we were finally there.
How would you describe your music?
We always thought of ourselves as ‘indie rock’ or ‘alternative rock’ until the boom in streaming which seems to have more categories and genres to choose from than songs. I’d stick to our original descriptions but with variation depending on the song. A bit post-punk, some alt-country, some roots, old-school 70s blues rock, even melodic soul. I mean, when it comes down to it, we’re a rock and roll band.
If you could perform with any artist at any music venue, who would it be and where?
For me, it’s between Pavement at the Electric Ballroom Camden or The Stones, also at the Ballroom. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play with The Stones in a venue like that? I know Paul would do anything for a time machine so we could play with The Beatles on the roof of the Apple Corps building in Saville Row, but because science wins every time he’ll settle for Pearl Jam at the Hammersmith Apollo.
What are your future plans?
Once the lockdown is over, we want to go back to Plan A and do all the typical new album things, especially gigging. We’d love to play around the UK and Europe and not necessarily in big venues. Our background is the Sydney pub and club scene and we seriously love a small to medium-size venue show.
We plan to gig acoustically with just the two of us and with a full band which we were just about to start planning before lockdown. Speaking of which, the first thing we’re going to do is a new publicity photo shoot. We had planned that for late March and, of course, it never happened.
Finally, we will go back to into the studio to make a new album; although, we may do it in chunks to satisfy the needs of the streaming world. We learned so much with the guys at Urchin Studios and the process, so looking forward to recording again with that knowledge in mind.