The Eighties were a strange time of change for recording practices and for bands. Studios went from the extreme isolation of instruments and drums that were favored in the Seventies to the use of analog and digital drum machines, click tracks, and heavyhanded synth overdubs. Many artists were lured into this world, making records that sound as dated today as they sounded "modern" back then. The Go-Betweens were a band from Australia, in the late Seventies who were originally looking back at the Sixties for inspiration and soon found themselves moving to England and spending ten years or so courting success in the music industry that always seemed a short step away. In the early 1990 they disbanded, after moving back to Australia. Recently a compilation of their more popular songs and a collection of early recordings became available, prompting a short tour. I was lucky to catch Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, the core of the band and both fine songwriters, who performed an amazing acoustic set, and chat with Robert extensively about the Go-Between's experiences in the studio.
When was the first time the Go-Betweens went into the studio?
We went to a studio in Brisbane that's now called Sunshine Studios. It was a 24 track studio we just found in the directory. We didn't know anyone that had done any recordings. Now, it's easier to put out a CD. Records were harder to put out, it was a more difficult process and people didn't record as much. There weren't as many studios and we didn't know anyone that had actually ever been in a studio to recommend us one.
Did you have friends that were in bands?
When we started, no one. We didn't know anyone in bands. We soon met people at gigs and met other bands, but when Grant and I started, we didn't know anyone in bands. We only met other bands and musicians through playing.
What was the studio like? What was the experience?
It was a good experience. It was sort of doing a little bit of country and jingles. The Saints had recorded their first album there... I don't know if you've ever heard of a band called the Saints.
Oh, yeah, I like that band.
They recorded their single there.
"I'm Stranded" was recorded there, but we didn't know that!
We just had an engineer and were in and out in like four hours. Recording and mixing.
Was that just the first single?
We were overwhelmingly happy, you know it's the first time we had ever played with headphones on, it's the first time we ever played and went back and heard our music over big speakers. It's a very overwhelming experience. It's a wonderful experience. It's an experience that you never forget. It was not a big room, but it was big enough, it was a one-room studio where you're paneled off from the control room so it's just two rooms, but the desk was quite good and they had a decent mic collection. The guy that recorded us was a hippie guy, and hippie guys in the '70s, most times, knew what they were doing, know what I mean? It could have been a lot worse. We could have had some hideous rock guy or some guy that wanted to turn us into a top 40 band. We walked in off the streets, had money to pay for the session, and he was good. He actually engineered our first three sessions because we went back to the same studio. We went back in October, '78 and we recorded a song called "The Sound of Rain" which is on The Lost Album and then we went back and recorded "People Say", which was our second single.We did all of those at the same studio using the same engineer and then, many years later in 1992, I went back to Brisbane after recording my first solo album in Hansa Studios in Germany.
The one you did with Mick Harvey?
Yeah. It was a huge big studio in Berlin. You know, Bowie did Low and Heroes there and Iggy Pop did Lust for Life. After I was in there, U2 went in there and did Achtung Baby. Very famous studio. After that I went back to my hometown in 1992, I went back to the same studio and it hadn't moved and it was the same desk that I recorded my second solo album, Calling From a Country Phone. It was a little bit like Sun. I always imagined it was a little bit like those studios that Buddy Holly did his first recording... you know, sort of a small studio, come in and do a bit of country, we do jingles and it's not the best gear but it's got a certain sort of little funkiness about it.
Those things sound good too. For a very young band that you were at that stage they don't sound like you were being dragged along in the wrong direction; it just sounds like you sounded.
Exactly. Not a particularly polished sound but almost a funky sound.
The other songs that are on the lost album are two track recordings in your bedroom or something. Did you have a...
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