On the streets it’s threatened anarchy and mob rule – if you read the right wing papers – but in the world of Key Out, it’s decency and Mum’s rules.
Paddy Haid – the name in the credits on both albums by the Sydney trio who make febrile, moody, pop with post-punk edges - answers the phone with a “Hi, it’s Patrick”. We’re all about the accuracy here so best to make sure: is he a Paddy, a Patrick, a Pat? He says he answers to any of them, prefers Patrick, but uses Paddy to please his mother.
Now usually it’s the other way round, mothers asking why the child who was bestowed a perfectly good name, probably one that has run through generations, would choose to use this version instead of the name God gave him. But not here.
“Yeah,” Haid says with a laugh. “It goes back some years but she finally wore me down.”
Well then, is she happy that he has made a professional career as Paddy and, almost as importantly, is she happy with the work he and his colleagues, Rohan Geddes and Caroline Wake, have done? After all, unless I’ve missed something, while this new record, Anthropomorphia, has a greater presence of keyboards – especially old synths – alongside the bass/drum/guitars, there is no swearing, no blaspheming on the major Key Out releases, and no shortage of tunes.
“I think both of the above,” he says happily. “They have all ticked those boxes. It’s definitely a win for the moment.”
Lest it sound like I’m mocking Haid, let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with pleasing your parents with your work – at least they’re listening! On this point though, having being guided by his mother, does Haid take guidance from others in his career?
“I don’t think that I’ve got a hero or a guiding light [but] there are things I listen to or read. One of the sparks for this record was a book called Only The Animals by Ceridwyn Dovey, who wrote this series of historical pieces with animals coming in and out of art over the last hundred years. I read it a few years ago and I thought I really want to do something like that.”
We’ll get back to Dovey’s influence on this album soon, but to guidance on a practical level: when you work, as Key Out have done this time, with a producer like Wayne Connolly who has a long and illustrious track record, how much do you take from someone like that? How many decisions would you be comfortable leaving with him?
“The record we did before this one [2019’s What (Do) You See] we did with [the no less illustrious] Greg Walker, at his place where we stayed for a week. It was a very different process, but that kinda gave us the confidence to try and do this one like we did,” Haid says, singling out Walker’s philosophy of following happy accidents and sounds that feel or sound good rather than being hung up on what has worked before.
“So the plan this time around was to strike out on our own and record it at home, but once we tracked it all and were pretty happy with where it was going, we got hold of Wayne and went into the studio for a couple of days. Knowing you’re in the hands of someone who has made great records for a couple of decades, we were pretty happy to listen to his suggestions and follow his ideas that lead to space and sparkle and those sorts of things.”
It’s not like they had just banged a few things out on tape before bringing in Connolly; the songs were well advanced, and even had a whiteboard keeping track. And nothing says you are on top of things than a whiteboard. But another perspective, a knowledgeable ear “added some space, identified some essential lines or key parts, where things were augmenting”, and crucially didn’t just add, but knew when to take away.
If I’m being simplistic I’d say if What (Do) You See was dream-like, the more technology-fuelled Anthropomorphia is the band awake and sometimes quite tense about it. Is it the times? The place?
“That’s sort of resonates with me,” says Haid. “I think it is probably a bit of the setting and a bit of the approach. The way we approached the last record was built on a lot of my bed tracks and tapes and what we captured in the moment at that rural and remote place [where Walker is based]. It sounds to me like that place to an extent. “This time around we probably approached it similarly, but then pulled it apart and perhaps got into a bit of a difficult mindset, learning about the recording and synth programming. It wasn’t so much a flowing take or being in the moment but thinking about the songs and what they needed and constructing them.”
That’s the practical side, but underneath these songs there’s a tone that suggests a different, darker perspective on the world. Which is probably where Only The Animals came in. In that book Dovey uses the voices of animals killed in different human conflicts – colonial Australia, the trenches of WWI, Sarajevo for example – to reflect on the follies and connections of humans and to pay homage to writers who approached animals with wit and imagination, such as Gunter Grass, Tolstoy and Kafka.
“There is probably more of an attempt to write-through the record with the broad theme being animals and the suburbs,” Haid says. “It was I think a neat way for us to write about things around us, to write through those characters and use that as a device to comment about things like the complete waste and destruction and violence around us, without feeling like a complete jerk.”
How much is metaphor and how much is genuinely about the place of animals and our use of them?
“Most of those tracks have both of those elements running through them. I think there is a way into them with that headline imagery and device, and under that metaphor is commentary as well. It wasn’t just a zoological exercise” he chuckles. “Or an anthropological one either.”
The concept works well, easily fitting with the spring-loaded faster numbers as well as the occasional surprisingly tender turn. But I wonder how Haid will feel explaining this concept for months ahead. Maybe next time he might consider an easier approach, as if you announce this is an album about getting drunk and hooning around in my Kingswood, no one has to try to pronounce, let alone understand, anthropomorphism.
“I’ll run that past my mum first,” Haid says.
And you know, he probably will.
Anthropomorphia is out now through Half A Cow Records.