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COUNTERPART, THE SECOND IMPERAL BROADS ALBUM, has it both ways, in so many ways. And likes it.

A guitar rock record with overdrive energy and sometimes snaky guitars, it is full to overflowing with pop melodies and vocal/guitar harmonies; its ‘90s leanings gives both forward-facing riot grrls and shoegazing dream pop a run through the meadows; its ‘60s roots mixes the snottiness of garage punks one minute, the shimmer of girl groups the next; and while they have the rolling momentum of some triple j Unearthed newbies, they keep punching in lyrics that suggest not just writers who’ve read a book, but adults who’ve lived a life or two (and are at ease with both whimsy and pain).

“I wonder how much of it has got to do with us being girls who came to our instruments a little later,” says guitarist Pip Smith, one of the three songwriter/singers, along with guitarist Eve Lande and bassplayer, Lauren Crew, who are the permanent core of the Sydney band.

“When I was at high school, the idea of being in a rock band wasn’t really that available to me as easily as it might have been to a lot of the guys I ended up hanging out with. I’m sure if I was plucky enough I could have done it, but there weren’t role models out there in the year above who were in a cool band and make me want to be in a cool band too.”

Meeting Crew at university, where their partners at the time would go on to form Belles Will Ring, was the first trigger for change.

“We were the kind of plus ones, immersed in music and took it very seriously, but we were always on the sidelines,” Smith says. “Then Lauren joined Belles Will Ring [and after a personal tragedy that affected both women in 2012] I went to Berlin, went a bit mad and came back and was like, ‘fuck it, I just want to play the music. I don’t want to keep thinking wouldn’t it be fun one day’. I had this post-grief shit we could all die any second, let’s just do the thing we’d always wanted to do.”

Smith was a pretty rough around the edges new guitarist at this point and while Crew had been playing keyboards in Belles, it was the hitherto untried bass she picked up this time. Expertise mattered less than wanting to shift the ground, so when Crew met Lande at a party, naturally she convinced her to come to a band rehearsal even though Lande couldn’t actually play yet.

“A lot of that shared history, which is not always sunshine and roses, came into the lyrics, and that first album [Who Are We Turning Into?] Was for us a cathartic way of dealing with a lot of that grief,” Smith says. “As well as wanting to have fun and wanting to find joy in life again.”

As Smith points out, while there may not have been a lot of examples for her at high school, this has changed. “Seeing Jen Cloher come out with that album when she was 40 was so exciting to me. It seemed to break down so many barriers, and that really gave me a lot of drive to keep going. Jen Cloher’s songs are so much richer for her life experience and yet they still have the energy and excitement of a younger songwriter.”

The flipside to that energy and excitement isn’t just getting better and better as songwriters – which Counterpart, reveals in a dozen different ways – but that by the time you’re in your 30s you have accumulated a few other responsibilities and obligations that demand your time.

“Since releasing that first album I have gone and had three children,” chuckles Smith, who is also an author and reviewer of fiction. “So I can’t just say to my partner, who is also in bands, ‘see ya, I’m off to rehearsals, I’m going to go tour the album for three months’.”

That said, there’s something to be said about the focus and energy that you can bring to something when you know your time for doing it – that day, that week – is limited, needs to be carved out, and cannot be wasted.

“I’m a writer as well and I suppose the reason why I feel like holding on by my fingernails is when I do have time away from family I then have to choose: how do I spend it? Am I going to write my fiction? Or am I going to write a song?”

Most of Smith’s songs on the new album predate the first of her children, during that intense burst of creativity from 2012 to 2014.

“I think in retrospect, it was mania,” Smith says. “I was totally high on being creative. I’m always looking back at that time thinking how do I get back into that headspace. But I’m not sure that it was sustainable.”

If Smith has her constraints and questions about priorities, she’s not alone, as all three Imperial Broads have regular jobs – one of them a lawyer – and a few other bands on the go (“Lauren is usually in about 47 bands”), as well as a solo project for Lande. But there is at least one song on the album which marries both sides of Smith’s creativity and has been improved by its gestation time.

The biting and danceable Socioplath came out of a period where Smith, frustrated at a writers festival she was working on, set herself the task of being a literary magazine’s “resident summer poet”, with a poem to be published every day – partially funded by the Commonwealth scholarship for her doctorate.

“It was just lucky that [the editor] said yes because in retrospect it was completely mad, and probably very narcissistic of me,” she says now. “This was from the beginning of December, and by the middle of February I had exhausted the lyric poem and I needed to try something new. I’d been listening to Azealia Banks and other people and thought I’m going to write a rap. It’s the dorkiest thing a white girl could do.”

Thankfully, it did become a song, inspired by her listening to a lot of Courtney Barnett and realising wordy folk/rock and not wordy rappinghood offered the best route. But then it’s not like the trio (who until the completion of this album had been augmented by drummer, Nick Kennedy) were short of influences and styles, or for that matter a collective sense of what an Imperial Broads song is.

“I think we just muddled it out,” Smith says. “I was saying to somebody else that it feels like a Venn diagram. Each of us likes music that each of us likes, but there’s a whole world of music that each of us just won’t go to.”

The crossover points might include post-hardcore bands like Hot Snakes and original punks The Saints, the various offshoots of Sydney’s Detroit-influenced scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Tracey Thorn’s febrile and moody pre-Everything But The Girl group, Marine Girls, and the Shangri-Las and Ronettes which Smith played in an indie scene offshoot cover band.

“I think what makes our band a little bit odd is we have such different ways of thinking about writing songs,” explains Smith. “I think Lauren thinks more abstract early. With her songs she’ll start with an image or it will be more like a mood board. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Eve writes the same way every time but after that first album she’s written so many songs and now she’s like, lapped us.”

Wherever they’ve come from, one thing the Broads do have with their songs is an even distribution on setlists and track listings.

“That just established itself from the beginning,” says Smith. “It was just a very polite thing we introduced in the rehearsal room. A way of being nice to each other. But then it sort of worked its way into our lore. Very occasionally one person will have an extra song on the set list and it’s ‘discussed’. Even when we were working out the track listing for the album, we were really stressed out by the fact that Eve had two songs in a row, next to each other. Equal stakes at all times.

Gee, it’s hard being in a band with reasonable people.

“Oh I don’t know if we’re all reasonable all the time,” Smith laughs. “But it is good that it’s part of our fabric.”

Counterpart is out now on Broken Stone Records.


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