I’m speaking to Mark McGlue (lead vocals / guitar) and Nathan Tempra (keyboard / vocals) from Perth band, Silver Hills, and they’re trying to get their heads around how people might respond to their debut album, First Sight, due to be launched on 20 April.
Out of nowhere — somewhere really — Tempra comes out with, “Bono dies, U2 get better and when everyone listens to their new record they’re like, ‘The guy from Live Aid, we never really knew him.’”
Silver Hills’ music is a gentle, loving assault on the senses and emotions.
We’re in one of those trendy little cafes at Perth Cultural Centre, all open air and wonky furniture made out of timber offcuts and other recyclables. The ensuing laughter stops foot traffic for a moment as people pause to see what’s going on.
Imagine! U2 without Bono. They’d be heaps better. Next, day though, I check the news. Big data shows that people correctly predict the death of a friend, family member or celeb at least once every two weeks. It was still a long shot, but I was worried that our conversation may have jinxed one of the world’s biggest bands. In the end, it was fine, the news of the day was all about a bit of fire damage to a cathedral in Paris. No biggie, no loss of life.
Tempra’s riff on the future of U2 after Bono was really playing opposites. He went on to say, “The first people who listen to the record are going to be from Perth and they’ve known us for five or so years, so the songs are going to have an impact on them, because they will be people who knew us and heard the songs in a different context.”
That ‘different context’ is Silver Hills pre bandmate Sebastian D’Alonzo’s 2016 diagnosis of life-threatening cancer and the band’s subsequent performance hiatus. For three years, the band redirected their energies towards recording and D’Alonzo became immersed in their artistic process as a means of transfiguring his experience of facing death. These years of struggle and perseverance culminated in Silver Hills’ debut album, First Sight, with its reverberating themes of love and fear, life and death, mystery and acceptance.
The remaining members of Silver Hills have had plenty of time to process D’Alonzo’s passing and, when they’re not engaging in the sort of gallows humour that’s necessary to help you get through loss, McGlue and Tempra are generous in taking time to reflect on the what the experience means to them.
MM: “Everything we’re going through personally and with the band, that sort of experience is something that everyone goes through. It’s just a part of life and everyone goes through it in some way. If you’re an artist and you express that in a way, or you document it, it’s meaningful. But, everyone goes through that. It’s just one node in a vast network of human experience.”
NT: “If anything, it was probably a bit of a gift in a way. If I was as close to Seb as I was and we weren’t playing in a band together, I think it would have rattled me even more than it did, because there’s a lingering feeling of ...
“Seb did everything. He’d do the band accounts, he’d do the emails, he’d talk to everybody. He was regimented. He’d have a whiteboard with ideas. I think, because of the nature of Seb and how close we were, I was like, ‘I guess we just have to get on with it.’ I still think about him every day and it’s not something I’ll ever get over, but being so close and playing music together and having a record out, it makes me feel closer to Seb. I think it helped make us get the album out quicker. It’s an outlet that not many people get when they lose someone.”
There’s a steely determination about McGlue and Tempra around which they have wrapped their quiet reflectiveness.
MM: “With all the Seb stuff, through all that suffering, you learn about yourself. It reminds you that you’re going to die, and that’s true. Something like that can bring you back to yourself and a place of honesty, checking in with life and how you feel. It makes you realise the supremacy of relationships, friendships and love. All the things these songs we were writing about anyway. All of these songs have that philosophical, existential kind of tinge to them. But, since Seb got sick, we’ve explored all those themes through the songs. It is personal [to us], but it can be personal for someone else listening to it, because the song speaks subjectively to them.
“We knew we wanted to make this record and if we made it the best record we could, for our own sensibilities, if we never got to make another record, then we’d be satisfied. And making it from a place of sincerity, where you’re just trying to make something with feeling and honesty. If people like it, then they do, but it’s more important that it’s an honest document of yourself than that it’s popular.”
Asked how they were now preparing themselves to bring the songs on the album to their audience, they rested on their humour again.
MM: “Instagram, Facebook, that kind of thing.”
NT: “Boosted posts set to an alarm reminder.”
MM: “We’ve got a complex algorithm. We’ve got to kick goals.”
NT: “HR’s had to lay a few slackers off.”
But their choice of content was telling. In these modern days of social media and whatnot, they know they have ground to make up, and not just in terms of online engagement.
NT: “We kept busy. The nucleus of the band, we play music in other bands and we make music every day and Jaycob (Petering) has this other job. For me and Mark, we’ve been playing a lot over the last three years. It’s not like we stopped gigging and now we’re starting again. But, with coming back as the band, it’s like ... you look at old posters and see Methyl Ethyl, Tired Lion and stuff, and a lot has changed. So much has happened. From playing drums with Tired Lion. They played fucking Glastonbury!”
That last statement, if you weren’t there you could read it as envy. It wasn’t anything of the sort. The bands Tempra referred to were contemporaries of Silver Hills. In a parallel universe, Silver Hills have already played Glastonbury. That’s how good they are. Still. Tempra is stoked for his mates in those other bands. But he also knows that, had things been different ...
Sometimes life forces perspective on you, forces you to deepen your understanding of the cosmic comedies and tragedies that play out every day.
MM: “Where we were as a band before we had to stop and it all slowed down, I didn’t really have much perspective of where we were. I took it for granted that we got played on Triple J and things like that. Then, later, I realised how much that meant for me and how much I missed that in my life. And, singing in front of an audience and reaching someone emotionally, you can live off that. That’s a beautiful thing that was missing.
“I always thought it was beautiful pop sensibility music. The songs are honest and have a certain emotive quality to them and so, for me, I’m excited to, if someone hears it and has a beautiful feeling, that’s the way I’d like to connect with an audience. That’s what’s meaningful to me, reaching people. The more people who can listen the better for me, but going forward we just want to put it out there and hopefully people like it and we get to keep going. But we’re not trying to contrive it too much.”
It’s hard not to fall in love with these two. They have presence, dignity, they’re piss funny when they want to be and, they make great music, along with their bandmates, Jaycob Petering (acoustic guitar / vocals), Jonny Burrows (lead guitar), Andrew Campbell (bass) and Ethan Darnell (drums).
Here’s McGlue and Tempra’s take on the songs on the album.
NT: “I think it’s like a snapshot of 2016. We were gigging four of the songs before we stopped. Some of the songs on the record are new, but a lot of them we were gigging, so it’s like a time capsule.”
MM: “Everything we could put into a record, if it was our last record, we put it in there. It’s like the Mandala of anything we would every put in there. In that sense, the music on the record is a lot more comprehensive to me, a lot more dynamic. There’s a lot more subtlety it, I’d say. I don’t know. We wanted it to have a timeless quality to it. It’s just a nice balanced pop album. I don’t know what genre you’d call it. We should call it soft rock.”
NT: “Soft rock?!? I don’t know what soft rock is.”
MM: “I don’t know.”
NT: “I think the music’s not desperate, but essential. It’s super stripped back. You can hear all of the words for all of the songs, you can hear all of the parts. After three years of waiting for the album to come out and not playing gigs, it’s like the aural equivalent of grabbing someone by the shirt and saying, ‘This is what we’ve been doing!’”
The band’s music is self-described as ‘sub-bleached dream pop’. That’s a pretty fair assessment, but they’ve missed something out. There’s a maturity and poetic brilliance to their music and lyrics that elevates what they do beyond pop. The music is accessible, but it stands up well to multiple listens. There’s nothing throwaway or ephemeral about Silver Hills. And, although the music is drenched in metaphorical sunlight, there’s a hint of the chill that autumn brings, a constant needling reminder of the balance in everything. Out of darkness comes light and vice versa.
Silver Hills’ music is a gentle, loving assault on the senses and emotions.
We strongly suggest you follow this band out of hiatus and maybe get in the lottery for tickets to Glastonbury 2022.
In the meantime, have a listen to 'Double Breakfast'.
Event informationSilver Hills launch their debut album, First Sight, at The Bird on Saturday 20 April with support from Cuss, Hip Priest and Lana Rothnie.