“This is definitely our most thought out record to date” says Bloods frontwoman and main songwriter MC. “It’s the album we’ve had the most time to flesh out and the first one we’ve made ourselves.”
Since releasing their debut EP Golden Fang, the Sydney-based three-piece have been consistently gracing stages in Australia and the US. Early 2020 saw them gearing up for another big run – putting the finishing touches on their most recent EP, Seattle, following another successful US tour, where they recorded said EP in the town that inspired it – when, like most of the world, they found themselves caught in the middle of covid related lockdowns.
“We had finished recording our EP and were all feeling so enthusiastic about what was ahead,” says drummer and chief video director Dirk Jonker, who along with Bassist/Producer Mike Morgan make up Bloods. “It was all so strange going from touring the US and recording an EP in Seattle to being forced to stay at home with no real clarity about what the world would look like beyond lockdown.”
With no shows to support Seattle, it became obvious the approach to how they functioned as a band had to pivot drastically “I was writing without having any sense of when we would be able to play music in a room together again.” says MC. “Writing became a way for me to distract myself through lockdown. I’d build these songs in Garageband and then email them to Dirk and Mike. In retrospect I think it was a way for me to keep the enthusiasm going and remind myself and them that there was a world outside our four walls that we use to be a part of.” As she shared the songs with her band mates one thing became obvious – the songs were banking up and feeling more and more like a body of work. “I had a ZOOM catch up with the guys and put it to them that we could write an album in a way we’d never done before – by correspondence, giving each of us time to spend with the songs, coming up with our parts individually” says MC “I would send the song over to Dirk first, removing the programmed drums I’d put in and he’d come up with a beat and send that track over to me. I’d then layer my vocal and guitar part over that and send it over to Mike to come up with a bass part. I’d then add any additional parts and finish off the demo that way. It was a weird way to do it, but it worked.”
Without realising it, the group’s signature sound of slapdash, shambolic garage fun, subtly shifted into a new and slightly more sophisticated era. “We knew we wanted to expand our sound,” says Morgan who engineered, produced, and mixed the album. “But we were so used to bringing the songs together in a room, together. We knew from the get-go that we wanted to take care of all the production ourselves, so the three of us discussed the arrangements and ideas at length, which meant that by the time we DID get into the studio the songs were all well thought out. It was great too because it was the three of us as a unit - like a gang - on this mission.’
The first song we had the chance to put down as a band was ‘BOSS’ and it feels like that set the tone for where we wanted to take this album.” When lockdown momentarily lifted at the end of 2021, the band headed into Sydney’s revered Studios 301, with Morgan behind the desk and put down their first single from the record, ‘BOSS.’ “We recorded all of ‘BOSS’ in one evening” says Jonker. “We were working on the arrangement right up until Mike pressed record. There was a real energy in the room that we carried into the rest of the album. For me, it was the most fun and most comfortable I've felt in the studio. Having Mike at the helm really made a difference - I was able try some things out on the drums that I might not have done in the past. It helps that he's a good friend as well as a bandmate!”
As the songs took shape, the band went about finishing the record on their own, finding gaps between lockdown restrictions to get into the studio and get to work. “I feel like we inadvertently set ourselves the unspoken goal of getting a record together on which any song could be a single, so that was a challenge.” says Morgan.
The result of their efforts is Together, Baby!, the band’s most assured, experimental and ambitious album yet. Self-produced with Morgan at the helm, Together, Baby! sees Bloods seriously pushing the definition of punk rock. Opening with ‘Radical’, a reimagined Chilean protest song sung entirely in Spanish complete with chants (provided by MC’s mum and sisters) and horns. As Jonker’s heavy beat pummels through the sound of a cacelorazo (group clanging of pots and pans – a protest strategy used in Chile), the tone is immediately and unexpectedly set for how wide Bloods have set their sonic sights on this record.
Through this more adventurous lens, Bloods have managed to evolve the charm that has made them favourites in the garage punk scene the world over. The full-bore energy assault of ‘BOSS’ and ‘Devo’ hark to the band’s earlier EP and singles, while the glittering, emo-pop escape of ‘Thinking of You Thinking of Me’ that Jonker describes as “possibly my fave song MC has ever written for us” and the infectious ‘I Like You’ that sees the band teaming up with iconic punk Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), both touch on the sparkling, ear-worm pop of the band’s preceding album, Feelings.
“I think our songwriting/arranging sessions during covid really helped give us a bit of extra time to make these songs the best they could be,” says Jonker. “And I feel like we pushed each other to do the best we were capable of, but we were all supporting each other at the same time and just grateful to be able to be making music together again,” Morgan follows up.
With the luxury of their close friendship as the ever-reliable anchor, it’s the unexpected moments on Together, Baby! that tell the story of how far the band has come. Album centrepiece ‘Chasing Constellations,’ a heartfelt acoustic song, started out as a garage rock thumper that Jonker initially penned for the Feelings album. “I remembered it when going into recording” says MC of the song. “I always really loved it but struggled with the melody a lot. We needed one last song and in the studio I said ‘hey, why don’t we try Dirk’s song as an acoustic’ and Dirk and Mike just thrashed it out, without me even having a melody for it at the time. It took me a few weeks to find what I wanted to say, but when it came together it was so hard to ever imagine it any other way.”
It’s the surprise banger, the penultimate track on the record, ‘Take Aim’ that further exemplifies how much the band pushed themselves on Together, Baby! With the album done and first master sent for approval, MC threw a final spanner in the works – she didn’t think ‘Take Aim’ was done – she wanted to rework and re-record the entire vocal part. “Initially ‘Take Aim‘ was solid, but we all agreed it was fine; just not a standout and thanks to MC's ability to hear the missing 5%, a re-work of the lyric and the melody at the 11th hour pushed it into the stratosphere! Now it is one of my faves!” says Morgan of the tune.
While Together, Baby! felt a very deliberate and apt title for this album – a lyric taken from the heartfelt album closer ‘Southern Light’ - it is also a reflection of how this album came to life. Starting with MC at the songwriting level and collaborating with Dirk and Mike on making those songs their own. Taking them into the studio with Mike heading up production, working on recording ideas with MC and Dirk to capture their expansive sonic vision and finally releasing them with videos crafted by Dirk, who collaborates closely with MC and drives all the creative direction. This is a band that does things together, baby, and the results is an album that oozes a tremendous amount of soul, innovation, and DIY ethos.