waiting a lifetime: splashh frontman sasha carlson on his eagerly anticipated sophomore album
The ringleader of beloved Aussie-via-London rockers Splashh takes a deep dive into his forthcoming record — from getting inspired by the Cocteau Twins to tapping fashion’s most major models of the moment as vocalists.
Splashh frontman Sasha Carlson spent the summer in the thick of the New York City heat. He mostly bounced between his apartment in Clinton Hill, where he only stopped in to sleep; Black Market Bar on Avenue A, where he DJed a weekly set (and generally got rinsed); and Rare Book Room Studio in Greenpoint, where he and the band recorded brand new tracks. But when Carlson and I speak, it's not in any of these places, or even in New York at all. He calls me from London, where he and the band have relocated in the run up to releasing Splashh's forthcoming sophomore album, Waiting A Lifetime.
London isn't exactly foreign soil for Carlson; it's where he first formed Splashh with pal Toto Vivian, and where the band self-recorded its debut album, 2013's Comfort, in a makeshift apartment studio. The record's blend of garagey energy, snarling vocals, and swirling shoegaze soundscapes struck all the right notes with critics and fans, who compared Comfort's lo-fi slacker sound to The Pixies, Tame Impala, and The Velvet Underground. Such a warm reception resulted in an extensive touring cycle — Splashh spent years relentlessly gigging the record across Europe, Asia, and Australia, where Carlson originally hails from.
Carlson grew up between Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney; he started playing music at about 15. "My dad played in a band in New Zealand called Danse Macabre, and that was kind of post-punk music, so my dad introduced me to stuff like New Order and Joy Division when I was quite young," says Carlson, whose mom was "super into Björk." "I definitely think it shaped the way I got into music, into punk." Though co-founder Vivian is also from Australia (Byron Bay, to be exact), the pair met in London, where Carlson relocated in 2012, at 22. They began writing and recording instantly, setting up shop in Vivian's Hackney flat.
Musicians often say their creative process unfolds "naturally," but for Carlson and Vivian, it's a particularly apt description. Carlson would take the sketches of songs he'd written to Vivian, who was more versed in Logic and recording software; "I brought the songs and he could turn them into something," says Carlson. They posted a few tracks on the internet, and started seeing pickup and positive responses on music blogs. "We were kind of taken by surprise, and it became more serious," Carlson explains. "Labels, management, and booking agents were reaching out; we were like, 'oh geez, we might have to put a full band together.' We didn't think about it too much, it just happened."
Such a positive response led to more shows, more press events, more everything. After years playing and promoting the Comfort tracks, Splashh thought critically about its next move. In 2015, its members split between London, and New York, seeking new ideas, new sounds, and most importantly, time. "We left London because there wasn't much inspiration here, so when we first moved to New York it was so exciting, so new," explains Carlson. "That kind of influenced the way that we wrote, and it came through in the music. There are specific songs on the album that sound more exciting. New York is a crazy place, so full-on all the time." "Rings," the first song Carlson wrote upon moving to New York, was just released on Monday as the first single off Waiting A Lifetime, due in early 2017.
"It's kind of a song about having a battle with your decisions in life and going, 'should I do this, should I do that, should I not do this…' It's really fast tempo, and I feel like it's a nice way to bring the energy of the album in," Carlson explains of "Rings." Anchored by propulsive percussion and humming guitar hooks, it's been billed as a buzzing, urgent, coming-of-age anthem. "It's kind of an ambitious track, kind of brutal," says Carlson. "We want to shock people for the first single, I don't think we should be playing it safe."
"Rings" and its Lucien Smith-designed album art not only herald Splashh's return, but gesture towards its bold new sound. While Carlson and Vivian were inspired mainly by garage rock while creating Comfort, they've since begun listening to more Air, Cocteau Twins, Suicide, and Gun Club. Carlson says this shift has resulted in more "keyboards and experiments with drum machines" on Waiting A Lifetime, which was recorded as a full band and with a proper producer, Nicolas Vernhes (whose resume includes Dirty Projectors, Deerhunter, and Animal Collective). "It's a mismatch of our favorite influences — not in the way that it's straight electronic pop, but there are different textures," says Carlson.
Another new change: guest collaborators. Specifically, models Grace Hartzel and Lili Sumner, friends of the band who contributed vocals on a few of Waiting A Lifetime's songs. "They've got great voices and love music, but they haven't pursued it, haven't put out anything. So we got them to sing on some tracks, and they did such a great job. They're just really good friends, and it was fun to get them in," says Carlson. Though Hartzel and Sumner are this record's only guests, Carlson says he's definitely interested in bringing together more collaborators for album three. "It's fun to have an outside view."
Right now, the band is getting back into the swing of London live shows. On Monday, Splashh opened for DMAs; tonight, they're supporting YAK. Come early November, they'll headline the Moth Club with photographer Zachary Chick on the drums as their newest member. And while their sound has shifted, their energy certainly hasn't. Even if Waiting A Lifetime draws influence from dreamy Scottish goths or spacey French synth masters, it's still being made by a rag-tag crew of rockers with boundless energy to match their sharply tuned ears.
Splashh plays the Moth Club on November 7. 'Waiting A Lifetime' is due out in Early 2017 via Cinematic Music Group.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Zachary Chick