Sitting in his small Brunswick East apartment, sipping at a cup of black coffee, Crepes frontman and songwriter Tim Karmouche describes the Melbourne indie-pop band's debut record, Channel Four, as a huge learning process. The room off to Tim's left — scattered with drum machines, mic stands and snaking cables – is the 'rough demo' space, where Tim self taught himself most of the skills and habits he'd need to release the band's debut 2015 EP, Cold Summers.
Eventually, Karmouche realised, he'd have to break apart those habits – and relearn a lot – to finish up the band's first full length, due out in late October.
Now, nearing the album's release via Deaf Ambitions/Spunk, Karmouche talks to Rolling Stone about the lead-up to their debut, trashing an album's worth of music, and recording with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's Stu Mackenzie. Also, hear "Mild Conversation", the exclusive first preview from Channel Four, streaming below.
Before we talk about Channel Four, I wanted to ask about "Hidden Star". It seems like an out of place one-off song, what happened there?
Oh yeah! It was meant to be the first song off the album. But the album wasn't even nearly finished yet. It kinda just ended up in a weird part of the timeline. A year on from Cold Summers but a year before Channel Four. We didn't know what the hell we were doing. I think we wanted to keep the momentum going: but it was a pretty bad idea in hindsight. I'm still happy with that song.
Do you still perform it?
Yeah, yeah. It's one of our favourites to perform live. I think if we were ever going to do a Cold Summers re-issue we'd tack that on the end there. It's definitely more of that period.
There seems like there's this niggling thing for you in terms of momentum...
Yeah totally. We wanted to be touring the country and touring overseas. We'd seen bands come out at the same time and take those steps, we wanted to do that as well. We weren't ready at that time, the final form of the band hadn't even been playing shows for that long. I feel like now, we're ready. We kinda know how to be a band now.
Before Channel Four, you had a record that you pulled the plug on, what happened there?
We did a few different sessions for this album. But it was some perfectionist thing in me that I didn't want any of that to be on our first record. It's all part of the big learning curve I suppose. When to be a perfectionist and when to be... I don't know what the word is.
Yeah and knowing when to let things go – and if I had my time again with that I'd have moved on and just used them and made them work.
How did the other band members take it?
They were pretty tolerant. I'm sure it got frustrating for them, but they're super helpful and reliable. We all just wanted to get this record done so we could play some shows.
Do you think you were putting a lot of pressure on yourself at that time?
I think I just went in there knowing what I wanted, but y'know, when you don't know how to make an album you're never going to get what you want. It never felt like a coherent album though. First few times we went to record, we got maybe three or four songs done, but there was never that album vision.
What was the experience of recording with Stu Mackenzie from King Gizzard like?
He's awesome. He has a super quick way of working obviously.
As is evident in their output.
Yeah, he was just like: "alright, good, move on, next thing". Which was probably the complete opposite mindset of what I had. I wanted to analyse and fawn over things. Every song we did with Stu is on the record, like "Mild Conversation" and "Four Years Time". I'd love to work with Stu again of course.
Exclusive premiere stream of 'Mild Conversation', from 'Channel Four':
Channel Four is a hell of a lot happier-sounding than Cold Summers. Did you consciously write it that way?
Not really. I mean, it's hard to say, I'm still trying to sum that up myself. I guess it's just songs over that two-year period after releasing Cold Summers, that stage of early adulthood. I'd like to think it's the last of the super sad songs from me, I feel like I'm over-writing those songs. The new ones we're making are...not even especially happy, just not so moaney! I listen to my old stuff and I just think, 'man, life's not that bad, c'mon'.
What were some of the strongest influences on the record?
I was listening to a lot of George Harrison, "All Things Must Pass" etc. A lot of Graham Nash and a lot of that kind of 70s studio-rock. Tonnes of American indie stuff too: Chris Cohen, Weyes Blood, Ariel Pink. That's the kind of production I wanted to go for.
Have you shared the album with people much prior to release?
Most of my friends will — if they've finished an album — will just share it with all their mates, but I think I'm a bit too scared to do that.
Even after having positive responses to work you've put out, why do you think you lack confidence in sharing new work?
I don't know; it's that initial phase when you finish an album that I guess you've spent so much time on it that you're not mentally prepared for any negative feedback on it [laughs]. You also don't want to be told it's good if it's not. I'd be fine if someone told me like 'oh yeah, nah, it's not great', I've come to terms with that. It's also so different to a lot of the music the bands I like in Melbourne are making.
Australian music is stacked with incredible artists, many of which come from LGBTQI+, GNC, POC, and varied other backgrounds. Where do you think you, and Crepes, fit within that community?
Obviously, we're all dudes, I mean, we've even been labelled a 'boy-band', which isn't a term I love, but I'll accept it. We're amongst the whole community that does want a diverse music scene, and I think it is in places. We don't want to play on line-ups that are just all dudes, we want to play on diverse line-ups.
That said, our awareness has definitely been raised in the last few years by all the brave people that aren't afraid to speak up and call things out, and also campaign to raise awareness. What I'd like to see it become is something that's not necessarily even thought about much, and in certainly places that's true, it's just bands playing with other bands.
Do you have musical ambitions that are beyond something like Crepes?
I would love to just record albums and songs in the same way that I recorded Cold Summers, y'know just have a studio full of gear and go to town that way. With Channel Four it was more a case of; we had the demos and we were working off those and then...
And you think that's what made it harder?
Yeah, definitely. Because I wanted to make it about the band and all the other guys, and I think if I recorded stuff [like Cold Summers], it wouldn't fit the mould of what Crepes is now.