This property is condemned. The triple-storey weatherboard anomaly with vintage motorbikes in the basement and much evidence of rock & roll behaviour within is visibly sagging between towers of steel and glass just off one of Melbourne's busiest intersections.
"You've caught it in its ugliest state," says Kingswood guitarist Alex Laska, weaving through a kitchen lined with Sixties rock posters. Demolition of the band's rented HQ keeps being postponed, but in the aftermath of sessions for a stunning second album, After Hours, Close To Dawn, "it's become a shambles," he confesses. "I mean, we don't even know where the keys are."
A depleted rack of guitars occupies a dusty alcove under the stairs. Singer Fergus Linacre pauses to single out one vintage sci-fi plank with ironic affection. "You know what's probably had the biggest impact on the record? This $200 Epiphone Thunderbird bass."
"Definitely," Laska concurs. "That is the soul of the new record."
Soul is the key word here. You can feel that smouldering bottom end slithering like a gun-packing pimp under the slow groove of "Golden", the second single from an album destined to polarise fans of Kingswood's guitar-heavy 2014 debut, Microscopic Wars.
Sure there was a restless musical spirit simmering inside that album's mostly metallic road case. But after intense, experimental sessions here and in Nashville, not even those in the band's inner sanctum knew what to make of the first playback of After Hours, Close To Dawn.
"The record label thought we were playing a joke on them," Laska grins, settling into the living/studio control room with a packet of Iced Vo-Vos. "They thought we needed to change our name. Then they said I needed to go over the record with a heavy, distorted guitar. We were just like, 'Nuh'."
Linacre happily admits to the heavy rock roots that bonded him and his Melbourne Grammar school buddies Laska and drummer Justin Debrincat. But Zeppelin, Aerosmith and AC/DC were eclipsed for this album by an even more hallowed quartet. Staring us down from a poster above are the Beatles in their late Sixties pomp. "The premise of our first discussion with Ed [Spear, Nashville-based producer] was that we wanted to make something that would rival Abbey Road. I know it sounds insane, but if you don't strive for that kind of thing, what are you doing?"
Defining the timeless quality of the Beatles' studio swansong of '69 is an esoteric business that has songwriter Laska physically reaching for flamboyant metaphors in the ether. "Think of the feeling you get when you listen to that bass on 'Come Together'," Laska enthuses. "How do you encapsulate that? So we tried to get moments like that on this album. What is the magic and the madness behind that?"
The quest led to studio methodology that was highly technical, and sometimes just bizarre. Like the 60-odd vocal takes of "Looking For Love" that peaked only after Linacre was rendered almost legless on bad whiskey. Or the time he got stuffed into a sleeping bag to nail the airless anxiety of "Alabama White".
The lonely, 4am thread of the project was fuelled, Laska confesses, by the emotional wrench of a long-term love relocating to New York. But it's a sign of rare personal chemistry that Linacre was able to channel those emotions into such a – that word again – soulful experience.
"I was really pleased," the singer says, "because for ages he was like, 'Man, I can't write songs at the moment because life is so good. I'm so happy. Girlfriend's going well, band's going well... I got nothing.'"
Career-wise, the pair agree that Kingswood's bold recalibration might well result in some audience attrition. Then again, says Linacre, "we have complete faith in our fans. People who love the band will jump on board and they'll get it. But really, it's not anyone's choice. This is the music we make. People will love it or they won't. What we're really excited about is the people who have never heard us before."
From issue #785 (April 2017), available now. Top photo: Debrincat, Laska, Linacre (from left).