An Interview with Australian Post-Rock Band Meniscus
Meniscus is an Australian post-rock band hailing from Sydney. In 2016, they released their second full-length Refractions. They formed in 2005 and are active in a burgeoning post-rock scene in their home country. I had the opportunity to ask Dan, Alison, Alex, and Marty some questions about the recording of Refractions, the band’s history, and where the band is headed next.
Hello all in Meniscus. Thanks for doing this. I guess we should start by having you all introduce yourselves to our readers and telling us what each of you do in the band.
Dan Oreskovic – guitars and programming
Alison Kerjean – I play bass guitar
Alex O’Toole – drums
Marty Wong – projections and video
How did you all get started in music?
Dan: I have an older sister that could sing, play flute, drums, and guitar. As a result, there were always instruments in the house. I mostly treated them as toys, until I heard Nirvana in the mid-nineties, and it was all about guitar from that point.
Alex: My friends in high school were my main reason for getting into drums and playing in bands. Before that point, my exposure to music had been mainly through dance and singing badly in the car with the fam on road trips.
Alison: I fell in love with music at a young age and found it was an easy place to escape to or focus my energy into. Although we didn’t have many instruments around the house until I was a young teenager I’d already surrounded myself with a variety of musical genres that I still relate back to when making music.
Marty: I don’t play any musical instruments.
Your bio says that you’ve been a band since 2005. Can you talk a bit about how the band formed and what sort of developments have occurred since then?
Dan: I started the initial writing and jamming in late 2002 with some high-school friends. Then Alison joined in 2003, took over bass guitar duties, and we played some shows to get a bit of experience before Duncan (Drums) joined the band in 2004, bringing the name “meniscus” with him. We then spent a solid year writing, before playing our first show in 2005 in Sydney. Marty joined the band around 2009, expanding our live show to include video projections.
Marty: Previous to being called Meniscus (pre-Duncan) they performed under the name Black Hood Article.
As a post-rock band in Sydney, what is the music scene in your city? How about the rest of the country? Has the genre found a large audience in Australia?
Dan: The scene for post-rock bands is pretty huge, relatively speaking. We’ve got a solid melting pot of talented artists in this field, and that expands to cities all over Australia. As a niche genre in the wider musical landscape, it has been traditionally difficult to break into the markets normally reserved for bands with vocals and radio friendly music. However, we’ve seen bands like sleepmakeswaves, We Lost The Sea, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, Solkyri and Dumbsaint play these bigger venues and they never fail to impress.
Alex: There is definitely some headway being made at the moment with niche music in this country. Instrumental rock music is escaping the shadows, so to speak, helped largely by the bands Dan has mentioned. Two independent labels in Sydney are consistently supporting and growing the scene – Bird’s Robe Records and Art As Catharsis. I highly recommend checking out both of their bandcamp pages, so many great bands to discover.
Musically, do you find the confines a three-piece restricting? What sort of creative moves do you have to make to make a three-piece fit the vision you might have in your head for a song?
Dan: Most of my all-time favourite bands are three pieces! The Police, Cog, Three Trapped Tigers, Oolluu, PVT, Battles, Jakob, Seekae. They all have a collective sound that seems to be greater than the sum of its parts.
It is difficult, as we’re all required to cover a lot more sonic territory, carry rhythm and melody, whilst still putting on a show. But that there is the challenge that makes doing what we do so rewarding. I use looping pedals and always try to create very dense layers of sound. Most of my all-time favourite bands are three pieces.
Alex: I love the three-piece format. It allows space for everyone to play creatively and explore their instrument, which I guess is the sonic territory Dan is talking about. There is never a feeling of stepping on each other’s toes or needing to play a certain role, which can be the case in larger groups. And you can still make a huge sound! I think about a heap of classic bands that have three instrumentalists (plus vocals) who put out a huge sound – Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Them Crooked Vultures, Tool. A big recent discovery for me is Tigran Hamasyan and his album Mockroot, which has all but one song performed in trio format.
Marty Wong, can you tell us a bit about your work with the band? You are listed as a part of the band and therefore appear intricate to it? What inspires your visual work and what sort of art work did you do before joining the band?
Marty: Dan and I met about 15 years ago working in retail and became close friends. At the time I was interested in film/video production and was getting some experience attaching myself to various projects (features, shorts, music videos, etc). I’d also done some arty stuff with stencils and mixed media (I can’t draw unfortunately), exhibiting in a few group shows. When Meniscus began playing shows I jumped on board to provide some visual stimulus to accompany their performance and I’ve been doing it ever since. Along with the live visuals I make the music videos, manage the website and social media (facebook/youtube), and anything else that needs to get done with the others are busy.
The visuals typically come from listening to the new material and thinking up a theme/concept. I tend to think more visually than auditory and sometimes the music conjures particular imagery in my mind and I run with it.
What is the writing process like for you as a band? I’ve noticed that Refractions have a larger grouping of songs that clock in at much longer times than your first LP. Has the process of writing changed in any significant way between your first full-length War of Currents and your current LP Refractions?
Dan: It’s a hybrid approach. A lot of songs are ideas fleshed out in the bedroom and arranged into a rough outline for us to jam on together. Then there are songs that are 90% pre-written before getting together, and then there are the songs that are written entirely in the jamming environment. We try to keep our workflow open and not stifle any one way. The main thing that changed for us this time around, is that we had Cameron leave and Alex join halfway through the process, which then prompted us to re-write and record some existing songs.
Alex: I found the writing approach to be very organic in Meniscus. There was almost no time lost to learning new methodologies or workflows between joining the band and getting involved with composition. I feel lucky that no directions or briefs were given to me as the ‘new guy’, which allows me to follow my instincts with new material. We’re open to anyone in the group developing on an idea, even if the idea originally came from another member, which is great. Sometimes that development will happen naturally in a jam, sometimes more consciously through discussion or after a review of demo recordings. The main thing is that everyone is vibing on the overall sound being produced.
I am really enjoying Refractions. I find your choice of tones and textures brilliant in so many of the compositions. How do you go about choosing the tones and textures you use on any given track?
Dan: Thank you! Most of the sounds are born of amassing a large array of pedals and effects and refining the tones over years of playing live and jamming together. Because our music is very loop-driven, a lot of sounds that get layered need to be complimentary, and you just sort of develop the ear for it over time. When we record, we don’t spend time worrying about tones, instead, we just focus on getting the right vibe from the beginning and running with that.
I like to ask bands about specific tracks on their most recent releases. Can you talk more about the conceptualization, writing, and recording of “Fingers” and “Hamster” off Refractions?
Dan: Fingers started out as a completely different idea, and it was something that hung around for a while unfinished until I ended up completely scrapping all but the softer sections and writing something completely different. Once Alex laid down his drums, I knew the track was ready to appear on this record.
We toured Hamster a fair bit when Cam was in the band, so we had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do. It’s a song that was written by jamming in the rehearsal space, so we wanted to keep that live feel when we recorded it.
Alex: Hamster has two clear halves – the cruisey, almost dub sounding start, and the end which develops into a kind of controlled mayhem, haha. I really wanted to bring a breakbeat feel to the second half, an electronic-inspired groove that could grow in intensity as the various guitar layers are added.
Fingers is a bit of a riff-fest, and Dan had a fairly solid idea of how he wanted the drums to sit when I heard it for the first time. I was mainly keen to follow his lead and just try to make it sound big. In the later sections, we worked together to make the rhythm a little more interesting by dropping beats and placing accents around that.
For the gearheads who read our site, what gear do you use in the studio and do you use live?
Dan: Our live gear and studio gear are almost identical. Alison and I use the same amps, guitars and effects for everything. For me, it’s Bad Cat and Hiwatt amps, and custom guitars built by Jon Shub. Alison uses a Fender Jazz Bass, as well as another custom Shub build, through an old Mesa Boogie bass amp. Our effects boards have changed a lot over the years, but I always make sure I have an overdrive, looper, 2-3 delay pedals, and reverb. The rest of the rig is built up on a need-per-song basis. Too many to mention individually, but I have been quite taken by Strymon pedals of late.
The only thing that we used in the studio and not live is our trusty Moog Little Phatty synth. We sample those sounds and play them back using an Ableton Live rig. Alison also does a lot of playing on a synth bass pedal which makes up for the lack of live synths.
Alex: I’m using the same cymbals whether live or in the studio. Cymbals are such a massive part of any drummer’s sound. Mostly I’m using Zildjians, K and A series for my 3 crashes and ride, a trash splash, and also a Sabian holy china. My snare travels with us to shows, a maple Gretsch. The other drums can change from gig to gig depending on what we can arrange for backline, I have to be pretty flexible there! I find that the sound of your drums are more reliant on tuning and head selection than brand. All of the major companies (and a heap of boutique companies) are making great drums, so I’m always happy to play them live. In the studio, I have an old beat up Premier that still sounds huge with the right heads and tuning. I love Vater Gospel Fusion sticks, no matter the situation. They are just perfect for the type of response I want. I regularly buy every pair at my local drum shop because they are often hard to find in Aus!
So, what’s next for Meniscus?
Dan: We plan to hit the road in 2017 to promote the record, both in Australia and Overseas. With any luck, we’ll be working on album no. 3 by the end of that cycle.
Alex: We have just announced a 15-show European tour in May/June, starting with Dunk! Festival in Belgium. We are super excited to be coming back and to be playing with our buddies We Lost The Sea and Dumbsaint at most shows. Full details on our website and facebook page. Pretty keen to begin the next batch of songs too, we won’t be waiting so long between releases this time!
Thanks so much for answering my questions! Do you have any other comments?
Dan: Thanks for your support!
Alex: No worries, thank you 🙂
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