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FOUR IN THE MORNING: THE ‘STRESS DREAMS’ INTERVIEW

Interview by Greg Phillips

The guys from Melbourne-based quartet Four In The Morning are clearly proud of their new baby, a 5 track EP titled Stress Dreams, which as they put it, was ‘conceived’ amid lockdowns and various other hurdles. They worked diligently with fellow Australian singer-songwriter Ainslie Wills over Zoom, bouncing files back and forth between each other and had recording dates repeatedly knocked back. It was a stressful situation as the recording grant they received from the Yarra City Council, which allowed the recording to happen, came with a fast-approaching deadline. Rather than succumb to the pressure, they persisted and used lockdown to push the songs as far as they could artistically and got the job done. The result is a wonderful EP featuring five heartfelt, atmospheric pieces of beauty … the perfect soundtrack to pop on as you peer out a rain-trickled window to contemplate life. As their press release suggests, “Led by Irish singer-songwriter Kevin Dolan and surrounded by an eclectic group of genre defying musicians (Kiran Srinivasan, Dan Walwyn and Alex Lees), Four In the Morning write sad songs for insomniacs”

It seems that the gremlins attached to the making of Stress Dreams have followed the band into the EP’s promotion as well. Our attempted zoom video interview was fraught with technical issues. However the internet gods did permit us to obtain a decent enough audio recording from the interview and we have great pleasure in presenting that transcription here.

AM: This is the first time we’ve spoken to you, so tell us how the band came together originally?

Kevin: Well I am from Ireland. I came over here and began to do a bunch of open mics and had half an idea of putting a band together when a friend of a friend put me in touch with Kiran. I’m a folk singer songwriter type but Kiran is not. I thought it was going to be a weird beginning but with just drums and acoustic guitar it did work. So we ran through a bunch of bass players and other musicians over a year or two before we stumbled across Dan on bass and then Alex came in on guitar. What’s been really fun about this project is that we all come from a fairly different musical background … Kiran being … what would you say … a funk drummer?

Kiran: Funk jazz!

Kevin: Dan is prog bass and Alex is into everything and anything. It’s the classic example of the Melbourne melting pot, it’s cool.

Alex on piano

AM: Let’s go around the board and tell me an album which was very influential to you and your musical direction.

Kiran: Tough question. My dad was a bit of a 70s rock fan so he loved Stevie Wonder and Santana, so a lot of those are big influences on me. Album-wise I would say Headhunters by Herbie Hancock, one of my big influences which taught me about funk and improvisation. It was really when I started playing keys where I picked up that sort of thing in 2003 when I really dove into that world.

Alex: Definitely Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It was a big turning point for me. It really opened my world to folk music and songwriting. My dad’s influence on me as well, he was into Shania Twain and Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel, John Farnham, all that good stuff. My mum’s influence on me was definitely folk music … sea shanties … and she got me into Joni Mitchell. It opened up a lot of avenues in terms of deep meaningful lyrics and nuance in terms of musical styles and playing.

Dan: Like the other guys I grew up with a lot of music around my dad … a lot of classic rock, Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits. Also a bit of 70s British prog like Pink Floyd. I think for me, Tool was a big band which changed my perspective on a lot of things. When I was about 16 I heard Lateralus for the first time and it changed things for me, hearing that modern heavy progressive music. Especially the bass as well. Justin Chancellor plays things in a different way. His bass parts stand alone as part of the music itself, so that was influential on the style I go for.

Kevin: I was always a bit of a big Dylan nut. I remember. I grew up playing violin and listening to Vivaldi. That was the music in my house. Playing in orchestras I was being told, this is what you have to do and then stumbling across someone who sounds like Bob Dylan and realising that you don’t have to sound pretty and that you can focus on lyrical story telling, was a huge deal. Another big one was Josh Ritter, The Animal Years album. He’s an American singer songwriter who is quite big in Ireland. Both the way he tells stories through his music, he’s written a few books as well I think, but also just his career and how he was very focused on making a living and making music over a long period of time. His music was a huge inspiration. It’s like … this could be done … anyone could come and sit down and write a song, which was exciting.

Kiran on drums

AM: Fast forward to 2021 and you’ve got an EP out during lockdown called ‘Stress Dreams’, so congratulations on that, How difficult was it working on that during the pandemic?

Kevin: The process of it was very challenging, you know just the boring logistics — we had cars break down, we couldn’t rehearse, we had to write over zoom, all that stuff. But it was mostly a joy to have something to work on over lockdown. When we could record up at the studio in Castlemaine, I think it was the first time that any of us had been out of the house in six … nine months and it was such a joy, so enjoyable and invigorating to be able play music. So it was a challenge for everybody but for me it was a bit of a life saver as well.

AM: You received a grant from Yarra City Council. What did that allow you to do?

Kevin: Well, that allowed us to make the record to be honest. We’d really nailed our live performance and were playing quite a few gigs and making a little bit of revenue. Any money we made from gigs would go into recording and suddenly that income stream wasn’t there. We were really lucky with the Yarra Council grant to give us that little boost and give us the time to go into the studio and do the songs justice.

AM: Is there a track on the EP that you are particularly proud of?

Kiran: I ask myself this question all the time. When we were recording and mastering, if you’d ask me then my answer would be different each time. I’d say now In The Dark is probably my favourite, which is the last track on the EP. When we were writing it might have been Keep it Together. When we were mastering it was Home Home. Now I think In The Dark … those last vocal harmonies near the end, they get me every time. It’s the one I play on the least too, which is quite funny.

Dan: I’d also have to say In The Dark I think but for different reasons. When Kevin was writing it and figuring out the instrumentation, we were going for a bit of a Dylan bootleg vibe where it was just acoustic guitar and bass. With everything we added it just got better and better.

Alex: I definitely agree with the guys on In The Dark. The way it all came together in the studio was unreal. It definitely exceeded our expectations. For me as well, Keep It Together, that’s pretty special for us. To meld the acoustic roots of that song, conceiving it over zoom with acoustic instruments and bringing it to life with all of the digital and synthesised add-ons, it’s a real accomplishment that we were able to achieve that vision.

Kevin: I’ll throw a spanner in the works just to be interesting. For me I really love Love In The Asylum. A lot of the EP is about missing home and being far away but that song I thought I was writing a love song but realised it was actually about all my friends back home and people that I’d lived with and how Irish men aren’t very good with their mental health. That one, the more I listen to it now it reminds me of those friends back home that I haven’t been there for, so it stands out for me.

Kevin with his J-15 and producer Jono

AM: Let’s talk about the main gear that each of you used on the EP

Kiran: It’s interesting because going back to conceiving the EP the way we would normally hash things out was as a band all in the same room. One of the most exciting things I learned during lockdown was to learn all of this stuff in the studio and it’s something I’d been wanting to do for years, learn a little bit more about synthesisers and production. So I got myself an ASM Hydrasynth in lockdown and basically it’s a semi analogue polyphonic synthesiser. Particularly on Keep It Together and Good Love, it was really fun to play with textures and just add movement to the songs. So that and I guess my other favourite piece of gear is my Sakae wooden snare drum and I love it. I’ve had it five years. It has a strange really warm sound to it.

AM: Your percussion work on the EP is quite delicate Kiran. In many cases it’s more of a colouring role rather than a keeping the beat kind of thing. Where did you learn to play like that?

Kiran: Honestly this EP was a really good learning for me. I would say in the last two years I have really started to consciously think about the place of drums in this band. It’s the old Ringo Starr adage that less is more and playing for the song not for the drummer. Coming from a jazz, funk background, which is so involved, there’s quite a lot happening so it’s just pairing it back and being interesting where it warrants being interesting. I don’t really know where I learned that to be honest. I think stripped back drumming is kind of in vogue at the moment.

Kevin: I’m a simple guy, not a huge gearhead. I have my Gibson J-15 acoustic, which is like a traditional J- 45 but with a walnut body. I love that acoustic guitar. What I always want to do is take the acoustic elements and give them a bit of a dirty elbow. With this EP I used the acoustic guitar, particularly for the writing but then using a software synth called Pigments and before I even noticed it I found it all over the EP. In my head I always thought we’d replace the sounds later but we never did. It’s a really smart and intelligently designed synth and it makes it easy to create sounds with. So it was that and Spitfire Labs, another great VST synth that has a lot of weird samples. A combination of those two soft synths and my acoustic guitar was my go-to throughout this EP.

Alex with all the guitars, and his stereo amp set up

Dan: The bass I used is the Warwick Double Buck 5 string which I have been using for the past couple of years. That bass drove some of the lines I was playing because it is quite articulate and very even across the fretboard, even up in the higher registers. I have a fairly elaborate effects board for a bass player I guess. I like to use synth sounds. Source Audio is my go-to company. They’ve come up with a full eurorack modular synth in a pedal. You can do an enormous amount of things with it. It has saw waves, syn waves. It has everything you can imagine in a tiny box.

Alex: The main guitar I used was my Fender Jaguar, which I have had for a few years now. I have put flatwound strings on it recently, which has given it a new life. I put them on my Gretsch 5120 Electromatic too. The flatwounds have allowed me to sit in this really lovely spot in the top end for our sound. Playing along with Kevin who sometimes also plays a Japanese Fender Strat, our two sounds tend to compete but with the flatwounds it gives the guitar it’s own area and I can really find my space and compliment what Kevin is doing.

Along with that I have an extensive pedal board that I have been building up for a few years and I’m pretty happy with it now. I run it into a stereo rig with two really small amps, a Vox AC4 and a 15 watt Fender Champ, stereo left and right with a reverb delay and harmonic tremolo, which has been another revelation for me. A 60s style Fender tremolo, so you get different speeds for the high and low frequencies and it gives this most incredible movement, even at really low intensity, the push and pull gives the quite delicate and simple lines I play a little edge.

AM: Has it been a difficult EP to translate into a live situation?

Alex: I think that is a challenge for us coming up. The lack of opportunity for us to knuckle down to see how these songs will work live but i think we are all excited to see what that looks like. Just the opportunity to be in a room together and work collaboratively will be great because it has been challenging.

Kevin: I think it is a bit of a lockdown EP. The songs were written sitting in a small room together when we could and I think that intimacy comes through in the EP. What I love is that getting together we will be able to play them in a way that is much bigger and I think it will be a whole new ball game and a lot of fun seeing how we can push them live and see how much fun and energy we can bring to them as we bring them out to the world.

AM: If 2022 turns out to be a better year covid-wise, what will the plans be for the band?

Kevin: I think the plan is to gig as much as possible and get in front of people because that it’s what we have missed the most. We love playing in sticky rooms with sweaty people and I think over summer that’s what we’d like to do. Potentially if we are lucky and the stars align, we’ve been getting quite a bit of radio play back in Ireland, so we would love it if we can wrangle it to organise a bit of a tour there and Europe in the homeland for Dan and I.

Listen to Stress Dreams HERE

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Four in the Morning Gear List:

Dan’s Gear List
Bass:
Warwick Double Buck 5 string

Pedals:
FDeck high pass filter
Empress compressor
COG T-16 octave
COG 66 overdrive
Source audio C4 synth
SmallSound/BigSound Fuzz
Source Audio EQ2
Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run delay
Two Notes preamp

Amp:
Genzler Magellan 800 into a Baer 112 cab

Alex’s Gear List
Guitars:
Fender Jaguar (flat wound strings)
Gretsch 5120 Electromatic (tuned to DADGAD/open D)

Amps (in stereo):
Fender Champ 1×10
Vox AC4 Handwired

Pedalboard (in signal path order):
Ernie Ball VP Junior
Boss TU3
Analogman King of Tone
Hudson Broadcast
Strymon Sunset
Strymon OB1 Compressor
Strymon Mobius
Strymon Timeline
Strymon Bigsky
The Gig Rig Humdinger (for phase control, ground isolation and sometimes wet/dry instead of Stereo)
Morningstar MC6 Midi Controller
(Controls the Sunset, Mobius,Timeline and Bigsky)

Kiran’s Gear List
Drum Kit:
4-piece Pearl Export Series that I’ve had since I was 9 years old. Wine Red, of course.
Sakae wooden snare drum
Vintage paiste cymbals

Production:
Ableton Live 11 Suite
ASM (Ashun Sound Machine) Hydrasynth Desktop
Novation Launchpad Pro MK3 used as an surface controller for Ableton
Novation Launchkey 37 MK3
Roland RS-70 synth that I’ve also had since I was 9 (shockingly, a 25 year old digital synthesiser has not aged very well)

Misc:
Roland SPD-SX
Guitar xx details
A badgeless bass guitar that a friend left at my house
A 3/4 size violin with 1.5 strings that I found in my partner’s mum’s house last year.
Kalimba

Kevin’s Gear List
Guitars:
Gibson J-15 Acoustic
80s Japanese Fender Start

Amp:
Vox AC15

Pedals:
TC Electronic Polytune 2
Fulltone OCD Drive
Walrus Audio Jupiter Fuzz
Boss RE-20 Space Echo
TC Electronic Juno-60

Production:
Ableton Live 11 Suite
Reaper
Novation Launchkey 325 MK3
Soundtoys – huge fan of these plugins
Spitfire LABs – used this all over the EP.
Arturia Pigments– used this all over the EP.