Jensen Thjung keeps busy. I first heard his work via the band Lower Plenty, who make haunting, low-key music that treads the line between unsettling bliss and disquieting obsession. Thjung is also one-quarter of the Melbourne-based rock band Deaf Wish, who released their latest album, Wish, on Sub Pop in the second half of last year. (Also in the group: bassist Nick Pratt, drummer Daniel Twomey and guitarist Sarah Hardiman.) Deaf Wish’s show at Alphaville was, flat-out, one of the best shows I saw last year, summoning a space where frenetic noise and hardcore urgency could coexist. I spoke with Thjung over the phone at the end of last year about the origin and current state of both of his bands.
It’s been eight years since Deaf Wish’s first record came out. How would you say the band has evolved in the time since then?
Well, not all that eight years had been spent together as well. There’s been a lot of time apart from the band. The first and third record were done very quickly with the same lineup in the band. The second record was done with another member for the sake of…
How you would say the band has changed in that time, musically speaking?
It’s hard to tell, we have kind of settled into our process now, I think. As much as we try and blow apart what we are doing, we are always using loud guitars, and before that sort of is the same. We haven’t done a synth record yet, but that’s out of the question.
Are all of you based in the same city again, or is it a little more scattered?
We are all in Melbourne now.
What is your typical process? You had an EP come out before the full-length last year, were all of the songs written for both at the same time or do you generally write with a particular record in mind? Or do you just have the songs kind of waiting to be on the right record?
We are always aiming to make an album, we are all from album generations, we all love albums, but part of the process of making an album is trying not to make an album, to sort the songs out, if that makes sense. That’s one approach we have, getting a bunch of songs, going in to record them, just seeing what they are and what we have and trying to force out a few more while we are in the process of recording.
I think the trickiest thing about recording is the age of the song, sometimes you can play it too much before you have recorded it or too soon, so I think if you get in the right window, that is a skill of it’s own in recording. I think yeah, we were probably trying to make an album, but had to look at what we got and decided an EP was better, and some of those songs, that didn’t get used on that, went through on the album in the second section, which became the album.
Do you have a preferred way to go into the studio at this point with the band? Is it pretty typical, or do you have anything a little out of the ordinary you like to do?
We keep it really simple. We’ve used the same machine for every recording. Some force governing the group that doesn’t allow us to do all the things we want to do, we kind of seem to exist in the last three weeks of panic before something has to get done. (laughter) It always ends up being the simplest method by the song. When you ask so many questions about recording, I’m kind of letting people down because it’s not that interesting. We record it all on to the tape and then try and squeeze as many on as we can and see what we have. We’ve never been in a recording studio, we’ve always just found a room and set up and played. We always track everything live, but you know, I pump up the harmonies because that’s the fun part.
So you sort of knew from day one that you wanted to start finding the space rather than finding the right studio?
I think immediacy has been a big part of the process with this group. And trying not to overthink anything you know. Really the version that would come from this idea that we don’t have a band that’s going to be longer than this record or have to worry about shows. Most people in bands have started dozens of bands in bars and pubs that don’t make it because everyone has such grand plans of where they have to be, whereas that was totally taken out the equation. We are just going to get together and make something. I think that’s a good approach. Ironically, we have made four albums, but what do you do when you sing a song, you sing another one.
There are a lot of different styles that can be heard on the album. Were you playing in bands before this one or was this kind of the first time you were playing?
Yeah, we are all individually in different bands before this one and we knew each other from around town. But this honestly the first time I’d made a record that was I was really proud of and wanted to show everyone, you know what I mean. It came from kind of getting everyone together and kind of blow up everything we had done and maybe the future as well, but this is something sort of had the sound and energy that I was trying to get before that.
What is the music scene in Melbourne like? Is it the scene you came up in?
It’s great. I don’t think a band like this could exist in any other city I’ve been to. I’m from Western Australia. Melbourne is really strong, there are lots of bands and there’s lots of venues supporting it and community and all that stuff. There’s a lot going on all the time and that’s why a lot of people come here to play in bands and play music and stuff.
Is that what first brought you there?
Has the city changed a lot since you have been there?
I’ve been here sixteen years now and a lot has changed. Population had rocketed, but the scene is still really strong and we still have great places to play and all the good people are still around.
Listening to the record, I feel like there are a lot of different members of the band singing, but also very different vocal approaches. Where does the vocal aspect of the song come into play as you are writing it?
That’s an interesting question. It’s very rarely we don’t build the song together at the same time. We might want to make a song that sounds like a deafening war ship exploding and we try to figure that out, for example. We find a starting point and kind of build it together. When it comes time to, a lot of the songs might have vocals until sort of the last part where someone says I want to put this on it and they can adjust it from there. You might have someone come in that wants to scream or with a line and we will build the song the other way. But it’s a very democratic process, everyone has a go you know, and brings their own kind of issue with them.
I was particularly struck on the new record by listening to “Eyes Closed” where the vocals are just so raw compared to some of the other parts on the record.
Nick is really good at that, you know. He plays bass on this and he’s got his way, that blown out voice, but you don’t have to do anything to him, you don’t need more than one take. He just spits it out, he doesn’t even really write the song before sometimes, he’s just standing in front of the mic. He’s a freak. (laughter)
How long have you guys known one another? Since the band began or before that?
I knew the drummer, we were in a band and knew each other for a few years before. The other guys, we didn’t know at the time at all. I can’t remember why we put everyone together, but it’s a mystery, we still don’t know each other. (laughter)
You also play in Lower Plenty with one of the band members right?
Yeah, that’s me and Daniel, the drummer.
Which one started first?
Lower Plenty started two or three years after Deaf Wish. Deaf Wish was ’07 and Lower Plenty is ’10.
Do you find that you play together in the same way in both bands or is there kind of a give and take between the two?
It’s really different. The reason I like starting as a sort of was not to carry any gear anywhere, we just play at home. We just grab an acoustic guitar, we just play at home. It’s different, you know Deaf Wish is noise, you can play the whole set with stumps for hands, but Lower Plenty you have to play the guitar in a certain way. It’s a different approach, but that is intentional.
I feel like, with certain bands you can listen to one song and you have a pretty good idea what the next song is going to sound like. With both of your bands, you don’t necessarily know what to expect in terms of who is going to be singing the next song or what the mood of the next song is going to be like.
That’s good. I’ve only ever written one song, so I have to space them out in between the others. Every song is a variation on the same song. (laughter)
Since you started playing guitar, has your style changed at all during the years or has it stayed pretty similar?
I do it a lot more, especially on tour. And you get acquainted with the songs because you are doing them every night, which has been really good. To be honest, some times I pick up the guitar and I’m like what am I meant to do with this machine. I always sort of revert back to square one, that’s where I live. It’s because I can change a sound, I can get a lot of pedals, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I play with them for a couple of hours and just rip them out and just plug the thing back in, it’s just what I feel most comfortable doing, but I write a lot of stuff on the nylon string or the acoustic guitar. I’m actually not hearing as good, I don’t like loud noises anymore.
Do you go out at all to see music when you aren’t playing music? Or are you staying in these days?
No, we are out a lot. That’s what’s good about Melbourne, there’s always something good on, two or three nights a week there is always something good on.
All styles of music, or do you have a preference as far as what you’re going to see?
There is a lot of techno, and we go and see our friends, and there are a lot of different styles out here–so everything.