It was a mild Thursday night in Melbourne and After Touch had just come off the stage. This had been the first show for the band since their name change from Easy Life, and it had gone down a treat.
Despite being present in the scene since their 2014, I couldn’t help but feel like they’d only just ‘arrived’ as a band; at least in terms of intention and drive, and I wanted to know more about that vibe. On the footpath outside Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar, I had a chat with vocalist Max Pasalic, filling me in on the transition from Easy Life to After Touch.
I soon learned that the seed for After Touch had been planted at a time of uncertainty for Easy Life. They were in a lull as a band, and ‘barely practicing’. At one of those few practice sessions, guitarist Jack Rankin had brought along the riff for “I’m Fading Away” and the band had started to play it. Getting to the chorus, Max was suddenly inspired to use his voice and sing versus scream, for the first time ever. Though his band mates were taken aback by this, and argued that he wouldn’t be able to do it, Max gave it a go and the attempt was successful enough that it stuck.
“So I went into the studio and recorded it, just that one single, and ended up passing it on to Josh Howes [band manager]. The song goes for three minutes and ten seconds. He saw it as soon as we sent it to him, and after three minutes and ten seconds he said to us ‘This is fucking good’. That’s kind of when we decided ‘We’re onto something here’. That’s how we kind of ended up doing the EP and got in touch with UNFD and again started taking the band seriously.”
There was a noticeable maturity with “I’m Fading Away” (released August 2017) where the band recognised their own growth in confidence as well as a growth in skill with their individual voice/instruments. This inspired them to push forward and record more new music that included singing as well as electronics, demoing around fifteen songs for You Wish This Was About You.
Fast forward to February 2018, when Max and his bandmates Jack Rankin (guitar), Jesse Mate-Gallo (guitar), Kurt Haywood (bass), and Jordan Pranic (drums), were huddled around Elliott Gallart’s laptop at Chameleon Sound. Upon hearing the first mixes and masters of the music they’d worked on, there was a collective realisation: ‘This isn’t really us. And it’s different. But we like it.’
As a result of progressively growing confidence and self-belief, After Touch was born. Under the moniker of Easy Life, the band had fallen into a rut of believing that singing or having effects in music would be ‘too hard’. Max described the ethos they had as “We can just go and play our music. Plug in and play.” They were literally living true to their Easy Life name, and taking the easy options and “just playing hardcore music or music that we weren’t super keen on”, as opposed to pushing into more difficult territory.
Even though the music they’re making now as After Touch is more difficult, Max gets excited when describing where the band are at, sharing that they’ve been able to make the record he’d want to hear, and are creating music he loves.
As well as a name change, long-term listeners of the Shellharbour band may recognise a shift in the lyrical content. Debut EP There Can’t Be This Much Water In The Sky touched on anxiety and mental health, and this was also what Max had in mind when going into the new EP. Though he had had a lot of personal things going on by way of romantic relationships, he was hesitant to open up and ‘make a breakup record’.
Kel: “Because of the vulnerability or..?”
Max: “Yeah, the vulnerability. Definitely vulnerability. I didn’t want to go too open with that kind of subject matter. I just thought ‘You know what, let’s just keep it about me. Let’s just keep it about anxiety and depression’.”
“When we started to write You Wish This Was About You, I was writing a lot of lyrics that were kind of like.. airy fairy, not a whole lot of deep and meaningful themes. It was kind of just like hanging onto the same ideas we had on There Can’t Be This Much Water In The Sky. Of course the anxiety and depression continues on with this EP but I think I wanted to extend it to how I was relating to other people. I’ve always found like.. difficulty with romantic relationships. I think everybody does.”
The first track of You Wish This Was About You that the band recorded was “I Heard”. With the guys curious about the lyrics, Max shared with them his experience of putting someone on a pedestal, describing it to me as “instilling so much faith in someone. And at the end of the day that person can crumble, that person can leave, and then you’ve lost everything you’ve put into them.” In response to his explanation, Max says “They really understood it. Much faster than any of my other lyrics.” This understanding from his band was a boost of confidence and reassurance for Max, keen to continue down a more open path.
While the aggressive “I Heard” was the first track written for You Wish This Was About You, the more intimate and honest “Cherry” was written last. Max sees the differences between the two pieces of music as an obvious progression of how the band changed in the process of exploring this new sound, along with Max becoming more and more open when it comes to writing lyrics.
With “Cherry” a distinct personal favourite of mine, I dove onto the topic at Max’s mention of the track. Echoing my praises of the song, Max shares that it’s After Touch’s collective favourite song right now, before describing how the song demos were so very different (and maybe one day they’ll be released). “The only thing that kind of remained was ‘cherry is so sweet’ falsetto, and yeah when I recorded that all the guys were like ‘whoa, this is catchy’.”
Elaborating more on “Cherry”, and at the same time reinforcing his belief in the band’s honing of sound, Max says “I think what’s good about the new record is the sound of it isn’t necessarily heavy. It’s impactful and it’s strong and we have distorted guitars and what not. But we’re not trying to make a record that uses down-tuned breakdowns because we feel bad, we feel angry. It’s not about that. We made an EP that is as crushing in emotion as it is in sound. I think it’s really powerful.”
As I noticed in my review, several songs of the EP have really distinct creations of tension, where they build up powerfully before hitting realisations mid-song. Max says “It’s what I like so much about our songs. I felt that, and being able to sing those songs is cathartic in a way. I think it’s really important and I’m loving the fact that so many people are understanding that. I can only sing these songs as best as I can because I felt all those emotions. As cliche as that sounds..”
Drifting off a little, Max seems momentarily thoughtful about “Cherry”, describing it as ‘very tragic’ and ‘hard to grapple’, and I’m struck with how this relatively new territory of openness is still being navigated by this band, in more ways than one.
Kel: “Was “Cherry” hard to write?”
Max: “It was hard to write yeah. It was hard to write, but it was hard to sing for the first time.. because.. yeah..”
Kel: “Was that tonight?”
Max: “Maybe not tonight. We’ve been practicising it for a bit. The first practice at the studio when we sung that back was very.. It ends in such a way that’s almost stepping into this world and it kind of trails away as if like, something so grand and so tragic has happened, but then at the end it’s not really anything anymore.”
Kel: “And it seems like nothing’s happened because you go back to this chorus. A realisation of how manipulated you’ve been, and then staying. That hits like UGH.”
Max: “Yeah, it’s like an addiction to love.”
Changing the topic, I returned to “I Heard”; curious to know the intention/meaning behind the lyric ‘stepped into the negative space beyond the pale’. Max explained that the ‘negative space’ indicates a turning of tables, and being able to step outside of a fixation on someone. “The song is about putting someone on a pedestal and putting so much faith into them, and then going ‘Wait, are you really what I think you are?’. And ultimately they’re not, and I think that’s what happens. ‘Now I’m the hammer, you’re my little nail’. It’s a role reversal. ‘Now I get to decide. I place myself upon the pedestal, like I am proud of the things I can do on my own, and I don’t need validation from someone else’. That’s why now ‘I’m the hammer and you’re the nail’.”
Also lyrically in You Wish This Was About You are references to God. In talking about putting a lover on a pedestal in this way, I was curious whether the song “You Wish This Was About You” is literally talking about God/faith or this idealised adoration. Candidly, Max admits “I got to the point where I wasn’t so much worshipping people, but I was worshipping this idea that I needed someone in my life to validate me and make me feel happy and feel loved.”
Kel: “A relatable topic.”
Max: “Yeah. And it’s kind of this interplay. A story of: I’m in a relationship and I worship this person, in a way that I don’t even want to do this, but it just happens subconsciously, like I can’t get out of it. And the idea is basically ‘I think god made me wrong, been in the dark for too long’ is that I did believe in a God. I pushed that belief aside, and put that faith that I had in an actual God into a person. And that will never work. That’s why at the song I say ‘God is a million miles away’. It’s not that I believe in an actual God, but I’ve pushed away all of that just to place faith into someone that ultimately just left.”
“The ‘Warrior in hell’ line is like, ‘Now I’ve pushed away this idea of heaven, and this person has left me, I have nothing else to worship, nothing else to put my faith into, now I’m literally in hell.’ It feels like at times when you’re that anxious and depressed, it feels like you’re literally a warrior trying to battle through a living hell.”
Kel: “Is that because you’re trying to find something to put your faith into?”
Max: “Yeah I think so. I think I’m always trying to search. I do this in my own life. I feel like I’m always searching for.. not something to make me feel better, but for something to make me feel fulfilled. And I think that that idea of worshipping someone coincides with that. Like I don’t really have – at that time in my life, it’s a long time ago now – I didn’t have anything to go off besides putting my total faith into someone, and when that person leaves..”
Kel: “..You’re wrecked.”
Max: “You’re wrecked. And you’re literally in hell. So, you’re fighting through it.”
Contained within the track is a very isolating moment, where a cry of “God is a million miles away” instantly conjured a scene in my mind’s eye of a lone human calling out into the cosmos for someone (anyone) to care. Max shares that the first mix of the track was just really raw, with no effects or reverb. “I said to our engineer Elliot, ‘That needs to sound like I’m screaming that into the abyss.'”
The track then pulls back to intimate focus when a sharpened yet whispered “You wish this was about you” is cleanly delivered. By way of this lyric (and the EP title), Max expands on it to say “The extended title should be ‘You Wish This Was About You, But It’s About Me’. The whole record is about me dealing with these experiences and these feelings. Instead of just writing a corny breakup record, I tried to flip it and write it about how I was experiencing it, not how I thought someone else was experiencing it. Not how I thought someone else was feeling. This was just what I was dealing with and what I had to go through. This is about hitting rock bottom and having to own up to yourself in a way.”
“Six Feet Closer” was another track where I wasn’t sure if I understood the meaning behind it, and Max explained the use of the grave yard depth in terms of closeness. “It’s relating to the death of a relationship. If I’m at the end of my rope, the only way to end this.. the metaphor is killing the relationship. Killing this bond with someone. The only way to do that.. I couldn’t do it myself, and the other person couldn’t do it. To be honest I couldn’t say it to that person, so that song “Six Feet Closer” is all the things I wish I could have said, but didn’t have the guts to say, if I’m honest. “Six Feet Closer” is literally me saying ‘Well if you’re going to end this, you literally need to come close to me and step six feet closer, as that death metaphor, and like kill it’.
Kel: “To have that conversation and that finality”
Max: “Yeah. Like ‘I’m at the edge of my rope, there’s nothing more I can do, but we’re still at this limbo, so to move forward, this has to die.'”
Kel: “Right, and ‘bury your cold heart in me’..”
Max: “Yeah, all the things I put you through, all the pain you put me through, just – just so you can move on – just bury it in me and then go and I’ll deal with it. And I’ll accept it for what it is.”
Looking to the future for After Touch, it’s all about getting these songs they love out to people in a live setting. They’ll continue their EP tour, play Yours & Owls Festival, Hysteria Halloween, head to Perth, as well as play shows that are so far unannounced.
Catch After Touch near you soon: https://www.facebook.com/pg/aftertouchsound/events/
Or step into You Wish This Was About You:[After Touch image courtesy of Liam Davidson: Instagram | Learn more about Liam]