Despite spending countless hours with music, the studio side of things was something that was foreign to me. Sydney based Bloom had mentioned that they would be recording a follow up to their Past Tense EP in Melbourne, and they were kind enough to allow myself and photographer/videographer Liam Davidson to tag along for a day in November 2019. Fast forward to 2020 and we know that the release is a five track EP called In Passing.
Let me set the scene for you: After navigating the rabbit warren streets of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs for a bit, I arrived at Chris Vernon’s home studio on a Saturday morning, finding the members of Bloom (and Liam) already into it. The action all happens in a front room of the house, which is lit by fairy lights and has acoustic foam squares dotting the walls. Instruments are parked in stands and in front of Chris is two keyboards; one musical, one computerish.
The vibe is relaxed, if not a bit sleepy, and surprisingly casual for what I’d considered to be a pretty big moment in a band’s career. I soon realised that some of this sedate atmosphere is due to the sheer length and intensity of the experience. We were coming in on day eight of the recording process, with three more days ahead. It was understandable that Jono Hawkey (vocals), Jarod Mclaren (guitar and vocals), Oliver Butler (guitar), Andrew Martin (bass), and Jack Van Vliet (drums) would be somewhat weary by this point.
Chris was at the desk, performing wizardry with instrumental tracks at the computer, somehow doing so while casually continuing conversation with everyone. Sounding juicy of bass, it was hard to get an overall picture of the song I was hearing him tinker with. Watching Chris in action, it was surprising how much of a close eye everything was given, with every section tightened up to be just so.
Call Of Duty was being played on the studio couch, passing the time when direct attention wasn’t needed, yet of course chiming in with shit-talking as required. Cities were compared, bass tones were talked about, as was music hardware, and how song choices can be influenced by fan interest. Liam, Jono, Jarod, and I left Chris playing a waltzy bass section and stepped out of the studio room and into the kitchen. It was time to give some attention to lyrics.
In the kitchen, Chris’ cat Jeremy made an appearance at his food bowl. The tabby doesn’t seem to have let his Instagram fame go to his head yet, and he casually strolled off to find a cosy place to nap. In the meantime, Jono and Jarod opened up a shared Google document where ideas had been captured already. They had so far pinpointed a concept relating to the loss of a distant family member, and emotions, thoughts, and experiences relating to that.
The two hunched over the laptop at the kitchen table and talked quietly between them about what was on the document in front of them. Talking tempo and softly saying lines to explore their rhythms, it was like the pair had their own language at times. The two band members clearly work well together. Commenting on this, they described their joint lyricism as an organic process, and something that gradually shapes as it progresses.
Overcast, cold, and windy outside, I watched the guys move through different songs, ironing out any awkwardness as they went. They talked about rhythms, where clean vocals should come in, and whether things were doable for their voices in a live setting – something that is important to them. They also considered which songs should be released as singles or not, as well as their desire to get interest early on in the time span of a song. This sparked conversation about other bands and their approaches, and great music of the scene. This was a huge side-tracking, but was also a great chat.
Back in the studio, Jeremy had claimed a chair by the door, which left everyone to sit on the couch, except for Oliver who was in the hotseat with Chris now; going through guitar tracking, while everyone else played Call Of Duty or NBA or snuggled on the couch. I heard a more serene/contemplative song section at this time, which expanded out into something fuller. Maybe you get used to it after awhile, but to me, the tink-tink of the metronome kind of stole some of the magic from the beautiful atmospheric softness that Oliver was playing.
Chris worked with Oliver to knead the guitar parts and tones to get it right. As a side note, seeing this close attention to detail from the band (with an inordinate amount of time on single small song sections) affirmed for me my penchant for going into close detail in reviews. In response to me wondering how it all works, I learned from the guys that they initially record rough demos, and had done so several days prior. These demos are returned to, and sections are replayed “perfectly”, whether it’s Chris or a band member that plays it.
Hanging out on the couch and kind of wondering ‘Have Liam and I seen everything we’re likely to see of this experience?’, we got onto the topic of food and diet, and this highlighted how the guys of Bloom are mostly plant-based in their eating. This fed into talking about bowel movements, dietary choices, and not wanting to support the dairy industry. Bloom seemed to have formed their own language with certain letters replacing other letters, something Jono playfully put down to mental deterioration and delirium after more than a week of being in the studio. Someone opened a blind in the room then, reminding everyone that there is indeed an outside world and daylight. We decided to go and have some lunch, and I walked with Jono and Jarod to a nearby restaurant. I hit record on my phone’s voice recorder as we enjoyed the mock meats of Vegie Hut.
Vegie Hut, Box Hill
Away from Chris’ studio, Jono and Jarod could share why they chose to work with him. It was his work on the single “Cold” which sealed the deal. This was the sound they were after and Jono specifically expressed his appreciation for the energy of the song. Jarod viewed the choice as being indicative of the band moving forward, and perhaps gave insight into the inspiration behind the band name by saying “It’s all about growing, I guess.”
This got us talking about genre and how Bloom were keen to go beyond the label of “melodic hardcore”, so as not to be limited. It’s very easy to tack that label upon bands that express emotional themes and include screaming in their vocals – hell, I did it – but Bloom are adamant that they’re more than this, more than wanting to replicate what this label of genre means. As an example, Jarod explained how he loves Hindsight, while also not wanting to sound exactly like Hindsight. Jono reiterated this, saying “We want to have our own sound, our own style.” and I was beginning to see how even in a casual setting the two guys finished each others’ sentences and bounced off the other’s thoughts, which clearly made for a great dynamic in lyricism/vocals for Bloom.
Jarod expressed that he never wanted to ever go through the motions with Bloom, saying “You don’t want to do things that have already been done a hundred times and not do it that well.” Jono was also keen to have freedom by way of sound, so that Bloom could sound exactly as they needed to sound, depending on what they were sharing. In his words: “I don’t want to also label it melodic hardcore. Because sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. And because those boundaries of melodic hardcore; what it is and what it isn’t – that’s not established. I’d just rather not have to deal with the elitist naming.”
I shared my perspective as a reviewer, knowing full well that reviews can often assess a release through that lens of genre and whether an album ticks certain boxes. I agreed that this would be clearly limiting, and potentially stick in the mind of a band that wants for their music to be well-received, but also want to retain creative freedom. Thinking out loud about In Passing, Jarod shared that he was really happy that it had different influences, and a different vibe for Bloom. Jono agreed, indicating that the EP was unfolding/revealing itself during the recording process with Chris, saying “It’s different to how I thought it’d be. The only thing that was really set in stone before going in was the concept of the EP.”
Our vegetarian lamb curries arrived at our table then. Both guys had been frequenting Vegie Hut while working with Chris and the dish came highly recommended, so I had to give it a go. We spoke about mock meats and also veganism, and whether topics such as that would ever find its way into Bloom’s music. Clearly more of an inspiration for hardcore, both Jono and Jarod were happier to write about what they felt rock solid about in terms of knowledge. Jono stopped eating meat because it made him feel unwell, and decided to continue. He didn’t see this as enough for him/Bloom to step into a more activist kind of role. They feel similarly about politics, in particular the current situation of climate change.
Jono: “I wouldn’t want to write a song about politics because it’s not something I know enough about.”
Jarod: “I guess we write what we experience.”
Jono: “Exactly. The lyrics we write are experiences rather than our views or stances.”
Jarod: “I know where I stand on things but I would feel kind of disingenuous writing a song about climate change without going to climate change rallies and being more involved in that, because I feel like I use my vote and that kind of stuff on trying to support climate change activism. I don’t judge anyone who would make that choice, I just don’t know if I would do that personally. Past Tense was easier for me to write because it was just like ‘Oh this is how I’m feeling’ and just spit it out onto a page. I identify with something and then write out a paragraph on that idea. So I think you’ve got to just write what you’re passionate about, and if that is climate change or politics or whatever, then go for it. It’s sick that there’s a space for that.”
Jono: “A lot of lyrics in that genre [melodic hardcore] are very self-reflective. It’s all experience rather than views or beliefs.”
Though I’d managed with chopsticks throughout our meal to this point, the thin and firm slices of carrot on my plate had defeated me. Jarod was very kind and accepting: “You’ve gotta use the spoon. The spoon is the way to go. You’ve just got to drop all the shame and use the spoon.”
Actually talking about the EP again, I asked if there was a title yet. Both said “No” in unison, before sharing the firm details they had about the EP so far. It was inspired by experiences that Jono had had with his grandfather when he was sick. There were two paintings on the wall, which seemed to spark a cascade of creativity. Jono says “He made a very offhand comment about one of them. I ended up inheriting that painting and now it’s on my wall and there’s a lot of lyrical things that are based around the conversations we had and the things he said directly about that. So that painting is going to be the cover of the EP. And it fits really nicely.”
Jarod was very interested in the EP having a striking and memorable image as the cover work, and felt that the painting worked well as this. Thornhill‘s choices for the cover of both The Dark Pool and Butterfly were examples that came to the discussion by way of striking album artwork. Thinking beyond the music itself, Jarod and Jono insisted on building an image – in album artwork, band promo photos, music videos, merch, and “all the physical stuff” – and it being important in reflecting on the music and reiterating the image that’s being built with the release. We spoke about how skillfully Above, Below did this with The Lotus Chapters and all of their individual images for example.
We spoke about perception and professionalism, and making an impact in the brief moment of social media scroll that is available to make an impression. We also talked about the idea of taking themselves seriously as a band but never losing touch with their passion for music. We talked again about Thornhill and their stunning music and oh-so-casual approach to social media, or Twitter at least. Jono explained the Bloom balance, saying, “We play sad songs and then we break it up with some comedy. And that’s way more fun, at least for us, than doing the whole face down not looking at people thing.” Jarod added “You’ve got to strike a balance, I think. Of being personable but also taking it seriously.”
When it comes to the new EP, Bloom are wanting to have their followers/fans gain familiarity and connection to the release with every element they share, to hopefully feel involved in it along with them. We also spoke about how all of these ‘layers’ of information work to enhance the storytelling element of the release. Jono mentioned the Touche Amore album Stage Four and appreciated the direct, literal, and no-metaphor approach to writing. He says “Listening to that album is heart-breaking. It’s the saddest album.” And shared that he had taken a lot from that album, wanting to be able to do the storytelling that the album does very well – in Bloom’s own way and style.
Finishing each others’ thoughts (again), both Jono and Jarod feel that Bloom are already improving upon their previous approach. In comparison to the Past Tense artwork which was just “someone’s house” and not specific at all to the music, Jono says “We have meaning, we have something visually striking that a listener in a perfect world is going to piece together the cover art with some of the lyrical content and unify it as that one body of work.”
The guys became reflective on where they’ve come from, understanding how far they’ve already come, while also acknowledging the small fraction of bands that ‘make it’, whatever that means these days.
Jono: “There is a small chance, there’s that little speck of hope, that we’ll get picked up and we’ll tour the world. Everyone starts a band and their dream is ‘I want to tour the world, and make an income and live comfortably off this.’ But it’s such a small chance. But the fact that there is that chance will make you keep going. Us when we started, the bands that we wanted to play with when we started like-
In unison: “Endless Heights-“
Jarod: “We’re playing with them tonight!”
In unison: “Ambleside“
Jarod: “We’re playing with them next week!”
Jono: “So it got to a point where we’re starting to play better shows, but we’re still opening. And we were like ‘Oh, we’d love to not open shows’. Now we’re getting to a point now where it’s like “We’re main support on the Ambleside show’. And the next thing for us is like we want to tour, but touring seems like such a BIG step.”
Jarod: “I think it’ll come. Off this [EP release], that’s the way to go. Have this go into that touring schedule. Do more east coast stuff. We’ve come to Melbourne a few times and we went to Brisbane last year, but we haven’t done any runs or anything. We’re all just wanting to play more music. “Cold” did way better than we thought, so who knows what’ll come from the EP and hopefully people want us to do it.”
“Cold” marked a shift for the band that they weren’t expecting. Jono was stunned that Bloom received money from a streaming platform for the first time. An initial goal for 20K streams has been blown out of the water, with it sitting at over 325K at the time of writing this. The guys put a lot of this traction down to Spotify playlisting, and appearing on Spotify curated playlists that have put their music in front of listeners that wouldn’t have otherwise found the band. For a band with 1,300 followers on Facebook, getting a thousand streams every day is a big deal, and getting more streams in the US than Australia is also noteworthy.
Mentally reflecting on the two of them sitting at the laptop working on the new songs, it was kind of mindblowing to consider this side of things and how they potentially would be mulling over the kind of impact they want to have and how while constructing a song. That’s a lot to take into account. Jarod agreed, saying “It’s a big thing. When you’re writing a section, ‘I want people to be shouting these words back at me’, so they need to hit hard, they need to be easy to understand, they need to be easy to yell.” And Jono added the need for the songs to be genuine, with Jarod saying “If they don’t feel genuine, people aren’t going to sing the songs.”
Sharing honestly, Jono said that it would be very easy to dramatise an experience for clout or attention or impact. Jarod explained “I’ll write something, like you were at a funeral and write something about wearing a suit. And Jono’s like ‘Oh, I didn’t wear a suit, I just wore a button-up shirt’, and I’m like ‘Okay well we won’t write that then.’ Even small things like that, you don’t want to change them, because it’s becoming disingenuous then. If we’re lying about that, then you could just lie about more and more and more and then we’re not really telling your story, we’re just telling an off-shoot of that which fits our narrative and you don’t want to do that.”
Reflecting upon this honesty in Past Tense, Jarod said “There’s a lot of stuff on there that I still really feel that way about this experience I had. We’ve both grown from it, but that’s how I felt and how she felt and that’s how it happened and there’s no bullshit in there. It was a massive healing process for me because I wasn’t okay and writing that really helped me get it out, I guess?”
Despite trying really hard not to, Jarod spilled some food on the table as he was putting his leftovers aside for later. It was nearly time to go. I added my perspective on overdone or forced emotion and how it comes across as non-genuine and kind of yuck to me as a listener/reviewer also. With Bloom and the new EP, they also had to consider that they had family members familiar with their subject matter who would potentially see the lyrics. As well as needing to be honest and genuine, Jono described it as scary as a lyricist when it relates to others saying, “A lot of things I’m writing about, I haven’t had conversations with my parents about. So it’s going to be like ‘Oh!'”
Jarod: “‘I didn’t realise you felt like this.'”
Kel: “Do you warn them?”
Jono: “Not really. I just don’t have that relationship with them where it’s like I’m able to have a big open dialogue because it’s just not what I’ve had, so it’s very funny when they’re like ‘Oh let me read the lyrics from your band’, like ‘Mmm, no’.” Because this is obviously something that did not just impact me, it was the family, I’m sure it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s something I have to also be careful with what I say and how I say it.”
Jarod: “You don’t want to disrespect anyone.”
Jono: “Exactly. Or like paint anyone in a bad light or fuck anything up to fit the narrative. So it’s a fucking tightrope. Part of me is like ‘Why didn’t you write this EP about a breakup?!’ [laughs] It’d be so much easier. But the way it’s coming together, I think it should be really good. I’m really really excited.”
Extracting a little more information before we left, the guys shared that the EP contains five tracks, which would have been six if they’d included “Cold”. Due to not fitting with the narrative about Jono’s grandfather, they decided to simply leave it off. Jarod also felt that the song wouldn’t necessarily fit now, giving me the impression that Bloom’s sound is evolving with each song they’re creating.
Since that chat, Bloom have revealed “The Service” and “Daylight”, with three others waiting for their turn to be heard. In Passing releases on 9th October, and can be pre-ordered now HERE.
In Passing Tracklisting:
- The Service
- The Boat And The Stream
- In Passing