A conversation with The Comfort has been a long time coming for me. I’d witnessed the Brisbane based four piece on several occasions in a live setting over the lifetime of Depth and had become curious about the ‘story’ behind this band. There was something about them, and I wanted to know what it was. When they released the stunning and existentially curious single “Dissolve”, it became even more apparent to me that there was a conversation to be had here!
So one Wednesday evening, I hit pause on everything else and got on the phone with The Comfort’s vocalist and guitarist Liam Holmes, and vocalist and bassist Dominic Harper. The two make up half of The Comfort, completed by guitarist Marcus Parente and drummer Izaac Calrow. The band have debut album What It Is To Be on the way, releasing next Friday and I’d spent the entire day with the album in the lead-up to our chat. I had come armed with some curiosities about it, as well as being direct with Liam and Dom about wanting to know the something – so that’s where we began our chat.
Liam felt that some of this mystique (my word, not his) may come from the fact that they’re not a band that shares much of themselves via social media. The music does the talking for The Comfort. “Everything you get through us and everything we say is through the lyrics and our songs essentially, so that’s where you find out things about us. So when you’ve only got one EP out there, that’s kind of five things you can know about us. I think with this album, when we’ve got ten songs, and “Mesada” as well, there’s going to be a lot more of our personality out there.”
With music as voice, The Comfort’s releases form a timeline about the members and their experiences. Liam describes the Love EP as coming from a period of “finding ourselves a little bit, kind of figuring out what was going on and growing up. Dom and I had both at that time just got out of semi-serious relationships at the same time and then we were kind of growing out of that, looking at that, and looking at what was happening around us and kind of just figuring ourselves out.”
It was after the Love era that both Liam and Dom happened to go through an intense period of self-reflection at the same time. As is shared lyrically in “Heavy Heart” (the opening track of What It Is To Be) Liam found himself “across the world trying to find out why”. He literally found himself deep in the Amazon rainforest, using the guidance of traditional psychedelic plant medicine; specifically, Ayahuasca. Said to be something of a painful mirror to the self, the experience shows you how far you’ve moved away from who you really are. Liam deliberated for a long time before getting on a plane for Peru.
Struggling with mental health issues for his entire life, Liam shared that “It got to the point where nothing mainstream was really working for me. I felt like there was this thing that had been missing since I was old enough to think for myself, and I never knew what it was. At the time when I was really struggling to come to terms with that and try to work out what the next step was, I came across this account of this guy in Brisbane who had been to a shamanic sanctuary in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where he did this stuff called ayuhuasca. So I read the story and was like ‘holy shit, this stuff sounds ridiculous’.”
From there Liam spent six months researching shamanic culture, ayuhuasca, and plant medicine. He learned that it was one of the best things to experience to overcome mental health issues, and once he deemed it was “safe enough for scared little old Liam to jump on a plane by himself and go to the middle of the Peruvian jungle to do”, he was off.
A sense of the experience being something like a Pandora’s box of opening up to the unknown, yet that being exactly what was needed emanated through the phone. Liam described it has the most anxious he’d ever been in his entire life, and admitted he “regretted it as soon as I got on the plane”, but also knew he had to do it. “I’ve run out of options now, this is kind of IT. It’s either this or something else which is worse.”
Liam describes the experience with ayuhuasca as being the hardest two weeks of his life. And having since returned a year later, it was again the hardest two weeks of his life. Acting like an intensely condensed experience of decades of psychotherapy in one night, Liam described it as “earth shattering”. “It makes no logical sense. It forces the brain to do this hard reset where you can toss out a lot of negative or destructive thought patterns and leave them at the door, and make a choice whether you want to move on and leave them, or go back to them if you want. It’s not a miracle cure. It’s gives you a chance to start fresh if you want to.”
Liam chose to start fresh. The result of doing this is having everything that you think you know about life and existence change, which forces changes to the personality, as well as changes in thinking. Dom had chosen not to go to Peru, but had delved into questions of existence in his own way, through prolifically reading about areas such as neuroscience, the nature of reality, the universe, the concept of consciousness, and how we all fit together as humans and living creatures. They were able to bond on these things as well as continue their learning together. Liam says “It kind of turned everything about the world on its head in a very very short amount of time. I spent every day since becoming more and more interested with the human psyche. So has Dom. We spend a lot of our time just talking to each other about different theories and things like that that’s where a lot of the hippy pretentious stuff that goes on with The Comfort sometimes.”
These experiences/learnings may seem irrelevant to The Comfort, but for a band who expresses themselves through music, we are hearing these experiences in What It Is To Be. Liam sees The Comfort as being outside of genre boundaries, in that the band are a collection of people that write the music they want to write at the time. “So everything we’ve done at a certain point has been exactly what we’ve wanted to do. It’s overly thought out, and not thought out at the same time: We think about ourselves a lot and then the music and what we put out is second nature to what we’re thinking inside our own heads.”
Liam’s phone contains thousands of notes that end up being lyrics. “It’s not like I’m sitting there and trying to write song lyrics. I’m just writing down my thoughts as I go about my life. Everything in The Comfort is just our thoughts and it’s just presented in three to six minute packages of music essentially.”
Dom jumped in very keen to be clear that the exploration of psychedelic medicine and reading writings from people like Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and David Hume was never purely for the purpose of enhancing their music. “We were just trying to explore ourselves and figure out what we’re doing here and what’s happening, and it’s just kind of came through in the way we were writing about things. We never intended that. We happened to go through these things at the same time and it came out, as Liam said, second nature in our music.”
Four Extreme Introverts
With this conversation already being a really ‘whoa, I wasn’t expecting that!’ kind of dive into who The Comfort are, I summarised out loud to the guys that perhaps the something is purely that they’re simply measured in what they share outwardly. That this is an introverted band, in a world of loud rockstar kind of personalities or aggressively hustling creatives. The duo were very much in agreement:
Liam: “Oh, we’re both horrible, horrible introverts. [laughs] It’s really awful being a band of four extreme introverts and trying to navigate the music industry. [laughs]”
Dom: “It’s very impractical. [laughs]”
Kel: “I can imagine!”
Dom: “Standing behind a merch desk and people coming up and talking to us is fine. We handle that no worries. People can talk to us and we have conversations. When it comes to us approaching anybody about anything? There’s like this 20 minute internal struggle before we have to force ourselves to go and talk to the other band that we want to talk to, but we just can’t figure out a way to start.”
Kel: “Yeah, I can relate. [laughs]”
Liam: “That leads into.. everything I think, because I’m such a horrible, disgusting introvert. I put all of that into The Comfort. It’s a massive overload of everything I’ve ever thought and experienced and wanted to say to people or to a person. It’s a whole person’s consciousness – four peoples’ consciousnesses – in music form. There’s a lot in there, personally.”
“Dissolve” was the first single from The Comfort to introduce us to What It Is To Be, and served as a very blatant invite into somewhat ‘hippy’ concepts that seem integral to where the band are at right now. Having already been something of a curious/open minded hippy person myself, the ideas lyrically shared in “Dissolve” weren’t new to me; I’d spent time contemplating my existence, the idea of being a spirit in a body, what the purpose of being here is etc. But it was exceptionally refreshing to be hearing it again, and not subject matter I’d often hear expressed within this scene. I did not expect to hear a lyric like “What’s the point of my body but to disrupt my permanence?” – and I instantly fell in love with it.
Liam describes the song as ‘kind of a spew’ of what he was thinking about and trying to process. He wrote it when he was in Peru for the second time. “It was me coming to terms with exactly what you were saying. What am I really? And can I kind of attain a higher state and come back to that more permanently? Yeah, it’s just trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the universe”
Dom shared that there was definite nervousness in ‘coming out’ with these ideas, knowing they may not be understood, describing it as “really scary”. “We write a lot of things and a lot of them don’t make it to a song. We’ll keep them internally, or we won’t even show each other or whatever. With “Dissolve”, Liam had sent a couple of lyrics to me and been like ‘Are these too wanky?’ Like ‘Can we say this in a song?’ [laughs] and I had to assure him.. like ‘No, it’s fine. We have to put this out there regardless of what people are going to think’. It’s ourselves in written form. We need to put it out and show everyone what you can be, I guess?”
Knowing that there’s probably a ‘narrow niche market of people that are kind of into esoteric things and also into sad emo music’, The Comfort were scared about people not being happy with the music, or not understanding it and wanting for them to return to more familiar themes. On “Dissolve”‘s reception, Dom shared “We’ve got less criticism than we thought we would, but we worry that people want us to be sad. [laughs] It’s concerning. Instead of thinking about what we are, and who we are as people, and who we are as a collective of people. We don’t want to be depressed all the time.”
The album as a whole comes across as light and high vibing. While there are some darker tracks, it’s not an album for a dense and heavy sad listening session. Liam says that while making the album, he was in the best headspace that he’s been in for his whole life. Though there are still parts of the album he’d describe as inspiring some sadness, he was clear that there was no part of him that wanted to make a dark, moody, or depressing album.
With this more positive headspace in mind, Liam had some concerns about using negative lyrics directed toward himself, especially in “Solus” (including the lyric “Maybe I’ll fall asleep at the wheel and not feel a thing”). Dom took the perspective that it was something genuine that Liam had experienced, and that it was worth putting down, as well as including some sense of hope. This was Dom’s intention with “Breathe” also. He shared “I was having this massive sort of struggle with existentialism, and where I fit in my interpretation of that. I ended up coming out the other side of that thinking ‘Oh, I can overcome this’ with how I think about myself, and meditate, and think about things.” This understanding is included within the song.
With the release of What It Is To Be, you’ll get to hear the two distinct voices of Liam and Dom in individual songs (such as Dom on “Always Tired”, “Reach Out”, “Breathe”), but Liam shared that they work together lyrically. He said “We know each other so well. Our thinking patterns have synced up pretty awfully over the last few years. [Dom laughs]” As an example, Liam had said what he wanted to say in the chorus of “Heavy Heart”, while Dom felt it needed fleshing out. Due to this syncing of thought, Dom is able to write lyrics that Liam confirms fit with what he was going through at the time and also have it feel more complete.
On the subject of “Heavy Heart” and lyricism, we got talking about a lyric ‘I told myself I liked being alone, but I lied’, which appears twice within the song and is a favourite of mine by way of resonating with the feeling behind it. Liam described it as him coming to terms with trying to figure out his own ‘bullshit’, and wondering if he could do it alone – including travelling the world for his mental health. This dance between wanting company and being alone, both at the same time, is 100% something that the introverted will know well!
Also contained within the lyrics of “Misery” and “Sanctuary (La Busqueda Del Espiritu)” is someone referred to as “The Mother”. Curiosity pushed me to want to know who this indeed was, with the context of the lyrics feeling far more than a biological mother/humanly maternal figure.
Liam: “I said to Dom, ‘I almost regret saying that’. He said ‘Nah, because people will either get it or not know what it is and not think about it’. So it’s… uhhh.. oh God, I didn’t think anyone would ask this question ever.” [Dom laughs]
Kel: “Is it like a shamanic deity?”
Liam: “A little bit yes. It’s what they refer to as the spirit of ayuhuasca in South American shamanic cultures. So the spirit of the brew is ‘Mother Ayuhuasca’ and she’s what takes you through that experience and kind of guides you where you need to go and doesn’t give you what you want, but gives you what you need. That’s a way it comes to a lot of people in the visions or however you want to call them. That was a big thing for me; having this spirit or presence. It gave me a lot of answers that I needed, that I thought were going to come to me in different ways. But as I got told before and after, Mother Ayuhuasca gives you not what you want but what you need, and I was like ‘Oh okay, I get that’. That’s essentially what that is. It’s the embodiment of that spirit and that experience and whether you want to believe in that or not. A lot of people won’t.. I still don’t even know if I do or not.”
Kel: “You did at the time, as like what we were talking about with the music capturing what you went through.”
Liam: “When I was writing these songs, I was neck deep in this culture so it came out really strong. It came to about a year later and I was like ‘Ah, should I have said all this stuff?’ [laughs]”
The guys realised that they had finished recording What It Is To Be one year ago to the day of our interview. By way of lyrical content, the words and ideas can potentially be from a year before recording even begins, so there’s been a lengthy period of waiting and also second guessing themselves, which Liam says he does “every second of every day”.
Since our interview, the single “Misery” has released. It contains a lyric that shows up in several places on the album, in differing ways, that I was really curious about: “I just want to see the light inside my chest.” I personally loved the lyric from the first time I heard it, but when I asked about it, Liam felt he may have said it too much (Uhh nope!). He shared that his intention with it relates to his learning about an everlasting, undying part of ourselves. “It’s referred to as a light that’s part of yourself, your soul, your consciousness. It’s kind of the best part of yourself that you want to see flourish or you want to bring to the surface.”
This ‘light’ was part of why Liam ended up in Peru, in firstly trying to find if it was there at all. Once he figured out that it was there, his focus was on questioning how to get it to come to the surface and benefit himself and potentially positively influencing others with it. He ties this into “Dissolve” also, in how he’s lyrically seeking to connect to a higher power of consciousness that can benefit everyone. While Liam referred to these concepts as ‘a bit hippy’, I see them as important and great to hear/see in music, as well as being a fitting snapshot of The Comfort.
Musically the album flows from one track to the next, which was a painstakingly deliberate process by the band and producer Sonny Truelove to bring to life. Dom shared that this choice was intended to take the listener on a journey. “It’s meant to take you to a certain emotional state before the next song starts. The way one song ends will prepare you to listen to the next song. We wrote that very consciously and we told our producer Sonny right at the start ‘This is the way we want to do it, can you help us?’ and he’s like ‘Absolutely’ and we mapped it all out. So on the first day of the studio, we went through everything with him this way and figured out how many bars exactly it was going to be between song two and song three and song three and song four, and just made that to be exactly the way that it needed to sound.”
From demo versions onward, this was a considered element of the album, and the guys refer to their ‘old school’ way of thinking about music with this creative choice. They romanticise the idea of enjoying an album about a piece of art, and of taking deliberate time with a whole record and its lyrics and emotions. They aren’t fond of playlists combining different artists or sounds, nor fans of separate consumption of songs – even when it comes to their own single releases. As listeners they want to immerse into the art that a band has created, and also created in that specific order, and feel that it’s overlooked with digital media and streaming culture.
In Dom’s words, “We’re very specific in how we say to people ‘We want you to listen to this all in one go’. Even the idea of putting out singles seems a little bit funny to that. I suppose that’s why we put a lot of thought into what songs we release, and in what order, and the way each song is going to make someone feel when they hear them in that order. Every time we’ve sent this record to someone, whether it be to you or our label, we’ve said ‘Please make sure you have at least an hour to sit down and listen to the whole thing from start to finish. We don’t want you to hit individual songs and skip through stuff. We need you to understand the process we went through and the way that we intended it to be listened to.'”
I shared with Liam and Dom that this seemed to shine through, because What It Is To Be feels settled to me; that I should just be sitting and listening to it and being with it. This got us talking about the structure of songs, with Dom describing how a bridge that’s “SO amazing” needs the rest of the song for it to be as good as it is: “You can listen to it by itself and it’s good, but you need that whole build-up and that mood to feel the way it does right up to that point for it to make that sense to you and for it to be worth it”. He considers a really good bridge to be the ‘pay-off’ that a piece that gives the song context. The Comfort write music with this perspective, not intentionally, but definitely influenced by their own listening, and how bands like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New have crafted their songs.
“Is the last one we loved not just the last one that we found?”
Having asked most of my questions now, I had some last curiosities about specific tracks of the album. “Futures” was one of these (Fun fact: “Futures” is the song where the teaser clip came from for the What It Is To Be website). I understood the track as one about a relationship which is at the end, but it’s not necessarily a gloomy piece of music. The track seems like a culmination of ideas about relationships changing for at least both Dom and Liam.
Dom interprets “Futures” as ‘an observation’, that could have been a negative experience in the way that he used to think about things, but that the track turned into ‘just people watching’. Liam says that he gained inspiration from a lot of different places, noticing things about relationships that confused him, and figuring out his own perspective on them. He said “When I was younger, I was very much like a ‘being in a relationship is the pinnacle of existence’ kind of guy. I thought that’s what was going to make me happy for my entire life. I think I’ve just grown up and in general ‘Okay. there’s more going on in life’.”
The penultimate track “Breathe” features the gorgeous lyric; “That’s why I turn everything I feel into art”, which was another instantly appreciated part of the album. Similar to “Futures”, the writing of the lyrics was an exercise in growth and perspective change. Dom was behind the track, and shares that he’d originally written the line with a negative mindset. After revisiting, he felt that he had ‘come out the other side’ and reinterpreted it. “I wrote ‘turning everything to art’ negatively because I wasn’t able to talk about things, but in the end, I was feeling okay with myself for being able to turn it into art as a coping mechanism, rather than needing to talk about things.”
There’s a LOT wrapped up in What It Is To Be and maybe we’ve only just skimmed the surface in our chat. It was a pleasure to get to know The Comfort a bit better, and understand what drives them as a band. What It Is To Be releases on 9th November via Greyscale Records, and can be pre-ordered here: http://smarturl.it/WhatItIsToBe