Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever on “Hope Downs”

Clean Jeans and Shifting Sands

Nov 14, 2018 Photography by Warwick Baker Issue #64 -  Kamasi Washington
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Fran Keaney, Joe White, and Tom Russo, the songwriting, singing, and guitaring part of Melbourne five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, are late. Not for rock and roll reasons though. They've been at the dry cleaners because, according to their tour manager, they don't have any good jeans left for the show in Boston later that evening.

When they do turn up, having left bassist Joe Russo and drummer Marcel Tussie with the clothes, they turn out to be down to earth and amiable. It helps they know each other very well. Keaney and White are cousins, Tussie lived with White, and the Russos are brothers.

Perhaps that explains how they function with three focal points and no obvious sign of egos clashing. Tom Russo tells me "we're conscious to keep it an even spread between the five of us."

Founded in 2013 by its trio of vocalists as the next step on from a series of bands dating to their school days, 2018 is full-length debut time after a couple of acclaimed EPs. Hope Downs has received a very positive reception as well. It's the sound of a confident guitar band channeling early millennium Strokes-era garage rock with a literate streak, mixing melancholy and damn straight fun. "More and more we're realizing the best songs we do are where we have three or four chords and take it from there," Keaney explains. "Explode it out, jam for an hour."

When they were writing songs for the record that line between melancholy and fun was tested to the limits given external events. There are 10 tracks on the new record and as Russo says, "A lot of them were trying to battle against cynicism, written in 2016 when it felt like all the sands were shifting."

"Mainland," an early single and a hard to shake song on an already catchy record, is a good example of a storytelling approach marrying individual feelings with a broader perspective. It's Keaney who jumps in to talk about Russo's song. "It's a rumination on a number of big ideas, just sort of trying to come to grips with the enormity of it all, looking to your left and finding someone that you're in love with and holding onto that as the one certainty you might have."

The degree to which the songs are autobiographical is an interesting one. It seems they all like to use fictional characters to pin their stories on. Keaney explains he's "always written fictionally" before White adds, "I never really like to talk about myself anyway so to do it in a song doesn't feel genuine."

Russo doesn't go along with this entirely. "They're never fanciful stories about some character who has no connection though," he clarifies. "They all by design have us in them."

Luckily, they haven't started writing each other into songs yet. This thought has them laughing. Russo looks at Keaney. "We could launch searing attacks on each other and then realize, 'Oops, I forgot to change the name."" Keaney answers back, "It would be like, 'Who's this Tom person you're talking about.'"

He's quick to put this to bed though. "No, we haven't had that yet." But White enigmatically adds, "We do have a bunch of new stuff written."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 64 (August/September/October 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.rollingblackoutsband.com

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