All young bands go through growing pains, and Gold Fields is no exception. It took three different tries before they made a version of their debut album, Black Sun, that met their expectations. Not that you'd ever guess that from listening to the finished product. Like their explosive live shows and the self-titled EP that preceded it last year, the Australian quintet's debut full-length displays invention, drive, and a commitment to artistic expression that belies the group's tender years.
Gold Fields' lively originals teem with variegated percussion and interwoven vocals, from opener "Meet My Friends," with its buzzing keyboards, wordless vocal hook, and an indelible chorus, to eerie closer "Anxiety," animated by its play of elongated phrases against staccato rhythms. Though the band's sound defies pigeonholing, and each song boasts a distinctive identity, a musical through-line unifies the album's eleven originals: by juxtaposing light and darkness, Gold Fields imbues even its most ebullient performances with melancholy—and vice-versa.
This is particularly evident on the first single, "Dark Again," a standout from its inception as a demo. "The lyrics were written about pulling yourself out of a rut," singer Mark Fuller told Rolling Stone in September 2012. "More specifically, pulling a relationship out of a rut. It's just about snapping out of a negative mindframe and realizing that you've got something pretty special."
Carried along on waves of percolating synthesizer and rippling guitar, the song builds momentum as it surges towards a powerful, sing-along chorus. Interplay of layers, textures, and contrasting moods figures prominently throughout Black Sun. On "Happy Boy," Fuller incants "I'm going to be happy" like the mantra of a man trapped at the bottom of a well, even as dirty disco bass and crisp hi-hat swirl around him. The syncopated rhythms and shifting dynamics of "The Woods" and "Treehouse" evoke the otherworldly ambience of venturing deep into the wilderness, slivers of light throwing shapes across the forest floor. Gold Fields has already played major festivals throughout Australia, supported Crystal Castles, Metric, Pnau, and Datarock, and gone down a storm at intimate venues from Los Angeles to London. Featuring two full drum kits and plenty of handheld percussion, the Gold Fields concert experience explodes with kinetic energy. "We really like to have fun on stage and get into the show," confirms guitarist Vin Andanar. In lieu of painstaking recreations of the studio recordings, the quintet's mutable live arrangements build, wave upon wave, into propulsive, sinewy grooves that supercharge the energy in the room.
Some young bands have to prod unfamiliar audiences to dance, but not Gold Fields. They'd be hard pressed to convince crowds to actually stand still for 30 seconds, and the non-stop momentum of their sets ensures there's nary an opportunity to do so. As the nod to the Police's classic "Roxanne" in "Meet My Friends" underscores, Gold Fields are committed to writing songs that are accessible yet multi-layered, marrying rhythmic drive with lyrical gravitas. "All along, we've had it in our heads that we were writing pop music that we'd love to see at a festival or hear on the radio, but tinted with a bit of darkness and melancholy running throughout," concurs Fuller.
Capturing that aesthetic on record, however, proved tougher than the band anticipated. The journey began in late summer of 2011, when they decamped to Los Angeles and spent six weeks working non-stop with Mickey Petralia (Flight of the Conchords, Ladytron, Peaches). "We weren't about to say no to that opportunity," insists Andanar. It had a profound effect on their music, too. "We stepped up our songwriting, and learned to not clutter up the songs too much." Upon returning home, the five-piece retreated to a remote manor and continued writing, and subsequently recorded the new songs with manager Scott Horscroft (The Presets, Sleepy Jackson, Silverchair) in the producer's chair.
The recordings that emerged from all these sessions were polished and professional… but something felt off. In a daring move for a young band with escalating buzz, Gold Fields decided to start over yet again. With new knowledge and experience under their collective belts, they returned to the D.I.Y. methods that'd yielded their initial successes.
Gold Fields had written and recorded all its early material—not only the demos that secured their record deal, but also the tracks that formed the basis of their debut single, "Treehouse," and subsequent self-titled EP—in Andanar's bedroom. Once again they retreated home to Ballarat, a Victorian era boomtown located about an hour's drive west of Melbourne. With help from friends and borrowed equipment, they fashioned an ad hoc studio in the Fuller family's garage and customized it with strings of Christmas lights, early album art, and even an illuminated Gold Fields light box built by Fuller's brother-in-law. It was the dead of winter outside, so the boys staved off chills by keeping their bodies and imaginations in constant motion. As soon as basic parts had been laid down, the quintet devoted several days to the sort of playful experimentation that had characterized their earlier work, making beats by banging on chairs and discarded lumber.
Other bands might have buckled under the strain of devoting so much time and energy to making a single record, but Gold Fields is a tight-knit lot, the result of friendships that predate the group's formation in early 2010. Now all those countless hours together paid off. Assisted by engineer and longtime colleague Malcolm Besley, the band's performances flowed forth freely and fluidly, yielding the organic sounding results they'd sought. "This time we definitely knew what we wanted," concludes Andanar. "We knew what the songs should sound like, and now realizing the sound in our heads was the challenge." Gold Fields traveled a long way, both geographically and musically, to get to this point; no wonder the boys were willing to go the extra mile to make sure their debut full-length sounded just as they'd imagined it should. With all its twists and turns, making Black Sun turned out to be a bit of an odyssey, but one that ultimately concludes with a very happy ending—and the promise of more adventures to come.