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San Cisco Are Growing Up and Taking Pop Music with Them

Fremantle indie pop trio San Cisco will hit Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall this month as part of the Jack Daniel’s Live At Last tour.

Love songs come in many forms. Some of the most heartfelt and revealing love songs fall under the subheading, breakup songs. On their latest album, 2020’s Between You and Me, San Cisco delve into another subcategory: friendship breakups.

That’s true of the album centrepiece, “When I Dream,” which preceded the record by two years. Scarlett Stevens, the Perth band’s drummer and co-lead vocalist, has described “When I Dream” as the “impetus” for Between You and Me, in both sound and lyrical substance. 

“When I Dream” is an approachable indie-pop song with a verse that’s just as hooky as the chorus. So far, so San Cisco. But “When I Dream” signalled a shift away from the happy go lucky tenor of San Cisco’s early releases, ushering in a more grounded and refined era for the band.

Stevens and her band mates, lead vocalist Jordi Davieson and keyboardist/guitarist Josh Biondillo, have known each other for more than half their lives. San Cisco’s early releases—including the single, “Awkward,” which came in at #78 in triple j’s Hottest 100 of the 2010s—were written before the band members were even 20 years old. 

“Awkward,” as well as the subsequent radio hits, “Fred Astaire” and “Too Much Time Together”, bear various hallmarks of 2010s indie-pop music, such as trebly, staccato guitar rhythms, hooky synth motifs, and indie-swing and disco drumbeats. “Awkward” also showcases the sense of humour and light-hearted approach to social commentary that permeated much of San Cisco’s early work. “I wouldn’t have gone to dinner / If I knew that you’d agree with everything I say,” Stevens sings, painting a grotesque image of a guy who won’t leave her alone.

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“When I Dream” finds San Cisco in an understated and earnest mood. Like much of Between You and Me, the song revolves around themes of growing up and recognising that the life you’ve been living mightn’t resemble the life you’ll lead in the future. “I’ve lost a lost of good friends lately / And I think it’s my fault, not theirs,” sings Davieson in the chorus. “I was never a fake or phoney / I just needed a change, I guess.”

Davieson, Stevens and Biondillo were all on the cusp of their 30th birthdays during the making of Between You and Me. “We’re getting old,” Stevens said in an interview with Pile Rats. “Everything’s changing for you and your perspective shifts.” Although the former claim is only true in a relative sense, San Cisco don’t shy away from the challenges of adulthood. Moreover, the trio’s willingness to grow has had a positive influence on their stylistic sensibilities.

“When I Dream” opens with an acoustic guitar—an instrument that was practically verboten on San Cisco’s self-titled debut album (2012) and follow-up effort, Gracetown (2015). “We always thought that you can’t have a big pop song with an acoustic guitar,” said Stevens in the Pile Rats interview. 

“When I Dream” makes a mockery of this notion. In fact, the band’s management were so besotted with “When I Dream” that they convinced San Cisco to put it out as a single just a year after they’d released their third album, The Water (2017). The band’s next album was still a long way off, but the decision to hurry out “When I Dream” was vindicated when it was landed at #48 in triple j’s Hottest 100 of 2018. 

“When I Dream” not only provided the blueprint for Between You and Me, but also encouraged San Cisco to put more time and scrutiny into the writing and recording process. Throughout their first decade of existence, San Cisco specialised in peppy indie pop numbers that were suffused with enough sunshine to warrant the application of SPF 50+. From the off, Between You and Me announces itself as a more sophisticated and ambitious record. 

The opening track, “Skin”, sits comfortably in a mid-tempo groove. There’s no shortage of melodic hooks, but they’re underpinned by an inviting sense of patience. The band have cited “Fleetwood Mac and cheesy 70s classics” as influences on Between You and Me. The “cheesy 70s” tag fairly describes the singles “Reasons” and “On the Line”—though, who ever said cheese has to taste bad? Meanwhile, “Gone” looks back a decade further, recalling Phil Spector’s wall of sound productions for The Ronettes (“Gone” even incorporates the timeless “Be My Baby” drumbeat).

So, how did San Cisco’s audience react to the more grown-up sound showcased on Between You and Me? Well, not only was it voted the ninth best album of the year in triple j’s 2020 album poll, but four songs (including “When I Dream”) made it into triple j’s Hottest 100. (“Skin” landed at #97 in the 2019 countdown; “On the Line” and “Reasons” made it to #56 and #31 the following year).

San Cisco’s long delayed Between You and Me national tour kicked off in March. On Anzac Day eve, the Fremantle-based trio will be at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall as part of the Jack Daniel’s Live At Last Tour.

The ongoing Jack Daniel’s Live At Last concert series was conceived as a way of celebrating the return of live music in Australia. Jack Daniel’s are sending 100% of ticket proceeds to Support Act, the music industry charity that provides crisis relief services to musicians, managers, crew, and other industry personnel.

In addition to San Cisco, Jack Daniel’s Live At Last is hosting performances from Pond, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and Ruby Fields. 

Jack Daniel’s Live At Last Tour 2022

Pond
Tuesday, April 12th

SolBar, Sunshine Coast, QLD

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets (SOLD OUT)
Thursday, April 21st

Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW

San Cisco
Sunday, April 24th
Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Ruby Fields
Thursday, April 28th
The Espy, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets: Moshtix

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