Home Music Music Features

San Cisco Are Bringing Fremantle to the World

The indie pop trio discuss collaborating with (most of) Pond, their new album, and how things change as you get older

San Cisco

Olivia Senior

“I watched “Saltbush” the other night,” says Jordi Davieson, one third of San Cisco. A flood of laughter follows, and his bandmates, Scarlett Stevens and Josh Biondillo, are quick to correct him: he means, of course, the 2023 psychological-horror Saltburn (the film with the very infamous bathtub and graveyard scenes). “That’s the Australian way of saying Saltburn,” quips Stevens. 

Chatting to Rolling Stone AU/NZ over Zoom on a hot summer’s morning in the WA town of Fremantle (Freo to the locals), the indie pop trio are so at ease with each other. A sweaty Davidson and Biondillo have just arrived back from an early morning run, while Stevens is “douth” (local lingo for “down south”). 

You’d never think that these three people, effortlessly cracking jokes and spinning yarns, were the trio that first burst into public attention with a Platinum hit called “Awkward”, but that was 12 years ago now; a lot’s changed in a decade-and-a-half for the band. Four studio albums, two of which (2012’s Gracetown and 2020’s Between You and Me), reached the top five of the ARIA Albums Chart; several entries on triple j’s Hottest 100 countdowns; they’ve toured internationally many times and been nominated for six ARIA Awards. 

It must feel pretty good, clearly, to be San Cisco these days, and they’re only really just getting started. Davidson, Stevens, and Biondillo are deep into promotional duties for their fifth studio album, Under the Light, which is due to be released on Friday, March 1st. But they don’t seem jaded by doing press for the record: a smile is painted brightly on each of their faces over Zoom. 

They’re keen to discuss their latest single, the boisterous and funky “Summer Days”, which features Pond frontman Nicholas Allbrook

“’Summer Days’ was this song that we’d written early on. All the music was there. All the melodies. But we could never quite get the lyrics to land,” Davieson says. “So we sent it to Nick [Allbrook] who wrote a bunch of ideas down and we came into the studio and sort of recorded it all. The band weren’t always going to release the track due to fears the song wasn’t “poppy enough”, but thankfully they did.

Despite the euphoric nature of “Summer Days”, Stevens reveals it’s actually about being “stuck in a high rise on the eve of a new year and feeling lonely.” This balancing act has always one of the band’s magic tricks. “I find it very hard to write happy lyrics… dark lyrics with hooky, poppy music. That’s the sweet spot,” as Davieson puts it.

Accompanying the track is a Stanley Kubrick-inspired music video directed by the “passionate, eccentric” Levi Cranston. Shot on Kodak 16mm film, the video depicts dream sequences between a freshly romanced couple. As Stevens explains, the clip is the second part of the story depicted in the band’s “High” music video.

In it, all three members get to showcase their admirable acting skills: Biondillo plays an evil mastermind, while Davieson and Stevens portray his assistants. “{It] doesn’t come naturally,” insists the modest Biondillo when discussing his “very Jeff Goldblum” performance. “Fuck off, you’re good at it,” says Davieson. “The moustache does all the work,” retorts Stevens. All three statements feel true. 

Allbrook was far from the only Pond member they worked with on Under the Light. “The whole record was pretty much a collaboration with Pond,” reveals Davieson.

“We worked with James Ireland [Pond’s drummer] producing the record. The other single, “Under the Light”, was a demo Jay Watson gave us because he lives around the corner. We saw him at the pub one night and he said, ‘Here’s this idea for a recording.'” In fact, the only Pond member they haven’t worked with yet is multi-instrumentalist Jamie Terry (perhaps they’re saving him for their next album).

Pond and San Cisco aren’t the only prominent bands that hail from the bohemian beachside town: Spacey Jane, Tame Impala, John Butler Trio, Stella Donnelly, and many others cut their teeth there. “It’s a very Freo thing,” Davieson says of their album, which was mostly recorded at Biondillo and Davieson’s home studios (which they have coined “Sunlight Studios”), Watson’s house, with the addition of some “American strings in Los Angeles.” Freo was filled with the sounds of Under the Light coming to fruition between late 2021 and the beginning of last year.

“It was lots of long days and nights feeling delirious,” Stevens says. “Throwing myself off the couch onto the floor.” Complete with knock-off beers and plentiful breaks to watch the footy, Biondillo adds that it was “the most casual recording experience ever.”

According to Davidson, the album is about “navigating life as adults now, which seems weird.” The songs, he says, contain the “internal dialogue of the confusing nature of life and people.” It’s perhaps more reflective territory than San Cisco have ever explored.

“It gets harder as you get older,” adds Stevens. “When you’re younger, there’s an abundance of opportunities. Things seem to flow. But [as you get older] you have more responsibility. That’s reflected in the music.” A lull in the conversation follows. “I gave them notes before,” offers Biondillo, much to his bandmate’s amusement.

They might be five albums into their career, but the creative process hasn’t gotten any easier for the trio, which Stevens says is “really fucking stressful.” “When you have those breakthroughs it’s great and rewarding, but you have all this time when you don’t,” she adds.

After over a decade working in a notoriously cutthroat industry, is there anything they wish they could tell their younger selves?

“I wished I appreciated what was happening when we were younger. When we blew up, we were 17. Spacey [Jane] are 27 and on a war path. We were like, ‘Cool, this is kind of fun.’ I just wish I was a bit more mature [with it],” replies Davieson. “I’d say get a legal job, you idiot,” laughs Stevens.

Even after all this time, though, you can still see the veritable thrill in their eyes that this is what they do with their lives. “When I left school, I did not think I was going to be doing this,” Davieson reveals. Neither did Biondillo or Stevens, who were both enrolled at university. “Making stuff – it’s the coolest job in the world.”

San Cisco’s Under the Light is due for release on Friday, March 1st 2024 via Island City Records. More information about their tour dates can be found here.