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Something for Kate on 20 Years of 'Echolalia': 'We Never Made It Easy for Ourselves'

20 years on from the release of 'Echolalia', Something for Kate are celebrating their breakthrough album with a new tour and vinyl reissue.

It seems a little funny to think that when Something for Kate released “Twenty Years” as the third single from their third album, Echolalia, its iconic chorus urged the listener to “memorise and repeat it, and sing it like you mean it“. Two decades on, that’s exactly what fans are looking to do as the band celebrate their breakthrough album’s platinum anniversary.

By the time 2001 had rolled around, Melbourne’s Something for Kate were already something akin to darlings of the local music scene. Having formed seven years earlier, the group hit upon early success the following year when their first demo tape managed to sell out of all 600 copies that the group had made. Constant live shows gave way to an almost deafening buzz of chatter about the group, while their ….The Answer to Both Your Questions EP and “Dean Martin” single (both from 1996) helped the band cement themselves as stellar musicians from inside the studio and out.

Unveiling their debut album, Elsewhere for Eight Minutes, in mid-1997, Something for Kate had proven to their fans that they weren’t planning on going anywhere soon, showcasing a tender mix of the emotional and frenetic on their first record by delivering songs heavily inspired by the likes of Fugazi and R.E.M..

In 1999, Something For Kate had switched things up somewhat. Bassist Julian Carroll had departed the group the previous year, with Sandpit’s Stephanie Ashworth taking over from interim bassist Toby Ralph to help create second album, Beautiful Sharks. A far more colourful and introspective record, it helped show that the Melbourne trio weren’t just here to make a beautiful noise when they hit the stage, they were there to create a musical experience that made your heart and mind work in tandem across every track.

By this point, most bands could have felt content to hang up their instruments and call it a day. With the record debuting at number ten on the ARIA charts, numerous appearances in the triple j Hottest 100, and an ARIA Award nomination for Best Adult Alternative Album, it felt like Something for Kate had hit their peak. In reality, things were just warming up.

As Something for Kate attempted to write album number three, the group encountered something of a difficult period. Years of time spent together had made creative juices difficult to flow, and a period of writer’s block left frontman Paul Dempsey unable to craft any new songs. Departing for a week-long trip to Thailand, Dempsey is reported to have written lead single “Monsters” almost immediately after his return, with more of the record following soon after.

Parting ways with previous producer Brian Paulson, the group recruited Trina Shoemaker to assist with their third album, which they recorded at Mangrove Studios on Sydney’s north coast. Releasing “Monsters” in May of 2001, it seemed as though the group were on the cusp of something special. Debuting at #15 on the Australian charts, it struck a chord with listeners around the country, giving the group their highest-placed song to date. By the time that Echolalia followed in June, it was clear that this humble trio were about to embark on their biggest journey to date.

Officially released on June 22nd, Echolalia felt like a masterclass of Australian alternative rock, all wrapped up in one blue-coloured package. With every song feeling like it could be a single, three further tracks emerged as A-sides, with all of them – “Monsters”, “Three Dimensions”, “Say Something”, and “Twenty Years’ – charting that year’s triple j Hottest 100. The former even managed to peak at #2, pipped at the post by Alex Lloyd’s ubiquitous “Amazing”.

But the accolades kept coming, with the record not only peaking at #2 on the Australian charts, but also being voted best album of the year by triple j listeners, and even receiving six ARIA Award nominations, including Album and Single of The Year, Best Adult Alternative Album, Best Cover Art, Best Video, and even Best Group. The pieces that adorned the album’s cover had fallen into place: Something for Kate were impossible to escape.

Image of Something for Kate press clippings

A selection of the press that awaited Something for Kate upon the release of Echolalia. (Photo: Supplied)

As the years went on though, so too did the acclaim. Something for Kate became part of Australian music royalty, with their name becoming as recognised as their sound, and even now, tracks from Echolalia are considered classics of the country’s alt-rock history.

Fittingly then, it made sense that when Echolalia celebrated its 20th anniversary in June, that Something for Kate would announce a long-awaited tour and reissue. Announced last week, the group are set to hit the road this September for their first headline tour in four years, performing Echolalia in full, along with another set featuring highlights of last year’s The Modern Medieval, and fan favourites.

Additionally, the group have also announced a limited edition vinyl reissue of the record, featuring new artwork, presented on clear vinyl, adorned with images from the era, and boasting lyrics written in Paul Dempsey’s unmistakable handwriting. In anticipation of the forthcoming tour and reissue, Dempsey spoke to Rolling Stone about the creation of the record, its success, and their return to the live stage.

To begin, I would assume that you’re like a lot of us in sharing the surprise that Echolalia has now been out for 20 years?

Yeah, I mean, what can I say? Time has a way of doing that. I mean, it’s funny, as a songwriter I spend a lot of my time anyway reflecting on the past and on the nature of time and stuff. So I don’t know, I say I’m surprised but I’m actually not that surprised.

By 2001, the band was already two albums deep. You had a solid live following, a strong fanbase, and the band were pretty beloved already. Did you foresee the success you had growing from there, or did it feel like you’d hit a pretty good point with any further success just being a nice bonus?

That’s an interesting question. I think when our first album came out, I kind of felt like, “Well, that’s it. We’ve made an album,” and that seemed like the pinnacle of what my hopes and expectations were at that point. It was just to make that one album, and y’know, I was pretty sure we were going to get dropped by the label after that first album, because that’s what happened to a lot of bands – not just on that label, but on lots of labels. You do a couple of EPs and then an album, and then if it isn’t a massive album, you get dropped. So I didn’t allow myself to have huge hopes and expectations beyond that.

“We never made it easy for ourselves, and by that point in time, you’ve got three 24-year-olds being like that in a room with each other.”

Then I guess by the time we did actually make the second album, that went even better than the first one and then I started to think we might have albums in it. So by the time we were making Echolalia, the trajectory had been consistently upward and we felt like despite it being a difficult record to write, by the time we had songs [and then] going into the studio, we felt like they were definitely the best batch of songs that we had come up with thus far. So we were really excited about recording that album, and I guess we felt like we just had to go into the studio and execute it properly.

And we had a great producer with Trina Shoemaker, and we were really confident and we allowed ourselves to hope again that it would do even better than Beautiful Sharks and that it might reach a wider audience.

What was the general mood in the band like following the release and promotion of Beautiful Sharks? Were you all keen to make another album and follow things up quickly, or were you just taking it as it came?

No, we were young, I mean, I was 24 when Echolalia came out and the band started when I was 18, so for the first six years of the band, it was just nonstop. All we were doing was playing as much as we could, getting together and writing as much as we could… So we didn’t have anything else in our lives except the band. It was just this constant forward momentum.

So even though it was difficult to write, we still went down to our rehearsal space every single day, and that’s probably part of what made it difficult in that we didn’t give ourselves a break. We were just kind of living the band, 24/7, and I guess it’s when we actually left the rehearsal room and buggered off to Thailand for a week or whatever it was that we actually put our instruments down, took a few breaths, and actually just hung out together. Then it all started to come much easier.

There’s the oft-quoted story that you had experienced quite difficult writer’s block during the writing of the album. Was that something you had experienced previously? It almost feels like with heightened expectations, something like that can manifest.

Yeah, I mean, we’ve always been really hard on ourselves in terms of what we want. We have a bar that we’ve set for ourselves, and we have high expectations four ourselves. Regardless of what anyone else out there thinks of us, that’s kind of not the point. It’s what the three of us expect of ourselves, and how good want it to be for ourselves.

Even if nobody else likes it, the three of us want it to be at least better than what we’ve done before. We need to be more excited about it than whatever the previous thing was. If any one of us portrays even the slightest inkling that, “Yeah, maybe this isn’t that good,” then it gets chucked. So every song and every part of every song; every element of every song, if one of us is just like, “Eh, maybe…”, then that is cause for concern.

“We really wanted to make the best album that we could possibly make.”

We never made it easy for ourselves, and by that point in time, you’ve got three 24-year-olds being like that in a room with each other. It’s hard to explain. I don’t like the word ‘perfectionist’, because nothing’s perfect, and nothing we’ve ever done is perfect, and it’s just a very strong quality control and also just a very strong feeling amongst the three of us that we’re just not going to let anything slide and be “just okay”.

We really wanted to make the best album that we could possibly make and that’s what we do every time we make an album. Again, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I’m not saying everyone should love our records, I’m just saying that for the three of us, it just has to be right.

Had there been a specific desire to sort of change things up with this album? Echolalia has always felt a little different to the likes of Beautiful Sharks. Still similar in its sound and focus, but there’s a renewed confidence and ability from the band, so it feels like a new producer might have helped to aid that as well.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s always exciting when you meet someone new, because not only are you making a record together, but you’re beginning a new friendship, and if you really hit it off as we did, then that’s exciting. It’s like whenever you make a new friend and you know you’re hitting it off and enjoying each other’s company; it’s fun. So it has all that kind of magic about it.

Trina really believed in the songs, and we really believed in her ability. I think at that point she hadn’t produced a whole lot of stuff on her own. She’d engineered an incredible list of projects, and mixed an incredible list of things, but I think being ‘the producer’, she was excited about that. She really believed in us and we really believed in her, and it was just a really fun time.

But again, we made our first two albums with Brian Paulson. We loved working with him so much that we just automatically worked with him again on the second one. Also a great experience, but I think it only took two goes for us to realise that it was time to change it up and get a different spark with a different person. Then we did the same thing with Trina. We made two albums with her and then went, “Okay, we’ve got to change things up.” And ever since then, we’ve made every album with a different person.

When the record was released, what was your initial reaction? Were you worried about how it was going to be received, or were you confident you were standing behind something incredibly strong?

I think my personal feeling, and I could probably talk to Clint and Steph’s on this, was… When it was done, I remember when we were in Los Angeles and we actually mastered it, and you walk out of the mastering suite and that’s it, it’s done, there’s no changing it. You’re sort of driving arund in a rental car, listening to it on a car stereo, and I was just really happy.

I just thought, “We’ve done what we set out to do; make a record we’re really proud of.” It was just that feeling, and a huge relief lifted that it was done and that we did it. But in terms of, “Ooh, what’s everyone else going to think of it?”, I don’t know… I guess I just had no idea, and I just don’t let myself worry about that sort of stuff because you can’t control it. You have hopes for it, but you know that you can’t control it. You know that everything out there is fickle and changing, and… You don’t ever know what landscape you’re releasing a record into, so it’s pointless thinking about.

“I just thought, ‘We’ve done what we set out to do; make a record we’re really proud of.'”

And I guess that’s just one of the things about Echolalia – completely aside from the record itself – I think it just landed at a particular time that was right. I remember the week it came out, walking down a busy retail strip, and it just seemed to be playing out of every second shop. I just remember thinking to myself, “Wow…”

When the time is right for something, the time is right for something, and it almost doesn’t even have to matter what the thing is. It just finds its moment and people find it, and it has almost like an extra life because of that. Every record we’ve ever made, I think of them all equally, I don’t think of any of them as being better than each other. But certainly, they’ve all had different moments in time that they arrived into.

The success of the record must have been a little overwhelming too. Number two on the charts, many more ARIA nominations than previous, and an almost never-ending amount of press. Was it sort of difficult to deal with such a massive spotlight, or was it a bit more validating that you’d obviously done something right?

No, I think it was more that sense of like, it almost had nothing to do with us beyond a certain point. We made the record that we wanted to make. I think we made the record that our fans were hoping we’d make, just in terms of it being better than the last one. I think everyone was ready and really wanting and hoping that we would come out with a third album that built on the first two. So I think all of those were hopeful things, and I think people were sort of rooting for us.

So all of that stuff was there and that was great and that all happened, but then I think there’s another point where… Like, a record achieves the success it deserves, and then there’s another whole thing that happens beyond that which just ripples. And I think some records become massive because they just become the record of…. There’s people out there who might have bought three records each year, and it just became one of the records that you bought [laughs].

I’m trying really hard not to sound arrogant about this, because really the point I’m trying to make is that it had nothing to do with us or our record, it just became the sort of thing where a record catches on and enough people say nice things about it – the word of mouth, the buzz, I guess. The buzz is just one of things which has the power to spread it far and wide. It almost doesn’t matter what the thing is, it could be the buzz itself.

How do you look back on the album now, 20 years on? How does it sit in your own view of your body of work?

Speaking just about the record itself and trying to disassociate it from the time it was released and everything that happened around it, it’s just part three. It came after part one and part two, and it was part three. There have been many parts since then, and there will be many more. I can’t score them, it’s just not the way my brain works. I don’t really like comparing things to each other just for the sake of comparing them to each other.

“I think it’s a really good record, and I’m really happy with everything we put into it.”

But y’know, it was a time, and it was part of the evolution which continues. I’m really happy with it. I think it’s a really good record, and I’m really happy with everything we put into it, we got everything we wanted from it, and I’m really happy we met our expectations.

I don’t want to sound completely untouched by either though. I’m aware because of the time and that it became a bit of a buzz record, I understand that it became a part of a lot of people’s lives. Then when you announce a tour like this and you see people speaking of their memories of the time and how important it’s been to them, twenty years since, that is a really incredible thing to see and be a part of.

Obviously the recent big news is the announcement of the upcoming tour. How are you feeling about the upcoming shows? Both in terms of a celebration of the new album, Echolalia, and also with everything happening COVID-wise currently?

Yeah, look, we are busting to play obviously. The Modern Medieval has been out for a while now and we haven’t had the chance to tour that properly, so we’re really excited to play that album as well. But we’re excited about just actually getting on stage, playing Echolalia from start to finish. We’ve never done that with any record and I think it’s going to be a different experience because people are going to know what comes next, obviously. They’re going to know what song is coming up, and I think that’s going to give us a different flow to the show and a different kind of energy with the band and the audience.

But then the second set will be keeping people guessing. But look, I’m just really excited to play the songs. I don’t generally listen to our records, but when you have to remember things from 20 years ago, I’ve been listening to Echolalia a bit, and… Yeah, it’s a pleasant surprise when you haven’t listened to your own record for 20 years, like,  “Hey, this is pretty good!” [laughs].

The tour also has you guys doing two sets – one with Echolalia and one with new and old favourites. This would be the first time in a long time you’ve played a few of the deep cuts off Echolalia, I’m assuming. How does the notion of revisiting these songs for the first time in a while?

Definitely, yeah. Songs like “Manmade Horse”, I don’t know how many times we ever played that live, but we’ve all been listening to it and, it’s funny, because Steph and I both turned to each other and said, “Wow, ‘Manmade Horse’, why didn’t we play that more? It’s actually a great song.” I don’t know why, at the time, it wasn’t on all the setlists. And “Old Pictures” didn’t get played heaps. “White”, it’s a sort of unusual finish to the album and not really much of ‘songy’ song, but we’re all really excited about what we can do with that live.

Plus the fact we’ll have Adrian [Stoyles] and Olivia [Bartley] playing with us as well, it just gives us so much more scope to sort of broaden the songs and have all the different parts happening. So I think some of them might even evolve on stage more than have on the record.

From a personal point of view, I’m holding out for the likes of tracks like “Hawaiian Robots” [“Monsters” B-side] making the cut.

Yeah, that’ll probably get a run, because around that album, every single had a couple of original B-sides as well. Some of them have become fan favourites which have hardly been played either. So we’re going to include a few surprises from the whole period.

Something for Kate Echolalia x The Modern Medieval Australian Tour

Friday, September 17th
Astor Theatre, Perth, WA (All Ages)
Tickets: Ticketek

Saturday, September 18th
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide, SA (All Ages)
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Wednesday, September 22nd (Sold Out)
The Forum, Melbourne, VIC (18+)

Thursday, September 23rd (Sold Out)
The Forum, Melbourne, VIC (18+)

Monday, October 4th (New Show)
Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD (18+)
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Friday, October 8th (Sold Out)
Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD (18+)

Saturday, October 9th
Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW (All Ages)
Tickets: Ticketek

Thursday, October 28th (New Show)
The Forum, Melbourne, VIC (18+)
Tickets: Ticketmaster

New shows added. To buy tickets and for all tour info, head to Frontier Touring.