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Track by Track: ROI ‘August City’

Brisbane duo – and their vocal collaborators – dissect their eclectic debut.

As predicted in our initial preview — via the heart-wrenching lead track “Maths & Engineering” — ROI’s debut August City is an immersive record, partnering prog-like compositions alongside emotional responses of a wide variety of collaborating vocalists. While led by the duo’s rhythm-based production, August City stretches out across a wide spectrum of genres — sporadically introducing elements of jazz and rock, alongside more traditional, softer ballads — seemingly adapting as required to the particular contributor’s style.

As such, August City is a truly collaborative project. The individual tracks compartmentalised by the guest’s ownership stamp, yet remain distinctly cut from the same ROI cloth. Keen to discover more, we recently caught up with Matt Schrader from ROI, as well as many of the album’s contributors, for some insight into this delicate balancing act.

The entire album is also available to stream below.

Matt Schrader (ROI) on “Latrobe St”
“Where it all started, the street where I met Barn for some session studio work nearly ten years ago. Barn wrote the riff and we used to play it live when backing a Gold Coast artist, using the riff to join two of her songs together. We expanded it, added a bridge (or two, depending on who you ask), and tried different vocal arrangements before deciding to let it sit as an instrumental, keeping Latrobe St true to what it was/is/will always be.”

Alan Boyle (Blues Arcadia) on “Second Skin”
“I suppose it’s like banging on the windows and doors of places you ultimately feel you don’t belong in, but keep making a show of yourself trying to get in – just to prove to the people inside that you can. So yeah, it’s a bit paranoid, and a bit narrow, especially in that rant bit. Not a lot of light, or hope, but that’s not necessary to console someone when they are down in the hole. Just some empathy (or self-empathy) can get you back out and scrappy again. ‘Please stop breaking down. But if you do, I understand.'”

Natasha Doherty (Smoking Martha) on “Take A Hit”
“This is about being free and letting go, the music is so chaotic but free so it inspired a bit of a party anthem!!”

Stephen Ryan (Good Oak) on “Maths And Engineering”
“A friend of mine turns out these short pieces of writing that are a sort of a ramble on a particular topic or event. He has a unique way of coming at things and manages to be funny and sad at the same time. I’ve long wanted to try to put them to music in some way. When ROI sent me the music to what became ‘Maths And Engineering’ I thought it was an opportunity to try it out. It’s very different to anything I’ve done before but I wanted the melody and delivery to have very little going on so there is no distraction from the story.”

Lauren Porter (Rowen) on “In Mind”
“‘In Mind’ describes the feeling of meeting a person you are totally diggin’. You can’t get them out of your head, and they stay with you all day. Writing with ROI was a totally different and amazing experience for me, because I wrote to a track. I’m super happy with it, because I just allowed myself to let the vocals flow, not worrying about any particular song structure. FUN!”

Matt Schrader (ROI) on “Snow”
“During a stormy afternoon Barnaby started playing the main riff, capturing the mood perfectly. I pictured some spoken word so I rambled off a couple of sentences, caught up in the moment. A lot of this record is made up of ‘getting caught in the moment,’ and in this case it felt wrong to try and add to Snow, so we left it as is.”

Robyn Dawson (Mosman Alder) on “Ziptied”
“The initial inspiration for the lyrics actually came from a story about Lucy the chimpanzee who was adopted by a psychotherapist and professor at the Oklahoma university in the 60’s and raised as if she were a human child. She was taught sign language, how to eat with cutlery and dress herself. She also raised a cat and was renowned for drinking straight gin. but inevitably she couldn’t continue living with the family due to the natural aggression that tends to rise in chimps when they hit puberty. Her destructive nature became too dangerous for the family and when she was 12 she was moved to a chimp rehabilitation centre in Gambia. Unfortunately she couldn’t really relate to the other chimps and showed signs of depression as time went on, continually using the sign for ‘hurt’ when trying to communicate. It just really got me thinking about self sabotage and how we have a tendency to screw ourselves over, particularly when we can’t control aggressive tendencies that can for some people feel as if it is hardwired into their behaviour.”

Alan Boyle (Blues Arcadia) on “Never Speak Of This Again”
“I guess it’s about secrets, and imagining how things and relationships might be if circumstances were different. Carrying little pieces of people and possible futures inside yourself. It’s not always a good or healthy thing to do, but I think everybody does it to some degree.”

Matt Schrader (ROI) on “Holding On” feat. Emily Brewis (Fieu)
“One of the first written but last to make the album. We agonised over this song for ages, believing that we had all the parts but they just didn’t connect. We ended up cutting a stack out of the demo to accommodate for Emily’s beautiful piano, stripped all the synth (bells and whistles) and we had our solution – less is more! (Who would’ve thought?!)”

Jeremy Hunter (Deeds) on “Chemical Cures”
“Back when Matt and Barn asked me to do this project I was experimenting somewhat unsuccessfully with not-drinking-quite-as-much, and my thoughts on the matter carried over into this song. One thing that happens when you go out sober enough is you start to think about why so many people have this near compulsive need to fill their nights and weekends getting off their faces. The answer, of course, is that it’s incredibly fun, but the flipside is always the next day or two of fatigue or sickness or anxiety. Its always struck me as strange that few people give that lost time a second thought. I guess the lyrics explore those two sides — the high followed by the low.”