Once upon a time, guitar bands ruled Coachella. But 2018 indicated a massive shift in dynamic for the biggest festival in the world. With Beyoncé, The Weeknd and Eminem headlining each day of Coachella, the media was quick to pronounce rock dead.
Little did they know, there was an Australian indie-rock band listed on the bottom line in tiny font on day three’s line-up called Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. While the line-up is generally ordered in significance, it’s not the case for the self-proclaimed soft-punk purveyors. Rolling Blackouts – along with a few other rock groups – were tasked with keeping Coachella’s long history of rock alive, an important role in the festival.
Though Rolling Blackout’s vocalist and guitarist Tom Russo is the first to admit that the band took to the Coachella stage early and didn’t play to a huge audience, he noted the unique quality of the festival.
“It was a really good experience, but very different. Coachella was kind of like a different universe. Bit of an alternate reality – a dream-land thing,” Russo said.
However, it was a contrasting story when Rolling Blackouts took their tough-pop to Spain and Portugal for Primavera Sound just a couple of weeks ago. The first difference was that Primavera’s line-up fully embraced rock, booking acts like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Arctic Monkeys and The National. The second is the crowd that turned out for Rolling Blackouts.
“Primavera was a bit more fun from a playing point-of-view. It was amazing. We played one of these stages by the water and in front of 2000 to 3000 people. It was a really good time and we weren’t expecting that. Those festivals just have the most amazing line-ups.”
Russo said the group were unsure if their brand of sun-soaked guitar-pop would translate in Europe. But it turned out the crowd welcomed their music with open arms.
“Rhythms and guitars translate across waters.”
“Sometimes you don’t’ know if it will, but [it did], particularly in Primavera. It was really sunny, and it worked a lot better, [because] our music is kind of sunny music. Rhythms and guitars translate across waters.”
Following their breakthrough success touring major festivals overseas, Rolling Blackouts have returned home to launch their long-awaited debut album, Hope Downs, out today.
One would imagine that after playing in front of thousands of people, the band’s focus may shift away from the small venues they began playing in. However, the quintet hasn’t forgot where they came from. They’re launching their record with a free show on their “home ground,” Fitzroy’s The Old Bar, a 175-capacity venue. Russo said the band thrive in those small spaces.
“I like festivals. But I love the atmosphere of playing a couple hundred capacity club. Having it all enclosed can be the best because everyone’s right in it. When you’re playing a massive stage, it can get a little lost… We started out playing a lot of shows at The Old Bar, so going back there will be really nice. We haven’t played there in a few years.”
It will be the last chance for anyone in Australia to see Rolling Blackouts in a small club, as the brilliance of Hope Downs will propel the band into bigger venues. Partnering bright, punchy riffs and narrative-inspired song-writing, Hope Downs sees Rolling Blackouts attempting to create music that’s essentially Australia. With the clear influence of classic Australian guitar bands of the ‘80s, the band is defining what Australia sounds like.
“We want to make something Australian and I think we do that.”
“We want to make music from a certain place. British and American bands have their own history and product. Their origins influence that. Our clean guitar pop is sort of an Australian sound, we sound like bands in Australia from the 80s… We want to make something Australian and I think we do that.”
The album’s name itself – Hope Downs – is a mine in Western Australia. Vocalist and guitarist Frans Keaney discovered the mine and presented it to the band as a possible album title. As there’s no single theme attaching the songs other than its obvious Australian influence, the group agreed on the title due to its “evocative” impression.
“[Hope Downs] is a big hole in the ground and it’s kind of a metaphor about all the big forces pressing down on small people in a big world just trying to get along. We tried to make it an optimistic album in the face of all these wider forces happening and what everyone’s feeling. It feels like a really evocative album.”
Hope Downs is out now via Ivy League Records. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will be playing Splendour in the Grass from July 20-22. The band will return to Australia to tour their debut album from September 27 until October 13. Check out the tour dates here.
Stream Hope Downs below: