The five members of Gold Fields don't take themselves too seriously. When we met them before their second show at New York's Bowery Ballroom, they all wore hoodies and jeans. Everyone around them seemed to be in a hurry, but they seemed relaxed, joking with one another and grinning slyly at no one in particular.
However, when the band starts talking about their music, a different attitude emerges—one of resolute determination. They wrote, rewrote, and again rewrote their debut album before feeling satisfied. And it still took three weeks holed up in lead singer Mark Fuller's parents' garage, with the album's artwork (finished earlier) plastered on surrounding walls, to come up with a name: Black Sun, out February 26 from Astralwerks.
The quintet hails from the suburbs outside of Melbourne, Australia. Fuller, guitarist Vinci Andanar, bassist Luke Peldys, and drummer/keyboardist Rob Clifton, went to high school together; and drummer Ryan D'Sylva lived nearby. Their sleepy provenance turned out to be integral to their future—it was small-town monotony, they claim, that drove them to music.
We had a only a few minutes with Fuller, Clifton, and D'Sylva before they were rushed off to get ready for their set, but we squeezed in enough time to chat about their hometowns, '80s bands, and Clifton's Plan B career path (spoiler alert: it's sports-related).
RACHEL SMALL: How did you all meet?
MARK FULLER: We've known each other for years. We all went to the same school, except for Ryan, who lived in a town an hour away from us. We decided to start this band a couple years ago, when Vin and Ryan were at a music festival, and watching The Temper Trap at Falls in Australia. We had a moment of realization that we should start playing music again. So we started writing, got in a room together, and started jamming. Then we got Rob and Luke on board, who were other mates at school. That's how it started. We started writing and recording straightaway before we ever played a show.
SMALL: Where in Australia did you grow up?
FULLER: We all grew up in Ballarat, and Ry is from Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne. Ballarat is a country town about an hour and half from Melbourne, down the bottom of Australia. There's lots of like nice buildings there, and it's about 100,000 people. Lots of Australian-rules footy, and that's about all that goes on in our town. If you don't play footy, you play music, so there's a lot of good music coming out of Ballarat as well. It was probably boredom that drove us to music. And just loving music... We were going to shows all the time growing up, and we wanted to do that ourselves.
SMALL: How did you guys come up with the name Gold Fields?
ROB CLIFTON: Vin and Luke were coming back from a rehearsal one time, from Melbourne, and as you enter Ballarat, there's a sign that "Welcome to the Gold Fields." Vin just looked at that and said, "What about calling ourselves Gold Fields?" Because, at the time we were called The Woods, but we had to change the name because we needed a name that would work internationally, and there's a band from here already called The Woods. So, Vin texted Mark and said, "What about Gold Fields?" And I think you were sort of watching something on TV...
FULLER: Yeah! I watching the news at the time. Then I got the text from Vin, looked down at my phone, read it, and looked back on the telly, and there was a sign—it must have been the same sign that Vin saw—that also said "Gold Fields." I was like, "Holy shit, that's weird."
SMALL: Whoa! So, what was your first big break?
RYAN D'SYLVA: Australia had only one national radio station, called Triple J, and it plays a lot of bands from around the world. If you're getting played on that station regularly and people are enjoying your music, you can have a career in Australia. So they picked up our first single when we just put it up online. And that was where it started, because from there we got the opportunity to go over to the UK. Around our seventh UK show, our current label [Astralwerks], that we're on in America, heard us on a music blog, and it just spun from there.
SMALL: How is it spending so much time together on tour, especially considering how long you have known each other for?
FULLER: It's fine. We get asked that a lot, actually—like our family and friends always ask, "How do you go about living with five other dudes in a van?" But actually, we've never had any problems. If you crack the shits with someone, it's just like cracking the shits with your mates. If you get pissed off with each other, it's just like getting pissed off with your mate. And you have an argument about it, and get over it later. But we never really argue.
D'SYLVA: If we ever do have a disagreement or an argument, it's usually about something regarding the band, not like trivial bullshit. It's something about the show, or we should do this, or we should do that, and we work it out that way. But it's never about "I want the front seat." [all laugh]
SMALL: So, what's been your favorite moment touring so far?
FULLER: The last time we played here at the Bowery Ballroom—that was a huge highlight. It was a sold out show at the end of last year. We were supporting Diamond Rings. That was the first time we played in a venue like this. It was packed, and it was awesome, especially for us being from a small town like Ballarat.
CLIFTON: Also, one of the great things for here, in the US, is being able to go to the cities that you've heard about, like Seattle and Portland. Austin, too. It's an amazing experience in itself to just go to these places and see all of the attractions. When we are playing shows in those iconic kinds of cities, and people are watching you... it's pretty mind-blowing.
SMALL: Do you guys have a favorite city? You don't have to say New York.
CLIFTON: I probably would say New York.
D'SYLVA: Mine's Portland. I love Portland.
SMALL: Do you think you can describe your musical style in just three words?
FULLER: Listen to it? [all laugh] I feel like you sound like a wanker if you try to describe your music. Either that or you just turn people off from listening. We would rather people, if they are rating us, to make up their own minds.
D'SYLVA: We love electronic music, but we're not a fully electronic band. We like pop music, but we're not a straight-up pop band. We like heavier stuff, but we're not a straight-up heavy band. So if we say any of those things, it makes you think we are that, but we're not that. So we're not going to say it.
SMALL: Has anyone given you feedback that has made you see your own music in a new light? Or surprised you?
FULLER: When we play shows, especially over here, there are sometimes a lot of older demographics, like, 30, 40, and even 50-year-olds that are at the show. After, they will come up, and say how much they really loved the show. They will say, "This reminds me of the stuff that I listened to when I was growing up." Often, it's music from the '80s. So it's cool that we appeal to people who you would not necessarily think like our music.
SMALL: Would you say you've gotten any of your inspiration from any of those bands that they're talking about?
FULLER: I think we resemble certain bands from the '80s, that we all like, but I think we probably more draw inspiration from bands that draw inspiration from them. It's definitely reflected in our music, but it's not a conscious thing.
CLIFTON: Haircut 100 was another one that people keep bringing up. Someone in Sydney said, "You guys are exactly like Haircut 100, you guys should go look it up and you'll see." So we looked in up, and he's right! We had never heard of the band, even, but you sort of see how people have noticed parallels. But, at the same time, there's a lot that distinguishes us.
SMALL: So, now that you guys have toured all over the US, and you album Black Sun is coming out, do you've feel like you've made it big?
FULLER: I feel like we have never done anything, really, until the album comes out, and, I guess, with that happening so soon, it is a bit scary, and exciting. It feels like the first box we'll tick, and then we'll start writing the next one. Obviously we'll tour first, and that will be fun, but I'm already looking forward to doing the next one.
CLIFTON: Everything we've done now is like preseason of a sporting game. [laughs] Like the NFL, or Aussie rules.
FULLER: We're talking Aussie rules. [all laugh]
CLIFTON: I'm talking Aussie rules, tonight. Everything we've done up until now has been preseason. Then once the album comes out, it's round one. That's round one. We'll see how the season unfolds.
FULLER: We got a really strong playing group.
CLIFTON: No injuries, which is always really helpful at the start of the season.
SMALL: Good, good. Stay strong, do your stretches.
FULLER: Rob used to be good at Australian rules football. So when we do interviews, Rob just pretends he's this AFL [Australian Football League] player.
CLIFTON: Yeah, I try to throw in some AFL sort of metaphors in there.
CLIFTON: I'm ready to interview on that—on my AFL career. [all laugh]
SMALL: Guess we'll have to follow up! Well, last question, where did the name Black Sun come from for the new album?
FULLER: Well, we'd finished the album, and we were trying to come up with something that...
CLIFTON: Represented the music.
D'SYLVA: We redid the album three times. The third time we did it, we were in Mark's parents' garage. We wanted the album to sounds like the artwork, which we loved, and be this cohesive piece of art. So, we scrapped all the songs and we started writing the album with all this artwork in mind, and trying to create our own little world. So we're in the garage with the artwork posted everywhere. And it was our world for three weeks. We thought that if that world was a world it would be a world with a black sun. All the artwork, if you look at the front cover and the related pieces, looks like it's from a world with a black sun.
SMALL: Cool. Anything else that you want the world to know about?
CLIFTON: I'm one of the AFL stars.
BLACK SUN IS OUT THIS TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26. PRE-ORDER IT HERE. FOR MORE ON GOLD FIELDS, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.