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Dr Sure's Unusual Practice: "Just Playing Heaps of New Songs, It Feels Fresh, Exciting, and Kind Of Nerve-Racking Which is a Good Feeling to Get Back To"

Ahead of the band's tour around Oz later this month, the always busy and obscure Dr Sure's Unusual Practice are back today with a new clip for their latest single "Celebration," a gloriously surreal rush of no wave that wriggles around radiant gang vocals and a bleeding saxophone. With the band's third proper LP Total Reality hitting shelves April 19th on Marthouse Records, I caught up with bandleader Dougal Shaw to discuss how the new album came together, always remaining busy in the studio, and the band's upcoming run of shows.

First tell me what you've been up to lately? What have you been listening to, reading, or spending a lot of time doing?

Dougal Shaw: We've been touring a lot and got a bunch more coming up with the new album out soon. Been learning new songs for upcoming shows, spending a bunch of time in a room together figuring out new sounds, new toys, new instruments to bring this album to life. I've been reading a lot about the genocide that's happening in Palestine, showing up to rallies when I'm home, and generally trying to operate in solidarity with the movement for the liberation of the Palestinian people. Hard to watch our governments' complicity, I guess you guys probably feel it as well in the USA.

When last chatted back in April, you mentioned you were working on a couple Dr. Sure albums and now you've got your third LP Total Reality coming out in April. What can you tell me about the making of this album and how it all came together?

It came together over a couple of years, slowly figuring itself out in the background with a couple of releases happening in between. After recording the last LP Remember The Future? Vol. 2 & 1, which I wrote solo, but we recorded it live in the studio, the idea for the next one was to write a "band album" all together. With that in mind, I started jotting down ideas, skeletons — just drum machines, chords, melodies, but trying to leave heaps of space to get in a room and flesh them out together. With the pandemic happening, then our original guitarist Jack moving interstate, new band members, then everything opening up again and we got to tour RTF? around Oz then UK and Europe, then the Bench Press split 7", the Bubble mixtape release and tours — we just kept moving forward and a lot of those ideas went untouched for ages. Eventually we had a spare moment and I was like okay, let's have another dig at this record. We took those sketches and just started building on them. Siz (bass/saxophone) and I did a lot of cutting up and arranging, Siz and Miz (drums) laid down some rhythm section beds, Tali (guitar, bass) & Matty (synth, guitar) came in and we all did a bunch of gang vocals, percussion. Matty laid down some spoons. I played around heaps with guitars, synths, melodica, trumpet, xylophone, field recordings. I'd been writing sax lines on a melodica, with a plan to get someone in, and then discovered Siz could play the sax. Cheeky bugger, known him seven years and he'd never mentioned it. My partner Liv did some spoken word. There's some of Jack's guitars on there from those early sketches. Some friends Alannah and Stu also did some sax. It was a super fun and loose process.

I read that you refer to this album as a "collage" with pieces of old demos, drum machines coexisting with a live-tracked rhythm section along with a wide-range of collaborations. Were there any tracks here that turned out entirely different than you had expected while experimenting with ideas?

Yeah 100%, "collage album" is the best descriptor. It was a conscious thing to try to let go a bit, get some different heads involved and let the songs become whatever they become. The track "Keeps Ya Head Up" stands out for me, it feels really different to anything we've released before and it's been heaps of fun playing it live. Last week we recorded an 11-piece version of it at (New Zealand festival) Camp A Low Hum; three saxophones, a little Low Hum choir, an extra guitar, and the five of us. It was some of the most fun I've had playing music in a room with people. Felt really special, and the song took on another new life.

Photo by Kelli Blackmore

Today we're premiering the music video to your latest single "Celebration." What inspired it and what can you say about the making of that song?

"Celebration" was a very rough sketch that Siz and I made one arvo during a lockdown. He had the main bassline and we laid it down over a simple beat. Actually that's right, I remember we were tripping cos we couldn't get the feel right and it took us a minute to figure out the bass line was in 5/4. You can hear us laughing in the clap break cos the 5/4 time signature was throwing us out of sync. Lyrically, it's riffing on late-stage capitalism and the commodification of wellness. It's celebrating the communities we build that actually help us through.

How did its accompanying music video come together?

I love making surrealist art and movies, I like using a light, absurd visual element to respond to the heavy themes. Your pals helping to keep your head screwed on. I spent a few days making the props, the human size sardine tin, butterflies, the chess board and whatnot. We emptied a room and shot it at my house. It was a really fun day, we had a bunch of friends helping, Ed Fraser and Kate Diggins on the cams, half of Billiam & The Split Bills were helping out with makeup and BTS photos, and patting my dog so she wouldn't run through the frame.

Which song from the record means the most to you (and why)? 

"All Good Ends Must Come To A Thing" has my baby Blue singing on it. He must have been like nine months old at the time. Sweet little guy.

Photo by Danysha Harriott

How excited are you for the upcoming run of shows around Australia? You'll be playing in Meanjin/Brisbane on Thursday.

So so keen, we're playing with some old pals Guppy who were also at Camp A Low Hum last week and I think the general consensus from everyone there is we never wanted it to end, so very excited to link up with them and keep Hummin'. Jack from Guppy played on that live sesh I mentioned, she's a weapon on the sax. Maybe she'll jump up with us on Thursday? But yeah very excited for all the Oz shows, lucky to be playing with a bunch of bands we really love. Also just playing heaps of new songs, it feels fresh and exciting and kind of nerve-racking which is a good feeling to get back to.

Then after these shows, you and your band will be touring Europe in May! What are you looking forward to playing there and are there any bands in particular you're excited to play with?

Yeah unreal to be going back. The first tour over there was a bit of a Hail Mary and it's a long way to go from Oz and you don't know what to expect. To be invited back to a bunch of festivals and bigger rooms this time around, feels like the punt paid off. Hard to pick a favorite, but maybe most excited for Copenhagen? I don't think any of us have ever been to Denmark, what a treat.

Aside from the new album and the tours, what else is on the horizon for you?

I've got a bunch of ideas for movies for the Total Reality songs. The album is out next month but I'm keen to polish off another vid or two by then. We've also been writing heaps of new music that will surely become something. Some exciting Marthouse releases coming up too. And hanging with my family!

Total Reality is out April 19th on Marthouse Records. Upcoming tour dates below.

Flyer art by Dougal Shaw


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