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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos


MARCH 2024

Almost three years since our first meeting with San Cisco, the trio have returned with their fifth full-length offering, Under The Light. For our March digital cover, we sat down with the Perth artists to trace their evolution and delve into their latest offering.

Photographs by Briony Wright

Styling by Positive Feedback

As they enter the fifteenth year of their career, Australian trio San Cisco reflect on the growth and cultivation of their artistry that rings throughout Under The Light. “More mature effort, I'd say. I guess that's obvious,” guitarist Josh Biondillo comments. That maturity presents itself through the bands unbridled vulnerability and experimentation across the album that offers a more exposed glimpse into their minds than previous records. There’s an openness to change embedded not only within the collection of songs’ thematic exploration, but within the process that birthed their fifth studio album. Drummer Scarlet Stevens notes, “Just thematically, I think as we've grown as people, probably the ideas that we are exploring on the album are more mature. Shit's getting real.”

Forming in 2009, San Cisco made their debut the following year with Golden Revolver - quickly captivating the attention of the nation. Across the past fifteen years, they have released five full-length albums, three EP’s, topped the charts, embarked on sold-out tours, taken to the stage at festivals including Big Day Out, Lollapalooza, Reading & Leeds, Splendour In The Grass and received nominations at the ARIA Awards, APRA Awards and taken home wins at the West Australian Music Industry Awards. Now, they’re grasping the steering wheel more firmly than ever. “I kind of feel like we were, for lack of a better word, like leading the charge [whilst making Under The Light],” vocalist Jordi Davieson delves deeper into the bands growth. “Like we were more in control of what was going on and how it was happening and even just logistically organising how and where and when the record was going to be recorded. I feel like it was more of a group effort on that side of things, obviously with James Ireland who we were producing the record with.” That cohesion is effortlessly intertwined within the DNA of Under The Light.

As I meet with the trio in the lobby of Sydney’s Ace Hotel, Under The Light has been available to the world for just shy of twelve hours - but the band are showing no signs of nerves. Davieson has turned his attention towards social posting, whilst Stevens and I discuss one of the countries hottest topics: Taylor Swift’s triumphant return to Australia for The Eras Tour. "I was explaining the 'Taylor's Version' to Jordie in the car on the way to press today, and the ‘vault,” she says. “How she went back, and some of those songs are so good from the vault... It's just cool to see an artist like taking back their power.” For Under The Light, San Cisco revived some older compositions that had yet to see the light of day, much like Swift’s endeavours as she revisits her catalogue. “There's like the two main ones,” says Davieson. “When I Dream was written and it stayed on a hard drive for like a year and a half and then our management was like, 'you've gotta finish this song.' So we finished it and that was great. On the Line, we just couldn't get it to sit right. It wasn't until we came home and that was the first time we worked with James [Ireland]. So we had bits of a song... the song was all written, but we could never quite get the vibe.” Biondillo notes the latter track went though a variety of iterations that could be likened to Fleetwood Mac and The Strokes, even finding its way to an emo rendition before arriving at what we hear today. It’s this experimentation and openness to creating, that in some ways makes Under The Light the album San Cisco have always wanted to make.

“We’re trying to spice things up now, we’ve been together for 15 years.”

This time around, the trio expand upon their established and much loved indie sound. There’s notes of dance, garage, house and psychedelia woven throughout the songs’ carefully structured soundscapes. String sections swell throughout, vibrant melodies flow above and the result is a genre-bending, enchanting listening experience. Stevens notes it felt more organic exploring “different genres in a way that we've always tried to do on previous albums, and maybe it hasn't landed. Or maybe it has. I think we were able to do it with sort of more accuracy and like more respect for the genres we were trying to emulate.” There’s a deeper contemplation with the sounds they’re playing with on Under The Light. Each choice feels considered imperative to the overall composition and the undertone of bringing listeners to the dance floor that sweeps across the eleven tracks. From the Brit dance-pop musings of Honeycomb that could find it’s place on a Charli XCX album, to the 80’s disco-funk tinged Consequence, to the psychedelic and euphoric Summer Days; the record keeps a steady pace of experimentation whilst retaining San Cisco’s signature brimming charm. In the words of Davieson, “We’re trying to spice things up now, we’ve been together for 15 years.”

" was the first time we'd invited other songwriters into the studio."

When it came to penning the album, Davieson, Stevens and Biondillo set out to create timeless lyricism and songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of pop music. “Writing a great pop song that means nothing is all well and fun. But writing a pop song, writing a song that you love that means a lot to you is, it's a special thing.” Lost Without You touches on the resilience of human relationships, words are left unsaid on One Percent and the duality of personality is explored on Into My Heart, to name a few. The tender Family Trust is an examination of the juxtaposition of toxic masculinity and empathy. All are brought to life by storytelling and nuanced lyricism that stirs emotion, feelings that Davieson hopes linger long after the albums release. “When you perform it for like years to come, it's so different. Seeing a song that really means something to you and transports you back to that period and that time, than just singing a song with a bunch of words that you threw together that sound great and like connect with people, but then they're not attached to this real life event that's happened to you - that meant something to you. So it also helps the longevity of the song for yourself.”

For the duration of their career, San Cisco have been a tight knit team. Outside of producers, they’ve rarely opened their creative outlet to collaborators. All this has changed with Under The Light. The trio tapped producer James Ireland (Pond, Cuco) and by Grammy award winning engineer Neal H. Pogue (Steve Lacy, Tyler The Creator, Outkast) and Anthony Dolhai (Mø, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kesha) for the body of work, and this time around invited Tame Impala and POND members Jay Watson and Nicholas Allbrook in to the mix. In turn, this created a new way of working. "Obviously it was the first time we'd invited other songwriters into the studio. With that collaboration kind of opening up, new ways of writing, writing with other people, just trying out lots of different things as opposed to Jordi just coming in with something he'd written on acoustic guitar,” Stevens says of this new approach. "There are songs that I would come in that I'd written just on acoustic guitar and watching James and these guys interpret them into a vibe that wasn't like me playing on acoustic guitar, that was a really interesting process for me. Because to me, that's the song. It's hard for me to see it anyway outside of that. Whereas these guys, there might be something in it that they go, 'oh, it's, it could be like this.' And then it kind of gets reimagined. There were a few times that yeah, these guys did a pretty big overhaul of some like very sketchy ideas,” Davieson details.

“We were like kids when we wrote that and we haven't played it for years, so that's been like kind of fun.”

Their organic working relationship with Watson and Allbrook stemmed from their camaraderie as friends. “It happened very naturally and very organically," Stevens continues. "Just purely like being at the pub with Jay or Nic and them saying they had a demo lying around that they didn't know what to do either. ‘Send it over' [laughs]. Which was really nice. We just happened to vibe with their ideas and Summer Days was a bit different. We had the song and the idea of how we wanted it to sound, but the lyrics were just, we just kept getting stuck on lyrics. I think that's completely normal in the creative process to, to feel like really stuck. I feel like most of the time we feel you can just get that really bad block and it's so hard to move past it. And then having someone with fresh ears listen to it and give their interpretation and just like, Nic's just beautiful.” She likened Allbrook to a doula, in how he would guide and support the trio and coax out their artistic side during moments where they felt blocked during the writing process.

Beyond the music, San Cisco have created a distinct visual identity throughout their fifteen years together. For the visuals attached to Under The Light, the band enlisted Levi Cranston to conceptualise and bring the world to life. They even got to show off their acting chops within the music videos. “Daunting, we’d never done anything like it,” Biondillo says of their time as actors. Stevens declares, “Josh is a natural.” A Bonnie and Clyde inspired story unfolds in the visual for Lost Without You, whilst a more conceptual approach is taken for the couplet of High and Summer Days. “From the outset [Cranston] had such a clear vision,” Stevens notes. Davieson adds, “With someone like Levi, I think you really gotta let him shine.”

Whilst they’ve yet to announce any Australian tour dates, the band will hit Europe and the United Kingdom over the coming months for a string of headline shows. With Perth-based graphic designers on-board to create tour visuals, Stevens reveals, "We're also throwing it back and putting in older songs, bringing back the old songs.” One song in particular, confesses Davieson, is Beach. “We were like kids when we wrote that and we haven't played it for years, so that's been like kind of fun.” Biondillo is looking forward to testing out new material, “I think it's good to see how the crowd reacts to the new songs especially.” With the bands fourth studio album, Between You and Me, arriving amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, they were robbed of the opportunity to hit the road for a full-blown tour following its release. “That felt really weird not being able to go and like complete the circle of life.” Davieson remarks. “I felt really weird about it and that really made me realise how much I cared about touring and playing music. And if ever in life I'm feeling a bit like, 'what am I doing or what's going on?' You go on tour, you're like, 'this is what I'm doing. This is it.” 

"Maybe is radio lacking would we say? Like pushing Australian music on the radio is kind of lacking in a big way,”

Stevens notes the lasting impact of the pandemic on the touring industry, with venues having shut down and staple festivals being cancelled. San Cisco were set to hit the road with beloved touring festival Groovin The Moo. Last month, organisers transparently announced the festival would no longer be going ahead due to poor ticket sales."It does kind of throw you into a spiral. Because it's like, what is the future of live music and is there space for indie bands to do what they love and keep touring and performing. I hope that it will fare these times and we will still have jobs,” says Stevens. I pose them the question, what can be done to revive the industry and help support the local scene? "Maybe is radio lacking would we say? Like pushing Australian music on the radio is kind of lacking in a big way,” Biondillo responds. “Commercial radio have to step it up. Step up. It's a big ask. You don't want to ask the punters and people who are already like so stretched week to week to put the burden on them. Maybe the government should…” Stevens trails off, before Davieson finishes her though. “Subsidise touring [laughs]. It's so expensive.” He continues, “There's more music than ever before, and it's more accessible than ever before. There's maybe going to be a bit of a period of recalibration after the world shutting down for two years and everyone's like, 'come out the gates with all this stuff.' It's hard to know really. I don't know if there is a solution. The natural equilibrium just needs to like find itself, and I hope we're a part of it. Hope we’re still relevant after another fifteen years.” 

Stevens asks him, “And then what happens?” I interject and suggest they take a leaf from Swift’s book and release their own ‘From The Vault’ album, full of tracks that never made the cut or host their own Vegas inspired residency here on home soil. She responds, “Maybe it should be in the Gold Coast. It'd be amazing. I love this idea.”


Writer: Vasili Papathanasopoulos

Photography: Briony Wright

Creative: Positive Feedback

Styling: Positive Feedback and San Cisco

Makeup Artist: Nisal

Under The Light is out now!


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