It’s always a treat to receive an album that delves into imaginative territory like Floyd Thursby’s The Fuller’s Field. Melbourne’s lockdown might not have been the most ideal time to record a full length album, but Thursby found creativity inside himself and combined that with a range of very talented artists from around the world. In this interview, he lets us know how it all came together.
Give us some background on how this album took shape. Did it start with a single incident or song, or did you say to yourself ‘Time to write a complete album’?
This album is very much a creature of COVID lockdowns. Like most people I had much more time on my hands and I used that to experiment with different sounds at home, improve my technical skills in recording and producing, and make international connections – remote collaborations across continents and cultures – that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to explore.
It’s a more eclectic collection than my last couple of albums and that’s due to a relaxation of the discipline that I exerted on To those in flames and The South Lands to create series of songs that are more genre-consistent. I listen to, and perform, a pretty wide variety of styles of music and that eclecticism is something that I hold very dear. So in that sense The Fuller’s Field is a particularly personal album. It’s just me saying, stuff it, I’m going to do exactly what I want. That emotional attitude was very much a response to the stresses of COVID.
Tells us about how some of the key songs were written on this album.
The title track The Fuller’s Field is a record I produced myself and I wanted to move away from guitar-based songs, and broaden the palette of sounds I could employ in songwriting. Musically, the song arose out of the keyboard figure that starts the song, although I sketched it out first on guitar. The lyrics started with the line ‘a pooling of a river that we never knew was there’ and were then fleshed out by a memory of a recent lockdown bike ride which took me to Fawkner Cemetery in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Its Northern Memorial Park has a lot of empty space as it’s a new part of the cemetery, and there was something evocative about that.
In the last 50 seconds, I overdub the piano with an identical figure played just a few BPMs slower, in a very simple echo of the tempo fugues of Conlon Nancarrow, who has always fascinated me.
Beautiful Today comes from a very different time and place: it was written back in 2018 when I was on a five-month trip overseas. I wrote this song in Porto, Portugal during the To those in flames writing sessions. I was staying in the spare room of an older couple, neither of whom spoke a word of English so we communicated through bad French and Google Translate.
I had a microphone bought from a secondhand dealership in the southwest of France and was demoing tracks on my laptop. I remember having to choose my moments to record as there was a construction site next door.
The song was actually written as a gift – friends of mine were getting married and I couldn’t make the ceremony so I sent them a few songs instead, including Beautiful Today.
Đóa Hồn Say was a fascinating process to create. I have done quite a bit of performing in Vietnam and my last album The South Lands was a collaboration with the very talented Hanoi-based singer-songwriter Mademoiselle, so I have a bit of a following over there. Therefore I wanted to try and sing a song entirely in Vietnamese. John Kis, the owner of the Hanoi Social Club has always been so supportive and helpful in music matters, and he set up a collaboration between myself and Yen, a Hanoi-based poet who set about translating my lyrics to Fahrenheit. I told her to favour poetic elegance over fidelity to the original meaning, so the final lyric very much has her stamp on it and does a brilliant job of evoking the mysterious, obscure and psychedelic atmosphere of the original English lyric.
What would you say is your key motivation when it comes to writing and recording songs?
For me it’s very much about exploring the universe of music and sound. As a kid I would listen to the keyboard music of J S Bach and was amazed by the way that the character of one note seems to change so profoundly when other notes are played alongside it. For example, an E played in an E major chord sounds very different to an E played in, say, an F major seventh. Or even more so in a Bb major, when it forms the tritone with the tonic.
I started out composing instrumental music (with the Ang Fang Quartet) and I didn’t start singing until some years after picking up the guitar. Nowadays I do place a lot more emphasis on lyrics and I think a lot of my compositions rise and fall on the strength or otherwise of the words that accompany them, but at the deepest level my greatest motivation is my ongoing fascination with music itself.
What gives you more satisfaction: a song that unfolds easily, or one that you have to grapple with and challenge yourself to complete?
There is something so satisfying in producing a song quickly and fully-formed. It’s such a wondrous event that it sometimes seems as if you have personally not had much to do with the process. In the last few years I’ve been training myself not to give up on songs that don’t come together immediately and I’ve been pleased to find that I have, by persisting, produced some songs that I’m very happy with.
If you were to pick one song from your career up until this point that you would want to be remembered for, which one would it be?
Tough question! Way back in 2005 my debut EP featured a dark, doom-laden ballad called Babylon Gate which I’m very proud of. I wanted to write something that sounded like an old folk song and to a degree I think I achieved that. It’s a story of murder and revenge-gone-wrong and I have a soft spot for the refrain ‘I don’t care about justice but I care for revenge’.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, You gotta fly may be the happiest song I’ve ever written and the Vietnamese-English bilingual version recorded with Mademoiselle and produced by Marty Brown (Art of Fighting) is also something I’d be very happy to be remembered for. It was featured prominently in a major Vietnamese film a couple of years ago so as of today it is the song I’m most likely to be remembered for.
This album spans quite a few different arts around the world. How did you create these relationships? Give us some insight into that.
COVID reinforced for me the ease with which technology can assist with remote collaborations and when I was stuck at home and looking for ways to create, I decided to see how far afield I could go. I already had established contacts in Vietnam and whilst I was used to flying over and connecting in real space and time, the work done on Đóa Hồn Say with Yen the translator and with my dialect coach TuanSS (a beat boxer who was in Hanoi at the time but is now living in Melbourne – check him out at one of his gigs some time!) was done entirely remotely by video link and file transfer.
I was introduced to Rob Kleiner by the very talented Kiwi-Melbournian musician Lisa Crawley, who now lives in Los Angeles, as does Rob. I had never worked with a producer remotely before (I don’t think Rob had done remote sessions like ours before either) but we used videoconferencing technology as well as a separate application that sends high quality audio straight out of the desk and over the web to collaborate in the studio: he in L.A. and me in Melbourne in the vocal booth.
I discovered Indonesian artist Galih Putra online and thought his style would be a great fit for the album art. His work is inherently striking but also highlights the stylistic departure from my earlier albums. I chose him for his own personal design style and simply got out of the way and let him do his thing and in this case that approach worked brilliantly.
Fill us in on what we might expect at your launch.
I’ll be playing solo on Friday 24 June at Open Studio in Northcote, one of my favourite Melbourne venues. It’s very intimate, has a great sound system, serves elaborate and elegant cocktails and delicious food. The room does lend itself to getting to know the audience very well and so there tends to be a fair bit of chatting from me alongside the singing. I might also throw in a few covers too.
Floyd is performing at Northcote’s Open Studio on Friday 24 June.