The Citradels’ recording hub is a cosy little shack in Melbourne’s western suburbs that embraces the sun, and it’s also the home of two band members: founder Sunny Down Snuff and keyboardist Rhys Young. The house is warm but old, and Snuff tells me the place was supposed to be demolished this year — until the landlords realised it was a heritage-listed building.
The Citradels used to be 26-year-old Snuff’s solo recording project before he made the move to Melbourne from the insular, coastal community of Portarlington, where he grew up. Seven years later, The Citradels have a score of albums behind them and five extra band members: the aforementioned Rhys Young, lead guitarist Curtis Goodfellow, bassist Sam Heathcote, and drummer Alex Pijpers.
Snuff is wearing bright magenta jeans and odd socks, jumping around the kitchen to make coffees, when I notice a light on the mantlepiece with an image of Jesus Christ floating in a blue circle. When it lights up, it triggers an unsettling whirring sound in the artefact that was left behind in the shed by previous tenants. The house’s catholic inhabitants apparently used to let others live in the shed, and Snuff says ‘Sunflower Man’ was written when Young saw the reflection of an unknown man’s face in the window opposite the bathroom. “I think the man kept living out there without realising the family had moved out,” he says.
The song in question comes from The Citradels’ upcoming seventh album, Where’s One?. After years of following psychedelic garage sounds of bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Where’s One? marks the band’s surprising venture into fresh ‘60s pop harmonies. The album uncovers a sweet vulnerability and leaves their personal matters out in the open — including the passing of their former drummer, Connor Tolson. While the record was finished last August and distribution obstacles have prevented them from releasing it sooner (another album, God Bless, is already ready to go), Where’s One? seems to have opened the door to a bigger world for The Citradels.
How did you get into music?
Sunny Down Snuff: When I was younger, I always really liked whatever music was playing in the background of skateboarding videos. I started to steer away from that when I got a turntable at 16 or 17. I was going to buy a Beatles record because I’d heard who The Beatles were but I hadn’t really listened to a whole album, so I bought Rubber Soul off Ebay, and the only reason I bought it was because it was the cheapest vinyl on Ebay. For about a month I played that record every day when I got home from school.
What was your opinion of the Melbourne music scene when you first moved up? Because Portarlington doesn’t really have…
Anything? [laughs] Melbourne’s good in the fact that there are so many places to play, and you can definitely go out most nights of the week and see bands play. I was pretty overwhelmed. In Geelong — the closest place to play a gig — there was only one, maybe two, venues to play.
How has that changed from now?
I think you start to see who’s genuinely into doing it and whether people actually care a lot about what they’re doing. The best thing about Melbourne is also the downfall: there are so many venues that so many people can just have a band and have a gig whenever they want, and it makes it really easy for good bands and good music to get lost, mistreated or misrepresented.
But I don’t really care if The Citradels get lost in the noise because as long as I’m really happy, it doesn’t matter. If I’ve got to work a shitty job for the rest of my life, but I can keep making music, then I’ll be happy doing it.
Why do you think your band works well together?
We’ve gone through a fair few members — I think it’s 15. A lot of it comes down to trusting that their vision of how the song should go is a similar idea to what yours is. At the moment, we’re five people who are on the same level of what we’re thinking musically, what we want to get out of it, and where our influences are coming from. If we think something’s shit, we’ll tell the other person we think it’s a shit idea.
Is honesty important to you?
Yeah, really important, especially when you’re making music. At the end of the day, especially when you’re making something, recording something or putting something out there as a collective, someone else’s idea is ultimately going to help create what the songs sound like to a listener.
How does honesty play a part in this album?
Where’s One? is the first point where all of us were really working together. Before that point, I thought what we were doing was 100 percent exactly what we wanted to do. But I realised that even though there were influences like Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, I was cutting them off because I thought they didn’t fit in with what we were doing at the time. We thought that we were really free, but we realised how much we had actually pigeonholed ourselves in the past.
The lyrical writing is also very honest. A couple of us went through break ups as we were writing the album, and we started recording ‘Piscine in the Swimming Pool’ the night before Connor (Tolson) had died.
How did you, as a band, handle death throughout the album making process?
It brought us together. Connor actually left the band three months before he died. We became a lot closer and realised how important it was to have him, just to experience who he was. We all took it differently, but as a band, we bonded.
Both of Rhys’ (Young) songs were about Connor because he knew him before we knew him. As soon as Rhys brought ‘Riding with Him’ to us, we knew straight away that that was going to be the last song. We’re not going to forget about him but it’s a really nice send-off and final closure for us.
Do you feel relieved when you finish an album?
Because I mix most of it and I master it, by the time it’s done, I’ve heard the songs from when I’ve written them all the way through. If I keep listening I’ll start to pick out things that need to change. It is really good when you can sign off on it, but I don’t feel like I’ll ever fully sign off on an album until it’s sent off to the pressing plant. There’s always that very small part in the back of your head that’s like, “Oh, what’s that there? I could go back and change it.”
What drives The Citradels?
We had a big moment when we got to the end of God Bless where we were sitting around trying to figure out whether it was better than Where’s One?. And I think that’s really important: you should be constantly looking at how your next step can always be better and more advanced. It should be something of its own. You should also only be proving to yourself that you can make good music. The artist should never be going home and purely making “art” for someone else — that’s advertisement.
That’s what constantly drives me to do it. I hate doing nothing. Even when I’m hungover, I really like to make sure I get up and do even a little bit of work, even if I mix a song for 20 minutes because I know I’ve worked on something for that day. I’ve constantly kept it evolving. That drives all of the band: constantly working.
Progression seems big in your life.
Yeah, if you look at artists who aren’t trying to better their sound and not looking at different angles, then it becomes really stagnant and they just release the same album with the same idea but in a different key. There are bands who do that and it’s really boring. That’s just not how I see creating songs or creating art.
Is being stagnant one of your fears?
I don’t think it’s so much being stagnant as it is constantly trying to see something moving forward. Progression! And every day that you work on something it moves forward in the direction of eventually getting to the point where it’s definitely at its best. If I don’t work on a song for one day, I could miss out on a perspective of how I see that song going. I don’t see music as something I just do when I can; I really want to do it. And if you really want to do something, you should be doing it every day.
Where’s One? comes out May 10th and will be available via Bandcamp.
Listen to an exclusive Speaker TV preview of Where’s One? below