The Siren Tower Interview: "Our music isn't what you would call cool, it probably doesn't fit with a lot of current trends, but that's how we know we're on the right path"

03/10/2012 @ 13:56
The Siren Tower are definitely one of the most pleasant musical surprises of the current year, with their impressive debut album being among the best releases I’ve heard. I consider it a matter of time until they find their way to commercial success with their acoustic, melodic and quite emotional rock music and therefore I tried to contact their main composer, guitarist and singer Grant McCulloch. Being friendly and honest he answered all the questions with detail, proving once again that real music comes from really nice people.

Hello Grant. Introduce The Siren Tower to the audience that hasn’t found out about you yet. Tell us how the band was formed and its history so far...
Well, the core of the band was formed around 2008 when Brody and I started jamming together. We had both been in metal acts before The Siren Tower, I had fronted a band called Heavy Weight Champ and Brody had been drumming in Antistatic. Neither of use wanted to rehash old ground, so wanting to move into a new musical field we started concentrating on the acoustic material I had been working on during the last year or two of Heavy Weight Champ’s career. It really took off from there. From a very early point we knew we wanted to avoid the modern trappings of disposable, plastic music. We wanted to use every word to further stories and every note to further musical landscapes. Everything would be organic, but organized. We wanted to be able to create music that could always exude emotional weight, whether it was just my voice and a guitar or the entire band really leaning into things. "A History Of Houses" is the first real marker for us, a sign that our initial aspirations are coming to fruition, a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

The Siren TowerHow would you describe the music of your debut album to someone that has never listened to it?
Real. Our music isn’t what you would call cool, it probably doesn’t fit with a lot of current trends, but that’s how we know we’re on the right path. I’d like to think when reviewing our music people would recognize that it’s about what our music isn’t as much as what it is. In the literal sense, we’re acoustic based rock. We have inflections ranging from country to folk to indie to blues. Harmonies are very important to us so vocal arrangements are a big part of the music, and as I mentioned we try to create a broad dynamic, in regards to the sonic range of the band and the style of the content also.

"A History Of Houses" is quite impressive. First of all what’s behind the title of the album?
Well, one of the most important things to us with this album was the characters and stories we had created. More specifically, I suppose it was the source of those things. We want to tell the tales of the everyman; we want to rejoice in reality, make the mundane miraculous, which in so many ways it is. Real moments, reflected in real music. So in order to carry that theme, we needed something that could represent quite an involved vision, and of course it had to sound right. "A History Of Houses" was just something I came up with one day when we were brainstorming, and the guys took to it straight away. It’s referring to the source of our stories, the houses we reside in, the houses we live next to. Every story comes from one of these houses, and we’re presenting a collection of these stories, their histories... a history of houses.

The Siren TowerThen how long did it take you to compose and arrange the songs? How was the writing process and which were the main difficulties until the album was done?
The album took us about three years to write and another year to record and package. Our process is pretty straight forward, I’ll write the songs on acoustic and then bring them into the guys, at which point everything gets broken down, spoken about, I try not to physically beat anyone for critiquing my work, and then we start to rebuild it. Really, the only difficulties in creating the record, (and music in general,) is our own expectations. Brody, Mark and myself are extremely picky and anal about things. We all know what we like and our opinion is that’s what you have to aim for, you have to aim for world’s best practice models or you’re just wasting your time. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy music on a more casual level, that’s just not us, we enjoy taking everything as far as we can take it. We want to do every song justice; we think we owe that to our art.

One thing I love in your music is the vocal harmonies you use, especially on songs like "All Things Will Change".
Yeah, the harmonies are a big part of our sound. That fits in with the folk movement we seem to be sitting on the fringes of, and that makes sense. But the inspiration comes from a wide range of artists from Simon and Garfunkel to Alice In Chains. The harmonies on the album really help flesh things out, we might try to stream line a little bit on the next record, use fewer harmonies but spend more time finding the perfect ones.

The Siren TowerMusically a stand out track is "I Could Tell You Things That Would Break Your Heart". It combines folk, with post rock and free jazz. Tell us how you managed to combine all these elements.
That was a strange one; it began with the acoustic guitar part that joins the trumpet at the very start of the song. To me it evoked an Ennio Morricone vibe; it felt gritty, like his soundtracks for the early spaghetti westerns. So I stuck with that direction through the writing process, which was tough at times as the other guys weren’t Western fans and didn’t really know Morricone’s stuff, but as it came together they began to see what it was I had been trying to pitch. We knew the song had to be a longer track; it had to be let of the leash and allowed to go wherever it needed to go. The trumpet was the other thing I knew we’d need, to really reference those Morricone’s soundtracks. A friend of ours, Jimmy Lips came in and blew trumpet for an afternoon and we just pieced it all together and got exactly what we wanted. It’s a bit of a mind bender but Forrester did a great job of taking the mountains of material we tracked and making it balance without losing any of the chaos we were going for.

The Siren TowerForrester Savell is considered one of the best producers in modern rock music. How did you manage to have him on the album? Which was his role and how much did he affect the final product?
Forrester co-produced the record with myself and The Siren Tower, and the recruitment process was a bit weird. I actually went to university with Forrester back in the day and we cut our teeth together in and around the West Australian music scene. Eventually he went off and became a very successful producer on the other side of the country in Melbourne. So when we started listing the producer’s we might like to work with on the record, his name was on the list, along with two or three others. Coincidently, before we had a chance to contact him about it, someone had played him our double a-side release from a year or two previous; he had liked it and emailed me the next day saying 'when you guys are ready to record your album, I’d be very keen to do it'. So that was that, we wanted to work with him and he wanted to work with us so we locked it in straight away. His role was co-producer, head engineer and mixer. There wasn’t a lot of pre-production needed as we had demo’d the entire album at our studio, and Forrester was loving the way everything sat, so we just went in and tried to get the best possible sounds for the record. His greatest contribution is of course in the mixing stage, his skills are out of control. The way he can take so many elements and give them space and balance is so impressive. Because this style of music is new to us, I think we went a bit crazy with how much we tried to jam in, but thankfully, we had the best guy in the country and maybe the world for that job.

Grant McCulloch (The Siren Tower)Which of his previous works are you favorites? Was there an album you heard and said 'we got to have this guy on our album'?
No, to be honest we chose him because there wasn’t a record in his catalogue that we could reference for what we wanted to do. We were of course very aware of the record’s he had made, and we were big fans but they didn’t relate to us, not in an obvious way. We wanted him because we knew his base skill-set was perhaps peerless in Australia and he wanted to move into new genres also and build on the excellent work he had done in rock and metal. We didn’t know what a guy who helped build something as magnificent as Karnivool’s "Sound Awake" could do with our music, but we were very excited to find out.

The Aussie scene is growing bigger and bigger with many new bands emerging the latest years. Are you following all these new bands? Which ones have impressed you?
There are always great bands appearing on the Aussie scene, we have a very strong tradition of live music, rooted in the pubs and clubs. Perth in particular has been blessed with some amazing acts; we grew up playing with our friends, Karnivool, Gyroscope, Birds Of Tokyo etc, trying to better each other at every turn, which is why I think the West Australian scene is so strong, it’s friendly but very competitive.
In regards to new Aussie bands, I quite like Hunting Grounds new record, I saw The Medics last week, they were great, and The Smith Street Band have a truck-load of live power, very impressive.

Mark McEwen (The Siren Tower)Then, the Siren Tower seem to be different from the main majority of these bands. A little bit more retro, down tempo and pessimistic should I say.
I guess like most pessimists I would say that we’re being 'realistic' not pessimistic... that may or may not actually be the case. But it’s true, there is a certain melancholy that is present through most of our material, and that’s my fault. For whatever reason, that’s what comes out of me, those are the notes and chords that vibrate for me. Moving into a more positive space is something that interests me, we tried it on "All Things Will Change" with good results, and it’s something we’ll look more at in future. If we can find a way to get the same kind of power that we get from our melancholic bent in a positive framework we’ll be onto something.

The lyrics of the songs seem to be as important as the music. Who’s responsible for the lyrics and where is inspiration coming from?
I write all the lyrics in the band. Most of the stories and characters are fictional but they are all built from first hand specs, that is to say they are influenced heavily from my childhood and the people that have been important in my life. They way I believe my characters would act, or how a story would unfold reflects how people in my life have handled certain situations, and how those situations played out. The words are every bit as important as the music. I don’t understand how so many artists can slave over their music and then phone in the lyrics, writing about the same shit everyone is writing about. I’ve got no problem with people writing love songs, but it has to have an angle, some emotional relevance, otherwise it’s paint by numbers, it’s meaningless.

Brody Simpson (The Siren Tower)The debate about internet and music is still on and many musicians blame piracy as the main problem of the industry. You’ve chosen to get advantage of the internet as someone can listen to the whole album on your site and read the lyrics. Then he can set a price if he wants and buy the album. How good has it worked?
Well I guess it’s hard for us to know how well it’s worked as we don’t have a control example, something to reference against. But it seems to working, hundreds of people are downloading the record that may not have been able to or wanted to pay for it, and that’s our first priority, to get the album into the hands of everyone. We hope that the music will speak for itself once they are able to hear it. That said, the percentage of people who are paying us (even though they don’t have to,) is much higher than we anticipated, that that’s very rewarding. Another reason we wanted to do it was quality control, as you said, the Internet is the playing field these days and sooner or later, someone will rip your record and put it online. An artist will spend years and tens of thousands of dollars creating their music, and then someone rips it on a shitty converter and distributes some low quality rehash of your pride and joy, that’s not cool. I have more of a problem with that practice than I do with people sharing music. So with that in mind, we chose to make the high quality digital copy of the album free to everyone. Beyond that, we spent a lot of time on the physical album, which was every bit as important as what was on the record itself. We’ve created an old fashioned, wide format hardcover book to package the record in; it features liner notes, lyrics and photos from the band. In this day and age if you’re going to take $30 from someone, you have to give them value. We have made sure we are doing that.

Then I have a feeling that this album is made to be played preferably on vinyl. Would you agree?
I’m sure Mark our guitarist and resident sound engineer would love that, I think we all would. The music does have a vintage charm about it so vinyl would be the obvious incarnation somewhere down the line. If things keep progressing and we get to the point where we have the ability to do it, I think we’d be keen.

You already have made three video clips, with the one for "The Banishing Of William McGuiness" being quite professional, while the other two for "Floods" are mainly studio footage. How important is a music video for a band today?
It’s really only as important as they deem it to be. I come from a film and television background, which is why we like to invest in music videos. They do of course provide great content for a market that is quickly becoming obsessed with content beyond a band’s music, but I don’t think they are a necessity by any means. And like any art form there’s no end to what you can do with them; we went from a full narrative piece in "The Banishing Of William McGuiness" to a simple live performance piece on "All Things Will Change"; one costs what was a considerable amount of money for us at the time, one cost nothing. I think music videos should be undertaken as a continuation of your art, not simply as a marketing exercise, which means there are no rules.

The Siren TowerWhat are your future plans? Are there any plans for a tour? Is Europe included in your plans?
Next for us is an Australian tour later this year, and we’ll probably try to get another tour in at the start of 2013, depending on how things go with the new album. And amongst the release maelstrom we are starting to think about writing again which is always scary until you just get back in there and start doing it. We all adore Europe, Brody and I have been spent stretches there in the last twelve months and we’d love to get back there, but as a band just starting to break our domestic market it might be a while before that happens. That said, if some Greek promoter wants to fly us over for some shows... we’re there, man!

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the chance to chat with you guys, and please we’d love all your readers to go and download a copy of "A History Of Houses" at If they like it they can order the physical album from us at