Dorsal Fins Turn Melbourne into One Big Party

By Jen Park | @hijenpark
Photography courtesy of Remote Control Records

Everyone dances at least once in their life. It’s a pure, unadulterated physical expression of that thing you feel inside when you hear the beginning chords of that tentative beat that makes you wanna run to the rave and yell, “God damn! This is my fucking song!”

Sometimes words aren’t enough, and there’s a special power to music that can make you write your love letter with the swishing of your arms and legs.

Dorsal Fins make me wanna dance. They’re a nine-piece with faces from every corner in the scene (Eagle and the Worm, Saskwatch, GL), and a shining light of confetti cannon, party pop in Melbourne. When I call up Liam McGorry, one of the band’s founders, he tells me he’s had a painful day where he was stuck on the phone to Telstra for most of it. But even then, he generously asks about my day in his chipper, boyish accent.

How and why did Dorsal Fins begin?

It sort of started out of a need and a want to do something different. Most of us are playing in a couple of bands — Saskwatch and Eagle and the Worm — and we’re just a group of friends pretty much, we just wanted to work on some new stuff and head in a new direction. There was really no ambition or anything. We just booked a week of recording, worked up a couple of songs, and then, yeah, it was no ambition, no “this is going to be a band”, no goals really, other than to make some new music.

Digital Zodiac is all about dance music that’s fun, but not mindless. Do you think there’s a resurgence of mindful pop songs in both mainstream and indie circles?

Yeah, definitely. It’s good to have a bit of purpose with pop songs. We just try to make everything pretty fun. It’s hard not to, when you’re with a whole group of your friends. Hopefully it’s meaningful as well. You never can tell, I guess.

I feel like a lot of people underestimate dance and pop music because they think that music that’s fun can’t be smart. I love Carly Rae Jepsen but so many people are skeptical. What do you think about people who think that fun music can’t also be smart?

I grew up in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, listening to a lot of pop music, so it’s all pretty up and fun but also has a bit of a message. To me, I’m totally into that. But yeah, I think you’re right. Your Carly Raes and Justin Biebers—like even Bieber’s newest album, I think there’s some songs that are pretty amazing on there, that are meaningful as well. I was never previously a fan, but yeah, I totally agree with you.

Do you prefer the dance tracks or the more subdued tracks on the album?

I’d say a bit of both. It goes to have a bit of variety, and when you’re playing a live show, it’s great to call on both. There’s a lot of people in the band and it can get pretty full on, so it’s good to even it out with a few more down tracks.

Would you say you have a pretty relaxed approach to making the music of Dorsal Fins or are you more meticulous and serious in the process?

It’s probably one of the most relaxed processes going around [laughs]. We work on a few instrumentals as a band and maybe chip away at a few of the songs before going into the studio. It’s really kind of done as we go. I guess it’s based on collaboration between our friends—obviously we had a few guests as well on that album.

We just try to keep it interesting and exciting because we’ve all played in bands where you work on something for months, you get to the studio and you think, “I’m not sure if that’s good” or whatever. But it’s the way that we’ve been doing it, working as we go and keeping it really spontaneous. Obviously all the limitations of time and money really help to force you to make decisions. It’s great, it’s really exciting, the results aren’t always great, but it’s part of the process.


You guys are definitely one of the bigger bands in Melbourne. So, you’d say having a lot of people around actually helps the creative process?

In saying that, there’s only myself, Ella (Thompson) and Jarrad (Brown) who work on the core of the song and once the core of the song is down, everyone sprinkles their own… flavour. It’s very much a collaborative process, but because we’ve been friends for so long, we have a bit of a working relationship and it’s just pretty fluid.

You mentioned having guests on the album too. Who are some of your more favourite guests you guys have had?

With this album, we’ve got a few friends. The guys from Cub Sport playing on a song: those guys are absolute angels from Brisbane, incredibly nice, incredibly talented. We were touring with them with Saskwatch and managed to get them in town to do the song. Crepes, Tim Karmouche: he’s amazing, been a fan of his for years playing with Hollow Everdaze, and now he’s started a new band with Crepes. It’s great, so good, love his voice and his writing. And then the last guest was Joe Neptune which is actually one of Jarrad’s bands, a collaboration with his friend Nick (Vorrath), and they just write really nice folk pop songs. In this case, it was a bit more of a funk latin jam.

Dorsal Fins definitely seems like one of the more collaborative bands in the scene. Not only are you guys collaborating with each other, but with a lot of guests as well. Was it something you wanted to experiment more with in Dorsal Fins?

Yeah, definitely. With other bands, with Saskwatch, I write most of the songs myself and then bring it to the band, and after you do an album or two, you’re like, “aw, that’s cool…” and want to try something different. It’s great to work with my friends who are my favourite musicians, singers, and writers. It really makes everything a bit more interesting and exciting.

You guys are renowned for your energetic and loud performances. Is there anything in particular that makes a Dorsal Fins live show?

I guess the size of the band is the thing about the live show. But I’d say we just try and keep that spontaneous atmosphere pretty present. Have a bit of structure to the show but keeping it a little bit open. There are quite a few sections where it’s not really arranged or anything, open to where it can go. Because we’re friends and we play together often, you can make those decisions as you go. It’s probably the most fluid live band experience I’ve been a part of.

Do you ever feel like you’re treated more like a live band than a band with the music to back it up? Treated more like an entertainer rather than a musician?

Yeah, I guess there is a little bit of that, but it’s a compliment to the live shows, which is great. But obviously you try and make the best album that you can, in the time that you can, with the resources you can. It used to worry us, back in the day, but as long as people are enjoying what you do, it doesn’t really matter, and as long as you’re having fun, it’s awesome.

Where do you hope the band goes in the future, in terms of direction and achievements as musicians?

It’s hard to tell. With the difference between the first and second album, we wanted a bit more consideration in the flow of the album and not having every song sound like a different band. This time I think we got a bit closer. Hopefully, it’ll change again on the next one. The best part about it is we keep it pretty spontaneous, you don’t know where you’re going to end up, so it’s pretty exciting as well. I also just want to keep building on what we’ve managed to do with the live show this year. It’s quite a lot of people to cart around Australia. It’s hard to make it work, but it’s very rewarding as well.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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