are the kind of band you wish you’d formed in high school. In 2009, they played a lunchtime gig in the Ballarat High gym to celebrate their Unearthed High win and students moshed so hard the gym floor broke. Can you imagine that happening at your high school? Sports teachers pulled their hair out in frustration, it cost a shitload to fix and it was all over the local newspaper, but to be fair, it was an accident. Back then, they were just doing what they enjoyed – playing gritty garage rock to anyone who would listen.
Emerging from the ‘Rat, Hunting Grounds started out as Howl in high school. You probably already knew that, but did you know that before Howl a few members were in another band called the Power of the Zookeepers? (Why they didn’t keep that name is beyond us, it’s awesome huh?). For Hunting Grounds singer/guitarist Michael Belsar, this is where it all started.
“Back when we were in year eight at Ballarat High School we used to play Clash covers and Red Hot Chili Peppers covers at school assemblies,” Michael recalls, before joking, “We were a terrible band.” Aside from covers, Michael admits their earliest attempts at song writing were, like many high school bands, more about having fun than penning serious rock songs. “We also had a song called ‘Bass man’. I don’t really know what the lyrics meant now that I think about it. I think the chorus was, ‘The bass man’s coming, the bass man’s coming and here he comes again’. It had a really killer bass line”.
Following these early jam sessions, Michael formed Howl with fellow Ballarat High lads Tim Street, Lachlan Morrish, Galen Strachan, Jonathon Crawford and Daniel Marie when they were all around 15-years-old. Thanks to the help of a “crazily good music program” at BHS, he’d progressed from writing nonsensical songs about ‘bass men’ to sharp-as-a-tack garage punk ditties. With its abundance of youthful bravado, flailing keys and raspy vocals, Howl’s song, `Blackout
’, won the triple j Unearthed High competition in 2009 – not a bad effort for a band who, between them, only had a handful of formal music lessons. “I can’t read music at all,” Michael admits. “I just started playing guitar. You don’t necessarily need to know how to read music to play in a band - you just need know how to roughly play an instrument. There’re plenty of popular bands who are terrible at their instruments.”
With a thumbs up from triple j, Howl re-recorded ‘Blackout’ at Sydney’s Studio 227 with triple j live music producer Greg Wales and slapped it on their debut EP. Next came the Brothers in Violence
EP, along with a swag of tours supporting Grinspoon, Children Collide, Philadelphia Grand Jury and festival stints at Groovin’ the Moo, Queenscliff Music Festival and – somewhat surprisingly – even Stereosonic (“We’re just not the sort of band for Stereosonic I think. That was strange, really strange”). While Michael says that some of his favourite gigs have been playing alongside fellow ‘Rat boys Yacht Club DJs (“A Yacht Club show is like a metal concert with hot chicks”), his favourite tale from the road didn’t even occur at a Hunting Grounds show.
“I was teching for DZ Deathrays
at the Foo Fighters concert and it was Chris Shiflett’s (Foo Fighters guitarist) birthday,” Michael explains, “so we ended up back stage after the show at this party with Dave Grohl and Pat Smear. That was probably the closest I’ve been to one of my teen idols. I grew up listening to Nirvana and the Foo Fighters like every 14-year-old kid does. I got a photo with Pat Smear and I talked to Dave Grohl. He thought I was the drummer from DZ Deathrays, so I stoked that up and just pretended I was part of the show.” It’s hard not to laugh thinking of Michael inadvertently duping one of the greatest rock stars of the last decade.
But while the boys enjoyed being out on tour, they were about to hit a roadblock. Fans scanning the interwebz for the Ballarat band kept finding an American doom metal band by the same name
, and vice versa. Heated words were exchanged before in 2011, Michael and co. decided to embrace the name ‘Hunting Grounds’ instead. “Either we could have kept our name and released under a different name internationally - which would have been a massive fuck around - or we could have changed it and found something more Google-able,” Michael says. “It actually worked out really well because the album is so different that the name change is really relevant now. I think of Howl and Hunting Grounds as two separate entities”.
Like the name change suggests, Hunting Grounds’ debut album In Hindsigh
t marks a significant shift in style for the band. Although they’d developed a reputation for their DIY approach, with music videos scraping in at $21 (see ‘Anyone But Us’ above) and bristled with a distinctly restless teenage energy, the members of Hunting Grounds yearned to expand their artistic palette. The first single from the album In Colour
was released in 2011 and hinted at what was to come, but then the output dried up. Michael explains: “The first six months of the album process we spent writing in the style we used to be, which is a style we got pigeonholed as I guess. But about six months into last year we realised we didn’t want to be that band anymore and decided to start writing music we liked as opposed to music people had pigeonholed us as. After we decided where we wanted to go, it became a lot easier”.
If you’ve picked up a copy of In Hindsight
, then you know it’s been well worth the wait. From the skipping dream pop of `Mind Decays’ through to the panoramic gleam of `Clearly See’, Hunting Grounds have crafted an album of thoughtful shoegazing rock, full of reverb-soaked guitars and glistening keys. Its slick execution can be credited to producer Paul ‘Woody’ Annison, who Michael refers to as “the seventh member of Hunting Grounds”. Michael says Woody brought out the best in the band when it came to refining songs like `Flaws’, despite the guys spending a lot of time playing FIFA while in Collingwood’s Red Door Studios (Michael says they’re “really, really good” at FIFA. A challenge to other Aussie bands on tour?).
Hunting Grounds hit the road on a massive national tour this August in support of In Hindsight and play the Big Day Out next year. Things are flat chat for Michael at the moment, but despite all the Hunting Grounds hype, he’s still taking time to work on his side-project Twinsy
, with Yacht Club DJs
’ Guy and Sweat It Out
. “We’re working on an album right now, which we’re hoping to put out at some point next year,” he says. “We’re a little bit away from a live show yet, but we’ll be there soon I think. We’re getting closer.” The name Twinsy not ringing a bell? Wrap your ears around `Water Bombs’. It’s been flogged by triple j, caused a stir on the blogosphere and is one tropicana-inspired d-floor banger bound to shake off the winter chill.
Hunting Grounds and Twinsy have worked hard to get where they are, but they aren’t the only bands from the 3350 postcode garnering attention abroad. You’ve also got Gold Fields
recently returned from SXSW, and up-and-comers Dark Arts
inciting excited whispers amongst music circles. Before we finish up our chat, I ask Michael just what’s going on in the Ballarat music scene, and he offers the following: “What’s going on, like in the water? I don’t know, I think we’ve been lucky enough to have grown up around great musicians, so there’s an influence from an older generation. Like when we started playing, we used to support bands like Epicure and all that stuff. There’s always been a community of musicians based around Karova Lounge, which has helped develop so many acts from Ballarat. There’re more emerging now as well, like Dark Arts, who are about to put out a music video and a really, really great single. Yeah, it’s like there must be something in the water I guess”.
IN HINDSIGHT TOUR DATES:
Friday 3 August - Elsewhere Bar, Gold Coast
Saturday 4 August - X and Y Bar, Brisbane
Sunday 5 August - The Great Northern, Byron Bay
Wednesday 8 August - Plantation, Coffs Harbour
Thursday 9 August - Yours and Owls, Wollongong
Friday 10 August - Good God Small Club, Sydney
Saturday11 August - Transit Bar, Canberra
Thursday 16 August - Prince Of Wales Hotel, Bunbury
Friday 17 August - Amplifier, Perth
Saturday 18 August - Rocket Bar, Adelaide
Friday 24 August - Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Saturday 25 August - The Toff In Town, Melbourne
* Indicates free shows.
will be supporting all shows except for those in SA & WA.