Alistar Richardson from The Cairos (Brisbane) talks about new music, departing Island Records, CMJ and more

While at Australian Music Week in Cronulla last month, I sat down with Alistar Richardson from The Cairos to talk about the band’s year: departing from their label, releasing new music and balancing the band with his solo work as Zefereli.

Welcome to Australian Music Week, the first of its kind. You’re probably not used to having to leave Brisbane for a conference like this.

Yeah that’s true — BIGSOUND. We went to CMJ in NYC last year, that was really cool, but I think BIGSOUND does it really well so I think it’s interesting to come down here, except it’s way hotter than Brisbane.

CMJ last year — what was that experience like?

It was amazing. We always wanted to go there, we wanted to wait till we had an album out. It was great to get these really good contacts. We got some really good booking agents in America. We’re going over there again in June next year to do more Cairo stuff. It’s definitely worth it. Even just being in NY is insane. You just feed off that atmosphere. It’s unreal, just everything about it. You don’t lose energy I feel, everyday you wake up you’re like I’m in NY city. And I guess because you’re only there for two weeks, you can do it all in two weeks and suffer the consequences later.

So you’re heading back over [to America]?

We’re doing a festival in the USA next year that we can’t reveal yet. We’re going to do it. We’re figuring out how we can save money to get there and do it. So that’s the challenge.

Let’s talk about the new music! — tell us about recording the new music, when you started it and how was it?

We’ve been doing it as a four piece band for so long — drums, guitar, base, writing it in a room and even being with a label we still wanted to do everything completely opposite. I don’t know why that sort of happens. We had an amicable parting, because we were with Island Records. They have other big acts, they have a massive team so unless you’re the top priority it’s really hard to get in their face and get that sort of stuff done. So we really just wanted to have complete control over everything. It’s good to tell your parents when you’re 21, ‘Don’t worry I have a record deal!’. But this way, there is so much more freedom in the way we’re writing, the video, the content — everything.

Do you find that feeds back to your music in a way that is becoming of where you are now as opposed to being forced to do something?

Definitely. I don’t think we could of done it ourselves a few years ago. It’s because of all these lessons that we’ve learnt from doing it other ways that now you have the confidence to back yourself and record it ourselves. We had an attempt at mixing it ourselves, and we thought we could get something better out of it so we had another guy to mix it, but we recorded all the bits ourselves.

It’s surprising, once all of us were committed and backed ourselves, and we could do it ourselves, we really made it a lot easier. And there’s no deadlines and there’s no stress and obviously we wanted feedback from friends but there’s no label telling you ‘okay this song isn’t it, or this song, or this song.’ We’ll see whether it works. But so far we haven’t had this reaction from a song we’ve released in a really long time. Friends that we’re friends with us but weren’t into our music are all of a sudden, ‘oh this is great! I really love this’ — not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but yeah it’s been really positive.

Is what we’ve heard so far a pretty good indication of where you’ve gone with the album? I imagine it’s going to be pretty eclectic as your music has always been.

Yeah. When we made this song, we made it the first single because it’s as far away from what we’ve done in the past. So there’s definitely some other songs in the album which are more ‘bandy’ songs I guess. We’ve always had ethereal music, but this is definitely a lot more…I don’t know I guess because it’s so home-studio done, it’s a bit calmer in a way; not that the other things were angsty, but when you have that time to make things yourself, you add these layers and textures, and have this freedom to be a lot more experimenting and spend hours on a sound, rather than in a studio where it’s all about now and getting things done.

So a lot of the songs aren’t done when you’ve recorded them, you add things and change them…it gives a lot more freedom. There’s some seven minute ‘bandy’ songs and then there are some pop songs like this. I think we’ve written some of the most poppy songs we’ve ever written. But there’s also some pretty complex stuff.

Does that surprise you at all? That you’re kind of removing yourself from the label but you’ve ended up making something that is more poppy?

It’s almost like we always wanted to write poppy songs and we always have, but I think with the label it’s like we’ve had a few songs that were darker and grungier and they were like ‘do that’. You listen to them as well because they promise you the world. I love the first album for what it was, but it has like its own core base and outside of that was hard to connect with a lot of other people unless they really focused and listened to it. We had lots and lots of pop songs left over from the last Cairos album, some of them became 2nd release songs. We love pop music as well. It’s really getting a come back now. If you turn on the radio you hear so many melodies.

But when we’re talking about pop in this instance, it isn’t a Kesha song.

No, no, no. It’s just softer melodies. Just going with it rather than being conscious. When you’re younger you get so conscious because you’re like ‘I can’t sing that lyric cause that’s not cool’. You think too much in those lines, where as now it’s like, if there’s a line or a lyric, you’re not afraid to sing it. People connect to it and that’s what matters.

So you’ve got some shows coming up, do you want to talk us through that?

So we’ve got our single launch, our first run of our own shows in over a year really. We’re playing at Sydney Brighton Up Bar on the 22nd of January and at Foundry in Brisbane on the 23rd of January, and then the Shebeen in Melbourne. We’re starting off doing these small capacity rooms, trying to get an intimate reattachment I guess, see how it goes and then start from there.

It’s almost like reminding everyone that you’re there. When you go away for a little while…

You almost get a bit worried, the music scene moves so fast. ‘Quick come back! We’re still here!’

You mentioned it before but there’s another project you’ve been working on as well; Zefereli . You’re wearing both hats at Australian Music Week. You’re very busy.

I felt bad because the Cairos need to rehearse now, but then the Zefereli have a showcase show now. I like being busy and the other guys understand, because they’re pretty different things. The Zaferreli stuff was done months ago, and the Cairo stuff is now. I’m just double dipping. I don’t have a day job, so I have plenty of time on my hands to go and do both. It works out.

Well ‘54321’ is my favourite song at the moment. It’s gotten really great traction already but it’s one of those things that’s going to keep getting more and more exposure.

That’s the thing with this Zefereli thing — there’s no pressure and there’s no stress, being able to just put this out and a lot of people are sharing and relating to it. We still work our asses off on tour, but there’s no needing to stress about it so much, because it’s all about having fun. Learning from that has been able to translate into the Cairos stuff, because the Zefereli stuff was all recorded, it shows you that you can do it, it’s benefited both bands.

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Follow The Cairos on Facebook and don’t miss them on tour around the country next month (January 2016): https://www.facebook.com/thecairos/