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INTERVIEW: Lost Ragas

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COSMIC DREAMING WITH LOST RAGAS

On their new album This Is Not A Dream, Melbourne’s Lost Ragas return with a new band member and their most realised set of songs to date. Shane Reilly provides a fascinating insight into the band’s collective sound and the recording of the new album.

Lost Ragas are a band clearly chasing their own vision for their music, without feeling the need to fit any pre-determined style. Their blend of cosmic country collides in space with 70s psychedelia, astral-blues and technicolour pop-art gems. Songwriter, guitarist and pedal steel player Shane Reilly explains that they’re a band that knows its strengths and when to play a song straight or challenge its creative possibilities.

“On the first one we didn’t think much about that as the band was just being born. This is what we sound like, this is what we’ll do. On the second one it was more like, this is what we do now so let’s keep doing that, and then we’d get to a point and wonder if we could take it a bit more out there,” recalls Reilly. “Now we’ve settled on what we do and we’ve been around the yard and looked in all the corners and over the fence, and it looked pretty good over there. Now it just goes wherever we want it to go,” he says. “We’ve got a licence to take the songs where we want.”

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Lost Ragas are a model of collaboration. The songwriting on this album is an even 50/50 split between Reilly and guitarist/singer Matt Walker, who both bring in their songs and then shape their final form in the studio. “The first record was more collaborative with Matt and I as we were on tour and we wrote together. The second album was individual songs and this one is the same. We see what we all have and if they fit together. Then we choose the ones that do fit together, or in some cases don’t fit together!” laughs Reilly. “It’s good to keep it a bit eclectic, which is what we like.”

In the early stages of writing and demoing  the album, the band were faced with the departure of long-time drummer Simon Burke who got too busy with other life commitments. In came Haydn Meggitt whose personality and playing quickly gelled with the band. “Simon wasn’t just a drummer, so to have Haydn come in with just drums (and vocals) as his focus meant that there was a gate open to another field that we didn’t have before. It’s not necessarily good or bad it’s just allows to go to that place if we want to – and we did a few times.”

The widescreen feel of the album is partly due to the exploratory approach to the sounds and textures applied to the guitars. A range of effects add an otherworldly dimension to what would be otherwise fairly traditional sounding songs and Reilly agrees that it was one of the things they made sure they spent time on in the studio. “Matt’s always happy to fool around with some pedals and have some fun. We spend a lot of time bent over twiddling buttons, like we’re tuning a radio and it’s not quite on the station – then you go too far and you’re on the other side of the station. That’s kind of the thing we do!”

 

The title of the record comes from a lyric in the closing track ‘Psychedelic Jungle’, one of Walker’s songs. “We had a whole bunch of titles floating around and that one seemed to relate to the whole process of it in some way. There are a lot of allusions to dreams in the tunes, not obvious references but they’re in there,” says Reilly, before revealing that ‘Keeping Up With Yesterday’ was literally written in a dream. “It was one of those classic songs you dream, the classic songwriting story you wish would happen. I had a piano next to my bed and I woke up and it was a metre away and so I wrote it down.”

Though the album is heavy with dream references it cleverly ties them to the real waking world, examining that fascinating juxtaposition between reality, imagination and aspiration, as Reilly explains. “The name should almost have a question mark on the end, asking is it a dream or isn’t it. Sometimes life feels like it’s this unreal thing we live but it’s completely real and serious, but it’s also fun. Musically we also tend to go into a dream-state, especially live where we can go off into areas of improvisation and the audience seems to enjoy that. It’s nice to dream together.”

Chris Familton

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