Cloud Control Back in the Zone with Third Album
Cloud Control’s Alister Wright on the making of Zone, returning to the stage, and crowd surfing.
“I find it easier to talk about songs I didn’t write as much, so this is great!” says Alister Wright from Sydney. The Cloud Control frontman is talking about Panopticon, the track that the trio are in the midst of rehearsing at the time of our phone call. Despite me rudely interrupting their rehearsal time, Alister is laidback and in great spirits, and for good reason - after a three year break, Cloud Control’s highly anticipated third studio album Zone has finally dropped.
The making of Zone saw the band nomadically journey all over New South Wales, transforming the most unlikely of spaces into makeshift studios. A derelict building in Redfern, their old Blue Mountains high school principal’s cottage, and an idyllic Forster airbnb are just a few examples of places that homed Cloud Control at some stage. Pair this with setbacks such as break-ins, stolen guitars, and the departure of bassist Jeremy Kelshaw, and it’s almost no surprise that Zone took three years to create. However, these potholes have done nothing to sway the Blue Mountains trio from releasing their most diverse, contemplative record yet.
On producing Zone
Zone marks Alister’s debut as a producer, a decision that the band made early in the songwriting process. “At the start, it was like ‘Oh man, if we want to do this with a producer, it’d cost so much money and be completely unattainable, so fuck it. Let’s buy the stuff and do it ourselves’, so that’s what we did. I thought it was gonna be hard - and then it was hard,” he laughs.
With the band wielding complete control over the album, Zone possesses the dreamy, psych-infused sound that initially marked Cloud Control as a stalwart fixture in Australia’s music scene, while also evoking feelings of loss and nostalgia. Something that thankfully remains is the trio’s penchant for exploring a myriad of seemingly conflicting genres; only on a Cloud Control album would songs like emotional slow jam ‘Zone (This Is How It Feels)’, the aforementioned Bee Gees-esque ‘Panopticon’, and the Eminem meme-inspired ‘Mum’s Spaghetti’ co-exist.
On Zone’s many sounds
Yet miraculously, Zone never feels incohesive; rather, every song inhabits a distinct role on the record. Take for example, Zone’s buoyant third track, ‘Treetops’, which band member Heidi Lenffer recently described as the kind of song that “gets played near the end of a chill house party”.
“We’ll talk about where we’re gonna play it, or what it’s going to feel like onstage, or the kind of emotion that it should have,” says Alister when I ask if they usually decide on the vibe for a song before writing it. “I never really talked to Heidi about the lyrics, even though we worked on parts of it together. ‘Treetops’ reminds me of Michael Jackson, one of his really cheesy songs like Heal The World,” he adds with a laugh. “You know, it’s like, ‘everybody come in together…’”
Meanwhile, ‘Panopticon’ ruminates on the surveillance state to which we have become indifferent, all to a groovy retro sound. “We wanted that to kind of sound Bee Gees-based, but with a big shoegaze guitar going over it… That hectic fuzz over really smooth vocals and a big smooth beat,” says Alister.
Conversely, ‘Lacuna’ is arguably one of Zone’s most melancholic tracks, with minimal lyrics allowing the mammoth harmonies to carry the song. Written by both Alister and Russell Fitzgibbon of fellow local band Fishing, ‘Lacuna’ was one of the first songs written for Zone. “The lyrics were all kind of really blurry, mumbled words,” says Alister of the track’s creation. “I kind of put in stuff that sounded like bits of memories and fragments of things that I could think about that didn’t really have an order.”
On returning to live shows
Cloud Control’s Zone Tour commences on 22 September in Sydney, and marks the band’s first national tour in years. In June, the band celebrated the release of ‘Rainbow City’, their first single in four years, with sold-out shows in Melbourne and Sydney. The trio graced the stages with a new perspective and feeling refreshed, and were surprised by the reception. “Between songs, they’d be really quiet, waiting for us to say things,” says Alister, still audibly somewhat taken aback almost three months later. “It was kind of unexpected, but it made me feel really lucky. After not doing a show for so long, coming back and having a really good, warm reception - it felt really, really nice.”
This wasn’t the only difference that Cloud Control noticed. Almost four years after the release of their sophomore album Dream Cave, it appeared that crowds were only just beginning to warm to the kookier parts of that record. “People know it now,” says Alister of that album’s weird title track, which he has previously described as inspired by the ghost of Roy Orbison trapped in a cave. “I remember playing it on the Dream Cave tour and thinking ‘Man, this song is so cool’, then getting sort of good reactions - but not killer. But playing it recently, it’s been like - people singing along, knowing the words, getting really into it! And I’m like ‘Oh, cool! They’ve kind of settled in.’ Maybe when we’re touring Zone in three years, then it’ll be like ‘Whoa!’” he laughs.
Following the Rainbow City launch shows was a headlining spot at Wollongong’s The Last Frost festival in August. “There was lots of crowd surfing. We didn’t even say anything but there were chairs rolling around - that was cool.” Alister is no stranger to crowd surfing, but predicts that it may be difficult to find time for this old habit during their upcoming shows. “I’m very busy, you know. I have to play everything, I have to keep everyone in line, so I don’t have that much time to do it,” he jokes. “But crowd surfing is great. Let’s just make sure as much of that happens in the world as possible!”
Unsurprisingly, the weeks leading up to Cloud Control’s Zone Tour will be spent non-stop rehearsing. However, when quizzed about the future, Alister is keen to continue producing, potentially even another musician’s work. “I’d love to try working on someone else’s stuff. It’d be fun. I’ve got all this gear sitting around, I’ve got a bunch of new skills… I just want to get out there and make more music.”