Interview: Tired Lion on "Dumb Days" and the Hurdles of Touring Australia

Forming in Perth in 2010, indie-rock tunesters Tired Lion have steadily climbed the ranks as one of Australia's most talked-about bands. They've toured relentlessly, playing major festivals like Glastonbury and Primavera while racking up accolades that include a win in the 2015 Triple J Unearthed competition.

Most recently, the band took to the studio with Violent Soho's Luke Boerdam to record their debut full-length Dumb Days, which came out last month.

We recently caught up with singer-guitarist Sophie Hopes and drummer Ethan Darnell to talk about tour across Australia, recording the record, and as always, their current pallette of gear.

Can you describe Tired Lion’s history, when and how you formed?

Tired Lion - Dumb Days

Ethan Darnell: We started three/four years ago. Me and [Guitarist] Matt met in high school, so over ten years ago….Sophie came into the picture. And then we were a three-piece for a bit. And then we had a couple of bass players come and go before before Nick, who’s currently our bass player.

It started as more of an acoustic-based act - then Matt came into rehearsal once with a Big Muff pedal.

Sophie Hopes: Yes. And we were an acoustic trio at the time called Space Boy. He came in, and he used to have one of those little feedback buzz stops in the acoustic. So he took that out and he chucked in the Big Muff. And he started playing heavy shit.

ET: But still with acoustic guitars.

SO: Yes. It took us six months before we realised it was really dumb and what are we doing?

ET: Cool sound, though.

SO: Yes. I loved that.

Impractical live, but awesome.

ET: Yes. Lots of feedback issues, but hey — that sparked us going into the electrical format and playing electric instruments, guitars and stuff. And kind of becoming more of a grungy thing.

So the intent was just to push the same kind of songwriting in a heavier direction from that point?

SO: Well, we were doing it anyway without noticing. It was sort of like a natural progression, I think.

Tired Lion - "Fresh"

Let’s talk about the touring scene in Australia. There are definitely not that many bands who bother to do it relentlessly, but it seems to bear fruit for the ones that do, such as yourselves. Tell me your take on all that.

SO: The touring circuit in Australia. Wow, what can I say? I mean, obviously Australia’s a large country with a lot of ground to cover, there’s a lot of space. There is a lot of travel time. For us, it’s been particularly, I guess, money draining to tour in Australia.

We live in Perth, so all the way across the country. We’ve just managed to scrape by every time we go on a tour, but that’s cool. It has to be done. There’s nothing we can do. We know how important it is to tour. So we just take it on the chin and go for it. And we’ve always had that approach as young’uns. I find the Australian crowd are pretty supportive. We’ve got our main fans that always attend shows now.

How many times you’ve been across on tour?

SO: We have no idea how to count that. We’ve been over so many times, especially touring with other bands, as well.

ET: Let’s say it’s more than 20.

SO: Oh, what? Way more than 20. Jesus.

ET: Let’s just say a lot.

And you’ve not considered relocating?

ET: No.

SO: I have. I don’t really have much going for me these days in Perth, but, yes, we’ll see how it goes.

Tired Lion (All photos by Matsu Photography)

ET: If the band isn’t making enough money for you to be stable in another place, it’s pointless.

SO: I don’t feel like living in Perth is a problem anyway, although it just adds a couple hours flight time and it’s more money.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the Perth scene.

ET: It’s good.

SO: It’s a lot smaller so more competitive.

Do you find people more supportive too, though?

SO: I don’t at all, no. It doesn’t really dig our vibe. But I think that’s mainly because we weren’t really a part of the Perth scene when things started happening. We always strayed from it. We always did our own thing. And we just started at a young age. We were like, "Yes, we’re going to tour over East straight away." I think touring gets your name out there. So we kind of bypassed the Perth scene in a way.

We always found that we didn’t really fit into any sort of genres that were going at the time. But it seems to have changed quite a bit since. Now, it’s very broad, with a few different sorts of bands coming out of there.

ET: It can actually be lovely to live in a place where you can completely withdraw from a scene or withdraw from that kind of pressure. Whereas if you find yourself in the city…

What Perth bands do you really like right now, up-and-coming, kind of thing?

SO: Oh, we have FOAM that we’re taking along with us on tour. They’re really rad… I like a band called Pat Chow. They’re cool.

ET: Yes, they’re really cool.

SO: There’s an up-and-coming band that haven’t really done much, which is actually my ex-boyfriend’s band, called Candy Guts. They’re sick. I like their vibe. Hip Priest, too. They’re probably one of my favourite bands to ever come out of Perth. Really, really love them so much. Their songs are fucking awesome.

ET: There’s a really good band that’s not in the rock sense, but they’re called Grievous Bodily Calm. They’re really good. There’s always a band that you want to see playing at a venue in Perth.

Tired Lion - "Agoraphobia"

Being that you’re constantly on the road, what strategies have you evolved to maintain your sound on the road with borrowed gear or inconsistent backline?

SO: Well, obviously, you’ve got your own pedalboard that you bring along no matter what, but in terms of backline, it’s been very hit and miss. Usually, you try and borrow, but we’ve ended up just forking out the cash to get the gear that we need. Because there’s many a time where you’re presented with a solid-state big thing, something like that. And you’re like, "What the fuck is this? I can’t hear it." So that leads to hiring or just asking your friends that you know, offering them some tickets to shows. It’s always pretty hit and miss.

These days, we tend to hire straight up because we want to cut the crap. We don’t have time, firstly, to go pick up gear and then load it in... We’re usually straight to the venue from where we go because of time constraints. We always pushed two hours ahead if we‘re catching flights from Perth. Things like that.

What rigs are you using amp-wise, especially, when you’re at home versus what you use on the road?

SO: At home, I use a Fender Blues Deluxe. I find that’s pretty good. Although on the road these days, I tend to use a Vox AC30.

On Dumb Days, I used an AC30, but it was one of the British-made ones from ’96, I think. I used it pretty much for my whole guitar tone for the whole thing. I’m pretty sure my amp at home is cooked, but I don’t really need it to be working because I don’t really play shows at home anymore.

So it’s more about getting that sound on the road with hired gear?

SO: Yes. And the more I play through the AC30, the more I’m digging it. I just recently finally got the pedals that I used in the recording as well, which helps.

In the studio, I just use my Fulltone OCD for most of my sound. And then I also hit on the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer. Yes, so that was like the perfect combination I found for most of my guitar tones, like the heavy sort of thicker rhythms sort of stuff. I also used a Tym Guitars pedal of Luke Boerdam’s [of Violent Soho] — it’s a hybrid, a cross between an MXR Distortion Plus and a DOD 250 Overdrive, which was constantly left on.

Yes, I actually know the exact pedal of Luke’s that you’re talking about, with the two circuits in the switcher box.

SO Well, I've been meaning to sort one of those out for a while. But instead, I just ended up getting the Tube Screamer. And yes, I have a DBA Fuzz War as well that I use for gigs, like sort of wild stuff. I don't know if you’ve heard the record but…

Yes, I have, and those Fuzz Wars are brutal, too.

SO: Yes, they’re pretty cool. For my clean tones, I used a DOD FX10 Bi-Fet preamp. I’m still yet to find one of my own. It was our engineer’s at Blackbird Studios. I ended up using that quite a bit for cleaner stuff. And instantly put it on and it made it sound like melody or something. It was weird.

They bring a great clarity to the signal path for sure. And guitar-wise?

SO: A 1965 reissued American Fender Jazzmaster. That is my baby. I used to use a Lee Ranaldo Signature for ages, but I had to sell it for rent, unfortunately.

Those are great. They’re getting hard to find these days.

SO: Ah, see. As soon as someone tells me that, I get really upset! The wide range humbucker on that was super thick and really complemented the bottom end to the band because Matt would play his Tele. I guess I‘m still holding up my end pretty okay with the thickness, with the rhythm, I think, with my Jazzmaster.

I find it just such a solid guitar to play. I haven’t been able to find a guitar with a neck as good as that. When I swap to another guitar like a Mustang or a Tele, It feels like i’m overstretching. So I need a backup guitar with a similar neck, especially if I’m going to use that live and then go to that.

I’ve been thinking about it because we have one song on the album that we play half a step down, so I need spare guitar on hand for that. But it’s hard to top the Jazzmaster. It’s been pretty good workhorse, that’s for sure.

They do that. They hold up their end of the bargain.

SO: I ended up getting a Mastery bridge put in it pretty early on in the piece. I think before I even got it because I found — even with the Lee Ranaldo — the E-string would just pop out of the saddle quite a lot.

Tired Lion

Well, you know, Thurston and Lee put Mastery bridges on their guitars when they got their signature models.

SO: Well, there you go. That’s been a blessing because I haven’t really broken a string ever. I used to break them all the time with other guitars.

That’s pretty amazing, playing in an active live band and never having broken a string. Ethan, talk to me about what you’re using, especially in terms of snare and cymbals, then.

ET: Live, I’ve just got a Tama Star, which is, for me, just a really good workhorse. It stays in tune better than any other snare drum I’ve ever owned. So that’s one tick of the box. Sounds great. Yes, the throw off mechanism works all the time. I have a lot of Ludwig snares that it’s just a pain in the arse to turn them on and off and it’s always a hassle. So they stay at home or get used for the studio.

Cymbal wise, I’m just using just Zildjians. I’ve got an A Medium Ride. That’s a 22. I’ve got a 19-inch A Custom Crash. And then I use A Custom Hi-Hats as well. They’re great.

Studio-wise, the engineer that we were working with, Dave Parkin, had an old Ludwig Super-Sensitive, a bit like a Bonham snare, John Bonham snare. I’d brought all my snares to the studio, but for me, the Ludwig just won every single time. It’s just got the response obviously having that super-sensitive wire setup, perfect response at any velocity. And it just did exactly what I needed it to do. So that was pretty much the only snare that we used on the album, except for a Ludwig Hand Hammered Bronze on the last track.

Tired Lion - "Cinderella Dracula"

Let’s circle back then to talk about recording with Luke Boerdram. How was that experience? What do you feel he contributed that wouldn’t have otherwise been there?

SO: He just had these super weird ideas that we wouldn’t really come up with. There was a section in the song called "Camp" where it dropped down to a soft part, just sort of me singing. And he was really adamant that I need to be like a Radiohead, sort of Thom Yorke, effect on the vocal. We tried some obscure plugins that Parkin had.

He was like, "No, let’s have you sing into a towel." We tried singing into a towel or a jacket. And then I was drinking tea and I started singing into a cup, into a mug actually. And he’s like, "That’s really cool!" It ended up sounding really rad.

So he just had some really cool ideas. His songwriting is spot on. He was able to take things away, bring them back in in the right places. It’s great because it was just like having a fifth band member in the room. It wasn’t intrusive really.

You found it a really natural fit with the band dynamic?

SO: Yes, just sort of opened our mind to some things that we weren’t usually familiar doing. And yes, it was totally cool. I reckon it worked all right.

ET: I think he’s a total gear nerd in a sense. He loves pedals that make weird noises and all that kind of stuff.

SO: It’s all about textures.

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