the band good morning in a bowling alley

Good Morning: “Are These Fans With Us In The Room Right Now?”

Melbourne duo Good Morning are one of Australia’s most understated success stories. Writer Reece Hooker caught up with the pair in a bustling Melbourne cafe to find out how their latest album, ‘Good Morning Seven’, came together. Words by Reece Hooker

By Reece Hooker, 22/3/2024

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When I spot Liam Parsons and Stefan Blair, they’re deep in animated conversation. I’m looking at the duo best known as Good Morning from the outside of a bustling Brunswick cafe, watching them gesticulate and laugh through the floor-to-ceiling window, plates of breakfast between them.

It still takes me a second to find them when I enter the cafe. They blend in well amid the dark shirts and casual cool of Melbourne’s inner north. Rather than radiating the aura of a pair on the cusp of releasing their seventh record, Liam and Stefan are instead so inconspicuous that our friendly waiter asks Stefan whether he’s interviewing Liam and I.

It’s in step with what you’d expect from Good Morning, an act that has built a devout fan base around their blend of slacker charm and scrupulous craftsmanship. Since debuting with the laconic lo-fi gem Shawcross in 2014, Liam and Stefan have improved their sound on each release as some unexpected wins brought them to the masses — Tyler, the Creator sharing a song on Instagram, A$AP Rocky sampling them in 2018, and a taste of TikTok virality when ‘Warned You’ blew up during the pandemic. 

Though the co-signs helped expose Good Morning to a wider audience — “I don’t think we’d be anywhere without the algorithm,” Liam says — they’ve stuck around because of their very splendid music. On their latest album, the aptly-named Good Morning Seven, the band is in full bloom. The muddiness of their earlier work has been hosed away and in its place is a sparkling take on chamber pop. Their expansive orchestral sound contracts on softer numbers, like ‘Excalibur’ and ‘The Fear’, and crackles with life on sunnier cuts, like on ‘Ahhhh (This Isn’t Ideal)’ and ‘Real I’m Told’.

Seven was recorded almost entirely during Melbourne’s lockdowns from a self-built studio in Preston, with finishing touches applied at fellow Aussie Stella Mozgawa’s Joshua Tree studio. Stefan and Liam worked consistently and fastidiously, applying the lessons learned while making their last album, 2021’s Barnyard, in Chicago with Grammy-winning engineer Tom Schick. That record came together in a week, from the hours of 10am to 6pm each day. “Before that it was like, sitting in a little room late at night and drinking a bunch of beers and making music,” Stefan says. “I don’t feel like I work very well in those settings, or at least not anymore.”

In Preston, they forged new rituals: Liam would get a coffee, read the paper and warm into the day, while Stefan locked in with self-imposed writing deadlines. “It was like, ‘Oh we’ve got this routine: I want something to record next week, so figure something out.’ Since not having that routine, the songs don’t come as quickly. There’s a lot to just putting your mind to it, a regulated sort of pace,” Stefan says.

It’s all very professional — treating it like a job, but one that the pair jokes “starts at 11 o’clock” where you “can have a beer at 3pm”. There’s a matter-of-fact professionalism in the way the band speaks about making Seven. In describing ‘Dogs on the Beach’, Seven’s sombre penultimate song, Stefan goes deep describing the deconstructed sample that serves as the spine of the track. “That was an orchestral thing that I then cut into different sections and EQ’d it in a way so that only the strings were left and whatever else in the recording was taken out,” he says. “Then, I put in my bass and guitar and I made it into a different song.” Liam adds, “There’s also a lot of sampling ourselves, as well. Recording and sampling ourselves — recording something and then putting it back on a sampler and then playing it like it’s a sample, but it’s us. It changes the texture.” 

The pair light up when talking about the minutiae of making music. Being this hands-on with recording an album, in a studio they put together, feels like an ultimate triumph for a band that claims they had “no clue” what they were doing on their first releases. “I actively don’t want to make records that sound like that anymore,” Stefan says. “Not that I’ve heard them in a while, but they sound bad. The record is objectively bad.”

They’re talking specifically about Glory, their sophomore effort from 2018. However, Liam adds,  “It is charming, I really see what we were going for.” They speak wistfully about the sub-optimal conditions they recorded in: glass rooms, archaic semi-functional gear they didn’t know how to properly use, and just two microphones between them. It’s a contrast to the meticulous 15-bullet point “key gear list” compiled for this album, ranging from a Tascam M3500 console to a Roland Juno-6 synthesiser to two upright pianos. 

Stefan sees their critical reflection as essential to celebrating the present. “There’s no real end to the well of things that you can learn in the space of recording, which is cool,” he says. “It’s nice to look back on yourself and be like, ‘that’s bad and this is, maybe, I think, a little bit better and there’s still room for improvement’.”

Liam points out that Good Morning has been the “entirety of [his] 20s”. He and Stefan have matured and the music has changed with them. “By virtue of being able to go play for people and have this as a job, that brings a level of self-confidence that we definitely didn’t have at the start,” he says. “I would never have written many lyrics that you could hear. They would all be buried in the mix. Now I’m like, ‘People are going to make up their own lyrics anyway so I may as well actually put them out front’.”

For the most part, Seven dispenses with the dry humour of Good Morning’s past releases. There’s nothing that draws a laugh like 2021’s ‘Matthew Newton’, which features lyrics like “Matthew Newton/No one stopped him/Being famous/For a decade”. Instead, the album tackles ageing and intimacy with earnestness and candour. The songwriting is tender and literary: Don’t need to specify but each time I fall apart I fall within you/And it goes without saying that the limits of your life won’t ever dim you” on ‘Just In Time’, but sometimes gives space for strained vocals to add weight to straightforward lines: “Your suffering’s deserved/Poor baby got your nose all in the dirt” on ‘As The Dogs Were Playing’.

That said, Good Morning are still very funny. After all, we’re talking about the band who turned to the “sad Oompa Loompa from the Willy Wonka Experience” to promote their album (imagine reading this sentence even two months ago). In conversation, Liam and Stefan occasionally descend into rapid-fire asides with one another, covering topics ranging from Mark Wahlberg — “a really bad vibe” — performing at their high school teacher’s wedding, and their time working in — and getting fired from — a burger truck.

Our conversation takes place the day before Good Morning plays an intimate in-store gig at SoundMerch in Collingwood, their only Australian show until a special one-off Melbourne date in June for RISING festival. But, as we speak, the notion that they’re about to be in front of a room of their devoted followers is something that Liam is still reconciling with himself. “I don’t really believe we have fans,” he says. “I just really struggle to believe that. So whenever someone at the label or management is like, ‘Your fans really want to hear what’s going on.’ I’m like, ‘No, they don’t. What are you talking about? Are these fans in the room with us right now?’” 

Sure enough, they would be: when showtime rolls around at SoundMerch, the room is packed and people are spilling out of the doorway. There’s a sweet sense of community in my section of the crowd, as sympathetic faces shuffle around to make space for one another on a humid February afternoon. By the doorway, a few generous strangers are rotating so everyone gets a turn craning their necks in hopes of catching a glimpse of Stefan’s guitar or a tuft of Liam’s hair. 

It’s the sort of energy you’d usually associate with an act who cultivates an aura of larger-than-life superstardom, not the guys who bill themselves as “your average band jingle jangle whateverthefuck”. But it’s a sign of the lasting support Good Morning has built in their home city, even as they spend more time abroad. 

The performance itself is an understated affair. Playing as a six-piece, the expanded Good Morning lineup plays through the new record. It’s their only public test run of the new album before kicking off a series of support slots for Waxahatchee across the US in April. With a month between this one-off show and the American tour, one might have expected a quick dash around the country to cash in on the new album hype. But it’s not in Good Morning’s DNA to run themselves in the ground in pursuit of a payday or relevance, which has helped them last as long as they have. 

“Even though there have been periods where we do hate it sometimes, you just step away,” Liam says. “Trying to stay comfortable and not lose sight of enjoying it helps you stay in the game a bit longer.” Stefan adds, “For a long time, it wasn’t not working but it wasn’t a thing we could do as a job to pay rent. That was never really a concern; we’re going to do what we have to do to cover the rent and work various bar jobs or whatever. I’m assuming that will be some part of our lives in the future. Nothing lasts forever. This wave probably crashes at some point.” 

For now, the wave is still rising. Good Morning Seven is the biggest and best triumph yet for one of Australian music’s most understated success stories. And even our waiter who asked about the interview has been sucked in: as I leave, I see him engaged in a rapturous conversation with Stefan, animated and laughing. Another fan in the room with them.

Good Morning’s new album Good Morning Seven is out now.

Reece Hooker is a Melbourne-based writer who can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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