O Captain, My Captain: The Evolution Of Something For Kate In 15 Essential Tracks

Intimate and epic, angsty and hopeful - Something for Kate are one of a kind.

Something for Kate best tracks photo

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The Australian music scene responded to the rise of grunge in the ’90s with force and flannel.

Alternative music prospered as bands went from garages to gigs with airplay support from triple j and the rising popularity of a re-formatted annual Hottest 100. University campuses opened uni bar stages to emerging bands and the lucky few graduated to the main stages of music festivals like Big Day Out and Homebake.

A bunch of grommets from Newcastle, Silverchair, got a record deal and rode the grunge wave around the world, and in that same window another band signed to their label Murmur: Something for Kate.

Despite a few line-up changes in the early days, Clint Hyndman, Paul Dempsey and Stephanie Ashworth have been together for over 20 years. It’s an enviably long stint in the Australian music industry, one that’s been buoyed by their rabidly passionate fanbase. Fans have doggedly pursued B-sides, bootlegs and pressings of out-of-print albums since the band’s rise to popularity in the late ’90s.

Something For Kate’s magic lies in Dempsey’s lyrics — intense and pointed — and his interplay with Hyndman and Ashworth’s rhythm section. They’ve mastered a sound that’s epic and intimate at the same time; it fills every corner of your mind.

Yet if you’ve ever seen them live, you’ll know they are witty and self-deprecating in concert. The band’s stage presence runs in contrary to the emotional weight of their music, which is why they’ve endured as a beloved Australian band. Something For Kate are like that great neighbourhood band who achieved success, but still aren’t dickheads about it.

So here’s a guide to the history of Something for Kate in 15 tracks — charting their journey through their EPs, Elsewhere For 8 Minutes, Beautiful Sharks, Echolalia, The Official Fiction, Desert Lights, and Leave Your Soul to Science. 

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#1. ‘Slow’ (1996)

Legend has it that the demo tape featuring ‘Slow’ is what attracted Sony Music’s Chris Dunn to the band and got them a record deal. Dunn told triple j: “That really triggered the whole thing in me. I kept on playing this song over and over again. I just thought it was a really good song for such a young person.”

Dempsey’s voice is unforgettable — he was only 19 years old at this time — and the track balances the slow-dance feels of the verses with the heavier riffs of the unconventional chorus spikes. Like Silverchair, Something for Kate were a young band that sounded well beyond their years.

#2. ‘Dean Martin’ (1996)

Once the band signed to Sony/Murmur, the EPs began rolling out, and ‘Dean Martin’ slipped into rotation at triple j. The brooding bass line that opens the track sits in the sweet spot of the alternative rock sound of the mid-90s combined with the angst of the grunge era. Dempsey’s scream stands out as raw and powerful.

#3. ‘Working Against Me’ (1997)

Something for Kate’s debut album Elsewhere in 8 Minutes is an Australian classic, and ‘Working Against Me’ is one of its highlights. What shines through here is Hyndman’s drumming — truly a force of nature.

#4. ‘Pinstripe’ (1997)

The longest track on Something For Kate’s debut album, where the epic runtimes from the EP era carries over (‘A Quarter of One Hour’ off the ‘Dean Martin’ single is over 14 minutes long). ‘Pinstripe’ floats on isolated moments where it’s just Dempsey’s vocal and guitar, before going full tilt with the heavy sound of the whole band. The best of both worlds.

#5. ‘Captain (A Million Miles an Hour)’ (1997)

Something For Kate finally take off. ‘Captain (A Million Miles an Hour)’ is an odyssey; it feels like three songs in one with the progressive riffs of the opener, the instrumental middle, and the thrashing closer. Meanwhile, Dempsey’s lyrics conjured an escape fantasy for whatever troubled us.

The band’s status as one of Australia’s best new alternative band was cemented when the track placed in the top 40 of triple j’s Hottest 100.

#6. ‘Beautiful Sharks’ (1999)

Something for Kate slowed it down considerably for their second album Beautiful Sharks, which landed in the ARIA top 10 and was certified gold. The title track is emblematic of the band trying to evolve beyond the heavy sound of their previous albums and EPs.

‘Beautiful Sharks’ highlights Dempsey’s razor-sharp songwriting skills, and showcases his ghostly harmonies with new bandmate Ashworth. Leave it to an Australian band to write a song about sharks.

#7. ‘Electricity’ (1999)

The end of the ’90s had a lot of bands questioning the role of technology in society. The new millennium and Y2K was looming on the horizon, and Radiohead had already set the tension high with Ok Computer. Something for Kate’s contribution to the discourse was ‘Electricity’.

SFK’s heavier sound is tightened up here — and it follows a decidedly more song structure than we’re used to hearing from the band.

#8. ‘The Astronaut’ (1999)

A sibling to ‘Beautiful Sharks’ due to its simplicity, ‘The Astronaut’ is a slow jam that took on new life at Something for Kate gigs as an essential sing-along. Dempsey explores his falsetto, too, which shows off a new dimension to his voice.

#9. ‘Three Dimensions’ (2001)

The new millennium was good to Something For Kate with the arrival of their biggest album: Echolalia. The album peaked at number 2 on the ARIA charts, got voted the album of the year by triple j listeners and nabbed six ARIA award nominations.

The band finds the middle ground between their heavier early albums and Beautiful Sharks, and it’s exemplified by the mid-tempo ease of ‘Three Dimensions’.

#10. ‘Monsters’ (2001)

Put ‘Monsters’ on a pub jukebox and watch everyone mouth the lyrics. The band from Elsewhere in 8 Minutes feels so far away in ‘Monsters’, but it’s the sound of a band maturing beyond the angst of their early days.

The acoustic lead guitar grounds the track, but its anchored by Ashworth’s soothing bass line in a song that’s all about overcoming self-doubt.

#11. ‘Déjà vu’ (2003)

The band secure their first number 1 on the ARIA charts with The Official Fiction, an album that continues the sound established in Echolalia. ‘Déjà vu’ sounds like a sequel to ‘Three Dimensions’ and it resembles the album a whole; softer, subdued and reflective.

#12. ‘Cigarettes and Suitcases’ (2006)

Something for Kate were very much set in their melodic pop-rock ways when Desert Lights rolled around — which perhaps explains why the band went on hiatus shortly after its release. Still, ‘Cigarettes and Suitcases’ exemplifies everything great about the band, and Dempsey’s lyrics start to take on more adult woes, while examining the band’s experiences on the road.

#13. ‘Truly’ (bootleg)

B-sides, bootlegs and covers have always been a big part of Something for Kate’s history. The band’s early EPs went out of print, so fan demand led to a re-issue, Q & A with Dean Martin (2000), a collection of songs from their first two releases from Murmur.

The popularity of rarities led to the release of Phantom Limbs: Selected B-Sides (2004). The highlight is a live bootleg of ‘Truly’, a cover of a track from ’90s rock band, Hazel.

#14. ‘Star Crossed Citizens’ (2012)

After a long break, Something for Kate made a comeback and proved they still had it. The band returned with a little of the old heavier sound mixed with self-reflection on ‘Star Crossed Citizens’ from the album, Leave Your Soul to Science.

#15. ‘Sweet Nothing’ (2017)

The list of covers done by Something for Kate is long and they’re all special. The band has a knack for picking the perfect songs to cover while making each track their own. They’ve done covers of David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Hunters and Collectors, Blondie, Duran Duran, and more.

But the best covers are often the ones far removed from a band’s skillset, which makes this cover of Calvin Harris and Florence Welch’s ‘Sweet Nothing’ one of their best.

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.