How The McClymonts Delivered Country Pop Perfection On ‘Mayhem To Madness’

"We've never shied away from pushing the boundaries with our music."

The McClymonts photo

We’re about five minutes into our interview with Brooke McClymont when she suddenly swears loudly, dropping out of view as she begins to run.

For a second I’m genuinely alarmed that something has gone wrong, until she starts speaking again. “A bee just came for me!” She yells down the Zoom call, which explains why instead of her face, I’m staring at a moving bit of grass as she rapidly relocates to another spot. “Fuck…shit…oh my God, I’m so sorry…you bugger.”

The picture begins to right itself as Brooke finds a bee-free spot on a bench outside her house on NSW’s mid-north coast. She breathes out in relief, then laughs. Crisis averted.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the title of The McClymonts’ sixth album Mayhem To Madness was chosen to specifically reflect the hectic year that is 2020, but somehow, it was just a coincidence.

Over a Zoom call from her property on the mid-north coast of NSW, Brooke McClymont laughs at the irony of the album — named for the never-ending juggle of work and family and life — landing in the middle of a global pandemic.

The sisters from Grafton — Brooke is joined in the band by younger siblings Sam and Mollie — pushed their album release back one month due to the chaos caused by COVID-19, but they were determined to not shelve it indefinitely.

“We’ve never shied away from pushing the boundaries with our music.”

“I’m glad we stuck to our guns because we were ready to go, we couldn’t let a pandemic stop it,” she laughs. “We pushed it back a month, just because we weren’t really sure what was going on. But it’s kinda nice having some music out in this moment. But it’s weird, I’m sitting on my property with an album out and I’m not doing anything.”

The band had hoped to be out on the road in support of the album now, but like everyone else, they’ve had to hastily reschedule the dates until later in the year.

“It’s bizarre,” she says, about not being on the road. “And to be honest, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting back out there anytime soon, unfortunately.”

But then, the band are used to a bit of upheaval. The three sisters are now scattered up the east coast — Brooke on the mid-north coast, Sam in Brisbane, and Mollie in Wollongong — so Mayhem To Madness was recorded in three separate chunks, with each sister individually going into the studio with producer Andy Mak (Vera Blue, Winterbourne) to contribute their parts.

There’s no trace of incoherence on the resulting album — rather, Mayhem To Madness is steadfast and polished, a career-high, with the band pushing further into the pop territory they began exploring on 2017’s Endless. Single ‘I Got This’ is a stadium-ready stomper in the vein of Red-era Taylor Swift, while ‘Looking For Perfect’ and standout ‘Lighthouse Home’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kacey Musgraves record.

It’s not so much a ‘pivot to pop’ as it is an understandable evolution from their earlier records, but Brooke admits it was “totally” a conscious decision to push further into the genre.

“We’ve never shied away from pushing the boundaries with our music,” she explains. “We grew up listening to pop and country music — Shania, the Dixie Chicks. Andy had never worked on anything country…and I loved that, I love putting things together that isn’t the norm. His knowledge of pulling sounds together is amazing, I wanted to just embrace it.”

She ticks off acts like Swift and Keith Urban as ones that have successfully straddled the divide between the genres, that have broken down the previously solid barrier between the genres. “Everyone is embracing country music these days. And we’ve always done it because our fans have allowed us to do it,” she says.

That’s not saying it’s a faceless, by-the-numbers record — it’s not. It’s quintessential McClymonts, with their warm and distinctive harmonies ghosting every track. “At the end of the day, it’s our voices that make our sound,” Brooke says. “Whether we’ve got pop instrumentation or it’s just really country, the McClymonts is our three voices. Always.”

Courtesy of Universal Music Australia

Mak’s sensibilities have given their voices new power — on tracks like ‘Free Fall’, their harmonies drift down like mist off a waterfall, while in their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Little Lies’, they’re punched through to the foreground. It’s the kind of production that warrants good headphones, and numerous listens.

Mayhem To Madness’ title may have unintentionally encapsulated the current time, but its tracks are a salve — these are stories of love and heartbreak and family and life, delivered in minutiae. The world might feel like its crumbling at the edges, but here are songs that you can cling on to within the whirlpool.

“We stick to our stories,” says Brooke. “Singing what we know about, keeping the stories connected to us, honest. It’s our story, and our take on things.

“Sometimes I can look back on the EP and albums and go ‘Urghhhh I wish we’d done blah blah blah’,” Brooke laughs. “But now I’ve just started to forgive myself. The album is the product of the moment, it’s how you’ve recorded it at that moment. You stand still in time with what you’ve done.”

The McClymonts’ Mayhem To Madness is out now via Universal Music Australia

Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee. Follow her on Twitter