Culture / Music

Scarlett Stevens talks San Cisco’s fifth studio album, dream collabs, and the 60s film that inspired their music video

San Cisco's Scarlett Stevens on new music, first-time collaborations, and the 60s film that inspired their music video

"Nothing you’d ever expect from San Cisco."

This is what the band's drummer, Scarlett Stevens, tells me when I ask her about Under the Light, their fifth studio album – which is officially out today, March 1st. It's a bold sentiment, especially from a band that's already proved their staying power in the Australian music scene for more than a decade, but the Fremantle-born Indie rock trio seem eager to enter new sonic territory – to offer up something a little more unexpected for fans in 2024 – and boy, do they deliver.

Marking the band's first body of work since 2020's EP Flaws, almost three years ago, we caught up with Stevens to discuss their new sonic direction, dream collaborators, real-life collaborators, and the 60s film that inspired one of their music videos.


This is the first album you've released in a little while. Was there something in particular that inspired you to start writing Under the Light, or were you just itching to get back into the studio together?

SS: Yeah! I mean, it felt like quite a drawn-out process. We started working on the record, I think, at the end of 2021, and throughout 2022 and even the start of last year. So, we were itching to get back into the studio in that sense, and we were working with a different producer this time, so it was new territory – which was kind of daunting. I guess we’re always sort of drawing from within our own personal lives and personal relationships, but working with James [Ireland, from Pond] this time around just opened up a new sonic world for us. He can kind of do anything from like, making drum machines to working with great synth sounds. It brought so much to the record.


Were there any unexpected sourced of inspiration that you drew from? Or maybe things that James brought into the mix that you hadn’t thought of previously?

SS: Definitely, yeah. We were working with sounds that we hadn’t used before, like on Honeycomb, it’s got like this trippy, garage sound that references UKG [UK Garage] type of stuff – nothing you’d ever expect from San Cisco. I guess working with James and the Pond guys was something we hadn’t really done before in terms of collaboration – we’d never really let other people into the studio to write – so that was an amazing experience.


Did you find that you naturally went into that shared space, or was it difficult to collaborate with new people for the first time?

SS: I think any new collaboration feels like a daunting task, but it’s also really exciting. When you’re in that writing space, you’re really vulnerable, and you kind of need that for the creative process. But Nick [Allbrook from Pond] was so lovely. Having him in the studio and having his magic on the song Summer Days – the way he writes lyrics and just having his imagination in the room – was so cool.


Do you have a favourite track from the new album?

SS: I love Summer Days, which we just released. I love the lyrics, I love the video clip. I think it’s one of those great pop songs that’s got the darker lyrics and the darker meaning, but it has this beautiful euphoric feeling in the chorus.


I was just listening to it! Generally speaking, do you feel like you’re someone who is able to divorce yourself from the process of making music and sit down to enjoy the music that you make as a listener?

SS: I think it takes a while. It is hard when you’re in this space and you’re doing 12-hour days and you’re hearing the same thing on repeat. You lose sensitivity to what you’ve created, but I think I have a deep appreciation for Summer Days. Also bringing new people into the space kind of made it fun again. I could sit back and just enjoy Nick doing his thing.



I also wanted to talk to you about the music video you did for Lost Without You, which you filmed up in Queensland with a team of creatives up there. Did you come up with the video concept, or was that something that was brought to you?

SS: Our assistant manager sent us a shortlist of directors and we really loved Levi's [Cranston] work. He’s worked with Telenova and a few other bands and we just loved his aesthetic and his approach to working with film. It always looks amazing – but of course, you have to have the vision and the storytelling. I think he’s so good at that. He really just put the idea forward and was like "I’d love to do a Bonnie and Clyde story!", so I went back and watched the original 60s Bonnie and Clyde to get some inspiration. We filmed it with an amazing team out in Ipswich. Which – have you been to Ipswich?


I have – there’s not a lot out there [both laugh]

SS: It’s a pretty rough town, but I’m glad I got to spend some time there. We lived in the motel where we were shooting for a few days, so we got to know some of the locals, and the team was amazing. From wardrobe to makeup to DOPs – it was awesome. I was so happy with how it turned out. It was my first time acting!


San Cisco started when you were all so young.What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the music industry here over your time performing?

SS: I guess it’s gotten a lot harder to tour since COVID. Everything’s gotten a lot more expensive; the cost of touring has kind of skyrocketed and I think people are just getting used to going to gigs again. The touring landscape is very different. From when we released the last album [in 2020], even the way you release music is very different now. People are listening to music on TikTok and getting their music sources in other ways that weren’t available then. So, we’re constantly pivoting and trying to navigate this new landscape, which definitely presents a lot of challenges as an artist. It can kind of be exhausting, because you just want to keep creating the music that you love, putting it out there and hoping fans resonate with it. It’s transformed in a big way! And I guess, as a woman, it’s transformed for the better, I’ve noticed. Just from when I started touring – I was so young – it was quite isolating being the only girl in the band and being overseas and going into venues. I’ve grown a lot and had to become a lot stronger from those experiences.



What are some changes you'd like to see in the industry over the next couple of years?

SS: I'd like to see artists take their power back a bit more and release what they want to release on their own timelines – to not be so bound by external influences and the industry side of things. It can kind of dilute the magic in a way.


I totally agree, artists should not box themselves in to a TikTok screen or a soundbite.

SS: It would be pretty scary if artists like Nick Cave started writing for TikTok [laughs].


I think Nick Cave did have some pretty strong feelings about ChatBots and AI, so hopefully he is safe from all of that! [both laugh]. San Cisco is a bit of an Aussie festival fave – do you have a favourite festival that you like to play? Or a particular memory from one that stands out sentimentally?

SS: I think Groovin the Moo – the first one we did was in 2012 – was such an amazing experience. Any festival where you get to tour with other artists, you end up making so many friends. It just makes it so much more fulfilling when you can do more than one show – you’re not just coming in for an hour, playing, saying goodbye and leaving. This year we're doing Party in the Paddock, then touring in the UK and Europe. I’m really itching to get overseas again.


What kind of music do you find yourself gravitating towards these days, in terms of your own listening habits on Spotify and things like that?

SS: At the moment, I’m loving the oldies like Rolling Stones and Wings… I really got into FKA Twigs’ last album. I also love pop music – I love Dua Lipa. I listen to a bit of everything.


Do you find that influences the way that you end up writing music? Or do you differentiate between the two?

SS: I think so. I think there’s a lot of devices that I’ll lean on, or I’ll reference something in a song that grabs me and put it through my own creative filter and it always ends up sounding nothing like anything I’ve heard, but it definitely plays into how we create in the studio. I think you can’t be devoid of influence – we’re being influenced all the time.

Speaking of influence, what were some of the highlights of working with Pond band members on this album?

SS: My partner James, who plays in Pond, produced the album, and we all live within a 2km radius so we see them all the time at the local pub. We’re really close-knit. I’m happy that it happened organically, like with Jay, we saw him at the pub and he was like "I’ve got this demo I’ve been working on and I think it could work really well for you guys", and we were like "Yeah, send it over!". It had this great hook and we loved the chords. We just started chipping away at it, writing lyrics. And then he ended up coming in and playing guitar. It was just awesome to, I don’t know, to mix it up; agitating our creative process and the comfort zone we’ve been in for so many years. They’re all such incredible musicians, and we’re so used to writing songs with three chords, and James would be like, "How about we take it – here – and play this fourth chord?".

Working with Nick – we had the music for Summer Days (James brought it to us as a demo) – but the lyrics were just never landing. I thought it would be great to have Nick come in and put his magic on the track. And he worked so well with Jordi [Davieson]. When he came in and described his vision and ideas for the lyrics, it was very compelling and something I could relate to… being lonely on New Years Eve, the eve of the new year, maybe not with the person you love. That mix of loneliness, but also this euphoric chorus.


Is there anyone else that you would love to collaborate with in the future?

SS: I mean, we’ve always wanted to work with Nile Rogers – I saw him a few years ago though. I’d love to work with Madonna.


What are you most looking forward to this year?

SS: I’m really excited to have the album out, it feels like it’s been a long time coming. We’ve pushed back the release a few times now, so it’ll be good getting it out there and seeing what the fans think and how people respond to it. And it is a bit of a different offering, so I hope people love it. I’m excited to go to Europe – maybe Sweden on a holiday – and to just get back into gigging; more touring, more time with friends.


Under the Light is out now on all streaming platforms and in stores. For tour dates and ticketing information, check out San Cisco's website.

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