It might just be the power of suggestion, but there’s something majestic about Melbourne band Playwrite’s debut album, Cathedrals. It’s a lush harmony of folk, rock and electro influences, and is big and outdoorsy in the same way that Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are. It sounds like the sunshine after the storm: a bushwalk with warmth on your shoulders and wet leaves underfoot.
Cathedrals is a processing of personal tragedy. Band member Patrick Holcombe lost both his parents in the Black Saturday bushfires in Kinglake in 2009 when they stayed behind to defend Holcombe’s childhood home. After this, Jordan White, Scott Barton, Sonny Igusti, Caity Fowler and Holcombe came together to write Cathedrals. It’s about the experience of getting through grief, with all the emotion that comes in its wake.
Broadsheet: We’re very sorry to learn about your parents. How have you been able to communicate your grieving and healing process through working with the band and ultimately, through the making of Cathedrals?
Patrick Holcombe: Being in a band gave me a real focal point for my energy at a time when I was pretty lost and wasn't able to focus on much. It's a bit like doing a group assignment for five years, and it feels similar to family in a lot of ways.
Because so many of these songs were written during a time when I was processing the death of my parents, putting them all in one place and handing that over to the world in a physical form has felt cathartic, but there is a slightly empty feeling now the album is done and we have to figure out what our focus is again.
BS: You use beautiful old photos of the house in the album artwork for Cathedrals. What are your memories of that time?
PH: I had a pretty magical childhood. Our house was right in the national park, and we were a fair way from a main road, which meant as kids we could just roam free all day in the bush. We could go as far as we wanted into the forest and we just came back when we were hungry.
The house was always being built. It was never really finished; we were always helping Dad out in the workshop on the next piece of furniture or some modification to the house itself. It was a huge house and it grew as we did. There was always music playing, Dad had wired speakers from the main stereo into the bedroom that my brother and I shared and he would play classical music to wake us up in the morning. He would play jazz and old rock and folk from the Woodstock era while he was cooking dinner and mum would listen to Radio National for hours after we went to bed.
BS: Apart from music, what inspires you?
PH: For me I get inspired by being out in wild places. I do a lot of hiking in Australia and overseas and find spectacular rejuvenation from being alone in the mountains a couple days walk from any other people.
BS: Any out-of-city escapes you can tell us about?
PH: There is an alpine hut up in the Victoria High Country called Viejo Gantner hut. It sits on a rocky bluff at Macalister Springs overlooking Mount Howitt, and it's about a five-hour drive, and then a two-hour walk, to get in there. It's an old "A frame" hiker’s hut with a mezzanine and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look out on to the mountains. That’s one of my favourite places in Victoria.
Cathedrals is out now.