Interviewing lead singers of indie rock bands can be fraught with drama and tension but it’s still a surprise when, just a few minutes into talking with Sean Caskey, proceedings come to a sudden halt. A woman’s voice breaks through the telephone speaker. “Sorry, it’s just mum,” he explains. She’s letting him know that the smoke alarm guy will be over in a bit. Have I caught him at a bad time? “Nah, she’s cool with interviews. Usually she’s at work.” This rather domesticated state of affairs is at odds with the image of the rock and roll life I’d conjured up. Lead singers of buzz bands aren’t meant to be nice to their mums. Are they?
Last Dinosaurs have every reason to be arrogant given their smooth brand of hook-laden danceable indie pop has taken their debut album, “In A Million Years”, to eight on the ARIA Album Chart (the highest debut that week) and second on the Digital Album Chart. It was the Feature Album on Triple J and their hit singles “Honolulu” and “Time & Place” have been on high rotation ever since.
Yet Caskey’s reaction to chart success befits a band that has come of age in a digital era where traditional music charts no longer hold as much currency: “When our manager called us…we had no idea what the hell he was talking about. We still don’t know what that means but judging by their reaction, it’s obviously a good thing.”
They’ve achieved success at an enviously young age – the average age of the four piece is 21 – but have had to make some big decisions since coming together in high school. “We were playing over 18 venues when Lachie [brother and guitarist] was still 14. We all started university; I started with civil engineering [which was] my main passion,” Caskey says. But when independent Australian label Dew Process came knocking, “I was like holy shit: I [dropped] engineering because…I thought I’d probably fail and waste a shitload of money on HECS.”
Joining a label that includes artists such as Sarah Blasko and Bluejuice (and features a distribution deal with major label Universal Music) clearly helped when it came to recording the album in Sydney: “It was [our] first proper recording experience – to have someone else painting the painting for you is an experience for sure.” Though Caskey is unfailingly humble, it’s clear the big label influence afforded some luxuries: “We stayed in a place in Kirribilli on the harbour. It was pretty cool…it’s nice waking up at ten, eating breakfast, riding across the Harbour Bridge to the studio.”
The result is a slickly produced album as expansive in lyrical scope as it is deeply steeped in musical ability. “We’ve always prided ourselves on our musicality and ability to play instruments–[every other member is] from a jazz background,” Caskey explains.
It’s rightly earned widespread critical praise, even drawing the admiration of Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack who tweeted it was the “Best guitar work I’ve heard in a long time.” Whilst taking inspiration from Phoenix and The Strokes, they’ve created their own musical niche – from the infectious riffs of “Zoom” to the epic balladry of “Used To Be Mine”. Trademark upbeat melodies contrast with Caskey’s darker lyrical exploration of mortality and transience: “I’m fascinated by the concept of melancholy – [it’s] something I’ve been brought up with [watching] Japanese film and the music in those films.”
The lengthy recording process inevitably took its toll at times (“when you’re sitting in a room for ten hours trying to do one song,…it can become really draining”), and Caskey muses about the antics the boys resorted to when staying at their producer’s farm on the NSW central coast during pre-production: “At midnight, we’d go for jogs to get our energy levels back up. We noticed a car would come past every five minutes – just one car – and we thought, ‘Let’s fuck with these people’. So we started to run in a single file backwards in pitch black in the middle of nowhere.”
Another time, yet again in the cover of dark, the boys were in a gully beneath a passing country road and a vehicle pulled over: “The guy must’ve gotten out to chuck a piss so we just started counting backwards from thirty really loudly. We got down to 15 and the car sped off…I reckon we might have done some psychological damage.”
“We were collectively thinking how we could mess with these people’s minds.”
When they aren’t busy causing psychological damage to roadside urinators, they’re touring with the likes of indie heavyweights Foals and Foster the People. Is it strange now being in the same musical sphere as bands they grew up being influenced by? “There’s stuff that I never even dreamed would happen. My musical aspirations as a kid…I reached them ages ago.” And yet, in a promising sign they aren’t happy to simply rest on their laurels, Caskey says, “The awesome thing about touring with bands like that is, because they’re so professional and have done it for so many years, you get to learn how to do it. It was really valuable learning from the experts.”
Asked if he wants to replicate Foals front man Yannis Philippakis’ trademark stage antics when the band visits Canberra, Caskey seems eager: “Oh I’d love to. I’ve been practising by climbing trees. You’ll need to do erect some sort of scaffolding.” With a European tour on the cards (thanks to a deal with British label, Fiction) and an almost sold out run of shows along the East Coast, he’ll certainly have plenty of time to practise.
“And with that, like his mother said, the smoke alarm starts beeping and the guy who’ll fix it is waiting for Caskey at the door,”