Alex Moses is vocalist and guitarist of Brisbane based pop-punk band Columbus who released their debut Spring Forever in 2016 to much acclaim. Now two years later, the band has announced their follow up record A Hot Take On Heartbreak which is out May 25 via UNFD. We spoke with Alex about the making of the new record, the evolution of the band and how exercise helps with songwriting.
- How does A Hot Take On Heartbreak differ stylistically from Spring Forever in terms of songwriting and lyrical themes, and how is this an evolution of your previous record?
I think it's an evolution in a few ways. Stylistically, I think it takes a real direction away from Spring Forever. A lot of the concepts are still the same like love and loss or heartbreak, or relationships with friends and family and romantic partners, but instead of being strictly melancholic or sad, or depressive and emo as some people might put it, it's a lot more tongue-in-cheek.
There's a lot more humour involved. It's funnier. I guess that's the whole concept of A Hot Take On Heartbreak idea. A hot take being a quick, usually controversial or comical piece of journalism, A Hot Take On Heartbreak is our quick comical record on heartbreak.
- That's quite clever actually. The singles that you've dropped, 'Don't Know How To Act' and 'Care At All', have had a positive reaction and it actually wasn't until you mentioned it that I noticed some comparisons to Weezer. So Spring Forever had more of an emo/pop punk vibe and this has more of a garage/surf rock sort of vibe to it, judging by what we've heard so far. Would you say the whole album is a bit more like that or are there some more surprise numbers?
It's definitely in that direction, yeah. Spring Forever we wanted to be a punk/emo record and it definitely resonated in those pop-punk heavier emo circles, whatever you might call that, and now we kind of wanted this to be an alt-rock album in the vein of say; All American Rejects or Weezer or The Offspring, at least sound-wise.
There is a beachy thing to some of the songs, the album cover's obviously beachy, we kind of wanted a Miami-surf thing, but the music we wanted to be a lot more of a rock record with that kind of tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition between funniness and melancholic sad lyrics than the first record which was straight up emo punk.
- Is there any sort of concern rattling in your mind that you might alienate some of your fanbase with this transition?
That is definitely there.
- I suppose people can be very picky when it comes to music, especially when we live in the day and age of streaming and everything where people feel so entitled "Oh, this band I like doesn't sound like this band I like anymore!"
"I like the first record only!" (laughs). I think we've already seen a little bit of that. I think when any artist makes a stylistic change some people, and I know I do it too, I don't necessarily say mean things on the internet but I go; "Oh I don't like that record I prefer their earlier one or, I like this one I don't like the earlier one".
- But at least you can understand the growth an artist might have.
I understand that we did the first record and we don't want to be as much of a punk band anymore, we want to make rock songs, we want to be a little bit more joking while being genuine with it because it kind of represents how we are as people. We muck around a lot and we're not that sad.
- Obviously, the lyrics will come from that place of sadness and vulnerability but if you're playing these songs constantly on tour in front of crowds of people you want to have fun with it and you want to have a good time. In that regard, what has been happening in your life since the release of Spring Forever, because I know for one thing you've moved down to Melbourne. Has any of your personal life experience found its way onto the record?
I think there are a few things. One of those is just a natural slight maturing and growth in general. I'm 24, the other guys are 23, 24, and our first EP was very much punky hardcore because that's what we liked. Spring Forever was a bit more punk, punk rock and now this is just maturing. I like bands like Weezer or Third Eye Blind or The Offspring a lot more than I used to.
I used to listen to smaller hardcore bands or things like that, and I think I appreciate some of those bigger bands more for what they do and that's just been a general influence in our shifting sound towards that direction. Like us growing up and being like "Oh we actually like this a little bit more now".
- It's interesting that because people start a band with a specific style in mind and then they go a certain way so it's like "Oh, even if this is the music I play I don't really connect with this style of music anymore, I've grown and matured as a person". It seems like a good idea that you've sort of nipped it in the bud almost immediately, that you've acknowledged this maturity between you and the guys, so why not let that show in the music instead of trying to stick to what you think you should sound like. Because I think a lot of bands do that and they end up shooting themselves in the foot a little bit.
They decide what they want to be and they get so deep into it that they can't change, which is unfortunate. I guess this is our second record so it's kind of a shift from the first for sure. It's not a huge leap but its definitely a step in a different direction, but we're proud of it and we're happier with the musical direction especially.
I wouldn't say its completely mature because some of the songs, while they don't have the immature angst that the first record had some of them are silly, for sure. There's a maturing of us that made us realize we were happier with being a little bit more silly and not being like "We're cool, we're angsty, we have to be this way".
- You don't have to put on a facade I guess. It's interesting that you mention bands like Weezer and The Offspring because stuff like that has an edge of silliness to it - they don't take themselves too seriously.
'Pretty Fly For A White Guy' is not a serious song, but The Offspring had serious songs as well. Their greatest hits is a mix but some of their biggest songs like 'Why Don't You Get A Job?' or 'Pretty Fly For A White Guy' are silly songs. I think Blink-182 is another good example. Obviously, they're a pop-punk namesake and we don't really want to be a pop-punk band anymore but they're a great band with an example of a lot of 90s sounds that were silly sometimes but serious at other times and fans were totally fine with that. I guess it kinda shows that people aren't the same all the time.
- What have you been listening to recently? What are some records you've been spinning a lot lately and how would you say that has made its way onto the record?
Around the time we were recording I remember I made a playlist of songs around that month, so I had a playlist I was listening to over that period of time and there definitely was a little bit of Weezer on it. I distinctly remember 'This Kiss' by Faith Hill being on there, which is a notable banger. I was still listening to a bit of Australian rock and punk rock like The Living End and Frenzal Rhomb, a band I've always liked, not that our record sounds like that but I've always liked their music a lot. I think Dan (Seymour, drums) and Ben (Paynter, vocals, bass) really fluctuate in the music they listen to as well, and I'm sure that comes off in different ways.
- Generally speaking, do you three listen to similar sort of music or do you all branch off and have your own different taste?
It's relatively similar but Ben likes a lot of RnB and Hip Hop and Trap and stuff like that and that's music that Dan and I don't listen to as much. Dan seems to like a lot more hardcore and emo than Ben and I do. I guess because he's a drummer too he likes a lot more instrumentally technical music more than Ben and I, and then I listen to a lot more alt-rock and 90s stadium rock and indie rock than they would. I still listen to a lot of indie pop and indie rock, especially that beachy style, I like a lot of bands like that.
- Aside from music obviously, is there any sort of passion outside of music that you have that people might not know about and whether or not this influences your songwriting at all?
Interesting. Not a huge amount, not as directly as reading. I really like songwriting so I spend a lot of time doing that, and I write a heap of bad songs but it's always fun. I think one that really positively effects songwriting but in a more indirect way is exercise.
You tend to get the best songwriting ideas when you're not songwriting. You open the book or you've got your guitar out mucking around for an hour, trying to write something and it kinda sucks so I think "I'll go for a run" and you go out, you go for a run, you're fifteen minutes in and you're like "That's it! That's the line!"
The name of the record I came up with during a run. I knew we needed an album name and I wasn't really thinking about album names when I was running, but we were constantly discussing it as a band and I was out for a jog, thinking a little about album names and I was just like; "A Hot Take On Heartbreak".
I wasn't thinking about the word 'heartbreak' or other things before that. I've never said 'Hot Take' much in my whole life but I think sometimes exercise is a great example of when your mind's occupied - you're on the treadmill, you're not thinking about anything.
- It's very meditative, isn't it?
Yeah, and I think that sometimes that allows the back of your head to just come up with gems.
- Especially as you've said, you sit and you muck around with your guitar trying to write for a bit, so you've already put yourself in that creative space, and then you go away and think on it a bit, and then that's when the ideas pop into your head. Were there any other working titles that were potentially being contested?
We had a bunch of bad ones. Album names are such a hard thing. Spring Forever was easier because I wrote the song 'Spring Forever' and the album kind of centred around that theme so we thought "We'll just call it that". That was easy. This album we struggled because there wasn't a song we wanted to name the record after. We came up with a bunch of ideas but once we came up with A Hot Take On Heartbreak I was pretty adamant, the other guys liked it, and then we thought about it a bit more but were like "No, this is the way to go. This feels right".
- I suppose if you've got a gut feeling about something that's the way to go.
I was scared it would be too cheesy and they wouldn't like it. Because a lot of albums nowadays are pretty seriously named or pretty short names are common.
- Usually, they'll take a song title from the album, which can work in the context of the album but can also sometimes come across as a little lazy.
I agree. There are huge, massive albums that have done that, and we were actually considering calling the album Don't Know How To Act, which is the first single and we could have done that. Like, Highway To Hell is the album. American Idiot is the album, it's the first single, it's the first song. That sold 7 million copies no ones arguing with Green Day. No one's saying Green Day fucked up (laughs).
- And they've got a musical now as well so they're doing pretty alright for themselves!
Everything worked out! So a lot of bands have that conversation and it makes sense. It was easier to think of a worse idea, so we were happy we landed on what we did.
- Judging from what you've told me, tonally the album's going to have a bit more humour and silliness towards it so A Hot Take On Heartbreak does suit that well, whereas Spring Forever, even though it was a song first, that title really encapsulates what that record is. Whenever I've listened to it I've always interpreted it as a very fleeting romance, a very seasonal thing that wasn't meant to last, so I think Spring Forever sums that up well and I think A Hot Take On Heartbreak will end up achieving the same sort of thing.
I think so. It's just more of a direct idea. The whole of Spring Forever had heaps of those winter and season metaphors in it, that was kind of the subject of the record but A Hot Take On Heartbreak is ten songs, it's a short to medium length record which is like our hot take, our quick opinion on love and heartbreak in this little package that's a little bit fun, sometimes a little bit sad, a little bit funny.
- Is there a particular song on the album that you're excited for people to hear or is there a particular song on the album that you'd call your favourite? Obviously, you like all the tracks and I'm sure the whole album is amazing-
No, you do have favourites. I think it's like when you have children - you've got two kids and you love them both equally but y'know... (laughs). I think that I'm excited for different reasons for some songs. One song I'm excited for people to hear is called 'Worn Out This Week' which we thought was a contender for the first single, we decided to go with 'Don't Know How To Act' obviously, but that's one of my favourites, I think it's one of the strongest on the record, I'm keen for people to hear that.
We have a song called 'Piece Of Shit' on the record which is by far the silliest song which still manages to be quite self-deprecating, a little bit melancholy and that's quite a step away from Spring Forever stylistically, so I'm excited for people to hear that and see how that gets accepted.
- Would you say that's the track that sounds the most divorced from your previous LP?
It probably is the most divorced in total, some of the other songs on the new record are musically more divorced from the first album but lyrically not so. So some songs are pretty close lyrically to Spring Forever in that more sadder, less jokey sense but musically they're a bit different. 'Piece Of Shit' is musically a bit different and lyrically quite different. I originally wrote it as a joke, not for the band.
- So this was just you mucking around?
Yeah, I recorded a demo in my room and it was all a joke. I just had the idea for this song and I wrote it, recorded it and then I had it for a while and it was kind of like "why don't we put this on the record?" with the way the songs were shaping out to be. Because we thought it was good, we just didn't think it fit Columbus originally and it was cool, we're really happy with how it turned out, some of the original parts we recorded, so there's a little keyboard part in there, and a couple of guitar parts are still the ones I recorded in my bedroom that made it on to the final of the record which is cool.
A Hot Take On Heartbreak is out May 25 via UNFD. There's still time to pre-order your copy of A Hot Take On Heartbreak on CD or vinyl, as well as some exclusive tees and long sleeves.
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