Let’s talk sophomore albums. The bands that succeed with the ‘difficult second album’ tend to head down one of two paths. There are those that polish their original sound and continue working within their particular niche – Radiohead’s The Bends and Pixies’ Doolittle spring to mind. Then there are the bands that produce something purposefully unlike their debuts – Weezer’s Pinkerton and Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City being examples.
So, where does Splashh fit within that paradigm? The Anglo-Antipodean four-piece’s first album, Comfort, sounded like an intentional musical extension of the onomatopoeic cadence of the band’s name – summery, hypnagogic and unhurried. Their new release, Waiting a Lifetime, fits snuggly within the legacy of Comfort, while charting out a more ambitious course for the band – an assessment that guitarist Toto Vivian seems comfortable with. “It’s good that [Waiting a Lifetime] is still recognisably Splashh,” he says, before adding: “It was fun making this album. We got to experiment a lot more and as a result, there’s a lot more electronic elements that wouldn’t previously have been there. For us, that’s the fun in crafting an album. A few little surprises and it takes you on a bit of an adventure.”
Whereas it could be said that most bands change musical direction as a result of hubris or boredom, for Splashh, it seems to be more circumstance. With such a long time between albums – Comfort came out five years ago – it’s unsurprising each member’s approach to songwriting has evolved. Another hugely telling factor was moving the recording process from a bedroom to a professional studio under the guiding hand of producer Nicolas Vernhes, whose work with Deerhunter and Wild Nothing, as well as many others, has cemented him as one of the best in the business. “I think part of the reason it took so long to get this album done was that we were on a quest to find the right producer,” states Vivian. “When we came into the studio, we had three years’ worth of demos and songs that had gone through many different variations in terms of sound, and we weren’t sure what direction to take it.” Enter Vernhes. “Having an amazing producer guiding us through and helping us shape the songs in the best way possible, hearing them fresh, had a massive effect on how the final product turned out,” enthuses Vivian.
Generally, the response has been very positive, critics and fans alike lauding the darker, more considered electronic, new wave flourishes of Waiting a Lifetime. It’s vindication for a band that basically went MIA for three years – a point that makes Vivian chuckle as he considers the album’s reception. “Yeah, the feedback’s been good,” he muses, “but we’ve been away so long that it’s kind of been like starting all over again. But it’s been amazing to be back on the road with so many fans travelling, even flying, to come see us. We were a bit scared, wondering if anyone would come, but there’s been good crowds and good feedback.”
It’s a welcome return for a band that defined many peoples’ summer back in 2012. Speaking with Vivian, it’s clearly hard for him to contain his obvious excitement at throwing himself back into a hectic touring schedule. “It’s the tour of a lifetime,” he declares. “It’s what we’ve always wanted. We get to go to Asia, America, Australia… It’s amazing.”
And this time around, it seems Splashh are already looking ahead to what’s next once the tour’s done. Vivian talks openly about the prospect of a third album with an aspiration that’s almost disarming in a musical climate where bands are usually reluctant to talk about their plans beyond the next gig. “For the next album,” he reveals, “we’re going to make it a little more punky. We want to let go a little and have a more natural relationship with the way we like to play live. We’re not an overly polished live band, we like to jam it out.”
So, sophomore albums. For many bands it’s a cathartic way of shedding anything associated with their debut, somehow legitimising themselves in the face of a body of work they’ve become disillusioned with. And for all the trouble that Splashh has endured getting their second album out the door, they would’ve been well within their rights to go down an experimental path. Yet, when Vivian talks about it, it seems any turbulence in crafting Waiting for a Lifetime has lead them to exactly where they ought to be: “I think it’s what the last three to four years entailed for us,” he says. “It best represents that time for us, looking back at it.”