Dick Diver, despite the alliteration, isn’t a name that rolls off the tongue. Even as a reference to an F. Scott Fitzgerald character, it also doesn’t do much to describe the jingle-jangle of the Melbourne quartet. Fortunately, any icky connotations the misnomer presents are completely offset by the band’s sense of pop.
Though lately Australia has become known for the gnarlier side of the garage, with bands like Total Control and Blank Realm leading the pack, as well as grunge revivalists such as Courtney Barnett and Tame Impala, there’s a quieter and quirkier rec-room contingent who look to The Go-Betweens as spiritual mentors and ’90s American indie rock as a blueprint. Last year’s The History of Hygiene by The Stevens served as a perfect encapsulation of just how equally pretty and idiosyncratic the Melbourne sound can be. This month’s Melbourne, Florida (Trouble in Mind Records), Dick Divers’ third album but first to be released on these shores, raises the bar, crafting a lush and detailed melange of sweet and sour pop.
In an email exchange with guitarists Rupert Edwards and Alistair McKay, The Cannanes get mentioned more than once. The influence is apparent, but Dick Diver is more playful, a bit more clever, and possessing of a soft sense of humor that never gets in the way. Rounded out by drummer Stephanie Hughes and bassist Al Montfort, the band shares songwriting duties, making the album a welcomed grab-bag flush with simple arrangements and slightly electric, immensely catchy barbs that could also double as pastoral folk. Melbourne, Florida is a grower, one of those rare records that still blossoms long after it blooms.
Calendar Days was recorded on an island and this one in a sheep-shearing shed, so is location something that influences what goes on, and if so, how?
Rupert Edwards: It’s mostly about getting away from the city. I know that if we recorded in Melbourne, all of us would have other things on our mind, like “I’ve got to drop by work to pick something up.” Not having that as an option is important! But of course the actual places where we record have an influence, but I couldn’t explain it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a hippie.
Alistair McKay: I think Rupert was most influenced by the location. He fashioned a goatee and wore a cream jumper about his shoulders all week. I think it quite suited him, but I’ll leave it to him to post photos.
Perhaps it’s just my perspective living in a completely different part of the world, but there seems to really be a renaissance of great music coming out of Melbourne these last few years. Can you think of something tangible that has attributed to this?
RE: I would point to factors like excellent community radio stations such as PBS and Triple R, good independent labels, and venues that put on good shows and the people who attend them. These things have been around a lot longer than just the past few years, though. Maybe more bands have been willing to travel overseas? The internet?
AM: I was amazed how well versed in Australian bands people were in the States, not just kids but regular mums and dads too. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was a really nice surprise. I think there’s always been good music coming out of Melbourne. There are good bands all over Australia—actually most places, anywhere there are good labels and cheap places to play.
Who are the legends of Melbourne? Who did you look up to locally when you guys were first getting started?
RE: Though they’re not strictly a Melbourne band, I’ve looked up to The Cannanes for a long time. They’re the sort of people who writers would describe as “unambitious,” which really means that they’ve got a good type of ambition.
AM: So many bands, so many legends. Eddy Current Suppression Ring was a cut above most.
Has any of that legend contributed to what you do as a band?
RE: One of the things I like about The Cannanes is that they seem like they can have a break for awhile and come back to make another excellent record. They don’t give in to the idea that you have to be active all the time and that in fact being so can be deleterious!
I know that the name Dick Diver is a literary reference, but in a lot of ways, if you didn’t know the reference, it doesn’t exactly square with the type of music you make. When I first saw the name I expected something quite gnarly or of a Birthday Party vibe. Was the name ever considered as ill-fitting?
RE: Many, many times, mostly by me. (It was my idea.) At all points it seemed too late to change.
AM: We get smirks all the time. We emailed Dave Berman from The Silver Jews once, and he wrote back expressing solidarity as a member of another awkwardly named band, which was really nice.
This is probably the first album of yours that I would describe as lush. The debut and Calendar Days were definitely quiet and mellow, but this one feels more arranged and ambitious. What was the idea when you first started Melbourne, Florida?
RE: I wanted to make this record different from the other ones. I mean, I’d like to be AC/DC and churn out the same riffs under slightly different production for 30 years, but it’s never seemed like an option. It’s also to do with confidence. There’s no way we would have put horns and synths on the first record, but I think we were always pointing in that direction. Mostly, though, I think it’s just about avoiding any kind of boredom with what you’re making, so you try to develop, whatever that means.
There’s also a real diversity in the songwriting. Is the band democratic when it comes to who writes and who sings what and when?
RE: It’s democratic in the sense that we all write songs individually and bring them to the band. Decisions about who sings come intuitively. For the most part, the person who writes the song sings most of the song. One of the things I think we all like is getting someone else in the band to sing other parts of songs. That’s really enjoyable.
Did you visit Melbourne, Florida when you were in the states? How did you come to that title?
RE: I can’t remember who first suggested it, but I think we all liked that it could be interpreted in lots of different ways. For example, as either a dig at America or a tribute to it, as a comment on Melbourne, Australia or Melbourne, Florida, or both or neither, or as a mistaken destination or exactly the right destination… it goes on!
AM: I’ve never been to Melbourne Florida—not yet anyway. Is there a new super mall that needs a band for a grand opening anytime soon?