The Flower Drums: An Interview with Leigh Craft

Last year, I met a boy named Leigh Craft via Facebook. We had heaps of mutual friends, we were both from Perth and were living in Melbourne, he liked my photographs and I liked his music, so Facebook friends we became. We got to talking, I offered to take photos for him and introduced him to my music producer boyfriend, Aden Senycia, and before we all knew it, we (or more specifically, Leigh and Aden) had an interesting creative intertwinement that has yielded a bunch of super high quality tunes, with more on the way.

Listeners of Perth radio station RTR may have heard The Flower Drums EP “Shadows Aren’t Real” played a bit in the last 6 months, and Perth locals may have seen them play live at various venues. Their catchy pop-tinged folk stylings invoke all kinds of landscapes, and every time I listen to it, it brings me back to the house Aden and I shared in Ferntree Gully, where Leigh and Aden recorded and produced this little nugget of prettiness, and I documented it with my camera (you can see some of it here:
“Recording ‘Shadows Aren’t Real’ was the most natural recording process I’d ever been involved with,” says Leigh. “The vibes we’re good, the ideas bounced around consistently, and at no stage did it feel like we hit a brick wall. It seemed quite surreal at times because these songs that I had written, either on the road or in my room… were coming alive in Ferntree Gully while I was looking over the Dandenong ranges, in a strange, tranquil house, with people I’d only just met, yet it all seemed so familiar.” Awww Leigh, same here buddy.

Over the last weekend, Leigh and a few members of his band The Flower Drums were staying at our house here in Melbourne to sit in at Aden’s studio while he mixed the tracks from their latest EP. I’ve had the chance to listen to the results a couple of times, and man, these guys have a really, really good thing going on. I’m really glad they’re working together again.

Keen to find out exactly how The Flower Drums started (who knows, I might write his biography one day), I quizzed him a little on the beginnings. “I drove over from Perth in December of 2010 in a crappy car my step dad gave me, found a house in Brunswick, and lived there for about 7 months. At the time I don’t think I knew what I was doing, I just knew I needed to do something different. 2010/2009 was by far my least creative period, and that was a bit scary so I guess I was trying to snap out of it.”

“The Flower Drums was originally a recording project I started in Melbourne… I never liked the idea of using my own name, so initially I was under the pseudonym ‘Charlie Phoenix’. Not long after that I saw an episode of “Two and a Half Men”, which made me really dislike the name Charlie, so I changed it to The Flower Drums.”

A few days after that first EP was completed, Leigh and his girlfriend moved back to Perth. “Initially the idea of being back in Perth was quite daunting, almost like having to confront my old creative demons, but reflection is a helpful thing, and in this case it made everything I enjoyed about living in Perth resurface. One noticeable difference was that I did become lazy for a period… I guess that’s just one of the symptoms of living in such a laid back community.”

But from what I can tell, this “lazy period” didn’t last long.

“The response (to “Sahows Aren’t Real”) was great, everyone was super nice, and very complementary towards my songwriting. The whole idea was to record a bunch of songs I’d written in Melbourne and give them to my friends, but I guess word spread somehow and I started getting emails from people in France, England and US etc wanting printed copies, so I decided to print some, which helped me out in a number of ways… I got signed to Fat Shan Music, got some really nice reviews both in Australia and Europe, I was asked to play more shows and some radio play on stations I really dig like RTR.”

“I think the whole band thing came about because everyone was asking me when I would play live, and in order to do that effectively I would need to find some other musicians that were willing. It was actually an interesting process because if I was going to play live and turn The Flower Drums into a band I didn’t want it to be all the familiar faces of Perth music, so I called up a bunch of old friends and invited them over to jam in my lounge room.”

So there they were, playing shows as a band, getting shit done, and ready for a new EP.

“I was ready almost straight away, because I’d demoed about 20 songs that weren’t on the first one. The main reason for not jumping straight into it was so I could give the other guys a chance to have some input in the songs and to make an attempt at collaborative writing, which turned out to be a very natural process. “

“Being the first EP with the full band the recording process was obviously a lot more time consuming, the songs were still quite unfamiliar to the band but as always the process was more about experimenting than laying down tracks. We recorded it at Fat Shan records, the sessions were all done at night and it was again a strange environment to be working in, as we were in a basement surrounded by vinyl records. Some of the images on the front of those records will be burnt into my brain for eternity after staring at them during hours of vocal takes.”

“I’m not sure that everyone totally understood the need for such contrast in each song, because it goes from a dreamy folk vibe to a surf pop sounding thing, the concept is based around man made objects being taken over by nature once they’re neglected, so each song represents a different stage in this process and although during the recording process we were lost at times, I’m glad we got there in the end.”

Aden happened to be in Perth for work, and was already signed up to mix these recordings, so sat in on some of the sessions. A week later, he was back in Melbourne, and Leigh plus two other members of the band flew over here to oversee the mixing process in the studio.

“Aden and The Flower Drums are one of those things that just works, I’m not entirely sure why, but it does. The sessions mostly consist of laying on the floor listening to him work his magic, talking absolute nonsense, the occasional sarcastic comment to stir him up a bit, but mainly an overall sense of relief because you can hear that the mixes are sounding how you envisioned. I’m convinced that Aden has mastered the art of mind reading. “

As I mentioned I earlier, I’ve heard some of the pre-mastered product, and it’s sounding pretty, pretty, pretty good. “We’re going to be releasing a song from the EP on May 5 at The Bird, and then hopefully we’ll put the whole thing out not long after that.”

Over the weekend I heard some quiet rumours about what’s in store for the upcoming album, which may involve both Aden and myself flying over to WA. And it won’t be long before that happens either: “I’ve started writing for the album already and as a band we’re going to start collaborating together this week, we really don’t like the idea of waiting a long time between releases, so it would be nice to get an album out this year. An album gives you space to experiment more, so I’d say it’ll be a lot more obscure than anything we’ve done up until now, but I’m still a really big fan of classic song writing so I’m sure everyone will get their fix.”

So keep an eye and ear out Perth. For those of you folk fans not in Perth, you can check out the tunes here: