Last December, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, the beloved garage-rock four-piece from Melbourne, released their first album in a decade. It was knowingly titled All In Good Time. Old fans got excited, but the band kept schtum. There were no pre-release streams for review, and apart from one brief spot on community radio station 3RRR announcing their new single, Our Quiet Whisper, there were no interviews.
Starting with their obtuse name – a copper ring around an electrical transformer which, indeed, suppresses eddy currents – ECSR don’t make things easy. But their guitarist Mikey Young, who also manages the group, denies they’re elusive. “If anyone wants to talk, all they’ve got to do is write to me,” he says cheerfully.
In 2010, ECSR were on the cusp. Larger independent labels including Sub Pop were courting them. Their second album, Primary Colours had won the prestigious Australian Music Prize for 2008, and their third, Rush To Relax, was enthusiastically received. It was launched at the Old Metro in Melbourne, which holds around 1,800 people. But for Young, enough was enough. “I had to question whether I’d want to go see a band like mine at a show that big,” he says.
The response of the crowd scared him. “I remember looking out and seeing how intensely passionate people were about it while we were playing, and it was a bit weird for me. I was humbled, but a bit weirded out at the same time.” There were also less welcome aspects to the band’s growing popularity: “The bigger it got, the more macho aggressiveness came into elements of our crowd.”
So they went off to do other things. Singer Brendan Huntley (stage name: Brendan Suppression) is an acclaimed visual artist and was also in the band Boomgates. Drummer Danny Young (Danny Current), Mikey’s brother, started a tattooing business. Bass player Brad Barry, AKA Rob Solid, juggles three kids, a printing day job and a hip-hop alter ego, Slab Knackers. Mikey – the band’s guitarist, and titular Eddy Current – formed band Total Control and is one of Australia’s most in-demand recording engineers.
ECSR, which in grand punk tradition had made a lot of noise with a defiantly minimalist approach, appeared to have done their dash. “I felt like we’d had a really good run, and put out three good records that seemed to belong together,” Young says. “It’s a very limited sound we have, so how long can you milk that sound and have it still be valuable? So, at the time, taking a break from it was the right thing to do.”
The first renewed signs of life came in a one-off gig headlining Golden Plains in 2016. By 2018, ECSR were hanging out in the studio as they had begun: four friends, jamming, seeing what might happen. Young had missed the band’s loose magic. “Years of not doing it, and being in bands like Total Control, where making records is a bit more of a process, I just longed for the simplicity of it all again.”
Rush To Relax had stretched the boundaries of ECSR’s sound, and occasionally went beyond them. All In Good Time is more contained and not as explosive as their first two albums, both of which were recorded in a matter of hours for a pittance. Young claims All In Good Time probably cost around $150, not including the lost working hours it took him to mix it. (“If you add $1,000 for mastering it sounds less romantic,” he says.)
Then he emailed John Dwyer from California-based Castle Face Records. That’s when Young’s real reticence becomes clear: “I said, ‘Can you just put it out without advertising or anything?’ And he wrote back and said, ‘I’ve got to sell it somehow, mate.’ And I was like, yeah, fair point … It wasn’t until the single came out that we all went, oh fuck – this is not going to be as simple and low-key as we thought.”
In a song from Rush To Relax, Anxiety, Huntley sings about being “a little scared I might fail”. Turns out the singer’s fear was shared by the guitarist, who worried that ECSR might ruin their small but significant legacy, which you can hear in the many Australian garage bands that followed them, from Royal Headache to Cable Ties. At least, he says, “we’re not embarrassed” by All In Good Time.
As for future plans, who knows? “It’s probably fear,” Young admits. “When things get to a certain size, I just want to run away and start something else.” For now, with ECSR touring in April, we can be grateful to have them back. Young is grateful, too. “To go back to something like that, where something can be so simple, and joyous, was great, and that’s all that matters.”
First published in the Guardian, 14 February 2020