Skip to main content

San Cisco Are All Grown Up (And Still Leading Us To The Dancefloor)

Words by Isobel Knight // Photography by Olivia Senior

San Cisco have been making smart, fun, guitar pop for more than a decade – their pop deftness and sun-soaked energy have carved them a niche in Australia’s music landscape and taken them around the world. Under The Light is their fifth studio record, and sees a seasoned band walk into new sonic territory, while still imbuing their songs with the catchy, inescapable hooks they’ve spent their working life as a band so far refining. Ramona sat down with Scarlett Stevens, drummer and singer, to hear about the bands’ inspirations and how they landed the plane on this album’s vision.

When San Cisco burst onto the scene with Golden Revolver in 2010, they had a run of festival spots and big tour dates that saw them hone their performing muscles in front of crowds. To this day, those skills bleed into how they write songs; the moment they’re most looking forward to is seeing crowds sink their teeth into the new material. ‘Getting to tour the songs, it finally feels like ok this makes sense,’ Stevens said, ‘You get to put the songs into context and hopefully they have a place in people’s hearts, and once they’ve heard it they’ll get behind it and love it.’

The core trio of Jordi Davieson, Josh Biondillo and Scarlett Stevens know how to write together. Stevens says there’s ideas on this record that they haven’t played with before, with a string section and collaborators that they’ve connected with throughout all their years of playing, including Nick Allbrook (of Pond and Tame Impala). ‘Yeah Nick nailed it,’ Scarlett said about the title track Under The Lights, ‘We gave him the music with sort of loose demo vocals with like melody ideas and he just really thought about the song, came at it with such a sympathetic approach and such sensitivity and came into the studio like “this is my idea lyrically” and we just loved it. When he read out the lyrics I was just like “Yes! Someone was able to capture the music in the words” – the loneliness and melancholy but also the euphoria.’

The album is full of these juxtapositions: the sweet groove of Family Trust in contrast with its devastating lyrics, One Percent and Horoscope alongside the title track in being party songs that feel different when written and delivered by a band in their thirties instead of by the wide-eyed kids they started out as. I asked Scarlett about these new depths to San Cisco as a project, and what that means in the writing room. ‘There’s still that easy-breezy pop-ness,’ she said, ‘and then also the darker lyrical content. I guess just growing older, now that we’re in our 30’s, you know, it’s not easy. In your 20’s things just flow and opportunities seem to be falling at your feet and as you get older it just gets harder, but you’re a more equipped, more well-rounded person, more apt to deal with what life throws at you. I guess it’s about the ambiguities of becoming an adult and relationships and navigating life.’

This was San Cisco’s first experience of working with James Ireland (of the band Ginole), and his shimmering, interwoven drum-machine work is one of the key new flavours across this record. A new producer opened the door for new modes of writing too. Tracks like Consequence (a kicking dancefloor mover) saw Jordi locking himself alone in a room to crush the lyrics out. The trio wrote in layers, producing and mixing and bringing new influences in what Stevens called ‘A great big mish-mash of ideas’. There’s anthemic rock on Summerdaze, there’s balladry on Into My Heart. All through there are details and layers that you might miss on first listen as you get swept up in it. ‘I love Under The Light because it’s so exciting and fast,’ she said, when it comes to which songs the band is most excited about playing live, ‘But it’s so hard to sing and play that one haha – I think I’m still just getting used to it. I really like the drums in Lost Without You as well. Honeycomb I don’t play drums, I get out front – that was cool seeing James [Ireland] use drum machines and make that song.’ It’s clear that San Cisco, five albums in, know how to turn a recording experience into a live show that connects.

With new collaborators, a home studio in Freemantle and the rose-coloured glasses off, Under The Light is worth a close listen, and an album to surrender to; whether that’s to dance or to cry. There’s hope and wistfulness, there’s a yell of joy that catches in your throat. It’ll be well worth seeing live. Catch San Cisco in full flight on their tour around Australia this May, and across the UK and Europe in June.

Grab tickets to your nearest San Cisco show this May via their WEBSITE and keep up with the band via INSTAGRAM.

Leave a Reply