Album Review: The Luck of the Draw and Interview with Band Exquisitor

Written by Enara Tompkins

Exquisitor is a three-piece alternative rock band from Melbourne who have been on the scene since they formed in 2017. They make their record debut with their new album The Luck of The Draw, which was released on the 11th of July 2020. The band is made up of Ken Harris (bass and vocals), Alan Black (guitar and vocals), and Jesse Marshall (drums and vocals).

Their first single ‘Fallout Shelter’ was released in April 2020, but performances of the song can be dated back to when they first formed in 2017. However, it perfectly captures the essence of the current situation, which is the craziness of the lockdown. The song starts with a slow, swirling sound and picks up the pace with a count in (‘1, 2, 3, 4’), and by the end of the track, everyone is going crazy. There are so many levels of energy and emotion in the one song, it definitely stands out, and it is clear why it was chosen to be the single of the album.

The album opens with cars racing past to the sound of the super catchy ‘Step on the Gas’, which is a fun and upbeat song that should be added to everyone’s road trip playlists and is sure to get the audience grooving along with it.

My personal favourite of the record is ‘The Blues’, the song title speaks for itself in describing the shift in vibe that went from a driving rock to sombre blues. The track stands out as much more emotionally raw in its lyrics and its sound. The guitars are clean, and the track incorporates well placed vocal harmonies and the added bonus of an orchestral strings section.

Another that stands out for me on the record is ‘Rat Race’, as it’s one of the most unique sounding tracks on the record with crunchy guitar by Alan Black. The drums, as performed by Jesse Marshall, are particularly interesting and enjoyable to listen to purely because of their complexity.

The album closes with doom-like riffs on this slow jam, ‘Twitches’. Towards the end of the song, Ken Harris delivers a leading bass part to a piano outro that lasts for about a minute as a young child’s singing voice echoes and takes us to the end of the album.

The album encapsulates the feeling of creative freedom as Exquisitor effortlessly jumps from genre to genre in every song, from driving rock, to blues, and a little bit of a country vibe on ‘Modern Cowboy’. They’re not afraid to change it up in regard to the messaging, lyrics, and overall sound, and it evidently pays off. Some artists like to switch genres from album to album, but Exquisitor plays with the refreshing idea of always keeping their audience interested, hence the album title, The Luck of the Draw, there is something for everyone on this album.

I took the pleasure of sitting down with the band via Zoom and talking more about their origins, inspirations, and hopes for their album!

Interview with Exquisitor

Enara Tompkins: Thank you, guys, for joining me on release day! You guys have been formed and performing since 2017, is that correct?

Ken Harris: Yeah! I met Alan first through a post on an Ozband music forum post, and we got Jesse on Facebook, I think?

Jesse Marshall: They posted a bit of their music on Facebook without drums saying they need a drummer. Then I went down, and we jammed together at Kindred Studios in Yarraville and tried a few beats along with their music they had already written on guitar, bass, and vocals, and we all gelled together pretty well.

Enara: That’s awesome! Your first single was ‘Fallout Shelter’, but you can find performances online dating back to like 2017, so it probably makes sense to be the first single as it was one of the first songs you performed and wrote. Were most of the songs on the album new songs or ones you had already written and performed?

Ken: There are some songs that we wrote completely together as a band, and some came from me or Alan, and we then evolved them with the band. Some parts were shuffled around or completely rewritten. We added textures and layers that never existed in the original. Some stuff we included harmonies where we could have some harmonies. The album is representative of our formation and our first year together as a band. We put down all the tracks in a studio with drums and played along with the drums and went back to my studio at home and then recorded all the parts over the next year or so. It took a long time because we’re all busy with our jobs.

Alan Black: Gigs would come and get in the way so that we would be focused on live performances, but then we would try and come back to the album. I guess the lockdown ended up being pretty important to give us the drive just to finish the whole project.

Jesse: To answer the question directly in terms of how those pieces came in, Alan had written a few songs (The Blue and Barren Fields), he had the guitar part, an idea for the bass part, and the vocals, then I would come in with a drum part. With ‘Barren Fields’, we changed the tempo, the intro, parts of the bridge, and added and adapted things as it was evolving.

Ken: We came up with the chorus as a band too.

Jesse: Ken had done a similar thing with songs like ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Fallout Shelter’ where he had written it at a general level before, and we evolved them together as a band.

Ken: Alan used to do solo gigs and so some of his songs were very much for an acoustic guitar.

Enara: That’s really great that you had that foundation and playing these awesome songs and using the album as an opportunity to evolve that?

Ken: Yeah, that’s right. We just wanted to get it recorded; to capture a moment in time of the band’s progression. Hopefully, our next album has more joint collaborative songs where we have all brought something to the table. Even though we have on this album, I think the next one will be more of a joint effort.

Enara: Yeah, definitely! Going back to the creation of the album, I had heard that some of the final touches had been done in the first lockdown. Did you face any additional challenges because of that?

Ken: Yeah definitely, we tried to do a bit of it over Zoom, but that was quite problematic! We ended up doing mixed sounds of guide tracks and sending it to Alan for additional vocal and guitar parts at home. One of the songs we couldn’t actually get back into the studio to do live drums, so we recorded the drums on a midi song for ‘Crumbs’, which is Jesse’s song, and rather than try to organise that, we got Jesse to clean up the midi tracks of the drums and I used a nice drum instrument and try to get it sounding as close to the live drums as possible. It was a song we added to the album at the last minute because we decided it sounded really good live, so let’s put it on the album!

Jesse: If we could have gotten into the studio, that would have been good to record live drums, but it was a good compromise.

Enara: When you were asked what you wanted the final production to sound like, did you guys have any musical influences such as certain other bands or artists?

Ken: We provided examples of certain songs for each track of what we wanted to sound like. There was a fair amount of influence being suggested.

Jesse: It really reflected each of our musical influences and interests. It was really funny and interesting watching the document evolve. All three of us put in what we wanted or what we thought each track sounded like, and they were all really different. Just goes to show that it’s really subjective but also when you have three people’s different ideas of what something could sound like, and it reflects in the album that it’s a mix of three, not just any one of them, so it was a cool process.

Ken: In terms of influences, I was suggesting like Eagles of Death Metal for the first track ‘Step on the Gas’, it has that poppy rock sound. Also, Nick Cave on ‘Twitches’.

Jesse: I’m a big punk rock fan, so I guess there was a bit of a Rise Against feel to some of the songs. That was one of my main influences for a lot of the songs.

Ken: Alan has a more noticeable Australian accent, so when I was listening to his material, I thought of You Am I and stuff like that for our song, ‘The Blues’.

Enara: I was listening to the album and noticed you guys really change it up! I think that’s really awesome because other artists may jump from genre to genre, whereas you’re jumping genres song to song and so that there’s something for everyone!

Ken: That’s what inspired the album title as well as The Luck of the Draw. I was greatly influenced by bands like Ween and Mr Bungle and stuff like that, so I really enjoy artists who jump around. It’s about the message, the lyrics, the feel, and it doesn’t matter what genre it is. It’s about creation and having fun. When I saw Mr Bungle, I was captivated from start to finish, and every song got me excited.

Enara: What do you hope listeners will take away from this album?

Alan: We’ve been performing live before the lockdown, and we had good reception, but it’s exciting to have those songs that people can get to know better. It’s nice to capture that, get it out there, and build a fanbase.

Jesse: What I enjoyed about making the album was making the different messages and vibes, as well as the different emotional levels of the songs. There are a few songs that deal with difficult times in life, a few commenting on societal issues, and a few that are just fun! I hope people find songs that resonate with them wherever they’re at in life.

Ken: I’m a huge fan of prolific bands, and I’d like to be that. I want to continue to create and push product and make music that people want to hear. I’ve made so many demos in my life, but we’ve never had a serious go at recording, mastering, and releasing those songs. I hope this album is the first of many.

Enara: All your hard work has certainly paid off! All those demos and performances have all come together and is representative of a snapshot of you guys as a band, and especially with all the curveballs being thrown at you such as the lockdown, you’ve done it! The last question I wanted to ask each of you was; what is your favourite track off the record and why?

Alan: I swing between favourites, but I’ll probably say Twitches. It’s quite brooding, and I just love listening to it, and it has a special moment of the song at the end with pacing of piano and a young girl’s voice, that’s actually my daughter singing. It’s a beautiful piece, and Ken wrote it, and I love playing it live as well. 

Ken: That’s a really hard question, Twitches did come out well, but I’m gonna have to say ‘The Blues’, we added a lot to that as a band. I added a string component that I played with the midi pick up on my bass, and we developed it into a cohesive gospel in some ways. We added the extra vocal element in the chorus, and I really like listening to it. It almost didn’t make the album, so we cleaned it up.

Jesse: I’m really proud of that vocal build on ‘The Blues’ but to say one that hasn’t been said I would have to say, ‘Rat Race’, it’s one that Ken wrote as well. I enjoy the tempo and the message, and I love playing it.

Enara: Any final words to potential listeners?

Alan: Give it a chance! If you’ve taken the time to read the article, then I think there’s something for everyone, check us out and send us a message on Facebook and I’d love to see how people find us.

Ken: I hope we’ve given everyone something to do even if it’s just for an hour to take your mind off things. Stay safe, and don’t believe the conspiracies!

Jesse: Thanks for listening, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the album!

Enara: Thank you guys so much for your time this morning! I really enjoyed listening to the album and doing this interview!

Band: Thank you for your time!

Exquisitor is well established in the live music scene but is now ready to share their music with the world. I hope that listeners will be able to find their song on this album and that Exquisitorfinds a loyal fanbase. I cannot wait to get out my bunker alongside other fans and see them perform when the restrictions are lifted once again.

You can check out Exquisitor’s The Luck of the Draw, available on any music streaming service now!

Enara Tompkins is a musician and writer residing in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She has experience in writing music reviews, poetry, and songs, as well as collaborating in writing and production of music with other artists. Her performance career has so far spanned over thirteen years, and she looks forward to not going to a Phil Collins concert ever again. Follow her creative pursuits on Instagram @enaramusicofficial

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