For the uninitiated, The McClymonts are a trio of sisters originally from Grafton, NSW. Oldest sister Brooke is the guitarist; middle sister Samantha plays bass and youngest sister Mollie plays mandolin. While Brooke is the lead singer, the standout feature of the band is their harmonies – immediately distinctive recognisably glorious over their six albums and all live shows. The sisters’ synergy can’t be manufactured but nor do they take it for granted – they tour regularly, even when they’re between album releases, keeping their collective instrument sharp.
For evidence of this, look no further than their latest album, Mayhem to Madness. Recorded last year – before Brooke gave birth to her second child early this year – the album was long ago scheduled for release in June, and the band pressed ahead despite the fact they’re releasing it into an uncertain world. Like all of their albums, it has its own identity – and this one is more reflective than their last album, Endless, although that wasn’t necessarily done on purpose.
‘The three of us girls have just been so busy with motherhood and balancing the career [each band member has two children],’ says Brooke. ‘I don’t want to say there was no thought put into the album – because there definitely was. [But] we live in [different places] too. Mollie’s in Wollongong, I’m in the mid north coast [NSW] now, Sam’s in Brisbane, so when it comes to getting our songs together this time it was more like, “I really love this one” and “I really love that”. We kind of jigsaw-pieced them all together. I feel like it came together really well considering how busy we all were.’
The cohesion of the album, despite the busyness of the band’s members, no doubt partly comes from the fact that they have been working together for so long, and by now they should be able to rely on all that playing and writing together to form a solid base for everything they do. Brooke agrees, and adds, ‘We also don’t like to sing about anything that’s not real to us. It just feels really weird and so uncomfortable. There’s one song on this album called “Wish You Hell” which was about my friend, but it sounds like I’m going through all this stuff but I have to explain that if I’m singing it live or just in interviews. “No, I haven’t been through that” – well, not yet and I hope not,’ she says, laughing.
While it’s normal to write songs that are about other people’s stories, and Brooke says she loves doing that, she also says, ‘When it’s a McClymonts record, I feel that sense of responsibility to give the fans an insight of who we are. But then I think they get so much these days with social media – I feel like my whole life’s online and they know everything about me, so it’s finding that balance of what we feel comfortable with or what we’re happy to go with.’
Another reason for the cohesiveness of each of the albums is, of course, the sound of the McClymonts singing together.
‘Our formula is that,’ says Brooke, ‘and I don’t shy away from that – I’m very staunch with the sound of us girls. That’s all in my ball park, that I kind of steer for us. You want to progress with the times of the music and in sounds, but I don’t know what it is – I think the sound is us girls singing. Our albums are consistent with each other but I hope they grow as we get older and record.’
Of course, the challenge of being on their sixth album is choosing what to write about and put on the album when they’ve already covered so much lyrical ground.
‘When we try to pick songs, [it comes down to] “What do we enjoy singing?”‘ Brooke says. ‘This is our sixth album. Our repertoire for live shows is getting so much harder to pick. We have an hour and a half – sometimes we can push it to an hour 45 but the venue is usually saying, “Time to go now, ladies …”‘ she says, laughing. ‘We can play all night.’
Another identifiable part of the McClymonts’ music is that the songs have such great, catchy melodies and hooks. They’ve been there from the start – their eponymous EP – and they’re part of why the songs are so uplifting for the bands’ fans. Those hooks come from Brooke, who says, ‘that’s probably one of the easiest things for me. When I am asked songs about songwriting, it’s one of the hardest things to answer because I feel like I come across as though I’m up myself or a bit of a wanker. It’s like if someone says to a hairdresser or someone who’s a great writer ,”Does it come easily?” or “How do you know how to do it?” You know what to do – it’s just that instinct. And that’s exactly what it is for me.
‘I don’t know why I know how to do it. I just know when I’ve written a catchy chorus. I might not have the lyric straightaway but I know that’s a melody and we have to put something over that. Then the three of us come together and it just forms. But it is a gut thing for me. I love writing catchy songs and I really embrace it.’
Of course, not everyone thinks catchy songs are as ‘proper’ as other sorts of songs, but Brooke says, ‘I like being different. I don’t mind that I’m going against the grain of things. I think that’s maybe why it’s worked for us girls because the three of us do have each other to pep each other up and encourage each other. Especially in the early years of our career.
‘I remember when we came out. We’d had the Dixie Chicks and we were the Australian version, you could say – not that I’m saying we’re anything like the Dixie Chicks,’ she adds with a laugh. ‘But our songs were different to what other people were writing. It was very scary, I’ll admit, but there was something in the back of my mind: we were really great singers. We can sing and our harmonies were great, and I think that’s what stood out and hence why the harmonies work, and myself having a wacky personality, it all just goes together and it works. It’s the blend.’
The family was featured recently in The Australian Women’s Weekly and their mother was quoted as saying Brooke was a free spirit as a child.
‘Mum really encouraged that with me,’ Brooke says. ‘Early on, Mum said, “Brooke, you used to come home and you had no friends and it used to break my heart.” I remember that but it didn’t bother me. But Mum just encouraged me to sing and do what I felt was good for me, because I wasn’t really bright at school. All mums know their children so well, and now what they’re good at and what they’re not, and I think she saw in me, “She’s more creative than book smart, so let’s encourage that.”‘
Brooke’s creativity is not only an intrinsic part of her life but it’s also her work. Over the years of creative work – of the band recording and touring – she says she is most proud of the fact that ‘we’ve kept going. We’ve been singing together for 15 years and this has been our only job. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud that we’ve been able to make music for a living and it’s been something that started out as a little hobby on the weekends and turned into a full-blown career. I think it’s pretty amazing.’
That’s not to say she feels any more relaxed about things now than she did when they started.
‘There’s been that big three-year gap from Endless because we all keep having babies,’ she says. ‘With this [album] there has been a little bit of stress and pressure because we’ve had a break – well, we haven’t, we kept touring through that time. I keep reading that we had a break – we haven’t, I think people forget. No, we’ve worked. Every year someone’s had a baby there’s been work on. But this bunch of songs we’ve realised, “Where do you go on the sixth album?” … Trying to push yourselves creatively as well as having kids hanging over your shoulder every time you need to go and write, it was just a different head space this time.
‘I really love this one but hence why Mayhem to Madness is the title, because it’s just been chaotic and crazy. It is work that we’ve created in the early stages of motherhood. I really think it’s a great reflection of where we’re at at the moment.’
In order to produce the album in the midst of the mayhem and madness of their lives, the band has habits that serve them well: namely, they schedule their creative work.
‘It sounds awful, the scheduling word,’ she says, ‘but it works for us girls because we can nut down and concentrate and really focus on what we’re doing. And my hubby [Adam Eckersley, with whom Brooke records as a separate project] and I do that too. We have to put in a time because otherwise when are we going to do it? You get distracted.’
Rather than feeling confined by the schedule, Brooke says she enjoys it, ‘because I know it’s coming up – “Okay, I’m writing today, excellent.” I just get in that head space straightaway. It’s like going to work. Mind you, I do have those times when I might be sitting, or doing something, or I might not be doing anything and I get a melody in my head and I’ll quickly write it down but I won’t write [the song] then and there. I’ll make sure I put down the idea then I save it for those days when I’ve scheduled writing. I’ll go back to my phone and see what’s there.
‘I’m constantly doing things in my head and putting it down on my phone, but it usually doesn’t come to fruition until I’m sitting down in a scheduled songwriting session.’
Of course, all the scheduling and planning in the world didn’t matter when it came to a pandemic putting the entire music industry pretty much on hold – including the tour the band had planned around the release of the album. Brooke says they did consider rescheduling the release date.
‘Because it’s so unknown – we don’t even know when this thing is going to end – so we thought, What do we do? Do we just keep holding it off? But again, it’s sticking to our guts, and we decided regardless of whether it goes great or it doesn’t, we felt we needed to bring out music.
‘I’m looking at the positives here: we haven’t had an album out in three years, there is a pandemic, people want to hear new music, hopefully from us girls anyway and it will get them through. Hopefully when all the restrictions are lifted they’ll come to our shows and they’ll know the album by the time we do tour – so that’s another positive.’
Still, she says, ‘We’re all missing each other, we’re missing playing. It’s really taken a hit on our industry – it sucks, to be honest.’
The band has rescheduled dates for later this year – and in the meantime Brooke is working on new songs with Adam for their new album.
‘Now that we’ve got all this downtime we thought, Let’s write it, let’s get it ready for after [the new McClymonts album] so we can go straight into ours,’ she says. ‘But it’s very, very, very early stages.’
The Adam and Brooke music is quite different to the McClymonts’ – ‘I’ve got the left and right brain working when it comes to my job!’ says Brooke – and there’s something else that’s different: in the duo she takes more of a back seat.
‘I just love the way my hubby’s brain works when it comes to our projects,’ she says. ‘He’s such a great lyricist and a great songwriter, great guitar player, great singer. I do like to follow his lead on our albums a lot. He’s so talented. Watching how he writes a song and the visuals he gets … I just trust him.’
Trust is a key element in the McClymonts’ work as well: not just between the sisters but between the band and their audience. Over the years they have proven to their fans that they will always put on great live shows and release music that is memorable and fulfilling, emotional in all sorts of ways and mainly in this: they bring joy to a lot of people, by taking joy in what they do and being consummate professionals in the doing of it. In a year of great challenge and uncertainty, Mayhem to Madness is the best kind of sure bet, for the fans and for newcomers to the McClymonts’ music.
Mayhem to Madness is out now through Island/Universal Music Australia.
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