Say Something was initially intended to be part of a Best Of LP, on the back of which Eskimo Joe would spend part of 2020 on the road. COVID-19, however, put a swift end to those plans. Unable to tour, they decided to release the song as a standalone statement.
It’s the band’s first new music since 2013’sWastelands album, their renewed creativity inspired by their run of shows with select orchestras around the country in 2018.
“You’re hearing all these songs spanning the back catalogue, re-imagined with a lush orchestra in a completely different context, and it was like, ‘Oh yeah, these are good songs and we’re proud of them’,” says guitarist Joel Quartermain, speaking from Melbourne. “It brought back our love for the band. [After] 17 years, I think we were a bit sick of it. It had been a long time since I actually wanted to listen to an Eskimo Joe song.”
When the group released Wastelands, they did so knowing it would be followed by a hiatus. Having formed in Fremantle in 1997, the routine of writing a record then touring it had, says Temperley, started to have “this feel of commerce about it. You’re not creating art”. By 2011’s Ghosts of the Past, Eskimo Joe had fallen into the trap of writing music they felt they should write – that is, making music for their audience as opposed to pleasing themselves first. Wastelands, by contrast, was designed to put a full stop on the first 17 years of the band’s career in an “experimental” manner that was “going to freak all our fans out”.
“It was a funny place to leave it, but we all left still being friends and we didn’t stop Eskimo Joe,” says Temperley. “It was a bit more like going on a sabbatical.”
The trio spent the hiatus exploring outside projects. For guitarist Stuart MacLeod, that involved taking on the role of Managing Director of RTRFM community radio station in Perth before becoming the general manager of the Fairbridge Folk Festival, a position he still occupies. Quartermain moved to Melbourne and became an in-demand songwriter and producer, working with artists such as G-Flip, Meg Mac and Dan Sultan. Temperley fulfilled an ambition of recording a solo album (2018’s All Your Devotion) and owns a studio in Perth. He also founded a podcast production company with his wife, and has his own podcast called Hat Jam.
Each was so content in their new life that being lured back to Eskimo Joe to make new music had its challenges.
“To get the guys [together] and say, ‘Okay, let’s get excited and pool all our energy into this’ is the hardest thing because everyone is like, ‘Well, I’ve kind of got this thing over here now’,” says Temperley. “But once we got into the room and started writing and that magic spark happened, everyone was excited to be there.”
Just as their 2018 run of orchestral shows reinvigorated their love for their own music, so too did the act of re-releasing their albums on vinyl as part of their 21st anniversary celebrations. The benefit of time allowed for a new appreciation for their catalogue.
“It was nice to just go back and listen to these records without any baggage and appreciate what we’d achieved,” says Temperley. “Just being able to actually appreciate it and not critique yourself all the time.”
“We have songs that are in the Australian song book catalogue if you want to call it that,” adds Quartermain. “That’s amazing. I’m super proud of that.”
The latest album to get a vinyl re-release is 2004’s landmark A Song Is a City. Featuring tracks that would become Eskimo Joe staples such as From the Sea, it marked what Quartermain calls a “coming of age with the songwriting” and saw the band penning more intricate, dynamic material than ever before. For an act that shot to national attention with a Weezer-indebted alt-punk song called Sweater in 1998, A Song Is a City represented a giant creative leap, even from its predecessor, 2001 debut LP Girl.
“I really felt like [A Song Is a City] was where we found ourselves and found the real part of our sound, there was a real discovery on that record,” says Temperley.
“We were at an awards ceremony, and Andy Kent from You Am I was like, ‘Congratulations, man, you made a really good record’,” recalls Quartermain. “Coming from someone in You Am I, my heroes leading up to and during the beginning of Eskimo Joe, that was amazing. In a sense, from musicians we were hearing that these guys are okay, they’re not just Sweater.”
The LP found favour with more than just the band’s peers. Debuting at Number 2 on the ARIA Charts, it was certified double platinum and won three ARIAs, elevating Eskimo Joe to the upper echelons of the Australian music scene. Not bad for a record that was written while in record company limbo, with the group unwilling to release anything on their then-label Modular, but unable to record for any other label. (The band’s contract was eventually bought out by Mushroom, who released the album.)
“We used whatever money was in our bank account to start recording a record that possibly was never going to come out,” says Temperley. “It felt like we were doing something dangerous.”
Though excited about the release of Say Something, Quartermain and Temperley are relaxed about the idea of recording more new material – “There’s certainly no commitment to making an album at this stage,” says Quartermain – although both admit that “baby steps” are being taken in that direction. Temperley is currently working on around “three or four songs that I think would be great as an Eskimo Joe record”.
For now, though, they’re happy simply rediscovering the buzz of releasing a new song.
“We feel honoured that people still support us after all these years,” says Temperley. “But also, putting out a new single feels exciting and dangerous like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen?’”
Eskimo Joe’s new single, Say Something, is released on June 26.
FIVE MORE EARLY 2000S ALBUMS WORTH REVISITNG
- The Living End, Roll On (2000): Fresh off the success of their multi-platinum debut album, the Melbourne punkers doubled down on their punk-rock-meets-rockabilly attack with an LP bursting with anthemic singalongs (the title track, Dirty Man) and snarling, sneering rock’n’roll (Don’t Shut The Gate).
- Kasey Chambers, Barricades & Brick Walls (2001): The follow-up to Chambers’ debut LP The Captain, Barricades & Brick Walls is perhaps best remembered for the ubiquitous hit single Not Pretty Enough. In the ragged blues of the title-track and the weary longing of Nullarbor Song, however, the album’s riches run deep.
- Silverchair, Diorama (2002): The Newcastle trio’s multi-coloured sonic extravaganza saw them wave goodbye to their angsty grunge roots forever. Working with the likes of Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks, frontman Daniel Johns constructed a wondrous musical world that seamlessly merged the commercial (Without You) with the bonkers (Tuna In The Brine).
- Something For Kate, The Official Fiction (2003): Four albums in and the Melbourne trio snagged their first number one record in Australia, and justifiably so. The singles Déjà Vu and Song For a Sleepwalker may have become SFK staples, but the real joys of the album lie in deeper cuts such as the gorgeously meandering Kaplan/Thornhill and the sombre, measured Reverse Soundtrack.
- Missy Higgins, The Sound Of White (2004): Talk about making a splash. The debut album from Missy Higgins was a nine-times platinum smash that saw the Melbourne-born singer-songwriter walk away with six ARIA awards off the back of singles such as Scar and The Special Two. It’s as good today as the day you first heard it.