Someone wise once said you get your whole life to write your debut album and a couple of months to write your second. Second albums are often rush-released, written on beer coasters in the back of touring vans, and pushed forward, blinking, into the spotlight before the time is right.
And then there are the second albums that offer something special; that rare and exhilarating sense that you are listening to a band's evolution - a record that, upon its completion, leaves you with the sense that you could say "I was there when" as though you'd been there, alongside the artists, to witness the birth of something special.
Lucille is one of those records.
The Vasco Era burst onto the Australian music scene some five years ago in an arrival that was difficult to ignore. The noisy Apollo Bay natives presented a range of musical conundrums: a surf coast band fuelled by a furious racket; a three-piece that made as much noise as a whole festival; a band that seemingly ran alongside the other entrants in the new rock race and yet outran them all. The country sat up and took notice, and their 2006 debut, Oh We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, chronicled their journey to that point.
The band - vocalist and guitarist Sid O'Neil, brother and bassist Ted, and drummer Michael Fitzgerald - had a year or so to write the songs that would eventually form their second album's innards, though it was no working holiday. After an extended period of determined demoing, the band prepared to start recording the album. "We worked for eighteen months," Ted explains, "just going over our demos until we had the songs we wanted; we'd throw out the bits we didn't like and start again."
By the time they were ready to record, the songs had been put through the creative wringer by the band - as Michael notes, "They’ve changed that much that you wouldn't be able to tell what they used to be!"
Working closely with producer Scott Horscroft (Silverchair, The Presets, Sleepy Jackson), the band entered an intensive three-week recording session that would prove to test their collective mettle and expand their musical horizons.
"We only had three weeks to record. It was really full on," recalls Ted with a knowing laugh, "so we worked fairly fast. Our ideas for the album were shaped by the time we got into the studio. We knew what we wanted it to sound like but we just didn't know how to do it, and that's where Scott came in."
The band took a determined step forward from the bare-bones raggedness of their debut and one way this expressed itself was through the (relatively) simple decision to increase the musical breadth of the arrangements. "This album has so many more instruments than the last album," Michael says with a hint of quiet amusement. As Ted wittily reminds us, the first record featured little more than "bass, guitar, drums, and screaming."
The result is a record that is rich in atmosphere and depth of feeling; a true "headphones album" that takes the listener on a journey from its beginning (the plangent, yearning Not Stuck Here) to its conclusion (the triumphantly bittersweet Already Won). Lucille's lifeblood pulses through the freewheeling Be There Tonight and the energetic reflection of Rest My Head, with its pealing guitar solo and cathartic key shift.
There are moments of rolling thunder, memories of standing on the corner with a suitcase in your hand; of Chelsea girls and sweet slow sliders and even the occasional moonlight sonata. But throughout it all beats the heart of a band not content to take the easy route; in challenging themselves - whether through listening, writing or performing - The Vasco Era in turn challenge the listener. The rewards for those who allow themselves to submit to the test are rich.
What the band set out to achieve - a record rich with narrative scope - is what they've ended up with. "We were hoping it would be an album that people would listen to the whole way through rather than just pluck songs from it," Ted says. "The whole album is a story."Now it's your turn to sit down and be told it.