Mirror Mountain has been all about timing: finding one's way, a creative spurt coinciding with a global lockdown, to find a new kind of homecoming. As a result, the forthcoming album from Hermitude bristles with the energy and spark of a duo who still find things that excite them.
The direction for Mirror Mountain began in the middle of the Pollyanarchy tour when the two were in between shows in New Zealand. "It was one of those songs that fell out of us," says Angus Stuart. That song was "St Claire," the album opener: a light, glittering track that pushes the tempo slightly further out of the typical Hermitude bpm range to explore the reaches of house and techno. "It was like the Easter egg that was waiting to be found, that led to all the other Easter eggs," Angus jokes.
Angus and Luke Dubber were in Japan when COVID became a stark reality. Just making it back to Australia before the borders closed, they quietly slipped up to Angus' place just outside of the Blue Mountain town of Blackheath as the rest of the world went into lockdown. The two holed up together in Angus' childhood home with a pared-back music setup: a Moog Matriarch, one other synth, and a laptop. This setup was a stark contrast to their previous recording studio, which came equipped with a recording room, live room, drum room, all with gear set up and at least ten synths to play around with. The limited amount of equipment, by contrast, let their imaginations run wild.
Blackheath and the Blue Mountains are tangible on Mirror Mountain. From the album's name down to local Blue Mountain artist Andie vocal feature on "Promises," the album feels rooted in the place in which it was made. From this place of comfort and inspiration, the album's light synths and quickened pace take flight. "It just felt like we escaped to this little paradise," Angus says. "We hadn't written up here for ten years. It's where we started, and we grew up here, and it's where we had our first bands. It was returning home, but we wanted to go in a new direction, so it felt fresh, not like going backward. It was returning to our roots but also with this new feeling to it all." To further embed the album in their strong connection to this new-old place, Luke and Angus took their handheld recorder and a bag of percussion down to the community hall. They'd played a gig there to kick off the Pollyanarchy world tour, so it felt fitting to come back at the start of this new journey. They wanted to record the sounds of the hall and make a sample pack from which to build out the new project. They spent some time banging and clattering their percussion instruments around the hall, recording the sounds and reverberations, even catching a recording of the Blackheath Community Choir rehearsing in the next room. With this in their arsenal, the music began to pour out of them.
The process was all about taking back control over how and why they make music as Hermitude in the first place. They recorded guide vocals for "Promises" and "When U Feel Like This" before guest vocalists came in for sessions so that they could get a sense of the tracks' mood and melody before outside voices chimed in. The duo recorded both vocal sessions in-person to create a more intimate experience. You can hear it in the way the drums coil themselves around the closely recorded vocals of "When U Feel Like This (feat. The Jungle Giants)," or the confidence in "Promises (feat. Andie)" that allows her voice to soar into the upper octaves easily.
This control over their process led to a loosening of their creative inhibitions. As Luke says, "they say the artist is your inner child, so it was like the children were out at play. There were no rules or expectations; we just threw stuff at the wall. It was really fun, which is why we started making music in the first place. It's easy to get that muddled when you're doing it as a profession instead of just hanging out as friends because agendas arise, and suddenly, popularity happens, and you have to adhere to certain things. This new music had none of that, which was exciting."
Simplicity was a significant factor in this record. "We tried not to over-clutter the music, which we tend to do," says Angus. "Recording it ['Pollyanarchy'] was a fun experience, but it was also tiring. By the end, it felt like we lost a little bit of our identity, of what Hermitude was. We wanted to strip everything back and come back to the essence of why we started Hermitude in the first place, which was just us two locked in a studio in the mountains having a bit of fun and seeing what came out," Luke says.
Being released from the pressure of the album cycle meant they didn't bounce versions of the tracks outside the studio; the only time they heard the songs was while they were working on them. "You drive around in the car and try and come up with new ideas instead of just being present in the studio and coming up with what you think it needs at the time," says Luke. "Having time away from the music, it's easier to navigate what needs to happen in the song when you're there in the moment and keep the elements to a minimum." Angus picks up on this: "I loved not letting the tracks get stale in my mind. When you're away from it, the only thing you have is the memory of it, and often that revolves around the feelings you have when you're making it. It makes you excited to listen to and work on it."
It took a year and a half to finish the album. During this time, nobody heard it—not managers, labels, or family. It wasn't until both Luke and Angus were completely happy that Mirror Mountain was 100% finished that they finally bounced the tracks, put them in rough playlisting order, and sent it to their team as a single file to listen to back to front, no skips. They took a drive just the two of them to listen to the album in its entirety and found a quiet spot that they could drive down to overlooking a valley and sat listening to their work for the first time in full, watching a storm roll in over the mountain. It was perfect timing.
Whatever the next project holds, Mirror Mountain acts as a reawakening, a place to draw strength as time goes by.Mirror Mountain will be on May 6, 2022 via Elefant Traks/Nettwerk Records.