A dive into the history of Astralwerks’ Gold Fields

Australia’s Gold Fields have been on my radar since about March of 2012. It’s hard to field all of the promotional blasts that I get about new artists and albums, but something about Gold Fields’ mesh of dance rhythms with familiar, but subtle, “emo-pop” cut through the noise, and set me up for a perfect sunny Summer album. Something about the juxtaposition of Gold Fields and the title of the album, “Black Sun”, struck me as very clever; burning a beautiful image of the scene into my mind.

I wanted to know Gold Fields story, but came to find that the online record of their background stopped at the signing of their deal with electronic and pop powerhouse, Astralwerks. It was as if they were born a signed band.

When the guys came through Irving Plaza with Capital Cities last week, Gold Fields frontman Mark and I posted up outside the venue so I could find out how they really came together, navigating the industry all the way to the ears of record global label heads and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Ah yeah, the four of us went to school together; me, Vin, Rob, and Luke went to school together, and we were all mates. Me and Vin played in emo bands in high school– I didn’t realize actually until after [Black Sun] was finished and we listened back that [those influences] do come through a little bit– Then we met Ryan from playing in those bands; Ryan played in a pop punk band from Melbourne. We ended up doing a tour with him when he was in his other band. At the time we were turning 17, or 18 and started to go out to clubs and listening to more electronic music and dance music, because those were the kind of clubs we were going to.

Any specific artists stand out?

Yeah, definitely bands like The Presets, or Cut Copy. And it was also around the time of the whole French-electro, massive thing, so even Daft Punk toured Australia in about 2007, I think, and that was when we were about 18.

Also in Australia, there’s a record label called Modular Records that started out as an electronic dance label. They had a huge boom of bands like Cut Copy, The Presets, Snakey Sound System, a group of DJ’s called Bang Gang DJ’s who were all apart of our favorite memories of going out together when we first started.

A few years passed along and at the time, me and Vin were still writing music but our band, I Am Spartacus, had sort of folded and Ryan’s band, Stealing O’neal, was coming to an end.

Vin and Ryan were at a music festival over New Year’s in Australia and they were like, “We should start something.” They started swapping ideas, Vin showed them to me, we started adding vocals on to it, all of the sudden we had a couple of song ideas. We got Luke (who was living with Vin at the time) who could play guitar pretty well –he’d never been in a band or anything, we asked him to play bass for the rehearsal session. I knew Rob had a keyboard at his house –he had the that KORG synth that he still plays now, but he’d never been in a band or played music in front of anyone, but we just told him to bring his keyboard along and have a jam. Straight away it felt awesome, right from the first meeting we knew this was something really cool. We went and recorded six demos and put one of them up on the Internet. About a week later we got an offer from a record label in London that wanted to put out a single and offered to give us a bunch of shows.

Nobody showed it to them? They just found it?

Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Triple J Radio in Australia, but it’s a nationwide Alternative music station and it’s pretty much the only radio station that can really help young bands get their names out there. They started playing it on the radio, and had it up on their website, and then this label from the UK called Young & Lost Club [found it], who’d put out some really cool stuff we all liked, offered to put it out.

Because Triple J had been playing our single a fair bit, we scored a couple of festival spots at home. From those festivals we got a lot of other show offers. All of the sudden we started hearing from record label people over here [in the US], and we were talking with EMI in Australia. It was never our aim at all to sign a record deal –especially a major, we were sort of turned off by the whole major label thing- but when Astralwerks got in touch with us that was a different story because there’s so many bands on that label that we’ve loved for so long. When they said that they were interested in signing us it was too good to be true in a lot of ways. When it happened we were amazed. It’s a tiny team, even though it’s part of a bigger record label; we have three people that are just as passionate about our music as we are. They’re on exactly the same page as us and they’re awesome to work with.

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Photo by Mclean Stephenson

I know you said it all came from the snowball that Triple J helped start, but how did Astralwerks actually hear about Gold Fields and approach you?

There was a guy named Alex Luke working at iTunes in a development position, and he was getting a job with EMI at Capitol Records. He found our music on a UK website called Music Week, which is a music magazine over there. He heard a song that they posted on there, and he got onto us, “Hey, I’m working at the moment at iTunes, but I’m fairly sure that in a couple of months I’ll be employed by EMI as an A&R guy and if that happens I want you guys to be the first band that I sign at Capitol.”

So, we all thought, “Fuck, I hope this guy gets the job.”

Then we spent a couple of months with him watching us grow and actually be a band. After we played a fair few shows he did get the job at EMI, and he wanted to sign us. They sort of saw Astralwerks as a good fit. We’re not signed directly to Astralwerks; it’s through Capitol. The team there, Gwen and Veronica and everyone at Astralwerks was keen for it to happen, and that’s how it happened.

Alex Luke, the guy that signed us, actually lost his job in the whole Universal acquisition, so a lot of people we lost there jobs and he was one of them. So he started all this, and then a couple of weeks before “Black Sun” was going to come out, we found out he wasn’t going to be on it [the team] anymore. It was really disappointing, but he’s still a massive mentor of the band though and we see him in LA at the shows and we keep in touch with him. He’s a good man, that Alex Luke.

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How are you feeling about the reaction to the record so far? Do you think people are getting it?

That’s a good question. My way of scoping it is looking, and seeing people in the crowd dancing and singing along to the song. That person obviously has the record, or like you telling me earlier that you’ve been listening to. I don’t know if anyone’s bought it , but we sell a few copies every night at the shows. I think being away from home [on tour] completely took away any of those [sources]. Back home, I can go to certain websites and judge how it’s going, but I’m out of the loop. But we still haven’t been home, so we don’t really know how it’s going.

Stay Keen on it.

Gold Fields performing “Dark Again (Lights Out)” on Jimmy Kimmel Live