A bustling port on the north-east coast of Queensland, home to what seems like half the Australian army, Townville hardly seems like the most fertile ground for a slice of luminous musical beauty. But it's where the seven-strong collective known as The Middle East were born, where some of them live to this day and where they recorded some of their gorgeous album I Want That You Are Always Happy.
Back in 2005, singer & guitarist Rohin Jones found a kindred spirit in Jordan Ireland. Together they shared a love of Silver Jews, Bill Callahan and Lambchop, "not that we wanted to regurgitate any of them," Jones cautions. Writing and arranging together and separately, the pair began The Middle East's adventure. "There was," notes Jones sagely, "nothing else to do".
They took the name The Middle East "for no reason at all, other than that we needed a name. It doesn't have any meaning; nobody has ever thought we were fans of Osama Bin Laden" and set about making what in 2008 would become their debut EP The Recordings Of The Middle East.
"Jordan and I have a problem," admits Jones. "Obviously we're full of good intentions, but we're both hardcore perfectionists and we're both incredibly lazy, which is a genius combination for getting absolutely nothing done." Enter band member Mark Myers, who recorded that first EP. "Without Mark, nothing would have happened." Primarily for friends and family, The Recordings Of The Middle East was loved by the few who heard it. There was even a tour of Australia. Better still, Blood had been featured in films and television shows.
There were successful UK live dates including an especially well received outdoor show at Somerset House last year; there was high acclaim from press and praise from radio DJs, and even Ellie Goulding declared she was smitten. As the word spread, there were tours with Beach House, with Doves ("It was horrible: they were great but they had a million things on stage and so did we. You can guess the problem") and with Mumford And Sons ("they're friends and we coped well with them, but because both bands have banjos, that was enough for people to think we were musically similar: we're not"). Soon, it was time to top up the studio tan once more.
The Middle East wouldn't countenance an outside producer - quite right too, nobody could possibly handle these complex, brooding, life-affirming songs with the deft, loving touch of their composers - so they built a studio at the bottom of their house and recorded much of it there, but there were also jaunts to studios in Cairns to the north of Townville and, since The Middle East were beginning to bloom internationally, to Denton, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama.
Black Death 1349 is as dark as its title, while the unsettling, brooding Mount Morgan concerns the Queensland gold mining town of that name. "That's myself and Jordan's most collaborative moment," explains Jones. "I really, really dislike talking about individual songs and what they might mean, but it's loosely based on a tale Jordan's grandfather remembered about how gold was discovered there; how people tried and failed to keep quiet about it and then how the environment around it was destroyed". I Want That You Are Always Happy is an album of twists, turns, beguiling contradictions and not without light and shade. My Grandma Was Pearl Hall is underpinned by its haunted and haunting keyboards; Hunger Song is the album's catchiest moment, but Jesus Came To My Birthday Party is a blast of unadulterated joy destined to seduce the mainstream.
Naturally, even a taskmaster as hard on himself as Jones is glad to have a finished product, but there's always more to come and more to be expected. "I don't know whether people will like it. Obviously I hope they do and I hope they can get what they want from it. For us, I see it as an amiable first attempt and I know we can do better. In fact, I would like to try again someday."
And now, with touring plans still to be determined it's time to take stock.
"What I'd really like more than anything is to write songs for the rest of my life and be a nobody," smiles Jones. "That would be fantastic."
The album 'I Want That You Are Always Happy' is released on June 6th alongside the first single, 'Hunger Song'.