The Presets Reset: The Aussie Twosome's Over the Pressure of Success and Back

The Presets
Beau Greely

On the eve of their North American tour, the Aussie band talks EDM, expectations, and becoming career artists.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that recording the follow-up to a massively successful album is the most difficult thing a band can do.

That was the challenge Australian electro-dance band The Presets faced when making their most recent album, “Pacifica,” released last year. Their previous effort, 2007’s “Apocalypso,” broke chart records in Australia, and won seven ARIA awards (Australia’s Grammy’s), including Album of the Year – a first for an electronic act. It also catapulted singer/keyboardist Julian Hamilton and drummer/keyboardist Kim Moyes (both 36) onto an international stage, touring for two and a half years, playing festivals and headlining gigs across continents. Then they had to return to the studio.

“It was a struggle,” Moyes admits of the recording process. “The pressure of living up to ‘Apocalypso’ was undeniable. It was there the whole time, and as much as we’d like to think that we were good enough to forget about it, we couldn’t.”

It was that struggle, however, that led The Presets to “Pacifica,” an album that is lyrically complex, musically diverse, and sonically innovative. Despite it not yet matching the Australian sales success of its predecessor, the album is the group’s best-reviewed release of their career and highest charting in the U.S. (peaking at No. 11 on the Electronic Albums chart), even while it eschews current trends in dance music. Now, the band is embarking on an 18-date tour of North America, co-headlining with Dragonette and kicking off May in D.C. (the full schedule is below).

“When you come [to the U.S.] you have to work harder,” says Moyes. “It’s good. It’s humbling and it gives you a bit more energy to strike hard with the show.”

Co-written and produced entirely by Hamilton and Moyes, “Pacifica” reflects the band’s growth in the intervening five years. Songs like “Ghosts” and “Youth In Trouble” present alternating views on adolescence and growing up, while “Fall” offers an anxious ode to love packaged deceptively in a major key. “A.O.” recalls the political edge of “Apocalypso’s” “My People” over a pulsing dance beat, while “Promises” loops Hamilton’s signature voice in a way it hasn’t been heard before.

“We were just making our own world on this one,” says Moyes. “That’s the cool thing about this album, it really is an island of an album in terms of everything that’s going on. We’re not trying to jump on the EDM thing.”

“I think it would be weird if we made music like what all the 20-year-olds were making,” says Hamilton.

“It would be hard for us to do,” Moyes continues. “I’d have to really put myself in that position where it would be like, switch off all your taste buds.”

The Presets recorded “Apocalypso” amid a hectic touring schedule following the success of their first album, “Beams.” It’s a period in which they were “so dialed into what was going on in the global musical landscape,” according to Moyes. The band was also part of an unofficial peer group of other Australian electronic acts, like Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts, a mini-movement of sorts that had its own momentum.

“Pacifica,” however, was written and recorded over two years when Hamilton and Moyes were mostly at home in Sydney, on a break from touring, becoming dads, coincidentally, around the same time. Undaunted by trends or fluctuations in the musical landscape, the band was able to maintain its identity while still evolving its sound.

Due in no small part to their training as classical musicians and their proficiency on actual instruments, a Presets live show is more than just button-pushing. The band is one of the most compelling live acts in electronic music today.

From Hamilton’s commanding role as frontman, to Moyes’ animated drumming, to the carefully designed light and production rig, all wrapped around invigorated renditions of songs that span the band’s catalog, it’s a marvelous spectacle. That they’re not the household names in the U.S. that they are in Australia only seems to make them more driven to perform.

“We see it now; every three months there’s a new act that comes along and everyone thinks that act is the act to jump around and go nuts to,” says Hamilton. “Once upon a time that was us, certainly in Australia. Don’t get me wrong; that’s nice, when everyone wants to go berserk to your music. But it’s also nice when you come to the States and you play a city like Chicago and it’s filled with real fans who know the words and are moving their hips from side to side, and not just jumping up and down.”

Both Presets cite techno veterans like Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Richie Hawtin as artists they admire for their uncompromising approach to their work.

“If we could ever create anything like those guys we’d be very happy,” Hamilton says. “I guess one of the cool things about ‘Apocalypso’ and the wild success of it, and then that wild success not being quite as repeated with ‘Pacifica’ is that it kind of makes you realize that – and I hate this word – that ‘zeitgeist’ thing that happens where everyone is all over it. That doesn’t last forever. You can’t actually make that. It’s something that just happens or it doesn’t. So if you’re trying to make an album that’s going to do that thing, you can’t.”

“This is where everyone should end up with a successful band,” says Moyes. “Able to tour, support your crew, support your family.”

The Presets' North America Tour Dates

SAT 05/04 9:30 CLUB  WASHINGTON, DC (THE PRESETS ONLY)*
SUN 05/05 UNION TRANSFER  PHILADELPHIA, PA
TUE 05/07 PARADISE ROCK CLUB  BOSTON, MA
WED 05/08 TERMINAL 5  NEW YORK, NY
THU 05/09 LE NATIONAL  MONTREAL, QC
FRI 05/10 THE DANFORTH MUSIC HALL  TORONTO, ON
SUN 05/12 THE VOGUE THEATRE  INDIANAPOLIS, IN
MON 05/13 NEWPORT MUSIC HALL COLUMBUS, OH
TUE 05/14 MAJESTIC THEATRE  MADISON, WI
WED 05/15 FIRST AVENUE  MINNEAPOLIS, MN
FRI 05/17 THE GRANADA  LAWRENCE, MO
SAT 05/18 OGDEN THEATRE  DENVER, CO
SUN 05/19 THE DEPOT  SALT LAKE CITY, UT
MON 05/20 MARQUEE THEATRE TEMPE, AZ 
TUE 05/21 AVALON  LOS ANGELES, CA
FRI 05/24 FOX THEATER  SAN FRANCISCO, CA 
SAT 05/25 MY LIFE EVERY DAY  SAN DIEGO, CA (THE PRESETS ONLY)
SAT 05/25 NEON DESERT MUSIC FESTIVAL EL PASO, TX (DRAGONETTE ONLY)
SUN 05/26 SASQUATCH FESTIVAL  GEORGE, WA (THE PRESETS ONLY)