Suburban Spell is Melbourne based, Peter Endall. He released his second album, Split Levels, in February, 2022. He creates 80s inspired, synth music with sparkling electronics and lyrics that points to a far more murky depth to everyday ordinary life. There is a sincerity within each song covering aging, beliefs and living in the modern era. So with that in mind, Peter graciously spoke to us about things that create a Suburban Spell.
Onyx welcomes you to the dark side of crazy, Peter Endall of Suburban Spell. Make sure your seat is in the upright position and trays away for take-off please.
We like to ask the hard questions. You are from Melbourne but we have no information on any previous bands you might have been involved in other than Schizo Scherzo in the 80s (although I did find a Peter Endall in a group called The Spinners and their thing was sea shanties). Musically what were you doing before Suburban Spell?
Hiya. I was keeping my hand in musically, and played lots of piano for the enjoyment of my dog and son for many years! Immediately after Schizo Scherzo, I played in another incarnation of the band called Love and Dr Forrest: a new wave pop band, really good fun. We didn’t release anything, but had a blast playing live. Following that, I got sick of lugging around loads of keyboards and decided to play guitar, so played in a band called Dive, and did a few gigs, demos, and appeared on some promotional compilation albums. I’m not a very good guitarist. I also did some songwriting with local cinematic writers John Bartholomeusz and Colin Swan, in an outfit called The Candle Makers. Following that, I decided to learn the Double Bass and played it for a number of years. The highlight from that was a stint with local Bluegrass band The Stetsons.
Your second album, Split Levels, came out only a year after your self-titled debut. That is a rather quick turnaround in writing. So, do you find writing music easy?
I find musical ideas do come relatively easy. The work comes in trying to refine those ideas into a cohesive and interesting song. I was never really into lyrics that much, but since I’ve pushed myself into that space, I’ve really enjoyed the process, and find it quite cathartic. Writing lyrics has crystallised my thinking. Previously, I’d had lots of loose butterfly concepts that didn’t amount to anything. Having to create a narrative around those concepts has been a revelation; it has helped me articulate who I am, and I love it.
Both albums are kind of like your covid babies, aren’t they?
I must admit Covid did give me the time to conceive the baby. But now the baby is growing up, and turning out be quite a formidable force that is now wonderfully consuming me.
Split Levels refers to the architectural style of house, so what convinced you to name the album this?
The term Split Levels resonated with me on a couple of… levels. The initial thought was its link to the veneer of suburban life, and how if you have the opportunity to look deeper into the everyday, there will always be multiple layers there. And quite often those layers that are revealed are dark and sinister. Every day there is an awful story on the news of domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide and I suppose I wanted to write about that. I find it really interesting to understand what motivates and drives people to do the things they do. There is no one size fits all here, but I’m a bit of a bower bird, as I’ll observe, look, and listen to people on public transport, at the market, at concerts, political rallies, TV etc, etc… there are so many stories… and most of these people go home into their suburban life at the end of day. We all go home at some time.
Peter, your music is rooted in the late 70s and early 80s electronic style which of course was before the onset of fast computers and mobile phones and most musicians wrote about life and what was around them. Do you feel that simplicity in a way has shaped the way you see things and write?
Without question it has. I’ve always loved the bravery of un-cluttered and direct music; that style of songwriting is a constant battle for me, as I think it requires great confidence to write in that beautifully simple way. I’m learning to trust myself more and more as I develop my taste and musical confidence. As a musician / songwriter who has probably had the benefit of many years of life experience, it surprises me how much more “complete” I’ve recently become as result of this process.
Do you find it easier being a solo artist or are there disadvantages as well?
At the moment, I’m really enjoying being a solo artist. There are disadvantages, of course, as it’s good to be challenged and to be pushed by working with others. But right now, I’m enjoying the indulgence. If I met a fellow musician who I felt I could work with, I would certainly be interested in following through with that. But I’m not going to push the issue. If it happens, then that would be great.
The synths are often bright and mesmerizing while the lyric content can be a little dark. It this intentional?
YES, it ties back the to the suburban life, and how what is presented to you isn’t always what it seems. And I’ve always been attracted to grand melodies (sometimes not to the greater good though). My wife is a great sounding board for this, as she was (and is) a hardcore punk who is often reminding me to toughen it up a bit… and I listen to her.
Being in the Australian music industry since the 80s, you would have seen a lot of changes. Has it changed for the better or worse in your opinion?
I don’t want to sound like every other old fart by saying “oooo you know things were so much better in the old days”, ‘cos it’s not true!! There is a lot of rubbish out there but there is a lot of good stuff too, you just gotta search it out. I’m really enjoying this band called Plague Pits atm, they’re wonderful.
Can you tell us about all the bands that influenced you to take up keyboards and play?
The old faves really; Klaus Schultz going way back, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, YMO… then leading into Ultravox, Human League and Depeche Mode. My first ever band was called The Underjives, who were a bluesy guitar band – not sure why I joined them… I just wanted to play in a band. I was 17 and they let me join ‘cos I had good equipment!!
Who do you listen to now?
Bandcamp is my friend, so as noted before Plague Pits, Fragrance, Verdaine, Solar Fake, Solitary Experience to name a few, I could go on and on…
You have a great voice. Originally the first album was not going to have any vocals… WHY?!!
To be honest, I didn’t think my voice was worthy when I first started. But I’m getting better and more confident with my vocals every time I record, and I love that, so am going to keep going (thanks btw).
Are there any intentions of playing live?
Yes, there are, insofar as I have a concept in mind of what the Suburban Spell live experience would look like. I would need to commit to a show before it would happen though. If I could find likeminded people and I created the time, I would definitely be into it.
The next question is very important. Who do you choose – John Foxx’s Ultravox! or Midge Ure’s Ultravox?
The last international act I saw live before Covid locked everything down was Midge Ure.
What is in the future for Suburban Spell and Peter Endall?
World domination and a nice cup of tea. Seriously though, I’m very, very excited about my musical journey. I have so many musical thoughts and concepts that I want to explore, so I just want to keep creating. Having UTM on board as my promoter has been critical in the inspiration too: having my music pushed out into the world is a dream come true.
Thank you Peter for flying with Onyx airlines. We hope you enjoyed it even with the lack of snacks and fluid delights. I won’t hold it against you for choosing Midge Ure………or will I?!