If love is the universal language, nothing should get lost in translation across the globe. Not even on a continent as vast and diverse as Australia, where some accents as thick as a nice slice of Wagyu can make a perplexed American dig deep into their tour guide. If talk of amorous encounters makes the heart grow fonder from Down Under, though, just listen to San Cisco. This West Australian-based indie pop trio has been writing and singing for more than ten years about the mystery of love and the passion it renders.
To continue a dance with romance on their latest tasty track, the members of San Cisco — Scarlett Stevens, Jordi Davieson, and Josh Biondillo — want to get you “High”. The single that will be released Friday (20 October) gets a sneak preview at PopMatters today as these awesome Aussies present an exclusive premiere of their music video of the song.
“Most of our songs revolve around love and relationships, whether that be romantic or friendships,” offers lead singer Davieson in an email interview that also included Biondillo for this article. “I think most good pop songs are ultimately love songs because it is something that everyone has felt before and therefore can relate to it on a deeper level. It’s hard to say who is the most romantic [in the band], but I think I’m a bit of a sucker for love.”
So the music video for “High”, directed by Levi Strauss Cranston and produced by Isobel Jones, both from the Brisbane area, brings light to a couple’s euphoric relationship without a hallucinogen or artificial sweetener seemingly in sight.
It was “shot over the course of four days at various locations in and around the beautiful Blue Mountains in New South Wales,” discloses guitarist-keyboardist Biondillo, who’s the band’s only member to appear in the video, hiding in the shadows before a don’t-blink cameo in the final scene. Carramar Estate (“a stunning midcentury house”) and Clifton School of Arts were prime places for most indoor scenes where actors A.M. McQueen and Hamish MacDonald portrayed affectionate young adults.
That area in New South Wales is on the opposite side of the country from Beaconsfield, Western Australia, where San Cisco’s home studio is located. Yet going the distance was worth it, according to Biondillo. The hot spots, he declares, were “carefully curated” by Cranston and Jones “for their inherently stunning character and charm. From the heritage buildings to the overgrown forest and bushlands, it is hard to make this part of the world look bad when shot on film.”
So take a look now at just a sliver of San Cisco’s world of wonder in the music video premiere, then read on to learn more about the band, the song, their plans for 2024, and what Davieson believes is America’s biggest misconception about Aussies. “I don’t think music videos hold the same importance to a release as they did earlier in our career,” Davieson hastens to add, “But having said that, I have always loved creating a visual world for a song to exist in. People may not be as engaged on YouTube as before, but making clips gives us a lot of content to use on socials and streaming platforms. I personally think it is still a very important part of a release.”
San Cisco’s collaboration on the music video with Cranston and Jones is their second for a song from Under the Light, the full-length album that’s scheduled for a March release. “After hanging out with and working with Levi on the music video for ‘Lost Without You’, it quickly became apparent that we are all very much on the same page when it comes to cinematic styles and influences, and we could see that Levi and his team are very much capable of making our kooky ideas become a reality,” Biondillo notes. “It was really just a case of sending Levi the songs and allowing his ideas to flow through into a treatment that he sent us. After a few FaceTime chats, we were able to settle on a vision that we all loved.”
Unlike in “High”, all three members had key roles in the “Lost Without You” video homage to infamous gun-toting bandits Bonnie and Clyde. Premiered in February, it stars Stevens as Bonnie alongside Davieson’s Clyde, while Biondillo appears as “The Detective”.
Written by the band and recent collaborator James Ireland (Pond, Ginoli, Cuco), who helped to produce the record, the album-opening tune takes love in a reckless direction with lines like these: “Never a dull moment, when you’re my partner in crime / They want us dead or alive but I don’t mind.”
Though a sequel that glorifies the criminal element isn’t likely, there will be more entertaining opportunities for these musicians to display their acting chops. Regarding the cliffhanger-type ending to “High”, Biondillo hints the treatment for the next one will be “a continuation of the storyline” that will “feature more heavily” him and his bandmates.
Regarding writing the song “High”, Davieson says, “I initially came up with the sketch … but we finished it all together.” There appears to be solid teamwork on that front and other areas for San Cisco, with all involved in songwriting and vocals, while Stevens plays drums, Davieson contributes guitar, and they both take shots at percussion.
If the exuberance and innocence of youth is passing them by as teen dreams fade away, San Cisco still retain the irresistible pop sensibilities that will drive Under the Light. Their fifth full-length album adds to a discography dating back to the self-titled debut in 2012 on Island City Records. That breakthrough year, they won seven West Australian Music Industry Awards, including Most Popular Group and Pop Act of the Year.
Singles from the new LP already released in 2023, like the jangly “Lost Without You”, the sweet-talking “Honeycomb”, and the lively title track, offer a glimpse of their personal and musical growth. The latest single, “High”, might expose the fright of a relationship that goes awry. Young love is just a memory now, but that doesn’t stop the feelings from intensifying. “Everyone’s searching for meaning,” Stevens conveys in the band’s bio. “It’s about finding compassion for your friends or partners, and that it’s not always a clear scenario.”
San Cisco obviously embrace love stories and writing about the games people play, providing this joint quote in a recent release: “The feeling of falling deeply in love is paradoxically euphoric and terrifying,” they share. “It can become a breeding ground for your insecurities, what [we] think of as ‘lovers imposter syndrome’. When you find yourself besotted with such an inimitable person, we can often be left to face the fear of failure, of ‘not being good enough’ or impressive as them, leaving us entertaining the idea of falling from these newly found heights and losing it all.”
Addressing that first sentence, Davieson explains, “We are more alluding to the beginning of a relationship. There is much unknown, and the feelings are so strong it can feel like there is a lot to be lost. Some of us are quite far along from the beginning of our relationships; it’s more of a reflection on the past.”
It’s a far cry from when Biondillo, half-Italian like Stevens, “was scouted by an Olympic training team for gymnastics in primary school,” reveals Davieson, who calls himself “boringly very Australian”. Originally formed in Freemantle under the name King George, the group’s three male members (including then-bassist Nick Gardner) went to the same secondary Catholic school, Christian Brothers College in the Western Australian town.
Stevens, a drummer since she was ten years old and Davieson’s childhood chum, attended Iona Presentation College in nearby Mosman Park, a suburb of Perth. He might know her better than any other artist, sharing this random fact: “Scarlett is very good at remembering exact dates of when things happen and can recount them with detail but has the short-term memory of a goldfish.”
First performing as a group in late 2009, Davieson also points out they’ve been managed “as an independent band our whole career” by Scarlett’s father Philip Stevens, whose clientele includes Australian artists The Waifs and John Butler Trio.
The fact that they’re still together after all this time is an achievement. San Cisco’s members will celebrate their 15th anniversary in 2024 by releasing Under the Light via Nettwerk on 1 March, followed by a North American tour that begins on 7 March in Philadelphia. (Dates are listed below.)
“We will be trickling out singles every few months in the lead-up,” Davieson states. “Most of the album was written and recorded at our home studio … alongside our studio Swiss army knife James Ireland, who was at the helm the entire time.
“For the first time in five albums, we have opted for a new collaborator, which made for a very exciting and fresh approach than what we usually do and has taken our sound to its most mature form yet. We are all super-stoked by how it has turned out and are so excited to get it out into the world finally!”
Davieson might even enlighten US residents on the real habits of an authentic Australian. Asked what’s the biggest misconception Americans have about his homies, he proclaims, “We don’t chuck shrimps on the barbie as often as you think we do. Also, a lot of the time, they think we are English.”
Now that we all understand each other remember to toast San Cisco when it’s time to celebrate the New Year. Just make sure to leave the Vegemite sandwich off the party menu.