Sydney’s Sons of the East might be the most famous band you’ve never heard of

Sons of the East playing the ZipfAir Festival in Zipf, Austria in July 2019. Photo: Klaus Mittermayr/ZipfAir Festival/Facebook.

Each week, John Moyle explores exceptional examples of recent Australian songs and music videos. This week: ‘You Might Think’ by Sons of the East – a band from Sydney’s Northern Beaches that’s bigger overseas than at home.

Once in a while, a song comes along that just stops you in your tracks.

That was the case late last year when I heard the haunting harmonica intro to Sons of the East’s track ‘You Might Think’.

Then I hit Youtube and saw Madeleine Gottlieb’s equally impactful film clip.

In many video clips, the visuals will be a mundane interpretation of the song, but for ‘You Might Think’, the two elements complement each other beautifully, raising the track to another level.

Official music video for ‘You Might Think’ by Sons of the East. Video: Sons of the East/YouTube.

Sons of the East is a story of brothers in arms founded in beachside Sydney, school, sport and a love of old school music.

Formed 10 years ago by three school friends, Sons of the East are Jack Rollins (vocals/guitar), Nic Johnston (vocals/keys) and Dan Wallage (guitar). The indie/folk-based trio have had so much success on the overseas gig and festival circuit that they have a bit of work raising their profile at home.

“We’re Manly boys who grew up cutting our teeth in Manly venues such as the Old Manly Boatshed and the Moonshine Bar, which is no longer there,” Rollins said.

“We started after school, Dan and I have known each other since pre-school, and Dan later played AFL with Nick, and we just started jamming and it sounded good.”

Raiding their parents’ CD collections, the three budding musicians grew up on a diet of legacy acts such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fleetwood Mac.

“All the good stuff,” Rollins said.

Sons of the East (pictured) have a following overseas that some more familiar bands would envy. Photo: supplied.

In the 10 years since they started after school jams, the band that you may not have heard of has racked up an impressive CV that many more familiar Australian bands would kill for.

Kings of streaming, they have amassed more than 110 million streams worldwide and the music video for their 2015 single ‘Into the Sun’ has run up more than 11 million views to date.

Their international audience has also ensured that the band has more than 700,000 listeners per month on Spotify alone.

Then there is the success on the festival scene that includes spots on SXSW, FOTSUN and Party in the Park plus two capacity tours of Europe playing over 60 dates.

Not bad for a band you may not have heard of.

Sons of the East performing at the Kulturefestival St. Gallen, Switzerland in July 2019. Photo: Kulturfestival St. Gallen/Facebook.

Their international gigging success started almost by accident when a promoter promised them a few gigs in Cornwall, and when another promoter offered even more dates, the group suddenly realised they could make this work.

“We ended up coming back from Europe the first time not making a loss, and our manager said ‘no-one does that,’” Rollins said.

So they went back again, this time doing 50 dates and playing to audiences larger than what they were pulling in Sydney, but these indie/folkies also had a secret weapon other than their talent.

“There was this South African bloke, JP, who we met in Berlin, and he had an algorithm based on Spotify plays and he could estimate how many people would come to a gig, usually within 10 or 20 people,” Rollins said.

Doing a show a night for two months, existing on cigarettes and beer, Sons of the East were now playing not only club shows but festival dates in front of 10,000 people or more.

Sons of the East performing at the ZipfAir Festival in Austria in 2019. Photo: Klaus Mittermayr/ZipfAir Festival/Facebook.

“Crazy numbers and crazy money, and we thought that we would go to the next level – and then Covid hit,” said.

“The one thing in our power is to keep on writing good songs and keep putting out good music with the film clips with our team.”

With a catalogue of strong songs going back to their first 2013 EP Song of the East, recorded in a studio above the old World Bar in Bayswater Road, Kings Cross, the band thought that ‘You Might Think’ would be the one to do it for them here – but due to the lack of radio support and the death of TV music video shows, the track about sibling rivalry is their masterpiece that got away.

The song began life as a very different track to the one that eventuated.

“The idea for ‘You Might Think’ carne at the end of the day when we were recording other material,” Rollins said.

“Nick had this little OP-1 beats machine and started playing this loop that is no longer in the song.

“Originally the song was like a dance track and was not like a Sons of the East song at all, when our manager suggested that it needed harmonica and extra guitars.”

Not convinced, Rollins got in front of the mic, turned up the gain and reverb, and produced the harmonica sounds that would become the song’s leitmotif.

“There’s a synth pad in there with the harmonica and it works as a second melody and tells a story,” Rollins said.

Once the track was locked in, the next part of the process was to commission the film clip, something the band had always considered as important as the recording.

Sons of the East publicity shot. Photo: Sons of the East/Facebook.

Sons of the East manager, Bry Jones, who used to front Sydney band The Rockmelons, had been impressed by the talents of someone he had met when he was music director for a feature film.

Madeleine Gottlieb came with an impressive professional CV that included four short films, but she had never directed a music video before.

“I was already a huge fan of the band, and when I heard the harmonica I was sold,” Gottlieb, the video’s director, said.

“We had lots of conversations about family and legacy and the issues between generations … Between myself, our cinematographer Grégoire and our producer Liam , we landed on the story of two brothers at a crossroads in their relationship.”

Playing away from the convention of a typical romantic love story was an act of genius as the sibling rivalry gives the clip a valuable extra dimension.

Casting was also critical to giving the sibling relationship credibility and this was where Gottlieb’s previous experience came to the fore.

“I come from a narrative background and casting is so important and we had help from a casting agent,” Gottlieb said.

Shot over three days on an Arri Alexa in the outskirts of Canberra, Gottlieb and her cinematographer made the most of the area’s dappled light and eschewed using lights for the interior scenes.

“It was run and gun,” Gottlieb said.

The video was then cut over four days on Premier Pro.

“It was such a quick turnaround and an easy edit because the kids were so good and Jack is amazing on camera,” Madeleine Gottlieb said.

“We wanted to do right by the song and do justice to the beauty of the song.”

‘You Might Think’ by Sons of the East can be streamed here:
https://open.spotify.com/album/6O8ArPeCMOmuC9brkP5oiZ

Sons of the East’s new single ‘On My Way’ is out now and can be streamed here:
https://open.spotify.com/album/3tXjujDP2dEsfKSnVSlnB8

‘You Might Think’ music video credits:
Starring: Jordan Dulieu and Jake Butler
Director: Madeleine Gottlieb
Producer: Liam Heyen
Cinematographer: Grégoire Lière
Editor: Rolando Olalia
Costume Designer: Hugh O’Connor
1st Assistant Camera: Pat Wiecks
Steadicam Operator: Max McLachlan
Colourist: Yanni Kronenberg
Production Company: Mad Ones

Thanks to Adam Butler, Sue Garnsey at Panavision, Stevie Ray C.G.A, Cyna Strachan, Kirsty Budding, Oscar Carpezio, Erin Hawker, Nechama Basserabie, Alex Bleasdale, Beau Colley Allerton, Kieran Stenson, Tara Pritchard and Mango the Golden Retriever.

For more on Sons of the East, visit their website at www.sonsoftheeast.com or follow them on social media, at the following links:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sonsoftheeastmusic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonsoftheeast​
Instagram: http://instagram.com/sonsoftheeast​