Syzygy is the duo of Rebecca Maher and Gus Kenny, both formerly of Melbourne synth-punk band Spotting. They’ve just released Anchor and Adjust, their debut album, which is distinctively poppier, existing somewhere near the intersection of 80’s pop, new wave, coldwave and 80’s synth music – which is a pretty fascinating assortment of styles. We were intrigued, so reached out to ask them about some of the music that’s moved them.
This from Syzygy:
Anchor and Adjust was a record written in a time of transition. Gus and I had both recently had some pretty huge upheavals in our lives; the end of long term relationships, new careers looming, moving houses and cities. These lives we had led – simultaneously in many ways in our long friendship, were turned around and about to be something new. It was in the midst of all this that we started Syzygy.
It was sparked by Gus’ outpouring of songs he had been working on since our last band Spotting. Songs that were too pop for punk, songs that were living inside his head but needed a completely electronic medium to come out or songs he wanted the simplicity of writing in solitude instead of with a full band. He knew I had wanted to try to sing instead of playing bass and gave me an extremely encouraging push and support to do it to these songs.
Gus had already been turning more towards 80s synth and coldwave a few years earlier. I had been slowly moving away from punk and turning my obsession to new wave and pop. Once we started Syzygy, I knew I needed more guidance on how to be a vocalist – how to fake it til I made it. So here is a list of some of the songs we were listening to when we were writing and making Anchor and Adjust.
Eurythmics – Who’s That Girl?
If I was being completely true to 5 songs I was listening to when we started the band it would be a list of 5 Eurythmics songs. I had loved them when I was a little kid and when I started thinking about where to get inspiration as a front person and a vocalist, I returned to all female singing heroes from my childhood. Cyndi Lauper, Belinda Carlisle and of course Annie Lennox.
When I think of pop duos, the cover of Eurythmics ‘Revenge’ album is my first thought. I even sent it to Gus when we were talking about how we imagined the aesthetic of the band. I insisted it was a photo for so long and upon reflection, it’s definitely a drawing of them. Memory is a funny thing.
The more I dived into their back catalogue, the more the dynamic of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox felt like it fit for Gus and I. They too had come from the punk/post punk scenes before turning pop and primarily electronic. The band, while it would collaborate with others, was always clearly built around their dynamic as a duo.
I chose Who’s That Girl? because I am a huge sucker for a song that starts with the vocals. She is commanding your attention to her from the very first beat, leading you through the song with the main vocal hook. The rest of the instruments and composition know when to give her vocals space,when to underpin them and when to give them more energy. The simple, dancey synths are perfectly balanced with bassy and high pitched lines. Also for the film clip, I love Annie does Marilyn – wig and all.
Patience – The Pressure
I listened to this 7’’ and then the Dizzy Spells LP that came out in 2020 probably a hundred times when we were writing the record. It just had everything I wanted. It was sickly sweet synth pop but with this DIY edge of imperfection. The lyrics didn’t feel like they were too complicated or tricky, just intimate. Roxanne, the singer, has this method of repeating and layering 2-3 vocal lines throughout the song, rolling them over each other. It results in this really full sound where you get not just one but two vocal hooks stuck in your head.
It’s one of the few things from other artists that I specifically tried to mimic, working it into the song ‘Anchor and Adjust’. I had already written the main vocals to the song but after listening to this so many times I told Gus I wanted to put in a ‘Patience’ bit.
The Go-Gos – Head Over Heels
The Go-Go’s are in my top 10 favourite bands. They are just the perfect mix of all these genre obsessions I’ve had in my life. When I was starting to put together the vocals for Syzygy, I felt pretty overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start.
So I went back to some of my favourite pop songs to figure out what I liked about them. I realised I was drawn to the unlikely hooks, those bits in a song that you almost hold your breath waiting for them to happen. The bit where, if you are listening to it with someone else you’d say ‘it’s getting to the good bit’ and usually not the chorus.
I then took the songs that Gus had sent me and figured out which bit of the song was going to be that hook and wrote that first. I wanted to make sure my best idea or my best line was right there. I have to admit it led to songs with 1-2 lines written and nothing else.
Go-Go’s songs and Belinda Carlise’s vocals in general are filled with parts like this. Small deviations and inflections that make them powerful. I chose Head Over Heels as it’s a super fun keyboard driven song. But her delivery of “all I need is to unwind” makes my brain feel fizzy.
Riki – Earth Song
Riki is definitely one of my favourite modern artists making synth pop/post punk.
The driving bass intro coupled with the sparse drums is so simple and yet has so much energy. There is space in between everything at the start, so you can hear each change to the drums, each time an element is added.
I had come from playing bass in Spotting so I think I really gravitated toward this song as it felt like a little bit of a bridge between where I had come from and where I wanted to go.
In the breakdown, when she begins to repeat the same phrase over and over again, it’s definitely one of those “this is the good bit” moments. Each time she repeats it, a layer of intensity is added and you feel like you are being lifted up the last part of the song. The drum fill right at the end of each of her phrases prepares you for the next level.
This whole record is amazing and her newest one ‘Gold’ is a departure from this but incredible. She is definitely an artist who explores so many sides of the genres she loves and executes them all so well.
Moev – Cracked Mirror
Anchor and Adjust lyrically is predominantly a break up record. When I was coming out of my relationship, I needed a completely new set of music to dive into. I needed bands and songs and genres that were only tied to my own feelings, not to feelings I had shared with someone else.
Cracked Mirror was that song in my break up where you feel like you could have never said it so simply and so perfectly. So I decided not to, and let them say it for me.
We had never talked about doing covers and the singer’s vocals are quite high and up to that point, there was no way I could even dream of hitting those notes. But the more and more I worked at singing (thanks to living in Melbourne with months and months of lockdowns) the more it seemed achievable.
I started to set my sights on it. I wanted to move through the song, from needing it to support me, to possessing it and becoming it. It felt so fitting for all I had been through in the last 2 years. From being passive to active, from being controlled to in control, making it my own.
As with lots of things, I had let my conceptual desires run away with me and skipped over the part where we actually needed to figure out how we would transpose and arrange this new version. Enter Gus and his ability to translate. To write new twinkling and twirling synths to replace the guitars and make it sound like our very own, while still staying true to the song’s intent. This song is simple, honest, desperate and beautiful.
New Order – Shellshock
Growing up, I had always enjoyed listening to new wave and synth-pop from groups like New Order, The Human League, etc, but the idea of making music like that always felt intimidatingly complicated compared to the bulk of the music that I listened to, which was mostly punk and the more angular or jangly side of post-punk. I saw New Order play at Festival Hall in 2012, which was a great show – but I was always annoyed they didn’t play this song, which is one of my favourites.
Units – High Pressure Days
Bec and I have been close friends for many years, and before Syzygy we were in a band together called Spotting. I’d been in a few bands before that, but Spotting was the first time I’d done any real song writing for any of them. During that period, I was listening to a lot of synth-punk, and it was bands like Units and Futurisk, who combined electronic music with something I was more familiar and comfortable with, which helped influence me in that direction.
Oppenheimer Analysis – Cold War
New Mexico by Oppenheimer Analysis is one of my favourite albums of all time. There isn’t a bad song on the whole record, but I think this is probably my favourite track from it. When Spotting ended, I decided to carry on and play around with making some music on my own. I had been listening to a lot of minimal wave and other synth music like this at the time, so decided to try making some stuff that was a bit more melodic than I was used to. A few ideas for songs came out of that, but I had no real idea for anything to do with them. I remembered that Bec had really enjoyed the singing she had done in Spotting, so I showed her the demos I had been working on and asked if she would be interested in doing a project together – and Syzygy was born.
Decadance – On and On (Fears Keep On)
When writing songs, I tend to get scared of having too much empty space, or of things being too repetitive or simple sounding – often resulting in them becoming overly complicated and messy. Songs like this are a reminder that sometimes simple ideas, executed well, are the best. This song is nearly 8 minutes long, and I will happily listen to it on repeat for ages without getting bored.
Severed Heads – We Have Come to Bless the House
I have included this because this list is supposed to be about our influences in making this record. It is not so much a musical influence, but I love the Severed Heads video clips and think some of the stuff that Tom Ellard did for them is amazing – especially for being made in the early 80s. Anyone who has seen the video clip we did for The Pendulum will clearly notice the influence that his work has had on me.
Anchor and Adjust is out now via IT records. You can find it here.
They’re launching the album this Saturday the 12th of November @ The Old Bar in Melbourne. You can find the Facebook event here, and can get tickets here.
Band photo by Anita Shao