CUSTARD left the Australian alternative scene puzzled when they called it quits in 2000.
Here was a quirky Brisbane indie-rock band that had been grafting for more than a decade across five albums only to finally start achieving commercial success.
Their most recent albums We Have The Technology (1997) and Loverama (1999) had gone gold on the ARIA charts through the success of the singles Music Is Crap, Girls Like That (Don't Go For Guys Like Us) and Hit Song and they were rapidly climbing up festival bills.
Despite this, Dave McCormack (guitar, vocals), Matthew Strong (guitar), Paul Medew (bass, vocals) and Glenn Thompson (drums, vocals) went their separate ways for nine years.
However, the band's second coming, which began solely as a live act, has lasted as long their original incarnation. In 2015 they recorded their first album in 16 years, Come Back, All Is Forgiven.
Unlike many acts who reform after a long hiatus, Custard found the magic - and most importantly the fun - remained intact.
The album The Common Touch followed in 2017 and on Friday Custard release the eclectic Respect All Lifeforms.
In hindsight was Custard's break up a mistake?
"Maybe. Who knows? If we'd kept going would we have burnt out or got sick of each other?" wonders the affable McCormack.
"Personally, the break apart and getting back together felt good for me. We spent so much time together and then we had this break of almost a decade and then we've gotten back together and we have this love and bond of all that time together that we can rekindle.
"But we don't get on each other's nerves as much as perhaps we used to. We've all got a lot of space now.
"I don't regret the fact we stopped for a little while. Everyone went and did other things. I think it was good for us."
In the formative years the band members all lived in suburban Brisbane within close proximity. Rehearsals, writing sessions and social beers were a constant part of their lives as budding musicians.
These days the middle-aged rockers juggle family and work commitments - McCormack writes music for film and TV and voices Bandit Heeler on ABC Kids' animated hit series, Bluey.
McCormack, Thompson and Strong all reside in different parts of Sydney and Medew is based in Melbourne. The four-piece can go six months without speaking and generally only see each other for gigs and recording sessions.
Rather than make the band less productive, it's added spontaneity, which can be readily heard on Respect All Lifeforms.
The initial recording of the album was completed during a free day in March 2019 while Custard were in Perth for a music festival. The band headed down to Fremantle's Poons Head Studios and bashed out the majority of the 11 tracks inside a day. The vocal parts were added later on in their home studios.
"I think that's why it sounds so energetic and it certainly doesn't sound over rehearsed," McCormack says.
"Because we just showed each other the songs that morning. I had a bunch of songs, so did Glenn, and Paul had a couple. We just thought let's try this song, I've got an idea."
McCormack was particularly excited by Medew's songwriting. Medew hadn't written for Custard since the '90s, but offered the lo-fi Wishing and the Americana-flavoured Like People.
"Paul did songs on the early albums and they were stand outs and then he just went quiet for a while," he says. "Now he's in a purple patch.
"Every time I see him he has a new three or four songs. We recorded an extra song of his which is gonna be a B-side on a seven inch single for Funky Again for Record Store Day, so there's even more Paul Medew on its way, which I love.
"I love albums which have several songwriters, several singers. You get that mixed bag of approaches."
However, the strongest moments on Respect All Lifeforms are McCormack creations.
First single Funky Again is classic Custard. Quirky, full of pop hooks, and dare we say it, funky as hell.
"Picture it, we turn up at the studio, it was super vibey, they had great equipment, the guy who ran the studio has so much experience, the sounds are beautiful," McCormack says of Funky Again's recording.
"Then we just sat in the room and I went, 'Here's a chord progression'. We played it once and then we recorded it and that's pretty much the final version you hear on the album."
The album's other highlight is Harlequin Records, which has a soaring chorus that wouldn't sound out of place in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The track is McCormack's tribute to his favourite record store he'd often fantasise about as a teenager while working as a trolley boy at Woolworths.
"In the Westfield shopping centre a level up and above the escalators from me was Harlequin Records," he says. "I would always be there pushing the trolleys. You'd start at 8.15am and you'd look up and you could almost hear what was being played in the record store.
"All I wanted to do was be in there buying records, listening to records or looking at records. That was the story of me going, 'Harlequin Records, I'd rather be in there than working at Woolies'."
Custard's Respect All Lifeforms is released on Friday.
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