DESPITE what Something For Kate's detractors would suggest, Paul Dempsey considers himself to be optimist.
After the year the world has experienced in 2020, optimism is a virtue in short supply for many people. Dempsey knows that better than most.
As a Melbournian, he and wife and Something For Kate bassist, Stephanie Ashworth, have endured two COVID-19 lockdowns, while juggling preparations for their seventh studio album The Modern Medieval and home-schooling their children, son Miller, 9, and daughter, Lake, 5.
Two weeks ago the pair finally got to rehearse with drummer Clint Hyndman.
When we catch up with Dempsey over Zoom the frontman is bursting with positivity as Victoria opens up from its COVID hell.
"People are just so relieved and everyone is really proud of how everyone rose to the challenge and squashed it," Dempsey says.
"London and Paris and a lot of other cities had the same numbers as us in early July and they're doing a lot worse now. Everyone wants to high five, but you're not allowed to."
Dempsey, 44, might be feeling a sense of optimism after emerging from lockdown, but admits he's felt a sense of dread building in recent years about the state of the world.
The rise of Trumpism, climate change and the caustic nature of politics and social media has led Dempsey to question whether society has actually stopped improving from generation to generation. Those dystopian themes are explored on The Modern Medieval.
"In the political sphere the discourse and the civility has broken down," he says. "I'm not a pessimist at all, I'm completely an optimist, but these institutions and these traditions they don't carry on unless they're in diligent hands.
"The last few years a lot of norms have been shattered and things that should be respected and trusted institutions are being vandalised.
"We are literally having an argument over the concept of truth. The idea of credible trust-worthy media. It's a really tricky time."
However, Dempsey refuses to feel defeated by the sense of doom.
"You can't expect things to carry on being perfect all the time," he says. "There's stops and starts and ebbs and flows.
"So I'm not a pessimist, but it's a really interesting time to be alive. The past decade has certainly been more interesting than my previous three decades."
It's been almost a decade - eight years to be exact - since Something For Kate's most recent album Leave Your Soul To Science.
During that time the alt-rockers have toured annually, had families and Dempsey has released two solo albums, Shotgun Karaoke (2013) and Strange Loop (2016).
The Modern Medieval doesn't depart too far from the anthemic and layered sounds that Something For Kate have become renown for across their classic albums Beautiful Sharks (1999), Echolalia (2001) and The Official Fiction (2003), besides an added texture of synths.
But the record could be the band's most immediate to date. The hooks on songs like Come Back Before I Come Back To My Senses and Situation Room grab from the first listen.
Dempsey suggests that could be the influence of Canadian producer Howie Beck, who mixed the album after it was recorded and produced by Nick DiDia in Byron Bay's La Cueva studio last year.
"My instinct is to try and draw the listener in and create a level of mystery and a level of complexity, which almost forces the listener to engage with it and think about it and meet it half way," he says.
"We're not a pop act. It's not all about satisfaction for the listener. I actually want people to think about it and meet it half way.
"So my instinct is to build things slowly and try to draw people in. That's the way I work. Steph and Clint sometimes are much more, 'C'mon man, get to the punch'."
The Modern Medieval also continues Dempsey's transition from writing autobiographical lyrics towards becoming a storyteller. It's a move, Dempsey says, he began on his debut solo album Everything Is True in 2009.
The latest record features some of his most vivid characters. Inside Job, which features a duet with Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning, tells the story of a conspiracy theorist Dempsey met in a bar.
Come Back Before I Come Back To My Senses follows a couple who go against their judgment in a "moment of weakness", Our Extinguished Friend recasts a mate of Dempsey's as a titan of Greek mythology after he caught fire leaning too close to a candle and Last Resort Town explores a fantastical situation where cryogenically-frozen billionaires have descended on Queenstown in New Zealand to escape an apocalypse.
"In the last decade I've come to enjoy more writing from a character perspective, and I think that's partly because after five Something For Kate albums I was probably sick of the sound of my self, talking about my self, singing about myself," he says.
"Everything is autobiographical. You get sick of your own point of view and voice.
"Writing in character, or creating a character or stories, gives you a huge amount of freedom to explore all kinds of crazy ideas."
Something For Kate's album The Modern Medieval is out on Friday.
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