Sputnik Sweetheart could only ever have formed in Canberra.
This much is clear as soon as we sit down at the tables outside Smith’s Alternative to chat. They need to pause a couple of times to say hi to people as they walk by (at one point we had to turn around to wave excitedly to Scarlett from Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers across the street).
“Joe and I met at UC, at Coffee Grounds,” says Nette France. She sings and plays guitar with the indie rock four-piece and she, along with bassist Joe Pabis, are talking me through how it all came to be.
“It was so funny because we both wanted to start a band and our mutual friend was like, ‘you should start a band together’. We were both kind of hopeless at the time.”
“I’d never played bass before,” says Pabis. “We wanted to be in a band so we said, ‘screw it, let’s do it’. And here we are.”
More than a year on and Sputnik Sweetheart are making a name for themselves, playing festival stages at Spilt Milk and Stonefest, and generally kicking goals around the country.
“Here comes trouble,” says France, looking over her shoulder. Guitarist-vocalist Byron Takavis is coming towards us on his pushbike. France explains how she and a friend used to pester Takavis while he busked on East Row late at night.
“Classically trained singers are a rarity on the streets,” says Takavis as he comes over and sits down.
“They’re [France and Pabis] very sensible, and I myself should be a lot more sensible. But I’m happy to have them there as, like, a nice mum and dad when I muck up. Sometimes it gets too much. You’re not my mum and dad!”
The others laugh. “My god!” says France. “We have these finger guns in band practice …”
The three of them go back and forth for a while, explaining to me how they point at each other and say “pew-pew” as a way to keep rehearsals light and not get bogged down with negative feelings. It’s obvious that being mates is just as important to them as making music. More than that, you couldn’t expect them to make the music they do if they didn’t have each other’s backs.
Sputnik Sweetheart spent three weeks in March this year travelling up and down the Hume to Sydney. There they put together their new EP, Growing Pains, a confident, sophisticated debut full of deft guitar pop and carefully channelled emotional responses to the world they inhabit.
“It was our first time in a studio, ever,” says France, adding that their previous recordings took place in a friend’s bedroom. “This was a totally different experience. We’ve developed a lot since March. Putting it out now, we’re excited. We’ve been holding our breath. We’ve been wanting it out for so long.”
Early single ‘Home Again’ proved that Sputnik Sweetheart could write a hook. EP tracks ‘FOMO’ and the titular ‘Growing Pains’ show what’s at work underneath the bright guitars, taking the listener somewhere slightly darker and more nuanced than you might expect if you’ve only given the songs a passing glance.
“‘Growing pains’ is like an umbrella term for our whole year I guess,” says Pabis. “It’s like our growing-up phase. We developed these songs as we were developing ourselves. So I think it’s a good reflection of what we were, where we are now and what’s to come.
“I feel like the songs make a bit more sense when they’re together. It feels like a journey – you start off with what feels happy and light, and then it goes into something that feels darker and more angry. And then ‘Growing Pains’ at the end which is kind of the light at the end of the tunnel I guess, at the end of growing up.”
“That’s a good way of explaining it,” says France. “It’s inspired by Canberra as well. You’ll see when the artwork comes out, it’s kind of a homage to Canberra. I know other bands have done similar things, but it’s a big deal for us. This past year in particular.”
“Canberra is literally the only reason we’re doing this,” says Pabis. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the community being the way it is. It’s so friendly, everyone’s helping each other out. We wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t’ve met each other.”
Sputnik Sweetheart’s Growing Pains is out now on all platforms. Stream the EP on Spotify here.