Interviewed by Jasmine Uitermark-Thaung
First thing’s first! Tell me all about how you got into experimental sounds and improvising with your music!
It’s difficult to say! A little credit goes to my parents, since my dad would put on, I don’t know, Can or Pere Ubu rather than your more typical dad-listening fare like Cold Chisel. According to one story I was played atonal math rock in the womb.
I’ve been recording since I was about sixteen, and those recordings were always a bit experimental, but with pretty conventional pop song structures. I think back then I wanted to be Thom Yorke but ended up as a bad Aussie imitation of Trip Hop – that’ll happen when you try and be a sad British man when you’re actually a sad Lebanese-Australian genderqueer person.
I’ve only been involved with improvised music for a short while but it’s been a real whirlwind of shows and hearing new things. A large part of the reason I’ve been involved with them is the sense of community they foster since I’ve found the small group of folks who do free improvisation to be really welcoming. I think they’ve also made a more concerted effort to welcome queer, non-white and non-male performers than the conventional music scene, even if that work isn’t complete.
Your latest tune, ‘Among’ that comes out this Saturday is an interesting one because it was completely improvised in studio. Do you feel like ‘winging it’ when it comes to music can produce a sound that feels more raw, a soundscape that can represent a moment or feeling in time more accurately than something rigorously composed over a drawn out period of time?
There are a number of different qualities to more conventional music. I’ve found that you have to be more mindful while you’re playing, since in other music a lot of it comes down to simple muscle memory and repetition. It becomes very noticeable when there’s a rider at your shows; you quickly notice the difference that even a tiny impairment can make.
I also think it teaches you to appreciate music in a different way, you notice interesting tones as they appear more readily, and there’s an element of chance to everything. I guess it’s easier to appreciate how something can come from nothing when everything is stripped back to its fundamentals, because in doing so you put the act of creating music in a much broader context. You immediately think about how music might have been made before people started to conceive it in a very prescribed way; in time signatures, tempos, keys and the like.
How satisfied are you with ‘Among’ as a non-linear recording?
Very! I think it proved to me that a process I’d been thinking about for a very long time could work.
A lot of music to me always feels centred on one sound or various instruments that represent an emotion whilst the rest of the song constructs itself around that moment. Once you were in the studio recording ‘Among’ after the initial violin lines of the song were introduced did you experience a certain musical flow to the piece?
Yes definitely, and that’s what I’d hoped would happen when I thought of that system of recording. I’d been experimenting with loop compositions (the four loops EP series) for a while and knew that tracks built a certain momentum when you continued to build on spontaneous recordings. I wanted to do a recording that captured the way that momentum built without the restrictions of working solely with loops. At the beginning there is a string of improvisations: one that begins the recording, a second that begins part way through the first and continues onward, and then a third, a fourth and so on. It was just that process of layering with different instruments, played melodically in whatever key was spontaneously formed by those layers of notes.
How have interactions you’ve had with fellow experimental and improv musicians like yourself contributed to your sound?
It’s contributed more than any amount of research or development on my part, and in many ways this recording is a big medley of elements I like from their performances. Working with Lana has informed my love of analogue synths, working with Sage Pbbbt has informed my use of overtone singing and working with Ed Smith has informed a lot of my work with effects units and violins, to use a few examples.
Do you feel you’re influenced by your bands Step Reckoner and The Cars That Ate Paris in your solo work? Do they influence you on the same level as improve musicians you’ve collaborated in the past?
I think to the same degree yeah, but in more indirect ways. Singing in Step Reckoner developed my voice and The Cars That Ate Paris really allowed me to develop my guitar tone. Working with bands that use conventional song structures gives you a lot of resources to use when improvising, because that’s the thing about improvising: nothing is generated out of thin air, it’s an amalgamation of past experiences.
Now you’re signed with Sleepybod Records tell me about them and what affected your decision to pair with this label?
Sleepybod is a new label that was started by Lime Honey (A.K.A Bermud∆) and Billie May, who I think both came from Perth but reside over east now. I chose them largely because they are weirdo queers like me, and they’re working with some really cool people across the country. I like working with people who are really ambitious with their projects, and they really are considering they have this Australia-wide scope and neato working model that means artists have a lot of control over the way their music is promoted.
If ‘Among’ was a food, what would it be and why?
A really simple brie and lettuce sandwich in a large rye bun.
Where can we see you playing ‘Among’ and variation of other releases from your solo project? I feel ignorant but the only place I’ve really seen a lot of experimental music has been at Paper Mountain. Where do people go when they want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of experimental music?
There’s a pretty vibrant new music scene in Perth! I think there’s not much crossover with the wider music scene so it can be hard to find shows being promoted. There is, as you mention, the Hidden Mountain series I run at Paper Mountain, which returns on November 19, but there’s also a number of other series like Club Zho, which often has international acts with local improvisers, Sound Spectrum, Success Sounds, Noizemaschin, Outlines, Outcome Unknown, the list goes on! I’d definitely recommend anyone who is interested check out the label Tone List which began this year, as they definitely champion the slightly more academic side of things, and they also have a really cool calendar of every new music show in Perth, and you’d be surprised at how many are happening in any given week! I’m really fortunate to have become involved at a time where it feels like there’s a real blossoming of interesting acts and shows.