Jai K Morris-Smith: “The search of this music we’ve been making has helped me heal through this life changing experience”

Original photo by Zoe Grace Pawlowski. Handmade collage by B.

For over 15 years, Jai K Morris-Smith has played in bands in the Australian underground, including Atrocities, Circle Pit and SSRi. More recently you’ll find him in post-punk outfit Exek and as co-creator of experimental, ambient, new project Grossman / Morris-Smith (also featuring Michael Grossman of DEN). 

A week or so ago, Gimmie chatted in-depth to Jai for almost two and a half hours about his creative life. It’s the first time he’s been interviewed, so we had a lot to talk about! It was such an insightful, honest and emotional chat. Jai’s personal life story, which has been quite difficult, is as much connected to this story as the music itself. 

The Grossman / Morris-Smith debut release Curious Music was slated to be a solo project for Jai. Turning to what he knows best, music and creativity, after his dear sister Matika’s untimely passing. During this experience, he found himself unable to listen to punk or loud music, so he began to explore and experiment with ambient music, which has an early connection to childhood.

Michael (who owns a studio) and Jai would meet regularly for coffee to discuss recording Jai’s songs. When they got into the studio they discovered a rare kind of magic and decided to creatively collaborate on the album. Curious Music is a journey of the heart and of healing. Made entirely using only guitars, the album is intriguing and impressive. In a word it’s —transcendent. 

As the chat was so comprehensive, you’ll only find part of it below; mostly about his formative years with music and the Grossman / Morris-Smith project. They’ll also be more in our next print issue and the punk book our editor is working on, which sees Jai talking about the Sydney punk scene as well as a look into creating with Exek and frankly sharing his experience with addiction, death and of the power to change. It really is inspiring stuff.

We’re so happy for you that the Grossman / Morris-Smith release Curious Music is out in the world. We’ve been listening to it a lot, it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s pretty magical-sounding.

JAI K MORRIS-SMITH: Thank you. Michael and I used the word magical a lot while we were making it. We would have these moments where we would try to introduce certain ideas while we were composing it. A lot of those ideas wouldn’t actually work, so we’d construct a different way to go through a certain segment. Basically, in a way, one of the sides, when we’d try to introduce ideas that were preconceived, the track would reject those forced ideas. We were continually working with the track, it was strange. It was possibly the most fun that I have had in a studio recording music.

I love how the tracks unfold and reveal itself to you in realtime.

JKM-S: It felt like it was writing itself, so we kept having to follow it rather than getting stuck with the ideas that we had. A lot of them were great ideas, but it just became it’s own thing and we had to work with it.

It blew my mind, because when I initially listened to it, I didn’t realise that it was made by only using guitars.

JKM-S: Yeah, yeah.

When listening to music for the first time I try not to read anything about it. I like to experience the music itself without any stories or hype colouring how I perceive it, I like to hear it for myself. I was trying to work out the instrumentation you used on it, because there’s so many cool sounds. After listening, I went and read about it and found out it was made with just guitar. That’s amazing.

JKM-S: Thank you.

Initially you were taught guitar by your dad when you were really young, right?

JKM-S: I guess. I have a photo of me in South America in 1987. My dad had guitars and played, they were always around the house. I remember I’d pick them up and he’d try to show me things. I thought it was too hard [laughs]. I’ve always been into music because of my mum and dad.

Around the age of 16, my sister came home from school and was like, “We’ve been learning guitar at school.” She showed my dad this little thing that she had learnt. I was blown away. I grabbed the guitar… I think that’s my personality, not that I’m so much an outright competitive person, but when I saw my sister playing it, it really excited me. It showed me that if she could do it, I could do it. I didn’t put it down from that point. We’d play with my dad.

At that time, I’d been skateboarding for a lot of years. Music was a huge part of watching skate videos. When watching them, I would ask my dad, ‘What’s this music?’ He’d pull out a record or a CD. To be honest, I feel really lucky and blessed that both of my parents were really open-minded people and have pretty impressive taste in music. Between my sister coming home and showing us what she learnt and my dad and mum’s music collection, to this day, what I listen to is based on those early experiences. 

I’m similar. My mum and dad (who have both passed away) and my four older siblings all love music. Between them I was lucky to be exposed to all kinds of music from a very young age. My big brother was into skateboarding from the 80s and we owned a skateboard shop together in the 90s. We used to sit in the shop and watch all the videos, so I understand how much music goes hand in hand with skating. We’d always be listening to punk and hip-hop mostly. To me, my brother was the coolest person in the whole world and I wanted to do everything he did. What kind of music was your mum and dad listening to?

JKM-S: Wow. My earliest memories of music was a record by Vangelis called Soil Festivities.I must have been 3-years-old. I have this memory of my mum in our house in Bilambil Heights (when we lived there for a moment) nursing me to that record and telling me these weird Lord Of The Rings-esque stories while this ambient synth music played. 

Because they were into music, my parents would follow what’s coming out each year. My mum was very much into Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells, stuff which was more fantasy. My mum is 70 this year, so she went through her whole hippie period and was following a lot of those bands; loves [Black] Sabbath, loves [David] Bowie (both of my parents loved him). It was more my dad that was into music that I’ve always been influenced by. 

One of the skating videos that I’d ask my dad, ‘What song is this?” He said, “That’s The Velvet Underground.” I first heard that at 15-years-old. I was really lucky to be able to stumble across that stuff so young. Bowie is one of my heroes, I always return to his music; it’s something I fell in love with as a kid. Bowie was passed to me through both of my parents. 

My dad loved King Crimson. He followed [Robert] Fripp & [Brian] Eno’s careers. Both of my parents’ taste were really broad. The last memories that I have of my dad buying music was around my age now, around 35 or 36. We’d go shopping every Saturday for groceries and he would always go into this one CD store. The last lot of music I remember him buying was all classical. He had gone through that point of all the stuff he’d been into and ended up listening to a lot of classical, which I also loved then and still love now. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical at the moment actually.

Good music is good music, regardless of genre.

JKM-S: Totally! 

When I was a teenager I got really obsessive about punk, it was all about punk for me. My whole identity was wrapped up in it from a teen through my 20s. I had big, spiked hair and mohawks, my hair was all the colours you can imagine.

JKM-S: Amazing! So did I! [laughs].

Nice. When you got into punk, were you living Sydney?

JKM-S: I’ve pretty much always lived in Sydney. I’ve always travelled a lot with skateboarding and music. I’ve spent a lot of time in Melbourne, even before Exek. I’ve always been based in Sydney, I love it. 

What was the scene you grew up in like?

JKM-S: Initially I stopped skateboarding and started heavily getting into music. Music became a more vital outlet for me in all ways. In my physical world, in my emotional world. I started to get more out of music than skateboarding.

I met Albert Wolski [Exek’s founding member / songwriter] when I was 15, around 1999 or 2000. We’d go skateboarding and have basically been best friends since that point. He was the first person that I actually shared music with and vice versa. We would trade CDs and show each other what we were listening to. 

I went to my very first shows with Albert. He would pay for tickets to one show and then I would get the tickets to the next show. The very first concert we went to together, we saw R.E.M.. At that time we were seeing bigger American acts. The next thing we saw was Radiohead do Hail to the Thief. Then we got to see Bowie on A Reality Tour. Those were huge moments for me because they were the first time that I’d gone to see live rock bands. That merged into us turning 18 and starting to go out into the city at night and starting to go see local shows. We saw HTRK when I was 19 at a really tiny bar called Spectrum. I saw a lot of live music from allover Australia there. I remember seeing Bird Blobs. 

From there, I found some people… I had a really close friend called Ben [Mundy]. We both knew each other had been playing guitar a lot, so we started meeting up and playing together. From going out to shows, I met all these really cool, interesting people that I found personally a lot better for me than the people that I was skating with. 

I used to be sponsored and was paid to skateboard. At that time, I found it quite difficult dealing with all the jocky-mentality of skateboarding and it being really serious. That’s what helped merge me into music and finding these friends. It was really important for me, because the people that I met through music were a lot more open-minded, more emotionally in tune with themselves, which is really what I needed. I was around 20 when I joined a band with Ben and that kick started this whole other world that I didn’t even know I was able to do that.

Was that the band Atrocities?

JKM-S: Yeah, Atrocities. I played my first show with them—it was insane. It was fucking nerve racking. I remember seeing a really early band of Dizzy from Low Life’s, The Skanks, I was blown away; it had other friends of mine in it too. Seeing my friends playing shows, it was like it was with my sister, I thought, ‘This is totally possible. I can do this.’ 

I played in Atrocities for a number of years. I met Jack [Mannix] and Angie [Bermuda] from Circle Pit and started playing with them. It was great being accepted by these people. There was a really prominent scene around Sydney, especially Oxford Street and Darlinghurst; there was lots of music and bands. It was a little like Melbourne, you could play shows anywhere most nights of the week, basically Wednesday to Sunday. 

I did my first lots of recordings with Atrocities and then Circle Pit. It was a really interesting time for all of us. A lot of people I know from that time are still making music and are still in relevant bands, they’ve been making music for over 15 years, which I think is amazing, as I’ve seen so many people drop out of music. 

That’s part of why we started Gimmie. Other than the actual music floating around, there isn’t much about a lot of musicians and bands that you can find out there because the music press in this country doesn’t really cover beyond a copy and paste of what PR companies and labels send to them. There’s so much cool stuff happening in Australia that gets totally ignored by mainstream (and the indies that try to ape them) press, radio etc. We’re lucky to have supportive community radio stations like 4ZZZ, 3RRR and FBi.

JKM-S: Yeah, there’s not much documentation of Australian music, especially post-2000. Maybe I was in a bit of a fantasy, but I’ve always admired everyone that I’ve played music with especially Jack and Angie. I remember seeing their first band Kiosk. I first saw them at Spectrum around the time that I saw HTRK. Those guys have been doing music in Sydney for years. I loved playing in Circle Pit. 

Angie said something to me a few years ago in relation to having a similar conversation like this of where we’d come from and how long we’ve been playing music for. She was very much of the opinion that we were all actually musicians. Coming from DIY bands, DIY places, rough and shitty recordings, I think a lot of people never really tended to say, “I’m a musician, this is what I do, I make music.” It was this punk attitude of, “I just play guitar in this band,” not actually acknowledging that once you’ve been playing a guitar in a band for over 15 years then, yeah, you actually are a musician—you live and breathe it. You wouldn’t be doing it if that’s not who you were. I gelled with Angie on that.

Can you tell us about your relationship to the guitar?

JKM-S: I get endless hours of enjoyment from playing guitar, also frustration [laughs]. I get everything from it. I more or less love noises and sounds. I’m quite an obsessive and compulsive person… back to that experience with my sister, when I fully picked up the guitar and started learning. It gave me a feeling that I have never had before or experienced in relation to sound. I became fascinated in that and making these weird sounds come out of this thing. I’ve never really lost that first experience of that. 

The first songs I ever learned were Stooges songs. I’d sit in my room and play along to Stooges records until my parents would come in and be like, “You have to stop playing guitar,” because I’d been playing for hours. I’m still doing that same thing now but obviously I’ve learnt the instrument to how I play it. I’ve never really lost interest in that. I play guitar almost every day in some capacity. I’ll have an idea that pops to mind. 

Through my 20s, like any one at that age, you have this really intense idea of what music is or what it should be like. In a way it was quite narrow. In my early 20s I was listening to a lot of The Birthday Party, Bird Blobs, The Scientists, a lot of Australian punk. I’ve always loved listening to the Velvets and The Stooges. I love intense, distorted guitar sounds. 

Moving out of that period into my later 20s and 30s I was able to become open-minded. I’ve been listening to different music over the last 10 years and been trying to work out, in my own way, how to approach the guitar in a new and different way to what I have done before. It’s always been about progression and expansion in this later period I’ve been playing guitar to the point where I kind of came to Curious Music

Because I’ve been listening to so much classical music, I’ve been trying to interpret that Baroque and classical sound within guitar. I’ve always been trying to find a different sound or way to expand on where my influences have come from. 

Album art by James Coe.

Curious Music was initially going to be a solo project?

JKM-S: Yeah, correct. My sister passed way at the very beginning of 2019. I’d just come back from touring America with Exek. She passed away really suddenly in a boat accident. For the first few months after she died, I stopped listening to music for a while. Obviously, when you’re going through grief or any really traumatic life experience and life changing experience, I found it really difficult to even leave my house, doing anything can be hard. 

When I started to listen to music again, I remember putting on punk records and it was too much! It was a really odd experience because I’d listened to punk music my whole life and it’s helped me through other tremendously difficult life experiences, but with this one it wasn’t gelling with my emotional world. I found myself listening to classical, jazz and predominately ambient music. I was doing a lot of guided meditations and thinking about that type of music and how it’a applied in meditation. I thought, ‘Man, I should just start listening to all Eno’s stuff’ and everything that was related into that ambient stuff that I listened to as a child with my parents. I started doing that. 

Three months after my sister passed, I eventually started approaching guitar again. I started approaching it in the way of the music that I had been listening to, really long drawn out guitars. I started to take a different interest, and aspect, in what I had been playing. I’d always thought that some ambient guitar music was a bit corny… I guess I was trying to start playing more in tune with how my body actually felt and how my mental space felt. 

You were truly expressing what you were feeling!

JKM-S: Correct. At that point, I went on tour to Europe with Exek then came back and continued playing guitar how I had been. I felt I wanted to start recording ambient music. I became really passionate about it. I started to believe in what I was creating at home. 

I approached Mickey [Grossman], he lived not far from me at the time. We’d been meeting up to get coffee and talk. We weren’t even really talking about music much in the beginning, then we got into that. Our friendship really built over that time. I asked him if he would record a solo record for me.

Just before Covid we went into the studio and started mucking around. I was really taken back by his openness, it really reflects who Michael is. We messed around with things and started recording and I sensed that I should do the project with Mickey. There was a musical connection, which I’ve experienced in different ways before, but with Michael it really took me back as we were having conversations without even really saying anything. The ideas and things we were sharing were really similar and really worked. I said, ‘Man, do you just want to do this together? As a collaboration. A duet.’ We weren’t really thinking of the end point, we were just bringing in ideas and experimenting. 

In the first week we started recording, Michael brought in a piece of paper with all of these ideas he had thought about in the shower, really strange ideas. One that is on the record; what would happen if you played every F note of the guitar at the same time? We went down the fretboard and recorded every single F. What they became was a sound like a gong, throughout Curious Music they come in, it’s a kind of motif. Many experiments from that piece of paper worked but many didn’t too. 

Cool. I can relate to how you mentioned before that after your sister passed away you weren’t able to listen to music. I felt the exact same thing when both my mother and father passed away a few years apart. As you, I love music to the point of obsession and it always gets me through everything. It’s been there for me in all the major and small events in my life. When they passed, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music, it felt weird. Like you, I found it hard to leave this house too. I guess I just lost interest in things and I felt like nothing mattered, it’s like everything in comparison to their death felt trivial. It’s hard to describe to people that haven’t had a close loved one pass.

JKM-S: Totally, I agree. 

Years later, I still think of them every day and it still hurts. One day they’re there and then they’re not. Death is something that is not really talked about in our society. From your job you can get maybe two days bereavement leave and then you’re expected to go back to work and pretend everything is ok. You get no real support, yet you give so much of your life to work. Society is really big on “suck it up, move on”. I truly feel for you.

JKM-S: Thank you. It is 100% challenging. 

I am so glad that you were able to make this project and process what you’re going through and heal.

JKM-S: It’s a different experience for Michael, but what he ended up facilitating for me, was an outlet in a sense to transcend the experience that I had gone through, which had left me extremely isolated. He facilitated this outlet where I could approach this kind of music. Transcendence. The search of this music we’ve been making has helped me heal through this life changing experience. Had I not gone through the experience, I doubt that I would have ended up on the path I am now. It’s interesting that certain life events have the power to change the course of what you’re doing. 

Anything else to share with me?

JKM-S: Zoe and I just moved to King’s Cross, which has been amazing. We lived in the Marrickville area for the last 6 years; did both lockdowns and a whole lot of grieving at our apartment there. I kind of thought I was never going to leave that apartment. We did love it. It was the first place we moved into together. Our landlord had to extended the roof to make another story so we had to move. 

The day that Curious Music was announced by Astral Spirits and Research Records, that was the last day at that apartment. In a weird way for me, it was spiritually significant. Curious Music is announced and it’s the last day I spent in that house, that’s kind of what Curious Music is about—moving through and transcending the experiences we spoke about. It felt so odd. So synchronistic. Now I’m in King’s Cross, it’s a lot faster cos in Marickville, the last two years I lived there, I was a bit of a hermit. 

Yuta [Matsumura] from Orion really helped me; coming to get me and taking me to the beach just to get me out of the house. I had this routine where I’d wake up and if I wasn’t working I’d get a coffee, come back to the apartment and wouldn’t leave. 

Here in the Cross, my routine and pattern of life has completely changed. I’ve found it good for my mental health, which is strange because it’s not really a quiet place. Where I was living it was so quiet. Here it’s noisy, there’s lots of people; I’ve found an odd, fast energy here. I’ve found myself going out most days, even to nowhere in particular. I’ll sit at King’s Cross fountain watching people. It’s been really good. 

I’m curious as to how this experience is going to affected the next lot of music I do. You know, how environments shape some things?

Yeah, of course. 

JKM-S: Michael and I, while we were finishing Curious Music, doing the mix down of that record, we started working on other songs. We have finished another record, which isn’t a follow up to Curious Music

The next record has all instruments, we started experimenting with them. Like Curious Music it’s been fun in terms of experimentation. We’ve had a lot of friends or people we know who play odd instruments come in and record with us. I did a post on Facebook a few months back to ask if anyone knew a tuba player. Obviously, the post got bombarded with emojis and a vibe of what-is-this-guy-doing-asking-for-a-tuba-player? [laughs]. 

We were at the studio last week and there was a country music production that took the first room of the warehouse where Michael’s studio is. A guy came out of there with two massive cases. I was like, ‘Man, what is in these cases?’ He was like, “They’re tubas.” I was like, ‘Are you serious?!’ The guy’s name was actually Jai as well. So, on that day we recorded a couple of hours of tuba. It was an amazing experience, I’d never worked with someone who has played that. He went to the Conservatorium and studied classical tuba. We laughed most of the day. 

We got Yuta from Orion’s little brother to come play trumpet too. I’m so excited having so many friends play on it. The theory of it is that it’s going to be in an ambient world but there’s some bizarro pop songs to fit the link in-between this world. Toto from Fully Feudal contributed keyboard to one of the songs. Fully Feudal are playing at Nag Nag Nag, you’re going to love them.

Thanks so much for this chat. It’s been wonderful getting to know you and learn more about how you create and how you’ve navigated challenges in your life. 

JKM-S: You’ve made me feel so comfortable and this has been really nice. 

While Michael and I were recording there were some specific records we were listening to. I was listening to The Pavilion of Dreams by Harold Budd. It was one of the main things I started listening to after Matika died. I found it extremely soothing. I became obsessed with the harp instrument, that entire record has it. Just before her passing when Exek was in America, I got to see Anthony Braxton, he played at Cropped Out fest in Louisville. That night he only used clarinet and saxophone; he also had a harpist there. I’ll never forget that show. It was at dusk on a riverbank. [Andrew] Brocchi and Albert wanted to watch him. I didn’t know who he was but they informed me that he was a second generation Black jazz musician that existed in the formative era of jazz. I was blown away, especially by the harp performer. I started getting back into Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. I found the harp really magical.

So, as I said, after Matika passed I got into Pavilion of Dreams and I started trying to find chords on guitar that sounded like a harp. I was able to do that and took it to Mickey. Curious Music does revolve around one chord, an F shape chord at the bottom of the guitar neck, a sequence of notes we recorded as clean guitar with a small amount of reverb—it sounds like a harp. 

Michael’s biggest influence for the record was In A Silent Way by Miles Davis. In a weird way we were also trying to find out at the same time if there was a distinct correlation between spiritual-esque jazz music, ambient music and if those worlds could meet (or had already). We then just tried to make our own weird, ambient jazz music [laughs]. 

GET Grossman / Morris-Smith’s Curious Music via Research Records in Australia and Astral Spirits in the U.S..

EXEK’s Albert Wolski on up coming new album ‘Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet’: “I definitely like to make a little universe”

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade mixed media by B.

One of Gimmie’s favourite bands Naarm/Melbourne-based EXEK have a new single and clip out today—‘Several Souvenirs’ from upcoming LP Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet out soon on Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club. Gimmie had a quick chat with vocalist-guitarist, Albert Wolski.

What’s life been like lately for you, Albert?

ALBERT WOLSKI: Pretty normal. I work full-time with Billy [Gardner] and Jake [Robertson] from Ausmuteants. We worked all throughout Covid, it was business as usual; actually, work was as turbo as it could possibly get, a bit too turbo. It was fine though. We had to work when a lot of people were able to have time off and could do their creative stuff, and just read, chill and hang.

We’re really excited EXEK has a new album coming out! I’ve been listening to it a lot since Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club sent it through to us. It’s so awesome!

AW: Thank you! Rad!

Last we interviewed you (March 2020), EXEK had just released Some Beautiful Species Left. You mentioned “We’re currently working on the next album. I wrote all these lyrics for it ages ago, most of them were written whilst I was on holiday in Europe in 2017.” Is Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet that album you were talking about then?

AW: That is actually the next album, that was done before this new one. It’s all kind of confusing and everything overlaps, there’s a bit of a tapestry now. Things aren’t too linear half the time. Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet comes out the 4th of June. We’re working on stuff for next year as well, just trying to stay busy.

Lots of EXEK in our future, lucky us! I noticed a few songs on Good Thing… have been on other releases, split 7-inches and compilations overseas; the first six tracks are newer ones?

AW: Yeah. It’s split between the A-side and the B-side. The A-side is new and the B-side is older stuff. One of the songs feels like it’s new because it hasn’t come out yet, there’s been a delay in a compilation it’s on, that a French label SDZ is putting out, they put out Some Beautiful Species Left. They were celebrating their 20th year anniversary last year, but it all got delayed. It’s the song ‘Four Stomachs’.

The title of the album Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet is a lyric from the first song ‘Palazzo Di Propaganda Fide’. Being the nerd I am, I was looking up what the song title was in reference to and found a palace located in Rome has that name.

AW: Yeah. It’s known for its architecture [designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, then Francesco Borromini]. I wanted to loosely connect that building and almost pretend that the cover of Biased Advice, which just got reissued [on Castle Face] … I wanted to refer back to that record. There’s a lyric that goes: someone turned the lights on, and it looks like the sweatshop from the first album. Now it’s full colour, so it’s almost like someone did turn the lights on and its loosely painting a narrative that the sweatshop is in that building, but obviously it isn’t. It’s all very nonsensical really.

I love how in EXEK albums there’s always so many layers, from the music to lyrics and to art and videos. It’s cool how things connect over releases.

AW: Yeah, I definitely like to make a little universe and for that universe to exist and try and make sense out of it; it is its own universe so it doesn’t have to make sense in comparison to this universe. [Laughs].

The song we’re premiering along with its video is ‘Several Souvenirs’.

AW: I guess that one is related to Covid, just after the lockdown in Melbourne, everyone was really stinging to go out and be social again; maybe not everyone, but at least I did and my friends. We really felt like connecting with people and having some fun. I was writing that song when I was going out and partying a lot, a lot! Definitely during Covid there was none of that, I gave up alcohol for three or four months during the first lockdown. After the second one I just felt like partying again. ‘Several Souvenirs’ is kind of the EXEK party song, it’s definitely not a party song but it does have the romanticism of creating the perfect evening and the perfect memory of the perfect evening. It’s a little bit new wave-y, a little bit romantic, and probably the most poppy that we get.

I got that romanticising feeling from the film clip. It creates that mood, with the shots, lighting and even the ballerina character. Where was it shot?

AW: Yeah. It was shot at a pub [Stingrays Upstairs at the Bodriggy Brewery], not our next show but the one after we’ll be playing there with Body Maintenance. The place is named after a friend of mine. The narrative is that Carol is about to start her shift at the bar, a song comes on and she just goes into her fantasy world and it gets more and more extravagant. The dresses get crazier, the lighting gets crazier, there’s wind and smoke. Then she snaps out of it. We managed to get the place for free to do the clip, on the one condition that we play there. I was like, “Of course, it’ll be fun.”

It seems like a really amazing venue.

AW: I don’t think anyone has played there yet. It should be interesting because there is a mezzanine level, which is six or seven steps high – we’re going to playing at that height – which is really, really high. My ideal stage is one to two steps. It’s a brand-new place that opened right after Covid, not many people know about it.

Where did you find the ballerina for your clip?

AW: She’s a friend of a friend; a friend of my wife and I – Kasey – she runs this fashion label and store. Carol (the ballerina) loves Kasey’s fashion. She’s a professional dancer and model, we thought she’d be great for the clip so we asked her if she’d be keen. She was. Then it was all happening.

Were you there on set when it was being filmed?

AW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was a big crew of us all behind the scenes, letting her hog the spotlight really [laughs].

Who shot the clip?

AW: Robyn my wife and her close friend Hannah. They’re both photographers. Hannah is also a videographer. Also, Alex McLaren who you just interview was there too; he was helping us out behind the scenes with some tech stuff and we were fortunate enough to borrow his equipment. It turned out good.

One of the tracks on the LP’s B-side is the theme from Judge Judy (that originally appeared on your split 7-inch with Spray Paint); how did you come to choosing to cover that?

AW: I really love that bassline. You know when you were back in the day and you’d stay home from school and Judge Judy would come on? I thought, damn, I love that bassline. I thought it would be good to cover because EXEK basslines are kind of like that, it would kind of lend itself to what we do. We just fleshed it out and it was really easy to do, really fun to record.

Anything else to tell us about the album?

AW: The songs on the B-side of the album have been retweaked. I just can’t help myself. The mixing process never ends with us. I always thought that when I got a chance, I’d retweak a few things. Even the last track [‘Too Step A Hill To Climb’] I redid the whole vocals for that. I wasn’t too keen on the originals. All the songs on that side have been modified to freshen them up.

On a side note, I know you love watching films, and I’m always up for great film recommendations; what have you been watching lately?

AW: I’ve been watching all these silly blockbusters lately. I feel like watching the world blow up, I think I see it as cathartic when things aren’t really going too well outside, that visual chaos. It’s really chaos right now in the world. One film that I saw a couple of years ago that I’m keen to rewatch is Under The Silverlake, which I think slipped by a lot of people.

I love that movie.

AW: Yeah, I think I might watch it again tonight. It’s so good.

Did you find that the lockdown affected your creativity?

AW: To an extent, I didn’t want to write about what was going on, so that made it a little bit harder. I didn’t want to write about Covid, even though I like to write about hard science stuff and which I do anyway. My writing process is really hard to shift gears away from hard science, pathogens and diseases and science-fiction dystopias [laughs].

Please check out: EXEK on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram. Tickets to the EXEK/Body Maintenance show here. Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet out on Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club June 4.

EXEK’s Albert Wolski: “If music can be so powerful, then why not try your hand at creating some. What you create doesn’t have to be everyone’s bag, but some might like it”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne’s EXEK create beautiful, atmospheric post-punk-dub-krautrock magic. Their third LP released last year Some Beautiful Species Left (out on Anti Fade Records) takes you on an epic musical journey, from dystopian soundscapes through to poppy hooks. We interviewed EXEK creator Albert Wolski.

Why is music important to you?

ALBERT WOLSKI: It provides content. Filling up the gap between the ears. But it’s crazy how you can feel music too, and not just the low-end rumble in yr guts. But also across your skin. What a wild sensation! The French have a word for that – Frisson.

What inspired you to start making music yourself?

AW: Probably for the reason stated above. If music can be so powerful, then why not try your hand at creating some. What you create doesn’t have to be everyone’s bag, but some might like it.

Your background is in film and sound design; could you please share with us one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?

AW: Sam Dixon’s short film Dancing Goat was a lot of fun. He had someone else doing the sound and they just played it way too straight for him. Sam realised he needed something a bit more surreal and fantastical. So we did some experimenting, like creating the voices for satanic goats and some other wildlife that lived off-screen. I remember that Selma’s pet Iguana Jub Jub was our inspiration. As a side note, Sam is currently working on our next clip. Since he’s jobless due to Covid-19 the clip will probably be done pretty soon!

How does your film work influence what you create with EXEK? Your songs are incredibly atmospheric.

AW: Thanks! I studied a lot of film scores at uni. I ended up writing my honours thesis on Mica Levi’s Under The Skin and Howard Score’s Videodrome. With both those films, it’s often hard to discern what is the score and what sounds are part of the film. I loved that ambiguity of treading the border of what is classified as ‘music’. I try to apply that concept to EXEK, by using field recordings and odd instruments. But more so, it’s all about depth and creating ambience. Utilising the spacial field, by having some sounds deep in the distance under what’s up close and dominant.

What was the inspiration behind the title of your latest album, Some Beautiful Species Left? It seems to really be in the spirit and themes of the albums tracks.

AW: It’s a lovely sentence isn’t it? The message can be viewed as being pessimistic or optimistic. That was the major draw card. I like to leave it up to the audience. And obviously the title gels well with the concepts discussed in the songs. I suppose it’s kinda a grim record. It’s about not being in control, with elements in your life coming and going. Like waves. Or species. Coming and going. Becoming extinct. And then the fires hit! It felt odd having our album launch in Melbourne, with the album called Some Beautiful Species Left, when there were all these add campaigns everywhere about the massive amount of species that just got annihilated.

You wrote the songs for the record and produced it; what was your initial creative vision for it?

AW: This record began by messing around with a bunch of drum beats whilst making another record. They were initially on the ‘cutting-room’ floor but I liked them so I quickly fleshed out some bass lines, and that’s how the record came about. The record that we were recording is yet to be released. It’s taking a while but I’m happy with the progress.

How did the albums opening track “Hobbyist” develop?

AW: Yeah pretty much just mucking around with a beat. The beat is quite imperfect – as in it folds over and starts again at odd times and doesn’t align with the bass. But it works in an unsettling way. I think it’s my favourite song off the album. It’s got a solid groove that sets the pace for the following tracks. Actually, most of the drums for the record were developed in a similar way. I would beat box the rhythm I had in my head to the drummer, and we’d figure out how to scribe it on a kit.

EXEK – Some Beautiful Species Left.

Why did you go with “How the Curve Helps” for the albums close?

AW: Funny how I mentioned that the album’s title was so strangely relevant during the bushfire catastrophe. And now, the title of this track seems to be so pertinent in regards to the current crisis of Covid-19. Spooky. Anyway. I can’t remember why it’s the closer. There must have been a reason for it. I usually don’t just chuck songs on a record in any old sequence. I find the sequence is very important. An album is like a canvas; all the tracks and instruments need to work together for the common goal. But yeah, can’t remember why, sorry, ha.

Is there a track on the record that was a real challenge to make?

AW: Yeah, “Curve” was a bit of a bitch actually. It took me a while to structure the ending. It needed a bit of a journey. The song’s about how life on earth if affected by what happens out in space, like tidal shifts for example. So it took me a while to shape how the song retreats and slowly eases back in. Several instruments build up and finally develop a bit of a melody. And the piano has a melody that reflects the main synth theme from the first half of the track. And then it ends with the sound of something so innately boring, which is a TNT courier backing up the driveway at my work.

How developed are your ideas before they are committed to a written form?

AW: Half baked. I like to allow things to happen organically. For example, I’d have a part of a track lined up that I know is going to be a guitar line or a synth line. I’d plug everything in and press record without knowing what I’m going play. 90% of the time, it’s the first take that ends up being what you hear on our records. Same goes for when Jai [K Morris Smith] records guitar, or [Andrew] Brocchi does synth. Sometimes they’ve barely heard the track and I’ll get ‘em in, press record, and capture their first impressions. It’s different with lyrics though. I stew on them for years. I can’t fathom how a freestyle rapper’s mind operates. Or hearing how Noel [Gallagher] wrote the last verse for “Shakermaker” in the cab on the way to the studio to record it. Sure, they are garbage lyrics, but suit their music so well.

What sparks your lyrical imagination?

AW: Science. Hard science and the social sciences. There’s a lot of material out there in those fields with interesting words and concepts that haven’t really been rinsed by lyricists yet. So it gives us a point of difference. Ah, this is kinda interesting. So we’re currently working on the next album. I wrote all these lyrics for it ages ago, most of them were written whilst I was on holiday in Europe in 2017. For some reason they’re all about pathogens, and dodgy markets in odd places around the world, and currency fluctuation. I might have to change all that now! I don’t want the next record to appear to be a ‘Covid-19 Sessions’ or some dribble. It’ll have to take a few generations for credible songs about Covid-19 to pop up. No one wants to hear that shit right now. In 50 years’ time it might be interesting, to channel what it was like to live in an era where some guy got sick cos he ate an animal he shouldn’t have eaten, and then the whole world literally got turned upside down.

EXEK – Ahead Of Two Thoughts.

Do you need solitude or have a preferred time of day to write?

AW: I enjoying walking. Doing something whilst writing is great to get the blood flowing, and walking is perfect. The shower is good too, but near impossible to retain ideas.

Does the instrument you use affect the writing of the melody in your songs?

AW: Na, it’s the opposite. The melody affects what instrument will be used. By their very definition, the instruments are the tools. And you need the right tool for the job! ; )

I understand that all of your music gets fed through a Roland Space Echo; how did you first come to using it? What do you love most about it?

AW: Ha, not all of it, but a fair chunk. I don’t run much compression, so the space echo is good to just colour instruments with a bit of tape warmth, even if I’m not using the echo or delay on it. Something like a synth needs to be fed thru some tape. The Space Echo is a great tool at creating atmosphere. Every delay reflection rolls off some higher frequencies and gets duller and duller. Can’t remember my first use. I bought a busted one for real cheap and sent it to Echo Fix on the Central Coast in NSW. They made it fit and working again. Great service, highly recommended.

Do you ever go back and listen to your records?

AW: Nah. But sometimes I enter a shop or something, and I think to myself, “oh this ain’t bad, I know this”, and one more second later I realise its EXEK.

EXEK – A Casual Assmebly.

What do you do to nurture your creativity?

AW: Watch a lot of films, and listening to a wide variety of music. Read too. And podcasts ain’t bad. Primarily it’s finding new music. Been on a heavy funk and soul trip for the past couple of years. Even though I guess we are technically a ‘post-punk’ band, I rarely listen to post-punk.

What are you working on now?

AW: LP4! It’s written, and mostly recorded. Some songs are done! And they sound killer. I hope you like it.

Please check out: EXEK. Some Beautiful Species is out now on Anti Fade Records. EXEK on Facebook. EXEK on Instagram.