Duo Modal Melodies’ debut single ‘Occupants’ – “I was hoping for a positive outcome or something good to happen after a difficult time.”

Photo: Danielle Hakim. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Modal Melodies is a collaboration between Violetta Del Conte-Race (Primo!/The Glass Picture) & Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob, etc.) made in the spirit of fun and experimentation without rules, they found in each other their biggest inspiration. 

Gimmie are premiering album opener ‘Occupants’, a joyful electronic synth-pop romp, with Vio’s vocals welcoming, intimate and daydreamy. We chatted with Jake and Vio.

How did the project get started?

JAKE: I approached Vio at Jerkfest 2021. I’ve always been a pretty strong admirer of her songwriting and ability to play and sing said songs. I had a bunch of songs that I was struggling with, this was around the last time I was speaking to you, I felt like all of my songs were sounding the same. So, I thought I’d hit up Vio and see if she could give us a hand with some stuff and if I could return the favour. I don’t know if it was ever intended to be a full album, it just panned out like that because the workflow was so languid. It was so smooth, I felt like it was no effort whatsoever to do this, probably because Vio and I work in a similar method.

VIO: Yeah, it was really easy to work together. It got even easier as it went along. We started out with a couple of ideas then started adding more ideas and realised that any ideas we could use; everything we shared with each other we were like, ‘We can do something with that!’ 

JAKE: We had very limited restrictions. There was no wrong answers.

You told me that the only rule for Modal Melodies is that it was only going to be a recorded project and that you’ll never play live.

JAKE: [Laughs] You know, rules can be broken. I always do this, where I go to record with someone and it turns into a live thing.

So Modal Melodies might play live?

JAKE: [Laughs] I’m going to say, no.

VIO: We haven’t talked about it. The cool thing with having the idea of not playing live meant that we could just play as many instruments as we wanted, add as many layers and not have to worry how we would actually do it if we wanted to play it live. It freed us up in that way. That meant that we could push ourselves. There was a song that we did two key changes in; I don’t think I’ve ever done a key change in a song ever. That was really fun! Just trying new things out.

JAKE: The way that we put the songs together was how I put demos together when I’m by myself. I’d never really shown anyone that process before. It felt a little bit weird recording it like that, it felt like demos the entire time, which made me more a little bit loosey-goosey with stuff [laughs]. Did you feel like that Vio? 

VIO: Do you mean adding stuff?

JAKE: Adding stuff. Or even just the writing. I guess because it was so free-flowing there literally wasn’t a single ‘No, let’s not put that in there.’ There was a couple of ‘Hey, we should take out that guitar or put in this guitar’ – the editing that goes with every recording. Because there were no rules or restrictions, I felt like I was in a demo process the entire time. It wasn’t until listening to the song back that I was like, ‘Whoa, this is the whole finished song!’

You mentioned you have a process; what is that process?

JAKE: We recorded the Modal Melodies stuff in the same way that I would write a song, where I would do it in loops of bits and pieces and layer different parts over the top of each other as opposed to when I would rerecord those demos into a album for a different project and do everything live or as live as possible, if it’s Alien Nosejob. So, I play drums along to the entire song. Or if it’s a three-minute guitar song record the entire three-minute guitar, whereas a lot of the songs Vio and I did were looped-based. Some songs we’d play the entire song on guitar or both of us have guitars plugged in, play an entire three-minute song then cut up little bits and pieces, like use the the 20 second or 30 second mark of Vio’s guitar and then the 40 second mark of my guitar. I’ve never done that with another person before, it was very easygoing and a free-flowing was of doing things. 

What’s your usual process Vio?

VIO: With Primo! a lot of the songs start with Xanthe or I bringing in an idea and we’ll learn it together or expand on it, maybe if there’s a verse and no chorus. Or maybe do a demo. Before this I was just using GarageBand demos and would send them to everyone. 

With Modal Melodies, like Jake was saying… I think that’s why it came together so fast because there wasn’t that extra step of taking it in to a group of other people and trying to make that live. It’s done already and you’re sort of shocked it’s already finished [laughs]. 

JAKE: A lot of this was done during lockdown when we couldn’t see each other, so we would email each other being like, ‘Let’s try and have a part that sounds like this or this song.’ It’d be, ‘I really like how this song from the 80s has a whistle in it.’ That’s a bad example though because there is no whistling, but something like that. 

Vio, how do you inspire each other musically? Last time I spoke with Jake he told me that one thing he really admired about what you do musically, is that you give things space, you know where things can breathe as opposed to when he makes stuff and it’s really jam packed. You’re the opposite in that way?

VIO: Yeah, I would agree with that. It was cool for me because I always feel that I work quite simply. I often repeat things a lot. If there was an idea that I initially brought in, I was always amazed by how much we could expand on it. I really loved what he added to all of the songs; I never would have thought of those things myself. All of the songs became better through our collaboration. 

I really love your singing on this album.

VIO: Thank you!

There’s so many really beautiful moments. I love how sound-wise it has an 80s feel but then I can totally hear elements of what each of you do in your other projects shine through. It definitely has it’s own sound though.

JAKE: Each of us had three or four half written songs we brought in. Before we got in the room together (it was a lockdown before we could actually meet up) there was so many emails back-and-forth, with each email having a YouTube playlist; we were sending each other different songs, different influences, so many songs I’d never heard of before. When Vio sent them to me I was like, ‘I’ll try and make something in the style of this.’ 

There was one song that we did instrumentally here that we recorded, we had no vocals and we went for a walk and then Vio went home, three hours later she sent me the recorded words and it was about the tawny frogmouths that we saw a couple hours before on our walk. I feel like you should talk about this Vio, because your lyrics are so much more of a large percentage than mine. It was really cool, I felt like the next day I was reliving the previous day from the words that Vio had written, which was real nice. 

What’s that song called?

JAKE: ‘Clearer Path To Hutton Street’, which is the street I live on.

VIO:  I think it’s ‘Fourth Stage’ Jake!

JAKE: It is? Oh, it is! It’s ‘Fourth Stage’. 

VIO: ‘Clearer Path…’ is another reference to your house, although the lyrics weren’t about your house but somehow the title ended up being about your house [laughs]. 

JAKE: I think it might have been one of the things where you record something on an iPhone and it says the location. I think it said ‘Clearer Path’ then the location was Hutton Street and I sent it to Billy [Gardener – Anti Fade Records] as a demo. He was like ‘Damn – A Clearer Path To Hutton Street – what a title!’ So, I kept it. 

We’re excited to be premiering Modal Melodies debut single ‘Occupants’!

JAKE: That’s one of Vio’s.

VIO: That was the first song that we ever worked on. It was an idea that I had on keyboard and I had some singing for it already; very minimal keys and vocals. I wrote it with my friend in mind, who is also my housemate. That’s where the title came from, we live in the same house…

JAKE: And, is your bandmate [in The Glass Picture]!

VIO: Yes, she’s also my bandmate Lucy [Emanuel]. I wrote it when we were coming out of lockdown at the start of last year. It’s really just me trying to write something to look forward to, my idea was to write something where I was hoping for a positive outcome or something good to happen after a difficult time.

It definitely has that feel and it’s a really cool way to kick off the Modal Melodies album.

VIO: I feel that was really musically interesting, to see what Jake came up with on the software synth; we worked on that a lot. 

When you were sending songs back-and-forth to each other over email was there anything that surprised you?

VIO: I found the song ‘Driving’ quite surprising because it was supposed to be a surprise, we did a bit of an experiment where Jake wrote all the music for that, he had a whole track with no singing and we were like, ok, let’s email each other vocals but not listen to the other person’s vocals until we’d done our own. It was interesting to see how different they would be or how different the melodies would be that we’d come up with. The only lyrical guideline is that it would be about driving, because it’s reminding me of it.

It sounds like you had a lot of fun making the album and there was a lot of experimentation. 

JAKE: It was super fun! Not to continually talk about lockdown, but we’d basically spent a year not seeing anybody and being locked in our rooms. Then it was our choice to lock ourselves in the room to do this, it was almost like a liberating thing [laughs]. It was experimental. It’s a hard one because I feel like it’s each of our ideas completely unfiltered and neither of us said no to the other person. What’s the style of writing called that probably [Jack] Kerouac did where it’s just continuous typing? Stream of consciousness kind of thing. Did you feel that Vio?

VIO: Yeah, I reckon, just because it flowed really easily that lends itself to that stream of consciousness approach. It already feels like you’re in it and it’s just a continuation. 

You mentioned that you were sending songs by other artists to each other inspiring your songwriting; what were some of them that you really enjoyed?

JAKE: The first email that Vio sent me was a Saâda Bonaire track. Our song ‘Starting Point’ was written after Vio sending me that. And what was that later era Wire song? I’m one of those people that only listen to the first three Wire records. 

VIO: It’s on the album with the purple cover… A Bell Is A Cup.

JAKE: Yeah, yeah. ‘Follow the Locust’! Vio sent me so many things I’d never heard of.

VIO: The songs Jake sent have become some of my favourite songs, like ‘Double Heart’ by Robert Rental. 

JAKE: Oh yeah, that’s amazing!

VIO: And that Vivien Vee song ‘Higher’ is so good. 

JAKE: That was kind of in my mind for the slow disco song… with the Italo disco Eurodisco-thing in mind. We wrote a few uplifters on there as well as a rocker, which surprised me. 

Because several of the songs were done from each of our houses, songs like ‘Clearer Path…” and ‘The Sun’ has that arpeggio in it… I was surprised at that when first hearing it, even though it was 50/50 my album. It was just exciting. For me to hear what Vio was coming up with. 

Vio, you did the artwork for the album?

VIO: The painting has sheet music on it, and I can barely read sheet music. I was inspired by the Modal Melodies text which Jake came up with. He wanted to put a lot of clefs and notes in it, we didn’t end up doing that but the painting was inspired by that. Jake sent me a drawing on my phone and I redrew it and put it into illustrator. I guess that was collaborative as well. 

Where did the name come from?

JAKE: The first demo that I did had the name Modal Melodies, then Vio suggested it as the band name instead. We changed the song name to ‘Changing Lights’ which is the closer on the album. I called it Modal Melodies because it was the first song that I wrote on paper first, I tried to write it using my bodgey music writing skills, which is very minimal. I came up with the name before I came up with the song. 

Jake mentioned earlier that you write a lot of the lyrics, Vio?

VIO: Yeah. I wrote all through the process. Usually I’m really slow with lyrics but for some reason this time it didn’t happen. Often if Jake sent me a demo I would instantly get an idea, or even with just what it sounded like, with ‘Driving’, I think ‘Modal Melodies’ as well… I’ve never really experienced that before, writing to something that is already made, the music being made like that. I think it changes how you write. It’s challenging as well. You might not do what you naturally do when you’re just sitting down with an instrument and singing along with it. 

That’s something we both talked about as well, where we were both maybe stuck in a rut with our songwriting, just doing the same things that were quite instinctive, not knowing how it get out of that. 

JAKE: Before I approached you I felt the same as when I used to teach guitar. When I tried to write a song I would often find myself putting in little bits of ‘Layla’ [Eric Clapton] or whatever the student wanted to learn. I found myself doing that with my own songs because it’s all I ever tried to write. When I approached you, I was in desperate want of collaboration with you! 

VIO: I’m glad it worked out! [laughs].

JAKE: Me too! [laughs].

What’s your current favourite song from your record?

JAKE: I tend to like the ones that I had the least to do with, like ‘In The Rain’ and ‘The Sun’. I would say ‘Driving’ was the most 50/50 song I’ve ever been a part of, especially the process of recording it as well—it felt real special. That’s a favourite.

Why did it feel special?

JAKE: As Vio mentioned before, we wrote several parts of the songs without the other person hearing it and then put it all together when we were in the same room, hearing it for the first time together when we played it back. I’m not sure if other people will have the same feelings when they hear it but it makes me think of how we wrote it and what we were doing that day. 

VIO: Yeah, that’s one of mine too. It was cool because it could have been the first time that we both played guitars at the same time. We both just improvised some stuff. It was a really fun experience. I also like the songs that Jake sings on, because I do sing a lot.

JAKE: My voice is all like UUUGH! [laughs] and Vio is like [makes an angelic sound] Aaaaaah!

VIO: [Laughs].

I like the parts where you sing together. 

JAKE: Yeah, Vio kept trying to get me to do that… Vio, I apologise for how difficult I made that for you [laughs]. We’ll have to do it on album two!

Anything else you want to tell me about this project?

JAKE: We did a clip! I was watching a lot of Secret Life Of Us and me and Vio shot a clip in St. Kilda where they shot SLOU. Looking forward to that one coming out!

VIO: It features dancing by us [laughs].

JAKE: Yes, we made up a dance routine! [laughs].

MODAL MELODIES debut full length, self-titled album from May 13th, 2022 on Anti Fade Records (AUS).

Alien Nosejob’s Jake Robertson on new record, Paint It Clear: “Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.”

Original pic by Carolyn Hawkins. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

One of our favourite creators, Jake Robertson (you might know him from Ausmuteants, Hierophants, School Damage, Swab, Drug Sweat, SMARTS and more) is back with a new album for his solo alter-ego project Alien Nosejob. Paint It Clear is ANJ’s fourth full-length. 11 brilliant tracks mixing post-punk with 80’s new wave and even a little disco. Recorded by Mikey Young, the record has ANJ sounding more dynamic and brighter than ever. Gimmie loves Jake’s quirky, humorous and wry observational lyrics and skilful songcraft. We’re excited to share with you, the first track released from the ANJ camp in thirteen months ‘Leather Gunn’ along with our chat with Jake, a sneak peek insight into the forthcoming album.

JAKE ROBERTSON: I’ve been working a lot, it’s taken a toll, I’m basically always tired. I still have a job, which half of my friends don’t since Covid, so I’m pretty lucky in that respect. It’s hard to come home and be motivated to do anything.

When we spoke the other day, you mentioned that you’ve been having a little bit of a break creatively, and that you’ve spent most of your spare time just chilling watching TV and reading.

JR: Yeah. I’ve been reading a bunch, and watching heaps of TV. Kerry my housemate, when he moved in, he brought a giant TV with him; we’ve been going to town on it. It’s the first time that I’ve had a television in ten years—I’m lovin’ it! [laughs]. It’s so good. I’m still writing heaps; I’m constantly writing in-between watching The Righteous Gemstones or whatever.

I feel like maybe a year ago, when I was working a little bit less, I’d finish work, come home and do music for a bit, then go see some mates. Since lockdown has happened, I can’t really see friends, and sometimes can’t be bothered doing music. It’s weird, like I’ve kind of got extra time, but I don’t [laughs].

I feel like you’ve been pretty prolific and released a lot over the last few years though.

JR: Yeah, I have. But everything I’ve released, even the album you’re interviewing me about, most of that was written a while ago. I probably would have recorded it around the time the last Gimmie interview happened.

Yeah, it was around November 2020.

JR: Yeah, that was when I recorded it, but some of the songs were written around 2015, at least the embryonic versions. I’ve just touched them up a little bit.

Having a bunch of songs you’ve written over a long period of time, how did you decide which ones to use for this record Paint It Clear?

JR: The majority of the stuff that I do under the Alien Nosejob name was written with other bands in mind. One or two of them were potentially going to be an Ausmuteants song back in the day. One of them was going to be a Leather Towel song. I have a little log of all my half-finished demos that is written up and pasted on my wall. Every now and then I’ll listen back to something and go, yeah, I could do something with this.

It’s interesting that you said a few of the songs were written with other projects in mind, I had wonder that, because I got that feeling from listening to the album. Jhonny and I were talking about how it doesn’t have one particular sound like other Nosejob releases. I commented that tracks sounded like a Ausmuteants track or even Hierophants or even reminded me of the Nosejob Italo-disco album. The album feels a little like an amalgamation of all the stuff you’ve done.

JR: Yeah, kind of. When I was putting it together, I was trying to be conscious of not making it sound like it’s being too influenced by something else, even though there’s definitely a couple of songs where I’m like, ‘Oh, I was listening to a lot of The Cure’ [laughs]. I haven’t listened to it since I got the test pressing in February. It’s like The Cure with a crappy singer, not Robbie Smith [laughs]. Those two songs are ‘Clear As Paint’ and ‘Duplicating Satan’, which is the Italo-disco-sounding one you were talking about; I remember trying to make it sound like ‘The Walk’ by The Cure, one of their singles from 1983-ish. Hopefully it doesn’t actually sound like it, but I was definitely going for it.

I can totally hear the in there. What can you tell us about the album’s title Paint It Clear?

JR: [Laughs] I literally just jumbled the words of the song ‘Clear As Paint’ around. That song and the title, it was an amateur attempt of a contranym, like painting something clear. If you painted something clear it could be see-through, like glass.

Nice. You mentioned you’ve been watching a lot of TV and films. I love movies, I have since I was a kid. I’d go to the video shop with my mum and we’d get out twenty VHS is $20 for the week. What have you been watching?

JR: We had a very similar upbringing, Bianca. We’d get seven weeklies for $7; you’d pick them up on a Thursday, spend the week watching them and then pick up another seven when you brought those back the following week. I did that from when I was about eight until I was eighteen. It would be a weird week if I didn’t get out at least three videos.

Rad! Whenever I look at those 1001 movies you have to see before you die or 100 best movies of the 80’s and 90’s lists, I’ve seen most of them except for a small handful of titles.

JR: In that 1001 movie list there’s probably another 800 I’d need to see! [laughs]. I’d watch and lot but also rewatch a lot.

Pic by Carolyn Hawkins.

What are some of your favourite movies?

JR: One of my favourite movies lately, because I’ve just rewatched it is, Blue Murder, the mini-series. I created a Letterboxd account the other day, so I was actually thinking about this. I really like the movie The Vanishing, it’s a Dutch one. It’s good if you’re a fan of eerie-ish horror movies. It’s so good. Not the remake with Kiefer Sutherland, but the original. I watched Blood Simple with my housemate, it was awesome, I’ve never seen it before. Movies! Woo! [laughs]. I love Mean Girls and stuff like that as well.

We were talking about comic books before too; I was a really big fan of Ghost World growing up and still am now.

I love ­Ghost World too, and the Mean Girls movie is a classic!

JR: You have to mix up the arty ones with the blockbusters.

For sure. I can’t watch too much of anything at once, mixing things up is essential. For example, if I’ve watched a run of horror movies or true crime, I have to watch something nice and fun and not dark and brutal.

JR: Yeah, it’s time for a Pixar movie! [laughs]. Pixar know how to rip your heart out more than anything else. I feel like the only time that I shed a tear is when I’m watching a Pixar movie [laughs]. The last time I got on a plane, which seems like a long time ago now, I thought it would be a good time to watch the Pixar movie Up. I feel very sorry for the person that was sitting next to me because I was crying, slobbering all over them [laughs].

Awww [laughter]. So, the first single for your album will be ‘Leather Gunn’…

JR: Yeah, it is. When Billy [Anti Fade], Sam [Feel It Records] and I were thinking of what the first single off the album should be, we were like, we’ll each say our top three. That wasn’t in mine, but they both had it in theirs, they have the outsider perspective. To me, all of the songs, I just shit them out and I’m done with it [laughs], I don’t think about them anymore. They both had that song first, so I was like, ok, let’s do that one first.

What was happening when you wrote it?

JR: John Douglas who plays in Leather Towel with me, he was moving back to Australia from New Zealand and we were talking about doing a new Leather Towel album. I was trying to come up with something that sounded different to the first album; that was the only song that I wrote for it. We played two or three gigs, then Covid happened and he went back to New Zealand. We didn’t even get to try that song as a band. It seemed at the point where it probably wouldn’t happened, so I made it a Nosejob song. I kept the ‘Leather’ in there as a nod to that, and the ‘Gunn’ was because the original demo of it, the guitar was single note surfy, like a Peter Gunn da na da na da na na na. Lyrically, it’s about people not doing what they’re told no matter how minuscule and pointless or petty the thing they’re not doing is.

What are the songs the you really love on the album?

JR: I really like ‘Duplicating Satan’.

Was that one of the songs on you top three list?

JR: My list was ‘Duplicating Satan’ and ‘King’s Gambit’ (which will be the second one released, I wrote it in 2015 but never put lyrics to it) that was probably my best written song on the album, it took me ages to write it. The other song is the last one ‘Bite My Tongue’. I get why that wouldn’t be a not-released-before-the-album-comes-out one. That’s another one that took me ages to write. It took me ages to learn how to play it too. ‘Bite My Tongue’ and a few songs that I have, are about… you know when you have a thought or a way of feeling about a certain situation but you can’t find the words to get it out. It’s almost like a block and you just can’t say your mind. It’s a feeling I have sometimes, I can’t even tell myself what it is. Basically, it’s about a mental block and not being able to get your words out properly.

I get that, it makes sense.

JR: Kind of, I think I was trying to make sense of it in the song. Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.

I really love the song ‘Jetlagging’ on the album.

JR: That one was originally written with Ausmuteants in mind, I wrote the lyrics on an Ausmuteants tour, travelling 400kms a day and just eating the same meal over and over again. It’s a very my-first-tour, Tours’R’Us or Tours For Dummies lyrics! [laughs]. I really love that song too.

Also, I love ‘The Butcher’ which is before ‘Jetlagging’ in the album sequencing.

JR: A couple of years ago, I was getting obsessed with Terry Hall and Fun Boy Three. I was trying to write something a little bit from that camp, and The Zombies’ song called ‘The Butcher’ as well; it was definitely an influence on it, but I didn’t mean to call it the same song [laughs]… I’m kind of noticing that now.

I got Mikey [Young] to record the drums; he recorded the drums, bass and guitar for the album. Except for ‘Duplicating Satan’ which I recorded at home, and ‘The Butcher’. I couldn’t work out what I had played in the demo, I had to drag the demo out and stretch it over the drums that I played. I don’t think anyone else will notice this, but if you listen closely the drums and the rest of the music keeps on going out of time because of that. I tried to relearn how to play it, but after a while I was like, I can’t be bothered! [laughs].

Is it weird sometimes listening back to your songs and being able to remember what was happening in your life or what you were doing at the time of writing or recording it? Kind of like having a sonic diary.

JR: Yeah, it is. I might think something is not about something, but it will be. I’ll generally listen to an album that I’ve done when I get it on record, and that’s it. I actually listened to an Ausmuteants album, Amusements, the other day, it was the first time since we recorded it. It was a nice feeling; I definitely like it more than I thought I would. It was good to have an eight-year distance of not hearing it, it was recorded in 2012 or 2013. I won’t rush to listen to it again [laughs], but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I did.

Album art by Nicky Minus.

Who did the album art for Paint It Clear?

JR: How good is it?!

Really, really good! That’s why I was asking, it’s very cool.

JR: It was done by Nicky Minus. They grew up in Hornsby in New South Wales, but they’re living in Melbourne now, and does a lot of work for the Worker’s Art Collective doing a lot of work for Union. I got onto them by following Sam Wallman who is a comic book artist/cartoonist.

Is that the same Sam who has done artwork for you before?

JR: Yeah, he did the first Ausmuteants 7 inch in 2010. I’ve been following his stuff before then, he’s besties with Nicky, I saw their stuff through that and was blown away by it. I just bought some of their art for my wall, and because I look at it every day, I was like, it could suit this album. They were into it, they wanted to make something from scratch. I’m glad they did and am super happy with the way it turned out.

What else have you been up to of late?

JR: I’ve been doing some home-recording with Vio [Violetta DelConte Race] from Primo! I’ve loved her songwriting for ages, she has a good idea of space, if it doesn’t need to be played, she won’t; the way I play is the opposite of that [laughs]. It’s kind of inspired by Michael Rother, and sounds basically like School Damage and Primo! If I could sound half as good as Primo! I’d be happy. It’s called Modal Melodies. The only rule of the project is that we’re not allowed to play live, it’s just a recording thing.

Cool! I can’t wait to hear that. I love Primo! too. They’re all such incredible songwriters.

JR: There’s a new Swab album around the corner too coming out on the label Hardcore Victim in around January or February. And, I’m playing drums on the new Ill Globo album!

Alien Nosejob’s Paint It Clear is out November 12. Pre-order now: Anti Fade (AUS) and Feel It Records (USA).

Anti Fade are also offering a bundle deal, including Paint It Clear on vinyl, the last record Once Again The Present Becomes The Past on cassette and a t-shirt and a ANJ shirt! Get it HERE.

Read another Gimmie interview with Jake: Alien Nosejob: “I wanted to make it sound like a mixtape that you’d give to your friends”

Please check out: aliennosejob.bandcamp.com

Sleeper and Snake on new LP Fresco Shed + first single ‘Flats’: “There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this…”

Original photo Mia McDonald. Handmade mixed-media art by B.

Melbourne duo Sleeper and Snake, Amy Hill and Al Montfort, are set to release new album Fresco Shed via brand new independent Australian label Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (from the folks behind Lulu’s record store) and the UK’s Upset the Rhythm.

Sleeper and Snake craft beautiful and delicate songs about tough matters, their songs are political without being overtly so, you have to dig deeper, they make you think. Al and Amy skillfully and uniquely tell stories observed from their local surroundings of trains, farmers, corrupt handshakes, of Pentridge prison and the Melbourne war memorial. Through laid back alto and tenor saxophone peppered lo-fi soundscapes and poetic words, Fresco Shed sparks imagination and charms the listener.

Gimmie chatted to Al and Amy about the forthcoming LP and song “Flats” which we’re doing the Australian video premiere for today. We also talk about their other projects in the works.

What initially inspired you to write a new Sleeper and Snake album Fresco Shed?

AMY: Good question! [laughs].

AL: Yeah.

AMY to AL: You’re just always writing music, endlessly… it’s gotta go somewhere.

AL: We were writing a lot of Terry songs together…

AMY: We just enjoy playing music together.

AL: I guess…

AMY: Some of it didn’t suit that.

AL: Yeah. We had saxophones so we were making a lot of music with them.

I wanted to ask you about using saxophone, because that’s kind of a less traditional instrument to write songs with; have you been playing for very long?

AMY: No, not really. Al got one…

[Laughter]

AL: Yeah, I got one. I got a tenor sax from EBay from a fancy rich suburb in Sydney for 200 bucks! [laughs] …maybe six years ago when Total Control were up there for a gig. I didn’t bother getting any lessons, in case you can’t tell.

AMY: I tried to play it once and I managed to get sound out of it and he pestered me into playing [laughs]. Georgia from The UV Race plays saxophone and she had babies recently so she wasn’t using her saxophone, I managed to borrow hers and that’s what I’ve been playing. We thought it would sound quite cool to have the tenor and alto saxophones together. It seemed like a fun thing to do.

AL: Yeah. Amy just picked it up and was way better. She was a total natural at it straight away.

What do you enjoy about making music?

AL: It keeps me sane-ish. I think any kind of creative outlet is really important for people. The process of writing lyrics is a really great outlet for me to get through the day, to make things compute and it helps this horrible place make sense.

AMY: I think it’s just fun!

[Laughter]

Making something from nothing is the most fun!

AL: Totally!

AMY: Yeah. It’s also been a real social thing for me, I get to hang out with my friends and we do music together. It’s always been what you do, go see bands and play music together.

How have you guys been dealing with not being able to be as social and do those things, especially play live?

AMY: It’s pretty weird. At first it was almost like a little bit of a holiday from it. By playing in numerous bands we’d find ourselves playing something like four gigs a week, which is quite insane when you’re also working fulltime [laughs]. The first lockdown it was kind of a bit of a novelty but it starts to just become quite odd, I feel a bit odd. There’s a lot of people that you don’t see anymore because you’re not going out to see live bands. Your life feels a bit like it’s on hold, I guess most people would be feeling that.

I think so. I’ve been going to gigs my whole life and this has been the longest I’ve gone without going to see live music. Right now in Brisbane a handful of venues have brought back a live shows but with a small capacity and it’s sit down at tables, socially distanced; you pay the ticket price and then you have to pay a minimum of $40 each extra on top of that which is redeemable in bar tab or venue merch. That means for my husband and I to go see a local live band it can cost around $120; we don’t drink and we’re not going to spend $80 on soft drink and we don’t need venue merch, so these new rules excludes us from going to do something we’ve done and supported our whole lives.

AL & AMY: Whoa!

I can understand venues are in a weird spot with having limited capacity and not having been opened for a bit but to basically enforce a alcohol minimum to see bands is really weird.

AL: That is really weird.

AMY: Someone was telling me that Cherry Bar here in Melbourne was trying to gauge interest, they want to do a gig where there’s some hotel and it must have a courtyard in the middle and the rooms have balconies that look down on it; they want to have the bands in the courtyard and then you book a room, so it’s a festival where you have to have your own room. It’s insane.

Wow! Totally.

AMY: You have to have money to be able to do that!

Same with the bands doing gigs at drive-ins up here. It’s something like $200-$250+ per car to go.

AL: Whoa!

Yeah, it puts going to a show out of the reach of a lot of people, especially with many people losing their jobs.

AMY: Do you think people do it because they think they’re supporting live music? But then it’s so inaccessible for so many, it’s so weird.

Yeah, the kind of crowd that end up being able to afford it are the ones that go to a festival like Splendour In The Grass just for the experience… its crazy to me that festivals like Splendour have a stall/tent you can go to and get your hair done and a nail bar! I mean, what the actual fuck?

[Laughter]

Is there anything that frustrates you about making music?

AL: Hmmmm [thinks for a moment]… dealing with promoters. I think there are a lot of good promoters that have their heart in the right place, but I think the money making, money obsessed side of it…

AMY: It’s a bit grim!

AL: It is pretty grim. Even what’s happening now with the shutdown, I know a lot of the venues are keen to open up because there’s people that work for them and the landlords need money from the venues, the business owners need money and they’re pushing this stuff more than the artists I feel. I feel like the artists and the fans are like, let’s respect this, it’s OK…

AMY: We’ll just have a break. There’s a real push from the business side because they’ll go under if they don’t have the chance.

AL: I feel like maybe there’s not that much interest in the cultural, artistic side of musicians/artists… it’s more about the bottomline. That can be frustrating.

AMY: Some people probably love it, if they’re in it to make money [laughs].

AL: Yeah, totally.

Photo: Mia McDonald

I grew up in the punk rock community so I’ve always been very wary of the music industry.

AL: Yeah. I went to a lot of punk gig growing up, there weren’t many at pubs, there were many at cafes during the day or DIY venues, house parties, and they went along just fine without these huge bars making a lot of money off of people drinking themselves to death… I’m not quite straight edge but…

AMY: I guess there’s that thing that musicians often get paid in their bar tab to a certain degree which… it’s a bit of a weird normality that that’s what you get.

I’ve been listening to the new Sleeper & Snake album Fresco Shed all afternoon since I got a sneak peek of it, it’s so cool. The opener “Miracles” is an instrumental and has a feel about it sonically that is kind miraculous and magical sounding.

AMY: Thank you.

AL: “Miracles” is inspired by Scott Morrison when he won the election and was like “it’s a miracle… I’ll burn for you” and he kept on saying all this stuff about miracles [laughs]. It was really upsetting.

AMY: [Laughs].

That’s like how in the US Donald Trump said that the pandemic will “disappear… like a miracle”.

AL: A miracle! Ugggh… Love that! [laughs].

I love how Fresco Shed has a real gentleness to it but then the themes are very political and serious.

AL: Yeah. It’s funny just making the music at home because we don’t play through amps very much with this project. Because we’re doing it like that and playing at home using saxophone and that, it does become gentle in a way.

AMY: You don’t have to be loud.

AL: Maybe it’s just sad and defeated?

AMY: Sad?! [laughs].

AL: It’s that side of politics… it’s the sound of defeat [laughs].

I saw press photos and there was an abstract hand-painted “fresco shed” in the pics; did you make it yourself?

AMY: We were getting quite crafty in lockdown.

AL: [Laughs].

AMY: Al’s always trying to make papier-mâché things. In Terry he made the papier-mâché Terry. He likes to get crafty.

AL: Yeah, I like to get crafty! I was really proud of the corrugated iron type roof.

AMY: We envisioned a real shed covered in fresco paintings but then all we could physically achieve was a cardboard box [laughs]. We like making the art and being hands on in that way. We had a lot of time on our hands.

We were nerds and zoomed in on the photos to check out the paintings better and we noticed that each picture correlates to song themes on the record, you have the V-Line country train, Pentridge prison, crooked handshakes…

AL: It’s conceptual but literal [laughs].

AMY: Al told me what to paint and I just painted it, that was the rule! [laughs]; I said I’d paint it if he told me what to paint. They all relate to the songs.

I really love the image of the “farmer full of feelings”.

AMY: [Laughs].

AL: That’s one of my favourites, I think. That person definitely looks defeated!

That image is related to the song “Lady Painter”?

AMY: Yep. The farmer full of feelings has just watched a Scott Morrison press conference [laughs].

That song even mentions the “fresco shed” right?

AL: Oh yeah.

AMY: That’s where the title comes from.

We’re premiering the video for your song “Flats”; what’s that one about?

AL: We moved to a different suburb a year and a bit ago, Richmond is an inner east suburb of Melbourne…

AMY: No one we know really lives here, everyone lives north side. We moved to a suburb that’s kind of wealthy…

AL: It’s diverse, it has a lot of public housing but it’s really rich as well, heaps of wealthy people. You really see gentrification at that umpteenth level, how extreme it can get…

AMY: All the apartments going up and stuff. It was during summer and we were going for walks and we were talking about ideas and things and that kind of came up and that turned into a song.

AMY to AL: Did you write it?

AL: I think we both wrote it while we were walking around taking Tramadols [laughs]. We were walking by the Yarra River, it runs through the whole thing and you really see the worst of Settler society here…

AMY: All the wealthy people have their houses on the river and all the wealthy schools row on the river.

AL: There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this.

It’s always boggled my mind since I was a kid, the world always seemed to me to have enough for everyone but, then there’s some people that have so much that they don’t even need and then there’s people with nothing, no place to live. I remember observing that as a kid and thinking it was so weird and wrong.

AL: Yeah, totally. Moving to the suburbs that are much older, the juxtaposition between these two things are in your face. Another aspect of the song is about the privilege we have as white Australians, we don’t have experiences the same way… we might not even be from wealthy families or whatever but we benefit from it every single day. The “flats falling into the floor” lyrics is a reference to the Opal Towers in Sydney, all these apartment building falling down and such wealth being made from that stuff, it’s disgusting!

Totally! Do you have a favourite track on the new record?

AMY: I like playing the ones that we just play saxophone on together, they’re really good to play.

AL: They’re all good ‘ey! [laughs].

What do you love about playing saxophone together?

AMY: I think it’s just so new for me. To be playing a very different instrument than what I’m used to and having to work out how they sound good together… literally I don’t know some of the notes on it and have to figure it out [laughs]. Because it’s new it’s exciting to play. Challenging!

Musical experimentation must keep things creatively interesting for you; was there anything new you tried writing or recording this release?

AMY to AL: I don’t’ know if it made it on to the record but you were clanging on something, weren’t you?

AL: Oh, yeah. I was banging on a pot.

AMY: I don’t know if it sounded any good [laughs]. We just like to try weird things. We do that though with all of the bands to a different degree. Nothing ground-breaking.

AL: We recorded on the 4-track, which is what we usually do with Terry and Primo! too.

Photo: Mia McDonald

Toward the end of the song “Lady Painter” there’s some cool weird sounds that I couldn’t work out what was making it?

AL: That could be the organ, Nan’s old organ!

AMY: The Funmaker.

AL: Yeah, it’s called the Funmaker!

AMY: It has this one level of keys…

AMY to AL: Do you think it’s broken? Or is that just what it sounds like?

AL: That’s just what it does.

AMY: We didn’t even effect it, that’s just what it sounds like.

AL: I’ll plug it in… here we go! It’s pretty crazy.

[Al plugs in the organ and plays]

[Laughter]

I feel like fun is a really important part of what you both do?

AL: Yeah.

AMY: It’s sort of like a hobby, what we do to relax and blow off steam and hang out with our mates.

Did you start creating from when you first got together?

AL: It took a while. Maybe Terry was the first band that we wrote together for, that’s four or five years ago.

AMY: We’ve been together for ten years. It took us five years because we just had our own separate bands.

AMY to AL: You were pretty busy because you had ten bands or something like that.

AL Too much going on ‘ey! [Laughs].

What’s something you both do differently when writing songs?

AMY to AL: You remember them, that’s one thing.

AL: I remember more of the riffs than some other people in the band [laughs]. I rush, I’m always keen to get things done…

AMY: Whereas I work more slowly.

AL: Not slowly though, I think more thoroughly.

AMY: I like to think over things.

AL: Amy does things properly and I rush it [laughs]. That’s what the report card says! Maybe that’s from just being in bands that tour a lot for a while… UV Race and Total Control would write a record, finish a record… we’d jam a lot and write a lot to have a record for touring; maybe that has affected my song writing style?

AMY to AL: You want to churn it out…

AL: Yeah, I want to fucking churn it out!

AMY: I’ll think about something for three months. 

AL: Which I think is better! I listen back to stuff and I’m like errrrrr, I wish you told me to chill out on that.

AMY to AL: Yeah, like… you need to do those vocals again!

[Laughter]

Did you do the Sleeper & Snake stuff in a few takes?

AL: I’ll always be like, that first take was good!

AMY: He’ll tell me to put something on it and I’ll be like; this is a demo, right?

AL: I’ll be like, yeah it’s a demo. Then I’ll be like, OK, let’s send it away for mastering now!

[Laughter]

I love when you sing together on your songs; what kind of feeling do you get doing that together?

AL: It’s pretty fun!

AMY: I’m like, oh god! [laughs].

AL: Singing is so fun. I think we both love singing and we try to egg each other on.

AMY: I sing high on some songs on the record. I think I sing better when I sing high but I really don’t like singing high. I’m always trying to go low but it always ends up that, nah, I’m gonna have to go up. It’s all figuring out harmonies.

Is there anything else that you’re working on?

AL: We have a few demos in the can. We’re got most of the new Terry record done.

AMY to AL: You’re still working on that Dick Diver record?

AL: Yeah, there’s a Dick Diver record that’s been 75% recorded about two years ago…

AMY: Sleepless Nights have been working on another record but that kind of stopped with Covid. Our drummer just went to Perth, we were like; why did you go to Perth?! There’s a few things in the works but everything is a bit on hold.

AMY to AL: Truffle Pigs?

AL: Yeah, Truffle Pigs! That’s Steph Hughes from Dick Diver, Amy and myself. It’s more like Soakie, country Soakie…

AMY: It’s a concept album. We’re always doing bits and bobs. Al writes songs and we figure out which band it sounds like [laughs].

AL: You write so many songs too; what are you talking about? [laughs].

AMY to AL: Noooooo. I write a riff and play it for a little while and then I forget it and then you remember it and turn it into a song [laughs]. You’ll be playing and I’ll be like; oh what’s that song?

[Laughter]

What are the things you value in terms of your creativity?

AL: I value collaboration and maybe a level of improvisation, especially in a live setting.

AMY: I enjoy that. Performing is good as well. But, we don’t’ get to do that at the moment. I do get really nervous though, but I enjoy it a lot [laughs]. Sometimes my hands will be shaking so much that I can hardly play the organ.

You could never tell you’re so nervous. We watched the live Button Pusher performance recently, which was great!

AMY: It’s just a physical thing I guess, it’s so weird. I’ve been playing for so long and it just never goes away. I still get so nervous! I think it’s a good things though to have some nervous energy.

Please check out: SLEEPER & SNAKE. Fresco Shed out in September via Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (AU, NZ and Asia) and Upset The Rhythm (UK) pre-order HERE now. S&S on Instagram. S&S on Facebook.

Primo! on New Record Sogni: “Break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Violetta Del Conte-Race and Xanthe Waite of Melbourne band Primo! gave us an insight into new LP Sogni. This record feels fresh and finds Primo! building on their post-punk sensibilities, experimenting more – the record features saxophone, violin and sound created by dry beans being poured in a bowl. Listening to a Primo! album is like having a conversation with your best friend, you walk away feeling like you can face anything and that you’ve totally got this! Life’s a bunch of choices, make the right decision and buy this record.

Something I’ve always really loved in Primo’s music is the clean guitar; what inspired you towards this sound?

VIO: We enjoy experimenting with different guitar sounds including distortion, pitch shift and chorus, but the clean guitar is great because it contrasts with those harsher or stranger guitar sounds and provides a grounding for the song, particularly a clean rhythm guitar. 

What got you writing for your new record Sogni?

XANTHE: We had a burst of writing over the summer of 2018/19… from memory we kind of set a challenge to try and come up with some new songs because we had been tinkering away for a while without having anything particularly concrete. Most of the songs are really of a time for this reason. There were a lot of changes going on for all of us – break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making as a starting point for the songs … like how do people make decisions and why, acknowledging that there is not always a choice and external factors force change as well. Not all of the demos made it onto the album and it’s a loose theme but that is what got us writing.

Sogni is an Italian word and translates to “dreams”; where did the album’s title come from?

VIO: I was researching Italian words, looking up what certain English words translate to and the idea of dreams came up because of our song ‘Reverie’. When I saw the word ‘sogni’ I liked it because it also kind of looked like the word ‘song’ and I thought dreams really related to a lot of the themes on the record like decision making and matters of the heart because they are things you imagine, dream of or hope for.

This record was collectively written during rehearsals and developed further in a live setting; is there a particular song on the record that took an unexpected turn during that process from where it began that you can tell us about?

VIO: The song ‘Rolling Stone’ took a bit of an unexpected turn during recording. Towards the end of the song we hadn’t quite finalised what we would do, so Amy added the layers of saxophone and I think it really takes the song to a different place than where it starts. Love Amy’s saxophone playing! 

The vocal harmonies in Primo are always so frickin’ cool; how do you approach harmonising in your songs?

VIO: We all really like singing together and have a lot of fun trying out different harmonies or ideas for vocals. Often we sing the same thing in unison with slight differences but on this record we tried to work out harmonies in a bit more of a concrete way, which the recording process helped with as we could listen back to things to hear what worked.

What’s your favourite song on Sogni; can you tell us a little bit about it please?

XANTHE: I think ‘Comedy Show’ and ‘1000 Words’ are two of my faves, I like how they turned out. I like the composition of these songs especially the way the saxophone, keys/synths weave into Primo!’s normal instrumentation. 

Photos courtesy of Primo! Insta.

The final track on your album “Reverie” feels really intimate; what did you tap into to create that mood?

VIO: ‘Reverie’ does have a different mood than our other songs, I think we tapped into the moment of all being there together. From memory, it was the last song we recorded on the day, and I don’t think we had rehearsed it prior to the recording, it was just an idea I had demoed at home. We worked out our approach to playing it while we were in the studio, sitting around in a circle. Later on I added some keys and Xanthe overdubbed some beautiful violin. 

One of the themes that are broached on the record is practicalities of work and daily life; how do you balance your creative life verses the daily grind?

XANTHE: I find the tension of being busy with work and stuff is weirdly conducive to being productive creatively. If I’m working hard at a job or study I tend to value the free time I have more when and know what I want to do with it, which is usually to play, write or record music. Having said that I’ve never really done it any other way. It would be interesting to have a full year of just working on music without doing another thing such as work or study. Maybe we would write five albums or maybe we would struggle to write one… We may never know!

What’s one of your biggest challenges in regards to your creativity? 

XANTHE: I’m really missing being able to play music with Vi, Suz and Amy in person.  I am also doing a law degree at the moment which puts a bit more pressure on the balance I talked about in the question above, it’s a lot of work but I’m loving it and have music plans for the next Uni holiday… looking forward to that.

The world is in such a weird and uncertain place right now, it could be easy to feel a little down with everything that’s going on, isolation etc.; what’s something that never fails in cheering you up?

VIO: Going for a walk and seeing nature, even something growing in someone’s garden, really cheers me up.

Please check out: PRIMO! Primo! on Instagram. Sogni available now via Anti Fade Records.