Sydney Indie-pop Band Sachet’s Lani Crooks: “I was walking alone through Kyoto and found myself in a back street at a kaleidoscope museum… I felt nervous and clumsy… I imagined myself breaking them and being the museum’s worst enemy”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Sachet play dreamy indie guitar-pop. Their new album Nets is charming and spry with a little quirk and melody and harmony in spades. We caught up with Sachet’s Lani Crooks to explore the LP.

Where did you grow up? How did you discover music?

LANI CROOKS: I grew up in Sydney between Petersham, Marrickville, Surry Hills and Newtown. I was honestly pretty similar to how I am now. Not sure how much I’ve really developed! I was into English and acting. I had a nice group of friends, which was easy at the school I went to, but I guess I marched to the beat of my own drum. Music-wise, I shared some interests with my mum and step-dad who like lots of alt-country and some indie-pop and classic stuff. I properly got into music on my own when I was about thirteen and bought some pirated CDs in Vietnam that were all scratched and skipped in a million places, including that Beatles Numbers 1 Hits comp. After that I’d read a lot of forums and Pitchfork and stuff and buy lots of CDs. I loved Elliott Smith and spent every afternoon on that forum.  I first picked up a guitar at probably sixteen but was very bad at it and stayed that way for many years.

How did Sachet first get together? What did you bond over?

LC: My partner Sam [Wilkinson] and I have played in several bands together over the last decade. After our old band Day Ravies folded we started other bands and one of those was Sachet, with our friend Nick Webb. We were a three-piece for the first album. A year or two earlier I’d seen Nick playing in another band at a house show and thought to myself, “He’s a sick melodic guitar player. I’m going to play in a band with him one day.” He was just an acquaintance from the music scene when we started but now we’re really close. After the first album we got a new drummer, my friend Chris, and became a four-piece. Chris plays on Nets but he left a while back and now we have Kate Wilson. Kate and Nick are two of the best people on the planet. We bond over lots of stuff. Food,  booze, Brighton-le-Sands beach, bitching about posers in the Australian music scene, that sort of thing. The important stuff.

What influences your sound?

LC: I basically like lots of kinds of non-mainstream pop. Rather than a particular band or sound, melody is absolutely my driving force when writing songs. I start by trying to cement the best vocal melodies around the best changes that possibly I can.  Once the lyrics are done I try to squish in some melodic guitar parts and once I’ve taken a song to the band, Nick fits in his really cool melodic parts as well and Sam does a crazy amount of melody on the bass.  The first album didn’t have bass at all and now I feel like Sam’s playing is a big part of our sound. We all like pretty similar music and all worship the fuzz pedal but I definitely have that real verse-chorus-bridge pop focus. A few bands I love are The Nerves, Guided by Voices, Built to Spill, Sneaky Feelings.  I’m not great with stuff from the last couple of decades but I do like Cate le Bon a fair bit and I think that’s starting to show in my newest songs. And there are a few Australian guitar bands from the last few years that have really inspired me, especially The Stevens, Possible Humans and Treehouse.

Recently Sachet released LP Nets; what’s the album about?

LC: I’d love to write a concept album one day so I can definitely say “this is about xyz”. To be honest, Nets is basically like everything I’ve done before in that it’s just a collection of songs that I hope hangs together. But I am pretty happy with this collection! It has songs based on things I’ve felt, things I’ve read, lots of anecdotes I’ve heard where I take just kind of the emotional element of the story and exaggerate that and obfuscate and add details so the listener would probably have no idea what I’m on about, and often I don’t even know. I like the lyrics to sound kind of emotionally weighty but flippant at the same time.

What were your artistic goals when making Nets?

LC: The first album was recorded not long after forming and we were just a three-piece and it was my first time playing guitar in a band. So I think it was a little more basic and maybe had a few more garage-y sound-y songs. This time I had more time to practise guitar and felt more free to write whatever kind of song I wanted, and we had bass. So I think it’s a bit more developed and fuller-sounding, with certain songs being much more complicated in terms of structure and arrangement. My goal is always just to improve upon what’s come before, write a song that’s better than the last, etc.

You made a fun clip for the album’s first single “Arncliffe Babylon”; can you tell us a bit about the shoot? What can you tell us about guest star, Tuco?

LC: We have been pretty slack in the film clip department so far. There is just one other clip I made, using archival footage, for the track “Kaleidoscope Museum”. I knew we should do one but it’s not my department, so I kind of nervously pitched the dumb non-idea: “Are you cool if we get a hold of a dog and I walk it around Arncliffe wearing this vintage marching band outfit?” No one had any better ideas so that’s what we did. We couldn’t get a camera so we used phones, which I think turned out okay. The shoot was a few hours on a hungover Sunday about a month before the quarantine stuff. We were lucky. The dog Tuco belongs to my friend Joe. Joe was there just out of shot so Tuco kept whining and trying to reach him. It was great.

We love the album art image; who’s behind that? What feeling did you want the cover to evoke?

LC: Thanks. I’m hoping it looks good on the LPs when the package finally get to Australia, ‘cos that’s what it’s really designed for. It’s a photo of shark nets at Brighton-le-Sands. It’s a double exposure I took with 120 film in a plastic camera. I suppose it has a Loveless vibe and makes it look like a shoegaze album, which it’s not. So what feeling did I want it to evoke? I don’t know, that’s a good question. But the album is called Nets and they’re shark nets and, y’know…yeah.

What’s your favourite song on the LP? What’s the story behind it?

LC: To my mind the best-written songs are “Kaleidoscope Museum” and “Arncliffe Babylon”. I really like the bridges in both. I’m all about the weird key-changey bridge. “Kaleidoscope Museum” does have a little story. It’s about when I was walking alone through Kyoto and found myself in a back street at a kaleidoscope museum. They were closing in five minutes but they let me in and I had to have a very quick dash through and check out all of these super-fragile kaleidosocpes, some of which you could touch and look through and some of which you couldn’t. I felt nervous and clumsy but also privileged and awestruck. I imagined myself breaking them and being the museum’s worst enemy.

What was the process of recording Nets?

LC: Like the first album, it was recorded on four-track, except for vocals and a few overdubs. We just like that warm analogue sound and the no-fuss method. It was engineered by our good friend and neighbour Toby Baldwin, Sydney soundie extraordinaire. He was set up in our garage, talking to us through an amp, and we were above him spread out in different rooms of the house, playing live. He brought his skills in recording and also telling us plainly which takes were shit and which ones were usable. After we’d bounced it from tape I spent a lot of time on my own recording vocals and harmonies, and mixing those in. You probably can’t tell but there are a lot of vocal tracks. 

Your record was recorded in 2017-2018; how do you feel the band grown since this album was made?

LC: It’s very common in the music world for things to take a long time but I won’t lie, it does feel like a long time! I have almost another album written now and our live set has a lot of new songs. The drums are sounding really awesome and different now, with Kate bringing a really ’60s vibe to a lot of the new songs. I think Nets was more developed than the first album and the next one will be more developed again. The newest songs have a lot of sections in them some really prog-y bits. They’re kind of a headache to play but we’ll work it out. Sadly, quarantine means we can’t jam right now. It’s a bloody shame.

Are you working on anything new?

LC: Yes. But I like to have nice breaks from songwriting because the process gives me brain strain. Just as long as there’s a good pile of songs for the band to always be working on and we don’t run out.

What do you do outside of music?

LC: I’m an ESL teacher, Nick is a music label manager, Sam repairs coffee machines and builds fuzz pedals and lots of other things, and Kate is a science writer. Sam has his own bands Shrapnel and Uncle Pit. I also play in Shrapnel. And Kate plays in two other bands currently, The Holy Soul and Majestic Horses. We keep busy!

Please check out: SACHET. Sachet on Facebook. Nets available via Tenth Court Records.

Mystery Guest: “Inspired by Sun Ra and the musical output of cults like The Source Family in the 70s”

Original photo by Louis Roach. Handmade collage by B.

Retro-futurist pop duo Mystery Guest from Melbourne have just released their first album – Octagon City – on Tenth Court Records. The album is an interesting electronic, minimal-synth record, born out of a genuine curiosity to explore sounds in the studio. Throughout the record we are given heavy doses of a Bene Gesserit, ADN’ Ckrystall, SSQ type 80’s vibe (with the monologue on the album’s opener and title track reminding us of Algebra Suicide), though updated with their own style, clearly informed by post-80’s club culture. We interviewed Mystery Guests’ Patrick Telfer and Caitlyn Lesiuk to learn more about their LP and creative journey.

Can you tell us about your creative journey; how did you first come to playing music?

PATRICK TELFER: I was always interested in the process of music making, but only started doing this after school: I got hold of a Roland hard disk recorder—a VS880—which was really,really cool. I would make silly music with friends as a form of entertaining ourselves, call it “experimental music” and never show it to anyone.

CAITLYN LESIUK: I had piano lessons as a kid, but really started getting excited about music when I got my first guitar. There was something fascinating about not knowing what the “notes” were in the traditional sense: I loved learning shapes and experimenting with them.

Did you have any favourite bands or musicians growing up?

PT: The Beatles is the one that I always come back to! Also Wu-Tang Clan.

CL: My most enduring musical obsession has been with ABBA.

How did Mystery Guest come to be?

PT: It was a project based entirely on a curiosity about the potential of using a studio – it was our first experience of a proper commercial recording studio and we had a lot of fun playing with different sounds and methods of production.

CL: We had played in bands together before, and were both interested in creating music outside the traditional “bass/drums/guitar” format.

Photo: Louis Roach.

What kind of headspace were you in writing and recording your new record, Octagon City?

PT: It was just pure clarity and bliss.

CL: I was somewhat trepidatious because I’d never recorded my own songs before, but it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

What was the vision you had for the record?

PL: The vision I had for the record was completely surpassed by my incredible collaborators. There’s so much talent in everyone and I feel really lucky to have collected this much of it around me for enough time to make music out of it.

CL: I wanted to explore the idea of making a “musical manifesto”  in the vein of albums like Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis. I felt inspired by Sun Ra and the musical output of cults like The Source Family in the ’70s.

You’re a duo; can you tell me about your dynamic and how you work together? What’s your songwriting process?

PT: A lot of the time I think of a song I like and say ‘let’s make that’. I’ve always had this idea that even if you set out to directly replicate something, the end product will be far enough away from the original that you can truly say it’s a new thing. It’s an interesting way to work – there’s nothing new!

CL: Aside from “The Day Lou Died” and “Moon Moon”, Pat would send me a beat and I’d take that away and start thinking about lyrics and melodies, and the song would start to take shape as we passed it back and forth. I hadn’t ever written songs like that before (or since), but it was an interesting process.

When do you feel most creative?

PT: When I’m happy. I find that my mental health is a little too linked to the quality—as I perceive it—of my current work.

CL: I’m only creative when I have to be, when there’s a deadline… whether that’s self-imposed or coming from somewhere else. I guess I’m still waiting to be touched by the muse.

Photo: Kurt Eckardt.

I love all the electronic sounds in your music; what’s one of your favourite sounds?

PT: White noise has it all! Every frequency is represented. I have a friend who taught me the healing qualities of white noise when it is filtered to sound like the ocean.. like a perfectly symmetrical ocean.

CL: The Mellotron (an early 70s version of a synth made using tape). It’s such an amazing hybrid of old and cutting edge technology of the time.

Do lyrics come easy for you or do you have to work at it?

PT: I don’t ever even try any more!

CL: I try not to get too hung up on lyrics: if I can’t think of anything, I’ll look for an interesting reference in a book or image, and write about that. I wouldn’t say they come easy, but I’m mindful of spending too much time slaving over them.

What inspired the song “The Day Lou Died”?

CL: The Day Lou Died is riffing on a poem by Frank O’Hara about Billie Holiday called “The Day Lady Died”. The lyrics—taken literally—are quite dramatic I suppose: they’re about killing pop stars because it provides the opportunity to reminisce with an old love on the music that you shared. I was also trying to emulate the form and melodrama of songs by The Shangri-Las.

How did you feel when in the middle of creating the record? Were there any challenges?

PT: Knowing when to stop is a challenge! There’s always one more thing you could add… 

CL: Because we’d never played the songs live, and were writing a fair few of them in the studio

What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened on your music-making adventures so far?

PT: Caitlyn Leisuk.

CL: For want of anything else to do, I often walk around off stage when performing with a double mic lead. I never anticipated I’d perform in such an ostentatious way.  

As well as doing Mystery Guest you also both created, Little Music Lab, a program for children 4 – 12 years old with a focus on learning and play through music technology; what inspired this?

PT: I’ve always worked with kids, for a long time in childcares and kindergartens. I find it to be so rewarding to engage with really young people. There are so many interesting perspectives and ideas that emerge when you enter into a conversation with a child with a really open mindedly. They can be so creative and weird and crazy.. I’ve always got along well with them and music is such a powerful language to communicate with.

Electronic, technological music opens up even more interesting avenues as this can level the playing field in terms of creating music without the need for years of disciplined rehearsal of theory and technique.

CL: I was interested in giving the kids instruments that were thoughtfully (diatonically) tuned, to avoid the kind of cacophony you get when you have a whole class haphazardly playing xylophones and ukuleles in regular tuning. If you set them up for success, even the youngest, least dexterous humans among us can make cool music.

Photo: Louis Roach.

What’s your best non-musical skill?

PT: Cooking.

CL: Philosophising.

Why is music important to you?

PT: Music is important because it opens up new ways to communicate with people. It’s a really good vessel for expression – and it’s so suppressed in our culture – we’re all dying to sing but we almost never do. I mean aren’t we? Or is that just me?

CL: Because it creates community. That was one interesting aspect of exploring a fictional cult: in the absence of organised religion, music is a forum for bringing people together in a shared experience.

Please check out: MYSTERY GUEST. Get Octagon City on TENTH COURT Records. MG on Facebook. MG on Instagram.