Traffik Island’s  Zak Olsen is back with A Shrug Of The Shoulders

Original photo by Ashley Goodall. Handmade collage art by B.

Since Gimmie last spoke with Zak Olsen he’s been working on Traffik Island album number three (and four), and moved out of Melbourne into the country. 

Album A Shrug Of The Shoulders feels effortless and is a sheer delight, giving the listener a sense of sitting in a lounge room as friends make music together—in a word it’s, joyful. There’s a naturalism and realism along with beauty, nuance and humour revealed as the collection of songs unfold. The songs are stripped down to their essentials, influenced by 60s music but with a modern sheen. Zak’s sincere expression and ability to turn lyrical gut-punches into catchy psychedelic folk-pop riffs is truly charming. Today we’re premiering second single, ’You Do, Don’t You?’

It’s great to be talking with you again today, Zak.

ZAK OLSEN: It’s nice to be back! I’ve just moved out of Melbourne, I live out at South Gippsland now in a small dairy farm area called Wattle Bank.

What made you want to get out of the city?

ZO: It was more, what was making me want to stay in the city? That was more the question I was asking myself. I couldn’t answer it. Obviously I have lots of friends in the city, and I miss seeing them frequently. For me personally, Melbourne wasn’t really the ideal place for me to be at the moment.

What’s moving out into a more rural area given you?

ZO: Lots more time outside and plenty more of the colour green, which feels good. There’s heaps more space, the house is a lot bigger than the one I was living in. There’s lots of room to set up instruments. We have chickens! I’ve been enjoying spending time with the chickens.

I saw them on the Traffik Island promo vid for the new record! In the video you were baking something; what was it?

ZO: Yes, that’s the chickens in the video. I was baking a Lemon cake. It was a basic one. I thought I’d put some eggs to use.

Last time we we spoke you mentioned that you love cooking things and that you were trying to master the art of cooking different kinds of roasts. Is there anything in particular that you’ve been working on in the kitchen lately?

ZO: [Laughs]. Maybe “master” is a bit of a strong word to use. I made my first pumpkin soup last night, which isn’t too hard to master. It’s good out here because there’s a lot of less options for takeaway food, cooking is a necessity, and there’s great farmers’ market, so everything is really cheap. Everyone is really friendly too, it’s really nice.

I know that where you were in Melbourne you had a studio around the corner from your home. Do you still have it?

ZO: At the moment I’m still renting it. It’s nice to have when I go into the city, but for the most part I do everything out here.

Are there many other people around near where you live, or are you on acreage?

ZO: We live in a little cut-de-sac with four different farms on it. The house I live in is owned by the couple next door, they’re an old school Dutch farmer couple. They give us some of the food that they grow. 

That sounds nice. It seems like you have a real little community around you.

ZO: It’s great getting to know the neighbours, everyone has different skills. If shit hits the fan, they can help you out [laughs].

So, you mentioned you have a lot more space to set up your instruments; is it kind of a jam room or do you have a little studio there?

ZO: We have construction happening at the moment, there’s builders there, so our house is in a bit of disarray. Eventually one of the rooms that are being built will have my music stuff in it, but at the moment I just have mobile setups around the house whenever I can. 

My dad is here. The plan was that I was going to move in once he moved out, but because everything is the way it is at the moment he can’t exactly go anywhere. He was going to Western Australia. I’m living with him now. It’s been good, we’ve been jamming together. He hasn’t played music in a long time; he was playing all the time when I was growing up. 

Because of the harsh lockdowns in Victoria, you didn’t get to see your family for quite a while, right?

ZO: No, I didn’t get to really.

There seems to be a sense of new beginnings for you right now.

ZO: It does feel like that. It’s also my thirtieth year! It was my birthday at the end of August.

Happy (belated) Birthday! Did it feel like a milestone for you?

ZO: No. I’ve sort of felt thirty for ages [laughs]. It was more a feeling of, finally!

What were the things that made you feel thirty already?

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always just been rounding up since I was around twenty-six. I thought I started looking thirty!

[Laughter].

ZO: Let’s hope it stays at thirty [laughs], even when it gets to forty, I’ll just stay here at this age.

I know that feeling. For me as I’ve gotten older, I kind of stopped counting the birthday number and focus on doing the things that I love and hanging out with the people I love, spending my time on the things that bring me a lot of joy.

ZO: That’s exactly it. I get to do a lot more of that out here, which I’ve been really, really enjoying. It’s nice taking things slow, but at the same time I’m still making and playing more music. The days feel like they go a lot longer. It can get a bit suffocating or claustrophobic in the city. Once you add social media on top of that, it can get a bit much.

Photo courtesy of Zak Olsen.


I definitely feel that. You sound so much lighter, happier and brighter. I feel like your new record A Shrug Of The Shoulders has that feeling too.

ZO: That’s good, I’m glad to hear.

Of course there is still your humour and sardonic-ness in there.

ZO: Yeah. I feel like it’s a strange one. It’s the longest one I’ve ever done. It’s the first album that I’ve made in the last decade that doesn’t have a synthesiser on it. It’s a backlog of guitar songs that I had for ages. I wanted to record them in an instant manner with the band. I’m not unhappy or happy with the way that it turned out, the name really is how I feel about the album. It’s not to say that I am indifferent about it, I still put effort into it. I wanted it to be a bit more rough around the edges. I didn’t want it to be all glossy and Hollywood-feeling, I wanted it to be the opposite.

So, you wanted it to be a bit more understated?

ZO: Yeah, that’s the word I’m looking for, thank you. Understated, and there’s nothing sort of punk about it, but I just that more DIY-feeling. With me, the more you make the more you feel like you have to be of a certain standard or fidelity, I wanted to throw a spanner in the works for myself so I could clear the plate again. If that makes sense?

Yeah, it totally does. After doing a record like Peanut Butter Traffik Jam that was more glossy, it makes sense to want to go the other way and do something opposite. 

ZO: It had started turning out that way, that I do a synth-y one and then a guitar one, then a synth-y one. The one that I’m working on now for Traffik Island is a synth-y one again.

You’re already working on the next one?

ZO: With A Shrug Of The Shoulders some of the songs are quite old. I am working on the next one, but it’s not like I’m a workaholic, I just slowly work away. That’s the good thing about having guitar songs and then synthesiser songs, there’s always stuff there to go. 

What’s the difference between the two for you?

ZO: With the guitar songs, I’ll sit there with a guitar and write lyrics and work lyrics out with the chords. It’s a straight up and down old way of writing songs. The synthesiser stuff, I don’t have anything written before I start making it, I make it as I’m going in the music program.

Do you look for different sounds or start with a loop?

ZO: Yeah, I might have a drum loop that I like or I might just keep fishing around until a sound sounds cool and sparks an idea. The synthesiser stuff is good in that way because I never really feel like I’m running out of ideas with it. 

It’s totally endless. When I sit down at our synths we have set up, I can be there forever. You could sit there for days, weeks, and forget to eat cos you’re down a rabbit hole of sounds. There’s the sounds and then the variations you can make to the sound. 

ZO: Exactly! [laughs]. It really is. It’s probably what I enjoy doing the most out of the two styles. The guitar stuff is much more rewarding though to me because it takes more planning, effort and time.

Do you think part of it is that you’re more comfortable with doing acoustic music, having done it for so long?

ZO: I’m not sure. I go through stages of being comfortable with the guitar stuff. Sometimes I’m not very comfortable doing it.

Wow. Really?

ZO: Yeah. Especially when I play solo acoustic shows—it’s like a bad dream [laughs]. 

I guess being on stage with just your voice and an acoustic guitar might make you feel a little more vulnerable than if you had a band with you.

ZO: Yeah. It is really naked. There’s good things about it, if you make a mistake sometimes you can cover to up easier and it doesn’t matter if you miss a verse. Other times, if your voice breaks or something, it can feel like the most embarrassing thing in the whole world [laughs]. I know when I see bands, I do like to see the human touches.

That’s one of the things that I love about your new album Shrug… there’s little fragments and character touches, things like the background chatter and crack of a beer. What was the thought behind including these things?

ZO: 40% of the songs, I’d written lyrics first without any music. I wanted to work backwards. I was, for lack of a better word, scoring the lyrics. It was great doing it that way, some of those songs are the most enjoyable for me, the more lyrical ones. Along with that came the background effects and noises compliment the lyrics as well. I wanted to have it all in there so it would be like sitting in a room with us at a rehearsal—all the chatter, all the beer cracking or there’s cars driving by in the background of the songs. Leah [Senior] is talking at the end of the album.

I thought it was Leah! At the end of ‘New Leaf’ there’s a female voice saying, “I thought that was good.” 

ZO: Leah sang the harmonies on that one.

Nice! You mentioned before that you wanted to do the songs pretty instantly when you recorded them. I understand that they were learnt on the day by the band and you played them five or so times before recording them. Did you do it like this to capture a spontaneity or have that fresh sounding spirit for the listener?

ZO: Not the whole album was learnt on the day, some songs we had been playing for a little bit. Lots of it was quite fresh when we learnt it. It was mainly because of necessity. All the stuff with Traffik Island is always out of necessity. I’m super blessed to have those guys playing with me, I love how they all play and they bring so much to it. We all came together and started playing out of necessity and living together. I was going to play a solo gig and realised that I didn’t want to beforehand, so I asked Myles [Cody] and Jack [Kong] to play. A year later, I moved in with Jesse and he had a day off work and I asked him if he wanted to sit in on piano at a practice. Every thing I do with Traffik Island isn’t mega planned ahead. Again, I’m not complacent with it, I like things to be spontaneous; it’s the nature of the project.

Can you tell me about the joy of playing with everyone again?

ZO: It’s always a real pleasure. The song ‘Papers’ on the album is improv, but it’s actually four or five different takes of the same same motif we jammed on and I stuck them all together in a collage style. That song, as ridiculous as it is, was the most fun for me on the whole album because there were no plans and everyone played what they liked; we were having fun and laughing while we were doing it. It’s always a real pleasure to play with those guys.

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski.

What song on the album was a little trickier to do?

ZO: For whatever reason, the second song ‘Do You, Don’t You’. We’ve been playing that one for a while live, but it’s just one of those things, sometimes when you go to record something on the day you can’t do it. It took us a while.

We’re premiering ‘Do You, Don’t You’.

ZO: That one is quite old. I wrote it just after Nature Strip, before even starting any of the Peanut Butter album. I did those two chords at the start, liked it. I wanted to make one with lots of chords, a garage-rock opera [laughs]. 

Because it had this obviously sixties inspired old dusty garage-y sound, lyrically I went down the typical path; all those sixties garage songs are about teenage relationships [laughs]. That was the natural thing that I felt like singing about. The words on that one was more of an afterthought, it was more of an impression of the music that I grew up listening to.

You mentioned before that the album wasn’t really punk, but I think a lot the songs have that spirit, like ‘F.T.U.’ Rather than fuck the world, it’s fuck the universe!

ZO: [Laughs] Yeah. That one was written on a Monday morning, I wasn’t feeling too crash hot that day and I thought about, what is the most angry thing that I could say? That was one of the ones where I wrote down all of the lyrics first and made music around it. 

I feel like that’s a song a lot of people will be able to relate to, we all have those kinds of days! You took it that next level with ‘fuck the universe’! [laughter].

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always felt a bit iffy about that song and wasn’t sure if I’d put it on there.

I’m so glad you did. It made me happy hearing someone else gets those thoughts sometimes too.

ZO: Aww thank you. That’s good!

I love the piano on that song.

ZO: That’s Jesse, the piano master. It’s amazing, he’ll play some chords and just do all of these beautiful things and flourish and bring all of this colour out in a song.

It’s so emotive. I guess moments like that also speaks to the joy about collaborating with other people. 

ZO: Yeah, especially Jesse [Williams]. He really, really is a master. I didn’t really know Jesse or Leah before moving in with them. They had a room up for grabs and I was blessed enough to be chosen [laughs]. Those guys are just super talented musicians. It was a nice house to live in, it was always inspiring and encouraging to make things. Jesse has been a big help with Traffik Island. He recorded all of Shrug… and the majority of Nature Strip in his backroom, which was nice. 

Other than piano flourishes, what else does he bring to the recording?

ZO: He plays guitar all over the album too. He was that missing piece, without him we were jamming as a three-piece. It was a lot more raw then. I remember the second that he started playing with us at rehearsal, the rest of us looked at each other and it was like, “Whoa! We sound so much more like a real band now!” [laughs]. He glued it all together. It was really something. He’s a master recorder as well; he really knows what he’s doing and really takes the time. I was wondering how it would come out after the last album, being so different. I’m happy with it and I’m glad that I’m going to have it out and I’m able to move onto another one.

The song you mentioned before ‘New Leaf’ is a really great song. It feels really introspective. I love the lyric: Turning over a new leaf, what does that even mean?

ZO: [Laughs].

Was that another day where you were like, why life? Why?

ZO: There were a couple of “why?” moments with writing these songs. It was written over a long time, some would be from 2019, even end of 2018, and some were written this year—it spans a lot. I’ve obviously gone through a lot of things in that time. 

What kinds of things?

ZO: Nothing crazier than anyone else. A lot happens in three years. It feels like a strange one to me, it doesn’t feel super cohesive, but it also sort of does, I guess because I made them all [laughs]. Usually I’d do overdubs into oblivion, typically there would be synthesisers on it, for this one I didn’t want to do that, so it’s pretty raw to my ears.

Album art by Jamie Wdziekonski

We love the album art that Jamie Wdziekonski did!

ZO: Yeah, he nailed it. 

I was speaking with Jamie the other day and he told me a little about making it. The whole concept of it is really cool—33 photobooth strips taken in consecutive order.

ZO: It took a fair bit of planning because we wanted to be able to take the photos and lay it out on the table and have the album cover there. We were going to do it individually and make it up on the computer, but we though we’ll go the whole nine yards and do it the way we did. 

Jamie mentioned that it was a funny and hectic shoot.

ZO: It was! We went there at night time to avoid as many people as possible. It was a busy night though, so it was hard, we had these giant letters with us and all our stuff. We did one shoot of it and then took the slides upstairs, there was a couple of letters that weren’t ideal, we had to run back downstairs and take some more. We had hundreds of dollars in gold coins. It was crazy. I was very happy how it turned out. It was this old photo booth that had been there a long time. The same guy services it, so we got to show him the album cover, which was cool; he was really happy that we used it.

Besides the next Traffik Island album you mentioned you were working on is there anything else in the works?

ZO: There is that one in the works, which is back to Peanut Butter… there’s going to be singing all over it this time. I want to try and blend the more song-iness of the guitar songs and have the production of the synth-y ones. 

What song have you most recently been working on?

ZO: This morning I was doing a remix for a band from Melbourne called Mug.

We love Mug!

ZO: I’d actually never heard them until I got an email asking me to do the remix. I really enjoyed them so I was more than happy to give it a go.

I know that you’ve done a few remixes now; how do you approach doing them?

ZO: It’s different every time. One thing I do try to do though, is that I won’t listen to the original song more than once or sometimes I won’t even listen to the whole song. In the past I have listened to the song too much and the remix I ended up with, wasn’t as different as I would have liked it to be. A lot of the times people like to use the stems when doing the remixes, but I don’t like doing that; I like getting the final mix of their song, listen to it once or half way through and then go from there. I never want to make it too similar. 

What have you been listening to lately?

ZO: I finally set up my record player again, my records have been away for a little while. I’ve just been going through them. With my dad around, he’s keen to go through my records and listen to stuff. I’ve been showing him lots of things that have been my favourite things and trying to get him used to those sounds. He hated jazz a few weeks ago, and now he is coming around to it [laughs]. I first played him Can on my thirtieth birthday and he was not interested, but the other night it was his birthday and we listened to the again and after twenty minutes he was like, “wow! This is really good!” He’s fallen in love with Hawkwind all over again; he hadn’t listened to them in over twenty-five years. He wants to listen to them all the time now again, while he’s driving trucks, that’s his job.

That would be perfect driving music!

ZO: That’s what he said! He said he wanted to get Space Ritual and put it on USB so he could listen to it in the truck and just drive all day to it [laughs]. 

You mentioned there was always music around growing up; did your dad get you into music?

ZO: Yeah. When I was really young we lived on a farm in New Zealand. He played in a thrash metal band. When you’re a little kid, there’s nothing cooler than pointy guitars and thrash metal riffs; everyone had skull t-shirts. He definitely inspired me to want to be in a band. We grew up with [Black] Sabbath on all the time, passively I had no choice but to like Sabbath [laughs]. Who doesn’t like them? It’s very likeable music.

How did you make the jump from Sabbath to 60s folk music?

ZO: [Laughs]. I grew up around lots of heavy metal. Megadeath do a cover of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’, I always remember that from my youth, pre-school and primary school. One day in high school I was watching a documentary on SBS and the Sex Pistols came on and did ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ and I was reminded of the Megadeath version. From that I got into 70s punk and you keep going back and you find The Kinks, once you get into that the 60s opened up, especially 60s garage. I got into a lot of 60s stuff though garage music. My grandma bought me Beatles CDs; people are lying if they say they don’t like Beatles songs [laughs]. Personally I think a lot of garage stuff from the 60s is more punk than what actually got called punk in the next decade. Any genre or sub-genre that exists has it’s roots in the 60s; you can trace everything back to there. As far as I can tell, it’s all there. 

Anything else you like to share with us about your new album?

ZO: It’s coming out in November, around the same time as Jake [Alien Nosejob] is releasing his album. The last two Traffik Island albums came out at the same time as Alien Nosejob albums, which is nice. 

Shrug Of The Shoulders is out November 19 on Flightless Records. 

Please check out traffikislandbandcamp.com.

Traffik Island, ORB and Hierophants’ Zak Olsen: “If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Zak Olsen is one of those musical wizards. He has a natural talent for songwriting, doesn’t tie himself to one genre, and somehow magically has a knack for them all. He works his magic in heavy psych power-trio ORB, with new wavers Hierophants and as Traffik Island, a project that jumps style from one album to the next. He’s one of our favourite songwriters. We spoke with him last week to get an insight into his world.

ZAK OLSEN: I’m just at the studio right now, saying studio is a bit of a stretch but, I have a room that’s not my house that has some of my music gear in it [laughs]. It’s really close to my house so I just come here most days. I spend all day and all night in here usually.

Where did you grow up?

ZO: I grew up in New Zealand, I grew up in a few places because we moved every year. I mainly grew up on farms in New Zealand and moved to Australia in the year 2000.

What were you like growing up?

ZO: Most of my youth I grew up on a farm, which was really good. My parents had that school of parenting where they just let you go and make your own mistakes. We had lots of space which was good, my dad would say “Just go and do whatever you want just be back before its dark”. I spent heaps of time outside by myself when I was younger. My dad also played in a few heavy metal bands so he would always have huge parties and there’d be all these metalheads around. That was the first music that I got into when I was really young, like five years old. Its’ pretty appealing to a five year old. My dad would have all these heavy metal VHS tapes, I particularly remember the Megadeath one! I loved it so much.

How did you discover music for yourself?

ZO: I’ve always had an interest in it because my dad did. In high school I heard the Sex Pistols and had one of those light bulb moments! Megadeth also did a Sex Pistols’ cover. I remember watching SBS one night and the Sex Pistols being on there and they played ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and I remember the Megadeth song of it from back when I was a kid and it sort of all came back around again. I got into it from there, I decided that I wanted to play guitar and that was that.

Why is music important to you?

ZO: Just the actual act of making it, is the most fun I could ever have. Once it’s made it’s never quite as good, I still love playing live and all that stuff but for me personally the most fun that I can have in music is writing things—making noises! [laughs].

Is there a particular album or albums that’s helped shape your ideas on music?

ZO: Yes. Besides the obvious stuff like ‘60s pop – I got really into that in high school – just the simple things that are catchy that still have an effect that aren’t intimidating; stuff that involves everyone, simple music like The Beatles and The Kinks. That stuff is always with me. I remember the first time I heard R. Stevie Moore, that was a big influence because he didn’t stick to any genre. I know a lot of people claim they don’t stick to one genre but he really, really pushed that, he really went for it. I remember seeing an interview with him and he said that you can just make any noise, it’s still a song, not every song has to be your magnum opus. That allowed me to open up and make any noise.

I really like with him too that people go “you’re the king of lo-fi!” and he tells them something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever-fi, I’m DIY-fi”.

ZO: Yeah, exactly! I’m definitely not going for a lo-fi thing, it’s just out of necessity. If I could make big grand exotica Martin Denny kind of albums I would. I don’t have that kind of money or resources though [laughs].

How did you first start making music yourself? You were in The Frowning Clouds; were you making stuff before that?

ZO: Nah, no. I was barely playing guitar before that, we just decided to start a band. I couldn’t really play at the time, we learnt as we went. I was a really slow learner with music but we all just kept going and here we are [laughs]. I’m still a slow learner!

When you make music then, is it mostly through feeling and intuition for you?

ZO: Absolutely. I don’t read music or know any of that kind of stuff. It’s 100% intuition for me.

The first Traffik Island LP Nature Strip that you put out – I know there was a split tape before that too – sounded kind of Beatles-y and Kinks-y and a little Bonzo Dog Band-ish and Syd Barrett-esque now with your new release Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam it’s kind of like a DJ Shadow beat tape, they’re such different sounds…

ZO: It goes back to the doing different things like R. Stevie Moore doing whatever you want. I wanted to do that to the max! I just wanted to make something as different from the first one. I was worried about it once it was made and I thought, oh shit, people that liked the first one probably aren’t going to like the new one. Nature Strip is the album that I always wanted to make ever since I was really young, being an obvious Syd Barrett fan, I just wanted to make an album on an acoustic guitar—that was the mission statement.

For the next one I wanted to do the total opposite and make it more computer-based and not write anything before; every one of those songs are made up just as I’m making it, it wasn’t prewritten.

So when you play them live you’ll have to teach yourself how to play them again?

ZO: Well, yeah. The band haven’t learnt any of those live yet, whether I’ll play them in front of an audience is yet to be seen [laughs].

I really hope you do!

ZO: There’s so many ways to do it that I’m just not sure yet. Hopefully one day… if venues open up again!

I really liked the Button Pusher live stream you did the other night!

ZO: Yeah, that was a test of maybe how we can do it live.

Dude, that test went really well, we super impressed. Just how you walked into the room rolled the tape machine and then started playing was so cool! The lighting and mood really added to it all too.

ZO: That’s good! That’s something I’m working on with a couple of other people at the studio too, we’ve started a YouTube channel live stream for performances and sorts of things. We have a few more coming up soon.

On your first release the split tape Sleepy Head/Traffic Island I noticed there’s Hierophants and Sweat Kollecta’s songs on that from back in 2012.

ZO: Yeah, my friend Danny who ran that label Moontown was doing a split with Nick, another Frowning Clouds member, he was doing the A-side. Danny called me asked me if I had any demos laying around to fill up the B-side of the tape. I said, yes, but I didn’t have any at the time. Lucky it was around the time I heard R. Stevie Moore so I had a real jolt of inspiration and just went out the back for two weeks and did all those songs for the tape. Some of them ended up going into Frowning Clouds or Hierophants after the fact.

I really love Hierophants! Spitting Out Moonlight was one of our favourite LPs of last year! We’re big fans of your other releases last year too, it’s so cool when you can find an artist that makes such different things but they’re all incredible. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

ZO: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. It all has to do with collaboration with people and letting things just happen the way they do between people. You’re not really pushing an aesthetic or an agenda when you’re collaborating, that’s hopefully when more interesting things come out. I think Hierophants lean into that, we purposely do things that maybe sound ugly or we think we shouldn’t do. That’s the most collaborative band, especially in the sense that no idea gets rejected, we do everything. It’s really warts and all, sometimes good, sometimes bad [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about the Hierophants song ‘Everything In Order’; what inspired that one?

ZO: That was nearly going to be a Traffik Island song. That was inspired by, I broke my arm quite badly and had surgery. I spent a couple of weeks doing demos one-handed, that song was one of the one-handed songs [laughs]. Jake [Robertson] heard it and asked if Hierophants could do it. I was trying to do a show tune-y kind of thing [laughs]. Someone told me that the hook is the same from a song from a Disney movie [laughs]. I was trying to do something Robyn Hitchcock-y, when he does these ridiculous sounding show tunes.

I love the lyrics in it: you don’t need friendship anyway / you don’t need family anyway.

ZO: [Laughs] Don’t quote me on that one, it’s a character who is wrong, because you do need family and friends.

What about the song ‘Limousine’?

ZO: It’s about the obvious, but the funny thing about it is that I think I subconsciously took that from watching a Paul Simon interview. He was on the Dick Cavett Show from back in the ‘70s and he was talking about writing a song about someone that’s trapped by fame and they’re riding around in their limousine. Subconsciously years down the track I just wrote that! I re-watched that interview recently and realised I took it [laughs]. The song is original, I promise! The seed of the song maybe I took from Paul Simon.

Do you have a favourite track on the new Traffik Island Sweat Kollecta’s LP?

ZO: I like ‘Rubber Stamps’ it’s the least beats/DJ Shadow-y one. It’s a short instrumental, sort of exotica, ‘60s kind of sounding, crappy Beach Boys instrumental one. It came out the easiest.

I notice though different lyrics or song titles there’s a humour and lightness to your music.

ZO: Humour is always good, it takes the edge off. Frank Zappa had a humorous side or Devo did too, they had a real sense of humour and both had been big influences on me. It’s not too conscious for me. It is a bit easier if you put a sense of humour on things, it’s easier to put it out into the world because… I’m kind of lost for words…

Because it’s too personal? And you’re not overtly putting yourself out there?

ZO: Yeah. I think if people put irony in their music it protects them from criticism. People don’t criticise things, they just say that I’m being ironic. That’s not why I’m trying to be funny in the songs though, I guess it just makes it more enjoyable. I don’t think anyone wants to be yelled at [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite ORB songs, ‘Space Between The Planets’…

ZO: Oh nice! That’s mainly Daff’s song, it took us ages to do that one, we got a bit lost in the riffage [laughs]. It turned out well in the end. There’s no secret with the ORB songs, everyone brings riffs and we smash ‘em together and hope they turn out good—it’s that boneheaded! [laughs].

It’s fun to have that too.

ZO: Yeah, the goal was just to have a fun band and just turn it up! We wanted to make it fun live and be nice and loud, because a lot of our stuff was never like that.

Do you write every day?

ZO: Yeah, in some sense. I haven’t done any acoustic guitar writing in ages. I come to the studio every day I can. I make noises in some sense but I’m not like Randy Newman on the piano every day, as much as I wish I was!

Do you have a particular way you go about writing songs?

ZO: At the moment, because I’m working on remixes and I’m trying to do a hip-hop thing with a friend from America, all the stuff is very beat-based. I’ll start that by just finding cool drum loops. It’s totally different from writing song songs on the guitar, proper songs I guess, is that I usually try to hum a melody first in the shower or something, the catchiest bit, the bit everyone usually remembers about the song. If I can come up with a line or a chorus without any instruments first and then I’ll go to the guitar or the piano and work out what the chords are and go from there. That usually works.

Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?

ZO: It’s always been a faint interest. I grew up skateboarding so there’s lots of great songs in skateboarding videos…

Like A Tribe Called Quest!

ZO: Yeah, heaps of that and even stuff like DJ Shadow. A lot of new release hip-hop came out last year that I really liked.

What kind of stuff?

ZO: Quelle Chris had this album called Guns. There’s another guy I like too called Billy Woods he did an album called Hiding Places. They don’t give into the tropes of hip-hop and the beats are a lot weirder, psychedelic is the only way that I could describe it. There’s FX on the vocals and lots of echo. It’s not focusing on the tropes of gangsta stuff, they’re not rapping about cash or cars, it’s more introverted and weird. It kicked off my interest in it more. Obviously things like Madlib and MF Doom; I was late to the MF Doom thing but when I got into it, it was all I listened to for a year.

I love his Danger Doom project and the song ‘Benzie Box’ is an all-time favourite.

ZO: Hell yeah!

My brother and I owned a skateboard shop in the late ‘90s, he had one in the ‘80s too, and I loved all the skate vids with the hip-hop and punk soundtracks.

ZO: That’s cool. It’s such a good way to get into stuff. I’m very thankful for all those movies they really got me into stuff that I still listen to now.

Do you have a song of yours that stands out as one of the quickest ones to write?

ZO: ‘Looking Up’ it’s a song on Nature Strip. I never write songs in one sitting but that one was written in an hour, the whole thing; that’s never ever happened to me before. I said, ok, I’m going to sit down and write a song and then that came out really quickly.

What do you find challenging about songwriting?

ZO: Trying to be too tricky! It’s really a problem that you can get lost in that. I’ve been trying to make songs for around ten years now and you think that progressing with songwriting, you should have more complex melodies and complex chords, but it’s not necessarily the case. You have to try to remind yourself of that all of the time. There’s been times where I try to make the craziest song that I can and have weird chords and a fancy melody but it just turns out shit! If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone. Instinct and when it comes out naturally and quickly, that usually resonates with people more and is more memorable.

When you’re working on things and they’re not working do you try and push through that or do you give up and move on to something else?

ZO: Usually I move on to something else. Sometimes I do just sit there banging my head against the wall for aaaaaages! That never works usually.

Is there anything you do in those times like go for a walk or something?

ZO: I should! [laughs]. But, nah. I really fucking just try to get something out of it. The only other thing that does work is before I go to sleep, when I’m lying in bed; that’s usually the best time for it. You’ll be thinking about your songs and that’s usually when things happen.

Do you think it’s because you’re more relaxed?

ZO: It must be, it has to be.

Do you do anything else creative outside of music?

ZO: Not really. I do some painting every now and then. My dad is a really good drawer and tattoo artist, so I kind of did that before I was doing music. I used to make poems all the time as a kid and that turned into songs. Making music is my main creative outlet, unless you count cooking! I try and cook more frequently now. My girlfriend is a really good cook.

What’s one of your favourite things to cook?

ZO: Lately I’ve just been going for all the different kinds of roasts and trying to master each one [laughs]. Cooking is just really good in general though, especially if you put aside the whole night and take your time. I love doing that!

I love cooking too, I find it really relaxing.

ZO: Yeah, totally.

You mentioned before that you’re working a hip-hop project; are you working on anything else?

ZO: I’m just trying to collaborate as much as I can this year. Because of the situation in the world right now, a lot of my friends that make music are staying inside right now and we’re all just sending music between each other right now and making things together. I was starting another Traffik Island one but I just ended up sending all of those ideas to friends to put stuff over the top. I’m working on things right now but I don’t know exactly what it is right now. I definitely just want to get into doing more collaborative stuff.

Why do you like working collaboratively so much?

ZO: Them bringing something to it that I could never possibly conceive. Just them adding something to it, some of my friends can come up with melodies that I would never imagine! Some people are just better at certain things.

What’s a song you’ve collaborated on that you were totally surprised where someone took it?

ZO: The first song on Peanut Butter… [Bits and Peace (Bullant Remix)] it was remixed by my friend Joe [Walker]. That one is basically the only song on the record made up of samples. I played some of my favourite records into my computer and gave him all the bits, they weren’t in time or anything like that and I told him to make a song out of all those noises—he sent me that! Impressed.

The film clip for your song ‘Ulla Dulla’ is pretty fun.

ZO: My friend John [Angus Stewart] made that, I know everyone says their friend is talented but, he IS insanely talented. He did some other clips, some King Gizzard [And The Lizard Wizard] ones. He asked me if he could make a clip for me. I said, sure. We wanted to try to really go above and beyond and to really try and push through the boundary. We did the clip and it was so tiring, we started at midday and I got home at one in the morning. We were driving all around the city, I think only two or three locations made it into the final clip but there was six. I had to do that dance to that song hundreds of times, I reckon [laughs]. Then it sat around for a couple of months because the album got pushed and of course in that time I started freaking out about it and got real paranoid. I was just so scared of being so open and vulnerable like that. I saw him at a party a few weeks before it came out and went up to him and told him that I don’t think I could go through with the video. He was not having a bar of it. He was like, “Don’t give me that stoner bullshit! It’s coming out.” [laughs].

What was it about it that made you freak out?

ZO: It was just so much of me! I didn’t want it to be The Zak Olsen Show… that kind of shot started getting to me. In the end I’m glad it came out. It definitely elevates the song a bit more. I’m really glad.

You did a lot of touring with ORB last year, right?

ZO: We did an Australian tour with Thee Oh Sees, then we went to America and Europe, so lots of moving around.

How do you find travelling so much?

ZO: Personally, I love it. There’s this weird thing about touring this feeling that… where people can feel like bands are running from responsibility… we were touring with King Gizzard and those guys work, it’s like seven James Browns! …it’s not the case with them, they work way harder than any other band I’ve ever met! If you’re into the second month of touring and you haven’t really made much and there’s not much time to make songs you can kind of get in a weird limbo mode where you think; what am I doing every day? I’m just playing the same songs!

It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day?

ZO: Yeah. But it’s still better than any other job you could have. You have to be careful of getting into the bad habits of drinking every day and eating shit food all the time.

Where do you get your hard work ethic from?

ZO: Probably my dad, he’s a little bit of a hard arse [laughs]. I can’t stand the feeling of not thinking I’m doing enough or giving enough. Having said that though, I do love staying in bed all day on Sunday! For me the guilt of not doing enough is way worse than just getting up and doing it.

Please check out: Traffik Island. ORB. Hierophants. @traffik_islanda on Instagram. Button Pusher.