Perth duo SLUMBERJACK have been part of the Australian electronic scene for nearly half a decade, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
They recently released Sarawak, a collaboration-heavy EP produced in the jungle of Borneo. With a national tour coming up soon, Morgan of SLUMBERJACK spoke to Georgia about the duo's process when going on tour, working with Troyboi, and the state of the NSW festival scene.
I wanted to start with the new EP. It sounds like the way you guys went into recording it was relatively unorthodox. What were your goals going into it?
The goal was to create an EP that kind of marries organic and synthetic elements together. Obviously, producing music on the laptop, things easily quite often sound synthetic. Also, the goal was to actually finish this EP. It's been two years since we put out an EP. We just needed a change of environment really.
Sarawak seems to be a quite obvious choice since it's my birthplace, and Fletcher had never been. I also have a love/hate relationship with my home town. When I was in Sarawak, all I wanted to do was get out. I hated it, it trapped me. I felt like I had so much potential to give, and to show. And eventually, you know, I got out. But now I feel like there are some things I needed to reconcile. I felt like it was a kind of good spiritual journey, emotionally too, you know, for me to go home and finish this EP. And I could actually create something from a place that I once resented.
I noticed on the EP there’s quite a few collaborations. The one I was most interested in was the one with Troyboi, because he’s quite a big name, particularly in the electronic scene. How did that one come together?
Well, so we went on tour with Troy in September 2017. It was a three-month long tour. And it wasn't until the final leg of the tour we realised “Hey, we've gotten a good relationship with Troy!”. We would play PlayStation in his tour bus. So we decided to write something together. He already had something written, the original project name was called Whistles. It was him whistling into the microphone of his laptop, and he just gave us his stems. The beat was sort of hashed out, he sent it to us and we finished it over the course of the year. And then we never sent it back. By the time we sent the project back to him, it was like, "You know what? It’s done. We don't need to, you know, screw on with it more. Let's try not to overcook this record. It's a bouncy bass track. Let's just keep it the way it is."
I see a lot of producers overcook their records, including ourselves. So this was a quick one for us. We've been big fans of him, we’re heavily influenced by Troyboi as well. He also has been listening to us since the very beginning. I think it's kind of a no brainer for us to work together. He's a great guy too.
Staying on that topic of overcooking things, you guys have really stuck to releasing EPs as opposed to albums. What’s your thinking behind that? Is there an album on the way?
I don’t know if we’re ready to do an album just yet. Look at the amount of effort it took to do this EP! An album could easily just kill us.
But we did some ridiculously crazy things for the Sarawak EP to come to fruition with the documentary, and the things we put ourselves through. I think that's very important in the music creation process now. Now that everything is so accessible, experiences are very limited to what you see on social media and in your phone on the internet. We decided to sort of live in the moment. So, at the moment, it's EPs and singles. But when it comes down to an album, rest assured it's going to be a big, big project.
You’re heading out on tour next month, in March. A festival set is very different to the kind of shows you’re doing at places like the Enmore Theatre. What’s your process going into a venue like that compared to a festival set?
We still think as big as possible. What's the most maximal thing we can do in a venue like this, versus going into Splendour? I still want people to feel a sense of grandness when they enter a venue that is five times smaller than a festival. I think our music speaks by itself. It's quite loud and powerful. I feel maybe epic is the right word for it? It's very important to bring that into the show.
We put a lot of attention to the visual aspects as well as the lighting side of the show, not just the music. And we're playing all originals - if we were to play a song by another artist, it would be heavily affected by an edit or a remix. Everything you hear in a SLUMBERJACK live show is somehow mangled by SLUMBERJACK.
You guys were supposed to be playing Mountain Sounds, and obviously there’s huge talk around that cancellation at the moment. People are viewing it as the straw that breaks the camel’s back in a way, particularly for the NSW music industry. What do you think the answer is? What do you think people should be doing?
It’s tough. It's a contentious topic I feel, you know? On one side, you can see the point of the government trying to take into account the safety of people by introducing different security protocols, and then there are festivals with a lot of cost to bear. To be honest, I think there is not really a single answer that Fletch and I could give you. But, I think as long as the general population keeps Australian art and Australian local music in mind, we can get through this.
I think it's a cycle. We might not be able to do big festivals because these festivals are closing down because of restrictions, but then we're back to doing club shows. Fletcher and I were just talking about this earlier today having coffee. With the lockout, lots of people are not being able to come out later. Maybe it might need to shift. People might just have to come out a little bit earlier to enjoy live music, and show the general population that it's possible to enjoy music without all the negative things that, I guess, the older generation associate music with. Every time you tell people EDM, they want to consider drugs and alcohol and I think the idea is that to show those people, or the authorities, that music fans aren't like that. And in a way, I think it's good. It could be healthy. But sure, I think it's unfair that Mountain Sounds has to be surprised by such a hefty fee. But then again, we don't know this whole story.
Yeah, there are definitely two sides to it I think, and I’m sure we’ll hear more about it. Do you think that Australians can still make it locally, or do you have to aim for that overseas market?
I think it's important to treat your own country as a stepping stone. I am a huge supporter of Australian music. And me, being raised in Malaysia and Sarawak, Australia over the past eight years has given me a lot of opportunity, and I'm very grateful to be in this country to be given a shot at whatever I do. I'm not a citizen, but I have a permanent residence here, so I'm eternally grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in Australia.
There is a way. I think it's very important for people to kind of cut your teeth in Australia first, because I think Australians just have a higher standard in the quality of music, which is amazing. It's an amazing place to cut your teeth, and if you get good in Australia there is a good chance you are very good on the global stage. You know, Australian music is good. I mean, look at Tash Sultana. Look at Peking Duk. Look at Flume. What So Not, Alison Wonderland, Tame Impala. We've got Pendulum, we've got Knife Party. We've got big, big guys. It’s incredible.
A bit of a lighter question to wrap it up. What are you planning after you finish this next tour?
Well, definitely more music. We're trying to increase our output while making sure quality stays constant, or getting better. Also bringing out different art projects - music is just one thing that Fletcher and I are into. We like digital art too. We might venture into more documentary stuff, more docu-art pieces. As long as it keeps us creative, as well as making sure that we're putting out, I hate this word, content. I hate that word! But there’s no other way I can put it. Recordings, visual material - just entertaining people, expressing ourselves and sharing whatever message we want to share at the time. I think SLUMBERJACK, it's just going to keep going.