Updated: Sep 6, 2022
To celebrate the firsts that are happening this month - first month of the year, first time launching JAMs, first podcast episode, first interview I’ve ever done - we have given January 2021 the theme of 'firsts'.
This month's podcasts/interviews capture the excitement, anxieties and life lessons learnt by a delicious interview lineup of new Sydney artists: Mansion, Shenoa, Frankie Bouchier and Arrowbird. These are all artists who have released or about to release their first ever music out into the world.
Enjoy as we delve into the journeys of these artists, not only relating to their release, but also their musical and life journeys that have led them to where they are today.
FULL INTERVIEW #1:
Samuel Killick from Mansion
"YOU ARE SO TALENTED. YOUR IDEAS ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD. I'M SERIOUS. STOP BEING SO SCARED AND JUST GO AND DO IT!"
What better way to kick off this interview series than with the man who drunkenly and very angrily yelled this incredibly uplifting compliment at me a week before I interviewed him. To be honest it was a pivotal moment that gave JAMs new life and gave me the courage to finally begin his project. Everyone could use a man like this in their lives...the one and only Samuel Killick from the band Mansion!
Sam is the perfect first interview for JAMs. He embodies so much of the collaborative, community spirit that we want to encourage in Sydney artists.
Sam is a talented guitarist that has just finished studying jazz at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is a wonderful accompanist, band member, soloist and overall good dude. He is in many bands but we are focusing on Mansion and their upcoming EP (out on the 12th March 2021).
Mansion’s sound and improvised style is very different to what many will be used to. We are very excited for you to hear and learn about a band that has something unique to offer the Sydney music scene.
JAM FLAVOUR: Mansion sounds like Lychee jam with blueberry bubbles
GENRE/SOUND: “Fully improvised...ambient music with a melodic drive”
MEMBERS: Euan Chaffey (Trumpet), Emma Holley (Vocals), Samuel Killick (Guitar), Lauren Tsamouras (Piano)
NEXT RELEASE: Mansion EP, 12 March 2021
Give me a bit of description of your lineup and your sound?
It’s an improvising quartet. We’ve got trumpet, vocals, piano and guitar. Respectively, Euan Chaffey on the trumpet, Emma Holley on the vocals, Lauren Tsamouras on the piano and myself on the guitar. We just do fully improvised tracks and make ambient music with a melodic drive to it. It’s how I usually describe it, or something along those lines anyway.
Where did the name Mansion come from?
That’s a somewhat interesting story.
Our first gig was through CONverge. We wanted to play with Ben Hauptman, so that was the point where I submitted Mansion to be requested as one of the performers. For those who don’t know, Ben is an improvising guitarist. We got to play with him and that was our first gig, in the quad at Sydney uni.
We didn’t have a name because this was our first gig. But it got to the point where we were having a rehearsal on the day and we didn’t have a name yet. The two options we ended up narrowing it down to were Mansion and Pier 97. We just could not decide, no one had particularly strong opinions.
What we decided to do was at the gig that night, whatever name came out was the name we were going to be.
And so it ended up being Mansion.
Your music is all improvised, so it is very different to how other people would write and record their music. What is your process of improvising?
All of us are doing the jazz course. So we’re all used to improvising and that’s great, but this is music that’s a bit separated from that. Jazz improvisation is organised inherently in a certain way which results in it sounding like jazz in a broad sense, between a lot of people’s different interpretations of those structures.
What we’re doing is abstracting the idea of improvisation out and analysing it from a removed place. When you’re learning jazz, it is quite ingrained into you, the structures at play to organise your improvisation. We’re trying to zoom out from that and then choose our own structure, build our own structure of improvisation so we can operate in our own way but still be free.
So I know you have words or ‘grips’ that you use to help your improvisation. Can you expand on that concept?
The grips are a way that, especially early on, we used to start to explore different ways of organising music. For example we have one called ‘bubbles’. Bubbles came from a piece of advice that Carl Dewhurst gave me about the band. At that time our sounds were always long, so he gave us the really simple advice to just experiment with some shorter note durations.
So, we tried doing really short sounds and that came out in this weird, usually lydian-y floating bubble thing...that’s where that came from.
We had a couple of those, and still definitely delve into them and can collectively reference them.
And how long have you been together? Before you recorded this first EP?
Two years. Though there was definitely a pretty strong six or seven month hiatus in the middle there.
Your hiatus was around seven months, it is impressive that you haven’t really been a band for that long but are able to improvise together and have such a mature and distinctive sound.
Yes, I mean and then doing other projects with the same members throughout that as well. It’s a very cyclic sort of band and the more we play with each other the more we understand. Like, I kind of know what Emma’s going to do and I kind of know what Lauren and Euan are going to do. And they all kind of know what each other are going to do.
Improvising means that every performance and take is different. Is it scary recording and knowing there is no plan and ‘this is it’?
That’s part of the freedom of it as well - ‘We did that and that was just that moment captured. We can’t do anything about it now.’
Especially releasing an album of this improvised music there is the acceptance hurdle that you have got to jump. The word that keeps coming to mind with this is ‘vulnerable’ album. This is us in a really vulnerable situation trying to do exactly what we want to do, exactly what we think sounds good, where our intuition is leading us. Putting that on show for everyone else to hear is a pretty big deal.
What was the recording process? You had one mic in the room?
It started out that I was just going to record the rehearsal. But the room ended up sounding really good and everyone must have been really switched on that day because the music ended up sounding quite good.
I recorded it with stereo pair mics in one of the rooms on the wing of the Verbrugghen at the Con. How we mic’d the recording, it mic’d the room as well. It really gets the nice collective sound which is an important part of our dynamic. So it’s cool to be able to capture that.
OPEN THE LID
A one minute summary of your musical life journey.
I started playing bass in church and ended up going on holidays where I couldn’t play the bass, but there was a guitar at the holiday house.
I started playing guitar a bunch until I had a teacher at some point. He started teaching me chords, I just really liked the chords. So, I just learnt all the chords. I couldn't really play any songs but I knew all the chords, which has been a continuing issue for me.
And then I got into some blues guitar, Steve Ray Vaughan. Then found jazz through the way. Went to jazz school. Have a love-hate relationship and a complicated political relationship with jazz. And then making this fresh music.
Did playing in church influence you?
Definitely. You are very audience/congregation focused at church. So you have always got a third eye in your mind, third perspective in your mind to look on the music at. Which has definitely stuck around.
A lot of your musical experience revolves around playing in ensembles and groups. A great example is Mansion, it is very collaborative and there is no ‘band leader’.
Totally. That’s definitely part of what I like most about music. The people and how each of our personalities is, to me anyway, totally audible. Totally, totally audible and magnified by the music.
What made you pursue music? And what makes it more than just a hobby but something that you’re really passionate about and want to create music and add to music that’s out there?
In a lot of senses music still comes from a place of hobby for me. In the way that it comes from a place of just really wanting to do it.
Music for me acts as a really strong community binding agent. That can be in micro or macro communities. Micro communities like with me in the band, I really like hanging out with those guys and sharing music is a really important way that we can communicate. We’re from different places and being able to communicate through music is really cool.
That expands into the whole music community, the people who are coming to gigs, the people who are inspired by that music and that community keeps expanding and expanding and things knock on from one another.
That’s really what I’m all about.
I think that improvised music has the potential to be a really great catalyst because it’s such a great projector of your personality and magnifier of your personality, it’s a really cool way to get to know people, by playing with them.
You talk a lot about community and band but what about your personal music? What does it do for you?
For one, it should not be ignored that my place in the world revolves mostly around musicians. I should engage with that part of my culture and my community because if I didn’t, if I was not really engaging with music in some way, then you’re always going to be a second class citizen of that community.
The truth of the matter is that music’s just super cool and it’s super fun to do.
Music’s rad dude. Music’s so rad. And all the theory’s so fun and you can feel clever at parties by telling people “that was a lydian dominant chord that just happened in that Beyoncé song”.
There are very specific struggles that musicians experience and sometimes think they’re going through alone. What do you find are the biggest challenges of being a musician?
For myself, it’s things that come along with the temperament of someone that wants to create art and create music. It does make it hard to integrate into the world completely. You’re always skirting around things a little bit and that can get tiring.
How did you find COVID affected you? And your view of music and the music industry, within the world?
Personally, I definitely embraced that shelter of the institution through COVID. In a lot of ways it was cool because you could focus on yourself and just be in a different state of mind which is great, and that’s not to make light of something that a lot of people struggle with.
I think in general it’s definitely twigged people to just consider how much they actually do like live music.
Through the process of recording and preparing for your release, what have you learnt so far? Anything surprising?
We’re releasing the EP through a zine and that has been the main struggle. To expand on the zine, rather than releasing physical CDs I‘m making a zine of six local artists: Jacqui Ann, Mark Hall, Amelia Van der Laan, Ilana Chaffey, Paige Gullifer and Mia Eklund and they’re all submitting some really fantastic art, and in Paige’s case poetry. We’re gonna release that with a QR code on the front so people can scan that and get the music.
I like that integration of different types of art because I find the art worlds are sometimes very separated!
What was your first CD?
The first CD I remember putting on with any sort of frequency was Directions in Groove, which is a Sydney funk band from the 90s.
What was your first favourite artist?
The first very particular artist I remember is The Beatles. I saw how many albums they had, so I made my way through systematically. I listened in order to them on the way to school and back each day. I’d do that for about an album a week and made my way through The Beatles catalogue. I was really obsessed with it in a weird documentarian sense. It was uncharacteristically ordered of me.
Do you remember the first concert you went to?
I do, and it’s such a flex because it was U2 on their 360° tour. A friend of my dad’s, her brother was the janitor at ANZ stadium or something wack like that and got us these tickets.
This was just as I started playing guitar as well, and seeing the Edge play with the delay pedal and the explorer and all those voxs and stuff...ah, it was fantastic!
What was the first moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
It sort of just happened. There definitely wasn’t a particular moment. The want to be a musician is definitely strongly correlated to being in a band. The more bands I’ve been involved with, the more I’ve enjoyed being a musician.
Something you did for the first time this year?
Oh I did karaoke for the first time two nights ago. I sang ‘Help’ by The Beatles.
THE SYDNEY MUSIC SCENE
What have been your experiences in the Sydney music scene? What kind of gigs do you play and how do you feel about “the greatest city in the world?”
The greatest city in the world! For those who don’t know Sydney is the greatest city in the world.
I’ve had your typical experience doing little things around the place. It’s mostly been a process of trial and error in Sydney. There are so many great venues and I have been to a lot of gigs.
What changes would you like to see in the Sydney music scene?
I think the Sydney music scene has got it really tough but we’ve got some of the strongest people around doing those jobs. So it’s tough, but there’s really steely people who are able to withstand that. A lot of the venue owners and musicians, venue owners who really prioritise live music, like down at the Gasoline Pony.
There’s definitely hurdles to overcome but I think it’s mostly an effort in changing the culture around live music and around music in general.
Changing the culture around music in Sydney is what we’re trying to do at JAMs.
Sydney is currently made up of artists stuck in their little circles and we believe collaboration between artists, venues and others is what builds a really good music scene.
Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. Being able to integrate different parts of the music scene with other parts of it is the biggest thing.
That’s just one step closer to creating a larger micro community within Sydney. The larger we make that micro community the more economic power we have as well. I think it’s important to consider these large scale things. We can sit here and complain all day that people don’t like music as much as they used to or they don’t value music...but that’s what’s going on.
Everyone’s got a Spotify account. That is what music is now. If we actually engage with people at where they’re at rather than just moralising at them about why they need to like art more, then I think that is probably going to be more successful. I don’t really know what that looks like yet but approach-wise I think that’s the way to go about working to expand that community.
That’s a good point that you’ve made. We need to think about where people are at and how to engage them, instead of just doing things the way you think it should be and thinking ‘why aren’t you responding to me?’.
And hopefully we do that and get that going through JAMs.
Well, I think we totally can. William Wordsworth said something to the effect of, and this is not a direct quote, that he taught his readers how to read him.
We can show people what they want and how to appreciate some of this music.
That’s really important and why I want to do these interviews. So people can have more knowledge of where you’re coming from and Mansion is coming from and listen and understand what they’re hearing.
I suppose it’s that idea of being a music communicator. We’ve got a lot of science communicators around. Especially with the advent of corona and global warming. But having people like you doing this music communicator role is fantastic! I think that’s really going to push us forward because people, my mum doesn’t really understand Mansion’s music.
On the converse side of that point there’s that idea of just ignoring broader success and creating a movement within Sydney music and within Sydney musicians. I’ve been checking out 70s New York Avant Garde music and they had such a community that was really cross-discipline. I think it was a bit of a product of its time but also a product of that merging of disciplines and so much crossover between people and places that really culminated in this huge creative outpouring.
And I think Sydney’s ripe for something like that.
Do you have any other projects and other bands that you’re working on or with?
The things that actually have stuff coming up soon…
Ultramega has a little EP coming out soon.
The Checkup hopefully have an EP coming out this year, if all things go to plan, and a lot of gigs coming up in the meantime.
Me and Eitan Muir have got a duo project coming out too.
When do you plan on releasing your Mansion EP?
We’re releasing it with People Sound which is Jacque Emery’s label. The zine and everything will come out on the 5th February.
What do you see in the future for Mansion or where do you want to go?
We actually have a second album halfway through recorded and we’re getting Pete Longhurst (Ultramega, The Checkup, Hot Robert, Honey Nothings and Keen's Mustard) to do some great production which is going to be great!
He’s going to put our recordings through tape machines and mangle them in all sorts of ways which should be fun. It will definitely come out some time 2021.
To spread the Sydney music love, give me two local artist recommendations.
Honey Nothings, I’m always chucking them on.
I’d definitely say those two bands, which are pretty disparate...that really reflect my taste in music and Sydney music as well to a certain degree.
To hear this interview and others like this, follow our podcast - JAMs: A Taste of Sydney’s Music Scene.
Want to discover some more Sydney music? Follow our spotify playlist - JAMs Jams’
If there are any topics you would like us to cover or you have any feedback for improvement or you have a great idea to help the Sydney music scene thrive, shoot us a message over social or email us!