Improvisation is such a huge part of your style. When you’re recording something like Big Smoke (which appeared in two parts on Notion EP), which elements of the original piece do you feel you need to be faithful to so that the resulting track still, in your mind, deserves the same title?
To be honest, if you played me my Notion EP and I heard those two live tracks, they weren’t really songs – they were just something I used to jam when I was busking. I separated them into Big Smoke 1 and 2 ‘cos I didn’t really know how to form those songs. But it’s not really two songs anymore; it’s just the one now that has formed itself, and makes so much more sense. The longer I played it over and over on the live stage, the more it made sense to me, and it got merged into one track. The studio version is how I’ve been playing it live now, and it feels much better that way. I think in the past it’s just been more of an experiment.
When recording, do you ever digitally chop parts of guitar solos together and connect them to make the best possible solo, or are you completely loyal to the on-the-fly method even in the studio?
No f-cking way. I like doing it on the fly. I don’t really like to do that chopping stuff – it makes the song not so authentic, if you keep chopping and comping bits together. I’ll just do 150 guitar solos, one after the other, until I get the one I like – which is usually the first or second take.
Seven has four very distinct sections to it (with the first and last matching). Did you consider separating these slices into their own tracks?
I was just jamming one day and figured out this progression, and added this real simple percussion to it. I’ve played it so many different ways: sometimes I play it with trumpet in it, sometimes saxophone. I play it live and it’s different every time. It wasn’t actually that long, and when I got it into the studio I realised that it needed several different parts to remain interesting and moody. I specifically wrote that song as I want someone to pick it up for a movie: there’s three different sections of that song that could be three different parts for three different movies.
Also on Seven: What sort of instrument are we hearing do the high melody in the first and last sections? It sounds kind of like a violin but maybe like a reed instrument too! A very cool sound.
It is a violin sampled onto a keyboard, [with] every note pitch-shifted on the scale of the keyboard. So it’s a violin, a flute, and a cello that all sit together, but it’s not actually those instruments played – they’re sampled onto the keyboard and I play the parts on the keys.
Pink Moon documents a descent into the protagonist “going crazy” – it’s only very close to the end of the track that the insane electric guitar part busts out! When you’re playing it through, do you spend those first five-and-a-half minutes gradually gathering your strength to take yourself emotionally to that crazy place of the last minute-and-a-half?
When I recorded that song I was having a really bad day; I’ve spoken about my mental battles many times, and that was a day I couldn’t really see the end to it. I wrote that song all in one take. We actually just set up room mics in the control room, and I just played it. Then I revisited the song a couple months later and did it again, and again, and again. And it wasn’t until I was in Brazil listening back to the demos that I thought ‘This needs something at the end – I don’t write songs that are three minutes long, it’s missing at least five minutes!’
Then I heard all these things in my head, and then figured out, ‘Yep that’s how the song is meant to end.’ When you listen to that song there’s lots of reverb, lots of delay, lots of distance and saturation in the production of it, and it’s to make me sound like I am drowning – like I’m misty. When the vocal pulls out and I say “I’m going crazy” there’s like a little break in that production – it’s a break in the mentality that I had. And then the big orchestral sounds come in, and then it all goes away.
Harvest Love contains the mega-truthful lyric: “The unfed mind devours itself.” Have you experienced this phenomenon yourself, or do you more often see evidence of it in others?
I think you see evidence of it all around you. You go through periods of your life where you’re not nurturing yourself and your surroundings – maybe physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. If you’re not nourishing your own garden, it’s just gonna grow weeds, get out of control and get messy. Then you’re gonna have this unkept garden that could be nice and lovely, but it takes time and care and work to get yourself to that point, and I see that in myself sometimes. I also see it in people I really care about, and then I see it in people I don’t really give a sh-t about.
You don’t begin singing until a good three minutes into Blackbird (which is nine-and-a-half minutes long all up). Do you think of this as an extended intro, or do you envision the guitar as just as worthy a storyteller as your voice?
I say that I am a guitarist who became a singer, not a singer who became a guitarist. I like to let my guitar to do most of the talking ‘cos that’s my first instrument, and that’s what I did before I even started singing. I wrote that song when I was 16 actually. I’ve had live versions of it and I’ve grown up with that song, and I thought it really needed to be done in a studio. The instrument part is quite difficult to get right; it took me nine days. We just kept it to one verse and a chorus, and let the guitar do the speaking. It feels like something people did more of maybe 10 or 20 years ago, and I love that sh-t.
Flow State is out August 31 via LLR/Sony.
Pre-order the album for your chance to WIN a buttercream Fender Stratocaster guitar with maple fingerboard, signed by Tash Sultana!
Tash is playing at Lost Picnic in Melbourne and Sydney on October 7 and 13 respectively; get your tickets here.
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