If you’ve never heard of the Amen Break, it’s still very likely you’ve heard the thing itself; it’s a six-second drum fill originally played by G.C. Coleman in 1969, and has since been sampled in countless hip hop, techno, drum ‘n’ bass and jungle tracks, making Amen, Brother (the track it originally appeared on) the most sampled song in history.
In music, often a musician wants beat samples to be recognisable. But sometimes they want to be able to warp a sample in their own artistic way without licensing issues, and it’s this latter problem that Miller Upchurch and Ed Quinn solved pretty cleanly in the creation of their eponymous album, Slum Sociable.
“We’ve got this guy [Ivan Khatchoyan] – he’s the drummer for Cookin’ On 3 Burners, a Melbourne jazz group – and he laid down some beats for us,” Upchurch explains. “We have this four-hour session that we’ve been [using] ever since, chopping it up over the years. It’s been great to have our own samples, with no copyright involved.”
Although their jazz-hop style is incredibly painterly and features all kinds of dexterous keys and electric guitar, samples are integral to the Slum Sociable plot – and it all starts with that solid, sauntering groove. “You’re trying to get a feel for the tempo… but it’s always trial and error,” says Upchurch. “You start off with one idea and you might actually think you’ve finished the song! But you come back to it a couple of weeks later. We revisited a song we made almost a year ago and it was tempting to keep a lot of parts, but it didn’t suit the new direction that we were going in. So you do have to have a level of discipline with yourself there, and open-mindedness. You have to have conversations with yourself.”
Other core instruments on the boys’ debut include Ed’s ancient piano, which you can see in the acoustic version clip for single Castle (“Even though it’s slightly out of tune, it’s got its own feel”), horns from Saskwatch’s Liam McGorry (“He did flugelhorn as well – it’s like a trumpet but it’s got that curl in it, and it’s got its own distinct toot”) and Miller’s own unmistakable voice. His vocal style is haunting but somehow also unyielding, capable of wide soars and delicate tapers, and showcasing a real talent for melodies that aren’t necessarily complicated but seem completely carnal.
Upchurch’s voice has recently stirred conversation in more ways than just the musical sense. On October third of this year, he posted a handwritten note to Facebook explaining that Slum Sociable’s six-month interruption in productivity was due to his struggles with depression. After a supremely honest detailing of how it feels to be at his lowest point, he wrote: “That is the reality of it, it affects people’s work, families and lives every day, and in being someone who struggles with it, all I want is to be able to help those who don’t feel like they can or know how to help themselves, by opening up about my own battle.”
“If you have a platform, you do have a bit of a responsibility to bring awareness to something good,” he tells us. “I look at other people with gigantic platforms who only use it for personal gain, and I think it’s a little bit shallow. At the very least, spread awareness. You don’t need to ask for money or rally people, but at least bring awareness to something that you think is being overshadowed. I definitely don’t regret it; People that I don’t know have been flooding our inboxes, just telling their stories. They just feel inspired to share now, after I shared. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response, to be honest.”
Slum Sociable is out November 24 via Liberation.