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  • Tamara Murphy on Jazz and Gender

    Written by Jake Amy Musicians at the forefront of their field consistently demonstrate excellence in musical ability, however across all employment streams within the music industry, the harsh reality for women is one of underrepresentation. I discussed the issue with esteemed bassist, composer and parent Tamara Murphy, who works alongside some of Australia's best music professionals (Kate Miller-Heidke, Harry James Angus, Ali McGregor, Clio Renner), as well as her cutting-edge approach to composition and improvisation which draws influence from The Necks, and her incredible contextual insight into music tradition (which can be further read about in her master’s thesis). I was reading your thesis. Why is jazz a ‘self-destructing’ artform? Any artform that tries to put itself under glass is going to eat itself up. In the early-90s there was a revival where jazz became defined as a certain thing that had once been. People began playing jazz in a particular way. If it didn’t sound like that, then it wasn't 'jazz'. I think that for any creative [artform], it is influenced by the time and the space in which it’s created. These days, there are so many different environments that music gets created in. Music becomes really unique because of this. I would argue that a lot of music fits under the jazz banner. 'Jazz' can be quite hard to define because it all sounds so different. Those of us who have studied jazz and improvisation know that there is a heap of music out there that isn’t under the 'jazz' banner, but know that it’s so 'jazz'. Think about Hiatus Kaiyote. Jazz has always been a dirty word and it still is a dirty word. I totally understand why people avoid using it. Heaps of people are convinced that they don’t like listening to ‘jazz music’ when they don't even really know much about it, or what it is and isn't. Why do we bother labelling genres? Back [in the 90’s], I think that labelling was mostly for ease-of-browsing at CD stores - it was totally a functional thing in terms of marketing. It was really different to how it is these days. Now, you’re not just looking for a new RnB tune on Spotify. You’re looking for ‘music for a rainy day’! With any genre of music, you have to know where you’re coming from in order to know where you're going. Understanding tradition helps inform and place your music somewhere contextually. It gives you somewhere to go from. That’s the way it is, and it happens in every artform. As musicians, where do you think we draw our influences from? Everywhere! I think that we draw ideas from anything and everything that we listen to and these days we have access to the world’s catalogue. The music that I've listened to really informs the way that I play and the way that I write. Last year, Laneous put out his album Monstera Deliciosa, which is one of the best albums that I heard last year. Laneous is a really great jazz guitarist, yet he plays all this other stuff which is ‘not jazz’, and it’s so exciting to listen to. I like the idea that stuff is really fused together, and when you hear his album, there’s Prince in there, there’s D’Angelo in there... Again, those two are totally jazz musicians who didn’t call their music jazz, but that language is totally in there! The live music scene in Melbourne is pretty healthy too, and I think that really informs a lot of things. Everyone plays with everyone else in a bunch of different incarnations, so there is a really nice exchange of ideas. Obviously there is still a lot of creating going on behind the scenes at the moment. When we go to gigs, the evolution of our language and identity develops really quickly. You hear, you’re there, you’re experiencing. It’s really visceral. When you remember a great gig, you don't just remember the music. You remember how it felt to be there. Straight away, it's part of you. I think that experiencing live music is a much better way to create a memory than having something on in the background, where you’re half listening. Can you talk about your latest album ‘Spirograph Studies’ and its process? When I was younger, I was trying to create some kind of stamp and presence. A lot of the writing for my first band Murphy’s Law was heavily influenced by Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and other artists composing in odd time signatures and creating pretty challenging music. As I got older, I lost a bit of momentum as a bandleader, and so I put bandleading on the shelf for a little while. Murphy’s Law never broke up, but some of the band members live internationally now, so as you could imagine, gigging has become pretty tricky! ​ Over time, I felt as though I wanted to create again, but I just couldn't work out what it was. I had to do some soul searching and I had a desire to try and write stuff that I would listen to. I wanted something with a slower unfolding with elements of minimalism. A bit like The Necks. I wanted really simple music that had a sense of space in it. When I started writing for this project, I had to approach composition differently, because I heard a lot of textures and had totally specific sonic ideas. There’s one track in particular that has a ticking sound, and I got my poor drummer James McLean to experiment with all of these different drumsticks. We workshopped exactly what type of stick he would have to use, and exactly where on the cymbal he had to hit it. James has been unbelievably good about me being a total dictator! ​ It’s been really fun trying to develop the idea of ‘no solos’. [We improvise] in more of a conversational way, which is taken from The Necks. The Necks is something I've grown up listening to for decades. I’m pretty proud to connect with such a beautiful Australian band that’s part of something that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. In the late 90s, The Necks were meant to do an Australian tour, and for some reason, their drummer who lived in Berlin couldn’t make the Melbourne show, so they cut the tour short. My friend and I were massive fans, so we drove up to Sydney to see the gig. They recorded that gig and it ended up becoming the album, Piano Bass Drums, which is one of my favourite albums. It was such an exciting, visceral experience, and [The Necks] were a huge formative influence for Spirograph Studies. Due to the reliant and conversational nature of the improvisation, when recording, how did you consistently develop fresh ideas during takes? In a ‘conventional’ jazz album, an individual band member may take a solo. If the individual is unhappy with their solo, they may ask if they can try again. With the Spirograph Studies band, it’s different because we are collectively having a musical conversation the whole time. It’s also more about the shape of the whole piece. If I wasn’t happy with a take, my thought process might be to develop the piece for longer and not be in a rush to build. With this band, I’m being really fussy about the end product. The music and the people in this band really mean a lot to me. It’s a really nice thing to honour that by only putting music out which I’m absolutely behind. "Gender should definitely be talked about, but I feel that it’s often put on us [women] to do something about it. The change really has to come from the men, who are in the position to do something about it." There is still an underrepresentation of female and non-binary voices in our musical community. What’s it like being a musician who identifies as female? At school, I played in a mixed[-gender] soul band, and I became used to the idea that everyone just played together. I had noticed that there weren’t that many chicks on stage at gigs, but I never thought that being a female would be a liability. It was pretty weird when I went to university and there were only two female instrumentalists in my year. Now, I think that because I teach at a few universities, I have a different responsibility to be aware of gender issues, but I go through different stages all the time. When I look back, my experience could have been so different had I attended another school or generally not had the experiences that I did. I think that I was pretty lucky in that way. I've realised recently that I’ve been involved in lots of these conversations. Gender should definitely be talked about, but I feel that it’s often put on us [women] to do something about it. The change really has to come from the men, who are in the position to do something about it. I did read some of your other interviews. Did you ask the male musicians about gender? They are the musicians that you need to talk to about gender, because they have the power to actually make a change. I remember attending a conference on ‘gender in music’ a couple of years ago at Monash University. 95% of the people there were women. This said so much about the people who are actually trying to do something about it. When I become aware of the gender issue, it bothers me more. In the education system, where does change have to come from to directly support marginalised genders and identities? It's so complex. I think that the most change needs to happen in high schools. I’ve seen that females tend to drop out of playing improvised music at this age. Fortunately, the school that I went to had a super inclusive sense of community, with all genders, races, and sexualities. I felt totally encouraged the whole time, but in retrospect, that was probably an anomaly. Compared to other schools, I was so encouraged at that age and I think that is part of the reason why I'm doing what I'm doing. [Gender discrimination] also occurs in universities, and post-uni too... I get really frustrated when I see a new band coming out that consists of all guys. Dudes: you're meant to be the new generation. How are you still doing the same shit that people were doing 40 years ago when there was no choice? You have a choice now, and you’re still not helping. I reckon that if I was playing in bands that were 100% women, 100% of the time, I would be looking around and thinking, ‘This is weird, right?’... It sort of surprises me that men don't [have those thoughts] all the time. Perhaps they’re just used to it? It flummoxes me when it's a really big band of guys too. There was a compilation album that came out a few months ago. It had heaps of different bands. The back cover has a photo of all the musicians, and I think I saw only three women out of 30 people. What the fuck? We are in 2020. Come on. That is outrageous. How can people not see the issue when it is so obviously not okay? How do you effectively balance active consideration for gender/identity and choice of musician (based on their stylistic idiosyncrasies/‘sound’)? In general, I don’t think that men are being purposefully malicious and saying, ‘I’m not even going to consider women’. [Women] are probably not on their radar at all. In my phone, all of my colleagues are saved with a note with their instrument name in it. If I can't do a gig and I want to recommend a bass player, I simply type in ‘bass’ and everyone’s name comes up. I scroll through, choose, and at least I know that I've actually given everyone a fair go, regardless of any part of who they are, which is not their choice. It’s a tricky one too, because I can totally see the other side of it. My band does happen to be an equal split of men and women, but it wasn't engineered that way. I was only thinking about the ‘sound’ of the musicians. It just happened that one of them is a woman, and it happens that I'm a woman too! That already tips the scales a lot anyway. It sounds like you’ve taken foundational steps to curate a diverse database of musicians where you ultimately don’t consider a person’s identity so actively. Is that true? If you still end up with a 100% male band, at least you know that you have considered everyone. For my part, I would never want to be booked because I'm a woman. That’s pretty insulting in a way. To know that I haven't been considered at all because I'm a woman, that’s also really insulting. If I'm not the right person for the job and I don't get it, that’s fine. If I’m the right person for the job and I do get it, that’s great. I’ve been asked to do quite a few gigs where someone is putting together an all-female band. These days, I don’t think of that as being a good motivator for playing great music. When your main motivator is doing an ‘all-female thing’, regardless of musicianship, that’s not what I’m about. All I want to do is make great music. If it happens to be an amazing band which happens to only comprise women, then of course it’s fine. One of the best things that I can do for my gender is making sure my art is really good. Then it's a great example of what can actually be done. How can current artists be active in changing this predisposition to empower and support one another? Consider everyone who you’re booking. If you need a horn player, don’t just look to your closest mates… Try to widen the circle and think about who else is out there. There are so many amazing musicians around, especially in Melbourne, who are coming up and changing the face of our music scene. I guess that I also wish that guys were in these conversations more often. Thank you for reminding me of my responsibility. I've taken note and I'll be discussing this with more people, more often. Yeah - [discussion] is a really important thing. These issues are so obvious to me and probably not really obvious to guys who may just be accustomed to booking their mates… I think that guys become used to being around lots of guys all the time and they don’t really believe that anything’s wrong. You’ll probably have to ask the guys about this… I’m just speculating. So what's in the pipelines? I’ve finally picked all the takes for the new Spirograph Studies album, so hopefully that will be appearing later this year! I really want to record a trio album. I have to talk to everyone and make sure that they’re all on board before I tell you too much about it, but as soon as we get out of isolation, I want to spend a day in the studio and smash out heaps of tunes. I just recorded with Nat Bartsch before lockdown at ABC studios. She’s doing a lullaby band album and I think it should be coming in another month or two. Hopefully a few things will be appearing! Keep up to date with Tamara on her website We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. ​ Thank you dearly to Tamara for your time. Interview with Tamara was conducted on 30 April 2020. Article first published 10 May 2020. Photographs taken by Hans-Jørgen Jahr, Tim McNeilage and @pix_by_ian. Written by Jake Amy, edited by Hugh Heller, contributions from Rosemary Bassett and Emma Volard.

  • Lewis Moody on the Under-Appreciated Melbourne Scene

    Written by Jake Amy Melbourne has proven itself to be at the cutting-edge of nu-jazz and jazz crossover musics. The influence of vibrant minority communities creates a fresh yet underappreciated arts scene, divergent to that anywhere else in the world. Lewis Moody is a keys player at the forefront of musical exploration, with extensive touring experience (Guy Sebastian, Alex Lahey, Bec Sandridge), fruitful interests in sound design and incredible insight of musical styles. His recent move to London highlights comparison between the Melbourne and London music scenes. In January I had the chance to chat to the incredibly humble instrumentalist and multidisciplinary artist over Skype. Where did it start? My parents enrolled me in piano lessons. I think I wanted to learn the saxophone but they said, 'Learn the piano and that will inform you'... I was not particularly sold. We walked into the first lesson. You sat down at an electric organ with two manuals and lots of buttons, drawbars, paddles and sounds. I saw all the buttons, played one note and said, 'I like this, I want to do this'! That pretty much just sums up my entire career... It's just fiddling with buttons! Where are you now? I just moved to London, in March last year. I'd been living in Melbourne for 6 or 7 years after I finished studying at WAAPA (in WA). I felt that I was just ready for a change - new city, new vibes, something different. It's been an interesting period of time, settling down in London. It's a massive city. Right now I'm trying to build a network and just relax into living here. If there was one aspect of the London music scene that you could bring back to Melbourne, what would that be? That's actually a funny question because they're very similar scenes. As a result, there is a lot of cross-pollination of Melbourne artists coming over and doing stuff in the jazz world here. The big difference is that in Melbourne, [jazz music] is very underground, very niche and only supported by a handful of people. It's kind of under-appreciated, for want of a better word. London is much bigger. It's a city of 9 million people and there is a big population of people who love this music. Church of Sound released their lineup for the first 3 or 4 months of 2020 - about 12 gigs. All of the first release tickets were all sold out within a day, and you're talking about a 250 capacity room for jazz crossover. The interest in that kind of music is totally next level. In Australia, the quality [of the music] is so good and the music is so happening. It's cutting edge, but it can fall into a heap because of how niche it is. At the same time, that's what makes it really good. You have to kill to get your music heard. As a result, the stuff that breaks through is really good. It's that double-edged thing, you know? I think also, there's such an incredibly deep and rich culture, musically in London, and it goes back so far. The Caribbean and West-African communities influence everything from jazz through to electronic music. It breathes. It's amazing to come and experience that first hand. I think that is a new thing in Australia. The different minority communities that are influencing the music scene are much fresher, much more new. I think Australia is still in its infancy, and while it's amazing to be here in London, which is almost one hundred years down the road, I wouldn't necessarily want Melbourne to be the same. There is a rich culture and community in Melbourne. It's just fresh and still developing. As an in-demand musician, how do you prioritise your work? I don't find myself really strapped for time. I'm definitely busy, but of my own making. I went through a period where I was cutting my teeth, career-wise, so I got deeper into the corporate world as the main motivator to earn a living. I had to make a conscious decision to start prioritising more touring work with pop artists and more art crossover music. Playing improvised music is my bread and butter, and it's as simple as earning 'x' amount of dollars on a Saturday night at a wedding in order to go and do a gig where the money doesn't matter. [Money] is not a factor for me. It's more about what we’re creating and building on. I think there's also this natural thing. It makes sense who you fall in with and the music you end up making. Especially if you're part of the furniture, musically, in a city. People know your vibe. If you're right for their project they're going to get in touch with you. I think things tend to happen pretty organically. You’ve just released some work with JK Group... Can you talk about the process? Yes! I produced/engineered/played on and mixed Josh Kelly's debut record! Josh is the sax player from 30/70, and it was such an amazing experience! I had a brief little stint renting some studio space at Josh's store in Thornbury. They have a back room there where I was working out of, and Josh and I were hanging out a lot. Already we were pretty aligned. In December 2018, Josh asked me to work on [his record], but I had already bought my ticket to London. Luckily, I had some studio hire remaining for the last two months of my time in Melbourne. I was subletting from Tom Strode at Rolling Stock Recording Rooms. We had this funny meeting where I said, 'Let's get this done well and truly before I leave for Europe', and Maggie (Josh’s wife) said, ‘I’m due in February’. Maggie was seven months pregnant, and it turned out that the only time we could do the two days of tracking fell on Maggie’s due date! Due to the time pressure, I basically cleared my schedule as much as I could. From the first day of tracking to the final day of mixing, there were only 14 days. When we were in the sessions we were like, ‘Okay Maggie, no spicy food, no exercising’! Anyway, it ended up working out beautifully, with Maggie around the studio the whole time, very heavily pregnant, also assistant engineering. We did the whole record in two weeks. We didn't rush anything - it just kind of ended up being like a perfect storm. The funny thing is it goes off to labels and has to line up with schedules, so even though it took only two weeks to make, it takes a year to release! Can you talk about the band? I mean, we had the dream team. Josh and I got to curate the whole process and we were really excited to get people who we flow with from the word ‘go’. Ziggy, Matt, Javier Fredes and I as the rhythm section. Working with Jave is actually a dream. I grew up sneaking into the Night Cat just to see Los Cabrones play, and I used to dream of playing with him. He’s the ultimate… We had James Bowers guest on a couple tracks. I’m on the rhodes and James is on the piano. James is just the most incredible piano player. Having him was wild. Audrey Powne is on a couple of things as well. It was such a nice experience to curate who we wanted, and it made the whole process so streamlined as we’d all worked heaps together. As a listener, I think your ‘sound’ is so distinctive, not only in the melodic content that you play, but also in terms of what keyboard sounds you use. At what stage of your process do you start to think about sound design? Like, from the earliest moment! Sound design has always been the first thing that I have thought about. As I was saying, when I was a little kid, fiddling with buttons was my main interest and motivator! When I was younger, I would pretty much only listen to music if it had electronic keys on it. I’m not sure if you ever saw The Genie? They were the rhythm section from the Cat Empire. I know that James Bowers will attest to this as well: they were everything! The music was similar to the Head Hunters - super groovy. Ollie McGill was always on three boards going nuts with effects. That was really where my passion in sound design started incorporating into my keyboard playing. Electronics are the ultimate gift for a piano player. There’s so much versatility in what you can sound like. How does that relate to your production work? I think that it’s all tied together. It’s so important for every sound that you ever create to be incredibly well thought out. Every great record is really considered. What the kick drum sounds like. What the snare sounds like. Bass sound, vocal sound. Nothing is ever just put down haphazardly.  I think that's what goes into making good music. Care for detail. You’re playing with some incredible artists. Does the music become more arranged and specific the heavier into the pop world you go? It’s funny actually. I had this experience recently. I’ve always thought that the heavier you get into the pop world, the more rigid things become, and the more specific your role is. I just flew back to Australia to do Guy Sebastian’s tour, filling in for Grant Windsor. I got into the rehearsal and I'd learnt my parts and programmed my sounds. I  was ready to be very particular. What I actually found was that I definitely had the freedom to say, ‘Hey, I want to put a dank white noise stab in this thing’, and Guy would say, ‘Yeah sure, let’s see what it sounds like’. That was really pleasantly surprising.  ​ I’ve heard that across the board. I got asked to play with Rita Ora, the UK singer. In rehearsal, somebody asked her guitarist, ‘How did these arrangements come about? Did the MD arrange it and send it out?’. He responded, ‘Nah, we kind of just get in a room and see what happens’. That really blew my mind. These people are operating at the highest level of pop music. You’re talking stadium gigs.  To answer your question, it definitely depends on the gig. Some things I’ve done have been strictly robotic, which is perfectly reasonable, but when I got to experience working with someone such as Guy, it was all suddenly just way more open. "When I don't get opportunities that I was excited about the possibility of, I won’t think too hard about it. There’s most likely a myriad of reasons - I keep positive vibes. Nobody owes you anything. I’ve found that when I don't become bitter, it’s amazing how much things can turn around." What’s life like on the road? I’ve never done the ‘six-weeks-in-a-row’ kind-of touring. Most of the touring I’ve done in Australia is on weekends. Europe has a tighter touring circuit. In Europe you can do 18 shows in 21 days. Touring is such a great experience. You get to see a bunch of the world which you’ve never seen, but you basically work all day. The work is getting up at 4am to get on a plane, travelling all day in a shuttle bus squashed by your gear, rocking up at the venue, sound checking, whatever… that's the work. When you play the show for 50 minutes, that is the pay off. The best thing ever is playing to different crowds in different cities. I think that one thing that drives me nuts is hearing people complaining about touring. I would never. I feel so lucky to have the experiences that I've had. It’s so hard to get into that scene. You’re only there if you want to be there. It can be trying and testing at times... mainly the boredom. It's hours of sitting around waiting, but just get a book. What advice do you give to upcoming musicians? I mean I've had limited experience - I haven't done everything in the world. I think that having ‘hang chops’ is everything. Marty Holoubek coined that term. That doesn't mean that you have to homogenise your personality, and I think that the phrase ‘being a good hang’ can be misconstrued. Thinking that you have to smash beers every night with everybody is not the case. It’s more about your ability to get along with people. Be friendly, be interesting, be interested. When you move to a city, it doesn't matter how ‘good’ you are. People don’t stop booking their mates. What’s been an experience you’ve learnt from? I’ve worked with artists where I have given too much time and then realised that it’s not a situation where I'm going to be around to reap the rewards, for want of a better term. You might work with somebody and think that you’ll go really far and play stadiums, so you put in thousands of hours, for a project that’s not yours. You could find that suddenly you’re out of the gig. It’s really important not to become bitter when you feel let down.  When I don't get opportunities that I was excited about the possibility of, I won’t think too hard about it. There’s most likely a myriad of reasons - I keep positive vibes. Nobody owes you anything. I’ve found that when I don't become bitter, it’s amazing how much things can turn around. In January, Lewis and I finished our interview after I asked him about upcoming work. Lewis messaged me a little update just yesterday about what he’s got to look forward to: It goes without saying that plans have been somewhat modified due to the isolation life, but in some respects there has been a silver lining. Living in London for the past 12 months has really inspired some new music, much more than I ever thought it would. I think from being surrounded by new sounds everyday, at parties or just even having NTS, WWFM or BB6 on in the house, it's amazing how much new music I feel like I've been absorbing. I've dived a bit deeper into electronic music than I thought I ever thought I would, and the isolation time has been really good for putting stuff down on paper. I've got about an album's worth of new music that I'm still finishing up. Fingers crossed it will see the light of day soon. As well as Josh's record, the new Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange is out and we will be touring to support that release a little later in the year, hopefully including Australia. Recently I've been working with a Melbourne rapper and good friend Soliloquy, producing a couple of albums, the first of which is mastered and ready to go, so we might start hearing a little of that soon. The second of which he just came over to Europe to write. We tracked some drums with Ziggy in Berlin and then did a 10-day intensive at my studio in London. I'm stoked with what we have but it might be a minute before that hits the airwaves. Keep an eye on him though. Otherwise, a little mixing and a lot more writing hopefully, at least until we get back to some kind of normality. It's easy to feel like the industry is never going to recover from this but I have a feeling, especially in Europe, it's going to bounce back quickly. Keep up to date with Lewis on Instagram: @itsmoocho We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. ​ Thank you dearly to Lewis for your time. ​ Interview with Lewis was conducted on 10 and 11 January 2020. Article first published 26 April 2020. Photographs taken by Rhys Newling, Finding Figaro, Ian Laidlaw and Shane Benson. Written by Jake Amy, edited by Hugh Heller.

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