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Playing a sold-out launch of his album, Galapagoose fills the cold night with the sounds of his unique experimental electronica. In his hometown of Melbourne, Trent Gill seems at ease with the crowd’s enthusiasm – playing spontaneous samples with the confidence of a distinctly jazz background. In this in-depth interview, he speaks to ACCLAIM about his start in the industry, the changing shape of music and the mathematics behind Commitments.

How did you become involved with creating electronic music?

A ‘jazz kinda guy’ is where I came from – especially through high school, playing saxophone and guitar. Through that whole jazz mentality of experimenting and improvising, when I started hearing electronic music it was amazing because it was so varied and you could do so much with that format. You could have synthesisers with thousands of different sounds, drum machines that can play impossible drum beats. So it really opened my mind to the possibilities of instruments that weren’t made through acoustic mechanisms.

I think it comes from the jazz mentality and also, you know, just being a kid and you want to be different and listen to all kinds of different music and for some reason once I started hearing electronic music it really resonated with me.

Your first LP Commitments has just been released through Bandcamp and on vinyl, were they tracks you’d been working on for a while?

I guess it came about through Daedalus, who runs Magical Properties, which is the American record label that I put it out with. We met a long time ago, but we started seriously talking in March of last year. He basically said to me ‘put something together and I’ll put out on my label’ and I was like (laughs) ‘that sounds really good’ – I really respect him as an artist, and the stuff that he’d put out previously. And I guess it was at that point I started putting songs together for this.

The whole thing came together pretty quickly; I think the writing process was about six weeks. A few tracks were from the previous year that seemed to fit with the others. In general it was all written for this specific album. Just a bunch of different songs I’d put together. It was very much written for this specific release, to be put out in vinyl form, have an A side and a B side…

Did you have a strong idea of how it was going to sound before you created it?

I think that’s a very defining characteristic – I don’t really have an idea of what tracks will end up sounding like. I’ll sit down, I’ll be in a certain mood or have in my head a certain sound or idea or something and I’ll just try and find that and articulate that as well as I can. Then, I guess everything flows out of that first part… what’s the word I’m thinking of? Emergent. It starts with that one idea and blossoms into a complex beast… through trial and error. Having that thing and trying to flesh it out and just get it to a point where it seems to communicate that first feeling to the fullest. The hard parts knowing when to stop…

You said that you wrote it specifically as an album – is it one whole work to you?

Yeah, definitely it’s as an ‘album’. I guess that’s the thing – making an album where the tracks stand-alone where the tracks work individually but create a whole. But as an album it tries to create a mood and guides an audience through an experience and so you kind of have… I guess it starts in once place and through the first part of the record, builds up to certain, not really a climax – but a certain emotional state – where it’s quite on the edge – and it’s quite fragile but also quite forceful, has a lot of energy and on the B side it kind of takes that energy and goes down a different path. At least in my mind, it goes into a very inward place.

It’s very cerebral and kind of all about looking within yourself, where as the first half is about expressing and being extroverted. There are few tracks that I would never really choose to play to people by themselves, because I don’t think they’re necessarily the most amazing pieces of music in their own right. But when I was putting the album together I needed some of those tracks to tie the ideas together and really encourage a listener to think about the flow of songs rather than one track – the next track – the next track.

Tracks like Don’t Break the Spell and One Who Can’t Move [which features a sample from Sinatra] have a very soul-esque feel to them, what are some influences for the music you create?

I wouldn’t admit to sampling Sinatra (laughs) but it’s kind of obvious – so what can you say? I guess both of those songs that do have soul samples, I think they’re the only ones that do actually use samples. Most of it’s actually just recorded myself. Don’t Break the Spell is possibly a little less obvious – but if you Google the lyrics you’d find out what it is pretty easily. Ah… why am I saying these things? (laughs) Definitely a soul origin – but I think they both go in different directions from original tracks.

I guess part of the reason why I actually sampled them is because I like the aesthetic and using the feeling you get from the original. For me, there’s point to sampling things for just the texture or the sonic stamp but I generally like to almost pay homage to the sounds I do like to sample.

I think it’s more authentic to take something and make it your own rather than to point to it and say ‘that bit’ – what were some of the influences for you? Was Daedelus an inspiration?

Well, I’ve been a fan of his for five or so years, so he probably has an impact on how I sample, and how I put music together. He’s definitely stretched my mind in what kind of sounds you can put with each other and it still works. But I guess influences-wise, I think I take a lot more from older influences – the jazz background again, for me it’s really important for having that kind of aesthetic to it and having that sense that every track is really alive.

Nothing exists as a loop – everything has an unfolding narrative. But it’s hard for me to talk about influences, because I really love a lot of modern music, and listen to a lot of it, but when I’m writing I guess most of those influences are quite subconscious but they obviously come through in what I do. I think more than anything, my local friends and people I work with, are the ones that are the most inspirational to me and give me the most feedback on what I do, so I guess inherently they are the ones that are influencing it the most. Guys like Wooshie, Electric Sea Spider, this guy called Maps…

You’ve talked quite a lot about the equipment you use in previous interviews, is there an element of ‘tech geekiness’ involved in collecting MPCs and other devices?

Yeah, totally – I’m really bored about the equipment itself but I like talking about it generally. Like, I’m a complete nerd. I’ve been coding software for the last five years or so. I think since school, even, I loved maths along side music. Just because there’s something so finite with things. I guess with maths everything is so simple and basic and really built on tiny ideas but you can do so much with them. I think that’s why I make the music that I do and I do it with the tools and software that I create.

I think all of it is trying to take these small ideas – like a button that you do or don’t push, or a light that turns on and off and turning them into much more, more extravagant sounds. I like the idea of taking a small thing and turning it into something big and bold – I guess that’s where the technology comes in – not being geeky so much, but I have that headspace… so maybe I am a total geek. I probably am.

I read an interview recently where someone described electronica music as not having any ‘soul’ to it because of its precision or because it was made with computers rather than instruments – listening to electronic artists like yourself though… it’s hard to say that it doesn’t have any emotion behind it, do you have anything to say about that?

I think it’s funny. I mean, what is it? Like 96 or 98 per cent of music is now consumed through a digital platform now? And there is so much equipment that makes the digital world sound like the analogue world and most people, I think, would say it’s indistinguishable, and so I think its funny that anyone would say that because I’m sure they’re listening to their music on a CD anyway and it’s been transcoded into ones-and-zeros anyway, I feel like if you can listen to acoustic music through a CD and still feel ‘soul’ I feel like by definition there must be soul in digital.

I guess I can see where they would be coming from, with computer programmes that can lay out sounds pre-made. I can see how you’d loose some soul in that. But I definitely think there are ways to keep it alive though. There are so many different examples of soulful and incredible music. I find whenever I listen to stuff from the 70s, especially solo synthesizer music – that stuff to me is a lot more soulful and inspirational than the stuff I’ve heard since then, you know, made with guys in a band with guitars. Especially with my music I try and play everything live – I don’t sit there with a mouse and click in with the notes.

Everything’s played live and so much of it is recorded with guitars or voice or saxophone – it’s all kind of intermingling together. I appreciate that comment and where that kind of sentiment comes from, but I think the way I go about my music is not necessarily result of that, but trying to break down the barriers of what is perceived for electronic music.

How do you translate your music to a live performance?

I guess the live show for me is very important, it’s almost more important than the recorded form. Obviously you need to record music in order to create an audience, but for me I get a lot more enjoyment from playing live. It doesn’t have to be in front of a huge crowd, but just getting that attention – not from an attention seeking space but in an artistic way, that allows you to involve the audience.

But being able to create music that reflects back what I’m feeling from the audience… and the way I do that is by playing everything live. I’ll bring all the root ingredients – like synth lines, or samples or drum sounds and I’ll load them into the device that I use. But in a live sense it’s all about creating something new and seeing what the audience responds too or move away and try something different so it allows me a lot of stylistic freedom so I can play something with a house beat, or a hip-hop beat, or without a beat at all and all the variations that are within that, you know? But in a way that draws the audience in – so that’s where the live performance thing is really important to me. I think that answered your question! (laughs)

I understand that the live element is important to you from seeing you play – sort of like Gaslamp Killer there’s a lot of energy to your shows – but maybe not so much hair!

 (laughs) Definitely not so much hair! I got asked this question the other day actually too, and they were saying my live show is very physical and involved and I was like ‘well, I’ve never thought of it that way’… it just seems to happen I think.

I’m generally a very self-conscious person, so I would never mean to put anything on like that – it would look so contrived. But it’s nice that it comes across, and that it happens without me having to think about it. It’s all very natural and is just how I respond and when I’m just… feeling it. Sometimes I’m still on stage. But at other times I guess I just let that energy and excitement take over and not worry so much about what I’m doing.

I’ve seen footage of you playing in bars around New York, how does the American beat-scene compare with Melbourne’s?

It’s an interesting one! I didn’t really play so many organised or formal shows – mostly sort of basements and friend’s parties while I was in America. I played one showcase at SXSW, last year. The American shows are good in the way that the audiences are so energetic and seem generally really interested in what was going on and wasn’t so much that ‘stand in the back of the room with your beer, not moving, talking to your mates’, but I’m not sure if that was because of the specific bar.

It’s hard to say, I mean I’ve played shows in Melbourne where it’s been incredible and there’s been lots of people dancing and so much energy in the crowd and having a great response, but then you play other shows that are to an empty room, or a room that’s filling up, but everybody is kind of almost confronted by the commotion on the stage – maybe that’s a problem I have, especially if you’re playing early or late, it’s hard to ‘take your place’ and play to an earlier crowd where everyone’s just warming up, or just started drinking – but I guess that’s something that I think of and more forward.

It’s hard though, when I get booked for a show I generally don’t like to change what I do, too much, in terms of the time or setting. I feel like I try to be confident that people have booked me for the right reason, or they want to see me ‘do what I do’.  So try and do that in whatever way feels comfortable.

Do you think Australia — or Melbourne in particular — is becoming more receptive to electronic shows?

I think it’s definitely a lot more, and it’s happening in a lot more varied venues. Which is exciting. It’s great to see a bill where you’ve got a nu-wave or a post-punk or an indie band and they’ll have an electronic support. Or even a band that incorporates those elements. And I think that really shows the way music is heading. And in order to get a bigger sound or more denser arrangements people are starting to use samplers and snyths to flesh things out. But also I think it’s representing a certain acknowledgement that electronic instruments can be acceptable as acoustic, if not more so, in certain circumstances.

I feel like in the end it always comes down to how people are using that and whether it’s using them because you can’t afford to have the string section you what – or you don’t want to take a ten piece band on the road, I mean that’s fine as along as you do it in the right way. You know it’s expressed in the right way. I think definitely Melbourne is becoming more receptive but I think it’s a long road. It might happen – it probably happens more on the radio than in a live venue. But it’s all heading in the right way.

What were your first experiences in live shows – did that shape your sound at all?

I started, I’d say as soon as I was allowed – but I probably started before then (laughs). But I think the first show I went to I was sixteen, and I was playing saxophone in this weird experimental band. But ever since then I had the bug of the live venues – the love of it – and not too drink, or anything, but to go where you’re in an environment where music is being performed in front of you and there are people that are allowing themselves to be captured or who are giving themselves to the music.

I guess I found that, too, with the few jazz shows that I could go to, but definitely since I was sixteen or seventeen it’s been a big part of my life. Maybe more recently I haven’t been going to so many shows, which is something I’d like to change.

I’d like to get back on that and start seeing more live music and keeping myself exposed to those kind of things. I think it’s easy as a working musician to get a bit self-obsessed and too far into your own world, so I think it’s really important to keep going out and reminding yourself that music is to be enjoyed. Yeah (laughs) I’m gonna do that!

You’re involved with the Melbourne collective This Thing, could you tell us a little about that? Were you one of the creators?

I guess it all started at the end of 2010, talking to mostly Dylan – ‘Wooshie’ – and a couple of the other guys around Melbourne, and the four of us got things going. I mean Dylan and I had been for a long time been talking about different frustrations about the music scene in general we had, and feeling there wasn’t so much a platform for people that play the kind of music we do, and just experimental music in general. Things that don’t get mainstream or whatever.

I guess the two of us really set out to create something that was – well, we more decided we needed to work together in order to basically make things easier for ourselves – and try and get a situation where it was easier for people to associate with what we were doing. I mean part of it is about putting on live shows and we did a lot of that last year putting on the monthly’s at the Buffalo Club before it shut down.

But that was really fun and was a great way for us to figure out who were and what we were about, and with the results of that, as much as putting on live shows is a great thing, it’s maybe not so necessary for us to do them so regularly. It’s like the more often people play, the less you care about them. I guess that says a lot about audiences being different these days, more ADD even.

But I’m trying to focus more on the music that we associate with, or that we think is really, or should be highly valued. So trying to take that and give it a platform to stand on that says ‘here’s this great music, and we really get something personal out of it, so we want to share it’ – and want to show off what’s happening in Melbourne in this small scene. Rather than putting it out there as the ‘next big thing’ – even though in our minds it might be, there’s not hierarchy to it, and it’s about allowing the artist to shine in their own way, not some empire that just wants to get their name out there.

I think that’s what can be compelling about the electronic scene – it’s not competitive, it’s not so much about pretension…

I’m glad it comes across that way! I think sometimes behind the scene it doesn’t feel entirely that way (laughs) I’m sure we’re much better than other groups can be. I come from a small proportion of that scene – but it seems sometimes hard to find the people you want to associate with, and with them you go through the good times and the hard times. I guess, finding the right place and people, and once you do you can work through the difficulties and hopefully it comes back to representing the music as well as the individuals.

When I go to a show I want it to be good, more so myself and other people around me can enjoy it, rather than because it’s something my name’s attached too, and bring more and more excitement to this type of music and just see a wider audience. I think that’s getting back to what This Thing is about, taking music that is new and not a well defined style or even group of styles, and so it’s trying to find a way to allow more people to find out about it and really represent that electronic music can have soul and you can go to a show and feel really engaged by a performance, rather than staring at the back of a laptop.

It’s about building a community and working to further the idea and keep the expression going and create a commercial industry that can support itself rather than control it.

Your music has been recently been promoted through some of the renown music blogs like xlr8r, and you have your own Tumblr and Twitter, how important do you think it is that artists have that Internet presence?

It’s an interesting thing – I guess the whole Tumblr thing came about a few years ago when I first started making music, and it’s funny because I wasn’t really into the whole ‘hip culture’ and ‘what’s cool’. I didn’t know any of that. I was in university, and I kinda wanted to drop out, and I didn’t know what I was doing – I lived quite an encapsulated life, and I spent a lot of time in the suburbs, basically.

I didn’t have much exposure of what was cool. Through forums and stuff I found tumblr and saw it as a way to give ideas out and catalogue them for later reference, not so much about saying ‘I wanna make a big feature of the stuff I’m doing’ it’s more just, and started, as a place I can put something when I just don’t know what else to do with it. I don’t want to charge money for it, or it doesn’t fit or belong in a collection I’m making, just to be able to put it there and have it as a sort of keepsake for myself, was very useful for me when I began to realise that what I was doing – people were drawn to it and were excited about the things that I was giving away.

That’s when I discovered Bandcamp and I really wanted to put out a record – and I put together this really, well it was abstracted and disjointed EP – this was in 2008 or 2009 – and it was just like something I could use to sort of throw it out to the world. That really opened me up to the whole concept of social media and I guess being able to connect with community directly through all those mediums and stuff… I think giving stuff away for free, getting back to that, is definitely something that is not so much a choice in terms of publicity, it’s more about just a way to be able to express yourself as a young person who can’t afford music, and not having a big name as an artist, you can go to that and be involved without having to put too much of an investment in it.

So, taking that bridge to stuff like xlr8r I guess it’s nice for me because as much as I would love people to buy my record, I understand how the world works and I don’t have a big problem downloading my record, or anything. Bizarrely, I’ve not been able to find online – or maybe I’ve not been looking hard enough – but I’m totally at peace, not entirely supporting that, but you expect it, and the only reason you don’t is because I’m trying to make a living from it, so it’s hard when your on both sides of the fence.

I love the idea that anybody can access it, and there’s no restriction – that there’s a kid the other side of the world that can download it and listen to it. You never know, it might change the world for them. And that for me is more important than getting paid, but then, at the same time, you contrast that with ‘well, rent’s costing me this much…’ it’s a hard thing to do – but I’m happy that my music out there and accessible. And I’m glad that some of it’s free, and that people like xlr8r have picked it up and drive more ears to it. In a perfect world that’s all that should matter.

What’s coming up next for you?

In terms of releases, I’ve got a little cassette coming out with my friend Michael who goes by ‘%’ – we have a tape that’s kind of available, sort of coming out soon, but that’s an aside thing, but its highly limited, and I’d like that to go well… got a little 7” coming out later this year too, but beyond that most of my work is on the live performances. I’m trying to organise a gig along with Daedalus for America this coming July – and if that works out hopefully England and Europe. I’ve got some friends there that I would love to see, and I’d do it just for the price of the trains between the gigs!





Photography by Michael Danischewski