Whenever Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton get together, they create magic. That’s what we’ve learned over the past number of years through their string of collaborative albums. The duo share a penchant for crafting witty, sun-drenched slices of Australiana, and listening to them alongside one another is always an enjoyable experience.
This weekend, both Russack and Denton (as part of The Ocean Party) will be performing at Spunk Records’ 20th Anniversary Vivid show, but before then, the pair caught up to chat about their origins as a musical duo, social media, and being from a small town.
Before they perform alongside one another at Spunk! Records’ 20th Anniversary show this weekend, Lachlan Denton and Emma Russack caught up for a chat.
Lachlan interviews Emma
LACHLAN: We’ve made three records together now. Do you know when you have an Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton song and when you have an Emma Russack song?
EMMA: I know it sounds strange but if a song is more upbeat and positive, I’ll probably save it for an Emma and Lachlan release. I’d rather not inflict my misery upon anyone else.
LACHLAN: You recorded your forthcoming record to tape. How was that experience for you and how did it change your experience of recording?
EMMA: Well, John Lee had just acquired a tape machine and asked me to be its guinea pig or so to speak. I liked the experience so we continued to record the album in that way – I thought the songs sounded a little less digitised or something. Not to blow my own horn or anything but I usually get things down in 1 or 2 takes so recording to tape seemed to work well for me in that respect. I can’t say it’s changed anything about my experience of recording – it’s still an incredibly daunting, unnatural process in my opinion.
LACHLAN: You have touched on social media in your music more than once. Do you think it is possible to have a healthy relationship with social media as a public figure?
EMMA: That is a good question. Sometimes I think it might be easier to have a ‘healthy’ relationship with social media if you have heaps of followers and you don’t have to desperately push your product on your fans because they’re already there. But then again, I find it odd that really famous people engage with applications like Instagram because surely they don’t require the extra promotion or validation(?) Yeah, humans are weird. If I didn’t have to use social media at all I know I would be so much happier. I hate thinking about things like ‘followers’ and ‘likes’, but I do. It’s a trap. I would probably pay someone to do it if I had the money, but I don’t. Anyway, c’est la vie.
LACHLAN: Although you are a solo artist, you’ve played with a band most of your career. Do you ever see a time you’ll make completely solo record?
EMMA: Well, I see Permanent Vacation (2017) as a solo record because I played a lot of the instruments, but I know what you mean. One day I would like to make a record where it’s just me on guitar or piano and that’s it. But my songwriting would have to change a little – I’d have to write more song songs. But who knows what the future holds… I don’t even know if I’ll make another album. It takes a lot out of me these days.
LACHLAN: I find there is a time period after releasing an album where you can come back to it and enjoy it in a new way. I often find this after I’ve gone through a period feeling really embarrassed of it. Have you found this with any of your records?
EMMA: Absolutely! I know I called you recently on the verge of tears saying that I didn’t even know if I liked my latest album. You can get really caught up in your own head and it’s best to just give yourself a bit of space from an album for a while and come back to it when you’re feeling less critical. For me, embarrassment isn’t quite the word – it’s more self-hatred. I’ve always doubted myself and the work I do… it’s almost part of the process for me. But at the end of the day, I just have to remind myself that it doesn’t actually matter.
LACHLAN: I love the humour in your music. Is this something you are conscious of? You are a genuinely funny person IRL.
EMMA: Thanks LD. You’re funny too. We laugh a lot together and I like that about our friendship. Humour gets me through the tough times and I think laughing is my favourite thing to do in the world. I do like to inject humour into my songs because life is pretty strange and absurd and perhaps it’s a coping mechanism for me. A shield. I don’t know. My mum always says “If you don’t laugh, you cry” or something to that effect. I think it’s true.
LACHLAN: Spunk Records are celebrating 20 years. I once witnessed Aaron Curnow try and convince a bunch of people to flip James Kates of Shining Bird’s car. Do you have any funny stories about AC?
EMMA: Haha, that’s hilarious. I’m glad no-one did it though because James would’ve been pretty devo! Recently, I was in Wollongong staying with my sister, and Aaron and I had arranged to meet up in Thirroul, have a drink and talk shop. I asked my mum to come along too because she knows Aaron and thought it’d be nice. Anyway, when Aaron arrived I said something like “I hope you don’t mind, but my ‘momager’ is here too”. Aaron was like, “Momager, what’s that?” After I explained to him that it was a Kardashian-coined term combining the words “mom” and “manager” he could not stop laughing. Now, he always asks me “How’s your ‘mom-ager’?” Like, he really thinks it’s hilarious.
Emma interviewing Lachlan
EMMA: Lachlan, can you remember when and where we first met?
LACHLAN: It was the 15th of January 2011 at Yah Yah’s. I remember the show and a quick Google search gave me the date. I remember thinking you were really good but you have told me since you thought we (the Ocean Party) were dickheads. Our relationship has progressed since then.
EMMA: Our label is based in Stanwell Park, NSW and we both live in Melbourne, VIC. While some people might think of that as a disadvantage, I’ve found it really comforting to have that coastal connection all these years. I feel like it has kept me sane. Do you feel the same way? Can you elaborate on this at all?
LACHLAN: I feel super lucky to be on Spunk and through that have so many great friendships, including ours. Stanny feels like the heart of it and it really is a home away from home for us. And, I totally agree with you, it feels like such an advantage and makes the whole feel of the label grounded in small-town community.
EMMA: We both grew up in small(ish) towns – you Wagga Wagga, NSW and me Narooma, NSW. Do you think it has been an advantage for your music making? Did you ever feel a little bit different from the ‘city kids’? I know I always have. ..
LACHLAN: I really appreciate it now but when I first moved to Melbourne I felt like a total dag. It always seemed like everyone had been listening to their parents Triffids records since they were kids and we were trying to hide the fact that we’d been listening to Pearl Jam and writing middle of the road grunge songs for the last 6 years. Nowadays I’m very proud to be a country boy and it still influences everything I do.
EMMA: The importance of friendship and working with people close to you has always been an integral part of your approach. Can you describe what working with friends means to you in the context of music-making?
LACHLAN: We’ve never made money from music and I’ve always been scared that if I did it might ruin the whole pursuit. If you don’t make any money from music there’s no point in hanging out with people you don’t get along with. Playing music gave me all the friends I have today and made me who I am. I am forever grateful that I’ve been able to spend my teens and 20’s hanging out and writing tunes with my best friends.
EMMA: There is an earnestness about your lyrics that I find to be really quite beautiful – in the same way, that someone like Neil Young can be earnest but never cheesy. I imagine this style of songwriting is not a ‘choice’ for you but rather the only way you have ever known how to do it – and it just feels right for you. Can you comment on this?
LACHLAN: Thanks Emma, I always have to look up the word earnest when someone says it to me. I’m sure to some people it is very cheesy. It’s a cliche but I just try and be honest and positive. If I have something going on in my life I usually try and talk it over with myself through writing a song. I don’t get anything out of just being negative so I try and pull apart aspects of the issue and work it out. I don’t know if it comes across that way.
EMMA: I have always admired your approach to the music ‘biz’. You have never really been concerned with or interested in commercial success and the reason you make music seems to come from the fact that you just love doing it. It’s a highly admirable quality. Do you ever struggle with socially constructed ideas of success or feel pressure to conform to more conventional ‘paths to fame’?
LACHLAN: I think we are very similar from conversations we’ve had. I still get an ego boost from seeing someone say something nice about my music or something getting played on the radio, but, I try and keep myself in check constantly. It’s usually about asking myself if I’m enjoying what I’m doing. If I get bogged down in the business side of things I don’t enjoy myself. I’m also really creatively compulsive. If I start something I want to finish it and see it in it’s finished form. By that point, I’m usually excited to make something else. It’s not limited to music, sometimes it’s a poster or a painting. I just enjoy the creative side the most.
EMMA: You are heading to Germany in June for a few months. I know you will be playing some shows across Europe, and I assume writing songs in your downtime, but is there anything you are hoping to gain while you are over there – creatively, personally or otherwise?
LACHLAN: Learning how to speak German. I’ve been learning for almost a year and I just want to get better.
EMMA: Your last show with The Ocean Party will be this month at the Sydney Opera House alongside The Middle East and yours truly. Besides it being the best venue to play your last show, how do you feel about it being the end of an era or so to speak?
LACHLAN: I’m really excited to be playing with amazing friends at an amazing venue. It’s a weird thought that I’ll be playing some of those songs for the last time. But, at the end of the day, that band will exist forever, and they will always be my mates. The hardest thing for me is that Zac doesn’t get to experience it with us. And in that sense, we already played the final Ocean Party show months ago.
EMMA: If you had to think of a release of yours that you are most proud of, which would it be and why?
LACHLAN: I think The Oddfellows’ Hall is the most important and best record I’ve been a part of. I’m really proud of it and I think Zac’s songs, in particular, are some of the best he ever wrote.
Emma Russack and The Ocean Party will be performing at Spunk Records 20th Anniversary Vivid show this Saturday, May 25th. More info here.
Emma Russack’s new album Winter Blues will be released on July 5th.