Bertie Blackman interviews Japanese Wallpaper

Bertie Blackman is an independent singer, songwriter and guitarist who we fell in love with following her prolific performances around Sydney during the 2000s. Japanese Wallpaper is the moniker of Gab Strum, a seventeen year old producer and musician from Melbourne town. He plays 9 instruments, has been praised by Chet Faker and Gotye and he’s still in high school. We put ’em together to have a chat. Have a geeze…

bertie blackman

Genius illustration by CeeLo

BERTIE: I’ll never forget the first time I met you Gab! Most importantly I learnt what a ‘Fro Yo’ was. But I also learnt that you were just 16 years old and I was just astounded by not only your maturity as a producer but also as a young man. You must get asked a lot about your age, and having achieved so much for someone so young. But for all those ‘Fro Yo’ music lovers out there… if you could describe your music as a ‘Fro Yo’… what would it be?

GAB: Heh, it’s funny you mention that, I was at that place today! There was this new dark chocolate and coconut flavour which I wasn’t so into… Uh, if my music was a frozen yoghurt I guess it would be vanilla – kind of simple but at the same comforting and hard not to like.

BERTIE: I went to a really small independent school and there were really only a couple of students in my year that went on to pursue creative careers. I was always dubbed the arty student… (as well as words that rhymed with Bertie) and felt quite alone in my endeavours as there weren’t really any peers to share my experiences with as a budding artist. Are you amongst a collective of peers that create and collaborate… or are you alone in your pursuit? AND … what is your most silly nickname. Mine was “Lamb Chop” after the sheep puppet in Lamp Chop & Friends.

GAB: There are definitely some other awesome creative people at my school – a crazy metal drummer, some really special singers, my music teacher is a really amazing and inspiring guy too. I think my experiences with being involved in music at school have definitely played a really big part in my musical identity today.

I’m actually also in a band with these guys in the year above me, we’ve just finished recording an EP which we’re figuring out how to release at the moment… certainly no shortage of creative and inspiring guys to hang out with. Uhhh as far as nicknames go, for whatever reason I was pretty quiet about all my music stuff at school for a while but eventually some of my friends found it and the name ‘Japwall’ caught on. Go figure.

BERTIE: I remember what I was doing when I was 17. I was writing songs on my 4 track tape recorder in my bedroom, starting to play open mic nights in Kings Cross (Syd), painting my record covers and trying to figure out how to get my music heard/recorded properly/taken seriously/anything! So now its over a decade on and the way music is made/released/explored is completely different, thanks to the internet for the most part. What’s your favourite way to make music? And how do you think kids will be making music a decade on from now?

GAB: I guess everything for me happens really slowly – there’s a lot of humming into my iPhone mic and quick little beat sketches before connecting the dots between all these little ideas and making something new out of them. That way feels really good I think – it’s not that kind of forced ‘sit down and write a song’ thing, which I guess is a good skill but doesn’t seem like the most natural and self-representative way of doing things. A decade on from now, I’m not sure! It could just as easily be either more heavily laptop-based or throwing out the computers completely and just spending loads of time with instruments again. I think somewhere between the two is what feels best for me at the moment.

BERTIE: What is the most ridiculous dream you’ve ever had?

GAB: I never remember my dreams, I don’t really know. I wish I did…

BERTIE: Who do you look up to and aspire to as an artist?

GAB: At the moment, I really look up to Oscar Peterson – he just has such a tasteful style of playing, knows exactly when to show off and when to stay more minimal and subdued, but always with the skill to back it up. I mean, listen to something like this – music doesn’t really get that much better. The piano is such an amazing instrument.

BERTIE: Tell me a typical day as 17 year old Gab.

GAB: Wake up late, scramble out of bed, get dressed and gulp down a coffee but still get to school late. Spend all my free periods in the music room playing piano or talking about nerdy things with my music teacher. Struggle to make sense of anything that happens in Maths. Get home, spend three hours discovering music before doing more piano practice and eventually starting homework. Go to sleep late, wake up late the next morning, repeat.

BERTIE: If you could invent an instrument… what would it be? What would it look like? How would it sound? Who would be its mascot?

GAB: I think a MIDI controlled grand piano would be pretty cool. So that you can play naturally but also program in notes and patterns, it would be a really weird mix between the organic and more machine-like elements of music. I think Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead would be into that, he’d be a good mascot. Or Beethoven maybe…

BERTIE: If you could steal the musical mind of someone for a day… who’s would you take and what would you make?

GAB: Ooh that’s hard, there are SO many people…. Hmm probably Wally de Backer. He just seems to have a really innate understanding of the way music works and the interplay between all the different elements of songwriting and production and performance to create something beautiful.

Our beautiful illustration is by CeeLo (you might remember his insane Drunk Mums portrait). Filo-Aussie, Sydney based graphic designer and illustrator. Humanitarian, dog-lover and art, music and hip hop dance enthusiast. Check out his Facebook or folio site for more info.