Last week, when Melbourne singer-songwriter Byron St. John unveiled his but full-length solo album The Lost Boys, we were immediately immersed in his dark synth-pop sounds.
So, fresh off the album’s release, Byron caught up with Aussie music mainstay Matt Doll to chat about their creative processes, their new releases, and a whole lot more.
Fresh off the release of their respective new releases, we asked Byron St. John and Matt Doll to catch up with one another for a chat. Here are the results.
Matt Doll interviews Byron St. John
MATT: I would love to know about your songwriting process. How do songs come and what is the recording process?
BYRON: It’s different each time. Could start with a melody or words, guitar chords or synth pads. Sometimes a beat. Something could inspire a song rhythmically or emotionally. I’ll transform it into music on my computer and record a demo vocal and work with it till I feel that it’s a finished song. I’ll then take that into the studio and get Adam (Calaitzis, at Toyland studio) to work his magic. He will mix it, we will in most cases re-record the vocal and he will add sounds – he has an arsenal of vintage synths and drum machines. He is a brilliant mixer and musician. A man of few words who psychically gets it and makes it work. His studio is so much fun to be in. I love working him and plan to do my next record with him.
MATT: Is there a theme running through the album lyrically and also in the overall sound of your music?
BYRON: There are lots of “running away from” and “running to” moments – running to the end, running out of time. There are supernatural moments. Like in Ghosts. There’s a lot of death in there too. The sound, thematically, is quite dreamy and very 80s. The use of 80s synths and drum machines gives it an 80s movie kinda feeling to me. I’m a product of the 80s and I think this album is quite representative of that. The album has best been described as Dark Disco/Dream Pop.
MATT: Tell us about your musical inspirations…
BYRON: I get inspired by movies from my childhood. Colours and textures from films. I love how movie soundtracks can make me feel. The sadness to Giorgio Moroder’s music in The Neverending Story when the horse dies, that’s a big influence. I love John Carpenter’s soundtracks. I love The Pet Shop Boys and New Order.
MATT: Can you tell us about your musical past and the bands you’ve been in?
BYRON: I started making music with a cheap, tacky keyboard and a 4 track recorded. I would loop and reverse sounds and sing over them. They sounded like demonic pop, probably something I could not achieve anymore without it sounding forced. I was in an electro hip hop duo called Rizzo & Pizzo with my best friend at the time and in an electronic punk performance art band called Ghetto Pussy with another best friend. I did a little stint in a duo called The Day Kids which was the genius of my friend Daniel Noort. I also produced a record for Emergency! Emergency! – who won Triple J’s unearthed at the time. I moved to Melbourne in 2008 to join The Blow Waves – a gay disco surf guitar synth new wave party band, where I met you which led to us developing our side project Video Video and released our album Planet Of Storms – which I think is a brilliant record thanks to our collaborative powers.
MATT: Tell me about your live set-up and upcoming gigs…
BYRON: I’m currently rehearsing the album as a 3 piece. I’m playing with two incredible musicians who have helped me translate the record to a live show. Gen Bernstein is on guitar, she part of Queen Kong and the Homosapiens. Her guitar sound and vocals are incredible. And Ariel Utz Wirnsberger, who plays synths, is also amazing. It feels effortless and fun and I can’t wait to get on the stage with these two. I’m having my album launch/ show at laserhighway which is at Loop Space & Project bar on the 11th of May and have a residency with you, (Matt Doll) and The Bambi Kills – every Wednesday in June at the Tote Hotel front bar in Collingwood!
Byron St. John interviews Matt Doll
BYRON: You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some of your favourite artists. Who has been the best to write and tour with and why?
MATT: I was a massive Go-Go’s fan growing up and in 1999 I went to LA to write a song with two members Jane Wieldin and Charlotte Caffey. Jane picked me up from their hotel and we drove up into the Hollywood Hills to Charlotte’s house. I was nervous and excited but soon realised we had lots of music, food and humour in common. I wish we’d had more time but that day managed to sketch out a song called Distraction for The Mavis’s third album. Opening for Kylie Minogue on the Impossible Princess tour was a lot of fun. We were treated really well by the crew and Kylie herself and got to play to a new audience outside the rock world
BYRON: What was the journey of Pink Pills like for you? From the production process to the release…
MATT: I remember putting a lot of pressure on myself to take this album and the band further than before. We wanted to make interesting pop music with some contradictions in it. The initial recording was in Byron Bay and there were intense technical problems with the studio. The desk was literally frying as we were working, everything went wrong. The studio was also haunted. We managed to record and mix some songs before relocating to Melbourne after a few weeks. Looking back, I think the tension and technical problems made some of the songs better. Snow White Line, Does it Matter, Possession among them. We toured lots around Australia after Pink Pills came out. It was like being in a strange little gypsy bubble. That album certainly expanded our audience and Cry was a surprise hit for us.
BYRON: What’s one of your favourite tracks that you’ve ever written and why?
MATT: I do like the song Drive which is the last track on our third album Rapture. It was just a little acoustic number I’d written, whispered into my tape recorder. My sister Beki convinced me we should work on it. I love the layered harmonies we did and Mark Saunders did a beautiful mix. I hear it as a closing song to a film…
BYRON: Tell me about your new EP Night Flight… its sound, its the theme, and what influenced it both emotionally and visually…
MATT: I had put my full-length album on hold but still wanted to release some music as a solo artist. These four songs seemed to go together as a theme. There are themes of death, fantasy, sadness, regret, love and worlds between worlds. I tend to put dark thoughts with pretty melodies. Songs are like short, dreamlike films in my head.
BYRON: You’ve been in the music industry for over 20 years, how do you feel about the state of it now in comparison to then? What excited you about it then and what excites you about it now?
MATT: I was certainly on a mission early in my music career. There was no other choice. If you wanted to release an album you had to be signed by a label. Now, anyone can self release their own music which can be great but also there’s lots of stuff to wade through. One still had to put time and money into recordings with little return. I’m hoping recordings will have more value again in the future.
Byron St. John’s The Lost Boys, and Matt Doll’s Night Flight are both available now. Listen above.