Elmo Aoyama and Nick Griffith chat doggos, songwriting, and taking it back to basics

Both denizens of acclaimed Sydney DIY label Dinosaur City Records and band mates in Big White, Elmo Aoyama and Nick Griffith sit down over Zoom to discuss the finer things.

Elmo Aoyama, the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer best known for her contributions to Sydney band Big White, is quickly making a name for herself with a new namesake project and her debut EP Spells.

Taking inspiration from the likes of YMO, Yann Tiersen, and Dirty Three, Spells is a collection of synth-soaked tunes exploring themes of life, love, death, loss, and politics.

Fresh off the EP’s release, Elmo caught up with fellow Big White member and Dinosaur City Records label mate Nick Griffith to chat songwriting, gear, and dogs. Especially dogs.

elmo aoyama nick griffith dinosaur city records
Elmo and Yuki

NICK: Hello, Elmo, how are you going? I’ve got a few questions here. The first question I want to ask is, you’ve got a new EP out, huh? I’ve heard a couple of songs off it. They’re all pretty phat, electronic bangers. I really like them. How did you record the whole thing?

ELMO: I recorded them all at my place in the Blue Mountains. There’s a lot of synth, obviously – using an interface, microphone, that’s basically it… and synth, hardware, software… all to the computer. Hey, I really liked your set the other day. It was good to see you play live! That was the first time I’d seen you play in a band format. It was really good.

NICK: Thank you. I think we played a few of those songs in Cooma [on the Hometowns tour].

ELMO: Yeah, the band format was kind of different… it was cool.

NICK: It almost makes me want to go back and just re-record everything with the band. I played a few new songs on the weekend, too! I’ve recorded a few of the songs [for a new album] as well. But since I played them with the band I’m like – why don’t we just [re-record] it? It has so much more energy. It might just be heaps better if I recorded them with a band. Who knows? We might end up doing it…

ELMO: Why not? You could always have different versions. Darling has had a few – twice already.

NICK: Yeah, the version we used to play, as Big White, and the more electronic version, and now the ‘rock’ version with the band.

NICK: What are your plans with your live set? Are you planning to play live shows when possible? And how are you planning to do that?

ELMO: Yeah, well, [in Japan] I played with Julien [from Oral B], just me and Julien. Julien played guitar and I played synth, samplers (controlling all the electronic elements), and sung. I think that could be an option. I’d be keen to get a band together, too. But I’m also aware that everything would change a little, too. I’m kind of looking forward to that, though. Giving a new life to the songs.

NICK: What’s your favourite piece of musical gear, or instrument, that you have?

ELMO: At the moment, my favourite thing is my Fender Rhodes bass piano, it’s been really good to bust that out. I want to get some pedals for it and play around with it, because at the moment you have to do everything in post-production. That’s my thing. What about you?

NICK: At the moment, I’ve been playing a lot of acoustic guitar, which is pretty boring. I’ve also been playing piano a bit as a bit of iso activity, practicing scales and inversions, those sort of things.

ELMO: Oh, also I’ve been playing drums a lot. I have a kit set up in my house, so I’ve been working on some beats, kind of syncopated beats. So that’s pretty fun. I feel like we’ve both been going that way, moving back into acoustic-ish instruments. When you ignore the computer for a bit, you can sort of get really deep. It’s always good to come out of that digital kind of space, go back to something you can touch, then take it back, or whatever.

NICK: Yeah, I think my album [7am] that was released earlier this year, it’s all very in-the-box kind of thing, uses a lot of samples of sort of vintage-y kind of instruments, which is cool but yeah, took a big adventure into the box. It’s kind of like living in the city and you know, taking a journey up to nature in a way. Getting back to the grassroots, back to the instruments we started playing when we were young.

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Nick and Rocky

NICK: Have you seen any good movies lately?

ELMO: I was actually watching some short films last night from a film festival that didn’t go ahead so everything’s online. I think the last full-length film I watched was Kill Bill. I actually got pretty into it. It’s so awesome. Have you watched anything good lately?

NICK: Yeah, a film called Border which came out recently. It was made in Sweden. It’s hard to describe too much about the plot without, giving spoilers away, but it’s basically about a disfigured woman. She meets someone who looks a lot like her and they sort of fall in love, but then these sort of dark secrets about herself get uncovered. It was a really interesting film. I also saw a film Jack [from Big White] sent me, Tropical Virus. It’s an animation, Colombian. It was really cool.

ELMO: Have you been doing much animation lately?

NICK: Hmm, not really. It’s one of those things I just haven’t been doing. I really got into the habit of doing it a lot when I had a project to work on, and now I don’t really have any projects, so I’m not really practicing it. But I need to. I’ve been thinking a lot about getting back into it. I keep watching my dog Rocky and being really inspired by the way she moves. I really want to try and animate her. She does this thing where she pushes their ears back and waddles her head side to side and wiggles her bum.

NICK: We’re actually both new dog owners, which is fun. We’ve both got little puppies recently. What’s your favourite thing about your dog?

ELMO: Hmmm, I like how she’s always up to do something. When I go outside, she comes outside. She really likes balls. But then if I’m feeling lazy, and want to sleep, she just sleeps as well. It’s quite good. She’s a good companion like that. What’s your favourite thing about your dog?

NICK: I kinda feel the same. Companionship is very nice. Sophie and I can go out for the whole day and our dog will be chill, but then when we come back she’s so excited to see us. Bursting with excitement! It’s very cute to be welcomed home to that!

ELMO: It’s great! Have you started writing new music?

NICK: Yeah, I have. I played a couple of new songs at the show [supporting e4444e at Wombarra Bowlo] the other day. I started writing an album about a year ago, sort of acoustic based stuff – more rock than electronic. I’ve been working on it for the past year, building off the demos, going back and re-recording. It’s a bit of a process, working out how to record and mix stuff properly as well. I’m doing it all myself and trying to level up in terms of the quality of the stuff I produce. I know this is weird, but when I’m still working on recordings, I almost subconsciously put a barrier up and stop writing. If I haven’t released the stuff I’m working on, I try not to write too much more. I know it’s dumb. It’s kind of a subconscious thing. I don’t want to get over the unreleased music too early and just move on to the next thing.


Spells by Elmo Aoyama is out now via Dinosaur City Records/Geertruida. Stream or purchase your copy here.