INTERVIEW: The Townhouses
We’ve already given you a look at his recent album Diaspora, as well as the record’s single, sharing the same title. So we thought we’d spice things up around here. Meet Leigh Hannah, the man behind the foundations of THE TOWNHOUSES.
Leigh crafts insanely beautiful music, structuring very extraordinary and experimental sounds blended with quite simple beats and patterns.
If you haven’t already listened to any of The Townhouses, it’s time you stop punishing yourself as it’s charm and mystique is something you don’t want to just walk past.
We were lucky enough to have a chat to Leigh about the new album, his touring calendar and his plans for next year.
So when did Leigh discover that music was his destiny?
“I think it would have been around year 7 or year 8. I’d just started playing guitar. I think it was more of a social thing, the people I was hanging out with were all into music, and I was a bit wide-eyed, so I started playing.”
The name The Townhouses must have some sort of back story. How did it originate?
“I think it was a bit of a contrast to where I was living. I was always living out in the suburbs in the far south east and the idea of townhouses – especially European townhouses – just seemed so unimaginable and exotic to me at that time. I’ve kinda had that name for about six years but I’ve made something with it in the last couple of years.”
If you knew anything about Leigh Hannah’s music, his heavily influenced by ethnomusicology, which is apparent all throughout Diaspora and can be identified in any bio written about The Townhouses. I asked Leigh what influenced this interest.
“Not too sure, I basically studied a little bit of it in uni, so I did a few subjects on that which really sparked my interest. The first time I really heard the term was when I saw a Gamelan ensemble, and that kind of just blew my mind cause it was just a whole different approach to music and I was really starting to experiment with noise at that point, and from there it was just talking to people about ethnomusicology and ethnomusicologists and yeah. It’s definitely something I want to study further in the coming years.”
Getting on to the album, I was curious to know how long Diaspora took to create. Considering the layers upon layers of instruments used throughout the entirety of the record, as well as the many collaborations it features with different artists, it seems like it would have been quite a long and arduous process to critique and finalise Diaspora.
“It took two years in total. There was probably about 60 or 70 demos. I thought it was finished maybe a year and a half ago and then as time went on I just kept adding to it and adding to it and it just took it’s own direction after that.”
Leigh collaborated with Felix Weatherbourne, Guerre, Wintercoats, Rainbow Chan and Giorgio Tuma on Diaspora. Who was his favourite to work with?
“That’s a bit of a tricky one because I didn’t really collaborate with them in person. A lot of the time it was just through emails. I found collaborating with Girogio Tuma was really rewarding. He just spoke in really lovely broken English, and he just had some really interesting comments on the song and had a lot of great ideas that he brought to the table and that kind of improved collaboration a lot more. Rather than just redefining what I want the song to be and how I want it to sit on the album. He felt like a really good collaboration.”
Consider a finished project, whether it be art, music, film, writing, etc. Do you ever wonder if the artist want to adjust anything about their work after it’s been deemed complete? I asked Leigh exactly this in regards to his own work.
“I haven’t really given this album a proper listen after putting it out, just because I spent so long on listening to it in the final stages. I definitely feel that way about the first record. There’s a lot of things I’d go back and change if I could but I’m still pretty happy with them.”
From a man who has created something as beautiful and intricate as The Townhouses, I was curious to know who is at the top of Leigh’s favourite producer list.
“I’m really loving what Jonti‘s doing at the moment as well. There’s really too many to name. There was a guy I saw in Sweden called XXYYXX – he was really cool too. Yeah he’s incredible live.”
Recently touring overseas with Wintercoats, where was Leigh’s favourite place to tour?
“I had a really good time at a place called Kassel in Germany. It’s kind of right in the centre and when we went there a festival called Documenta was on. It’s kind of an international arts festival and it happens just once every five years. So it was just kinda dream timing that we were there so we got to play it in an art space that had a floor that was covered in playground bark. We played a few shows there and even did a couple of encore performances. It was just a really great little city. It was really kind of unexpected, but yeah really lovely.”
You may have caught both The Townhouses and Wintercoats play in Sydney a few weeks back in an Anglican Church for the Gate’s STONE/LIGHT/SOUND Series. Quite a beautifully organised and delivered show, I asked Leigh if he had ever performed in such an environment before.
“Never in a beautiful church like that. That was a really incredible experience. I suppose I’ve been in similar settings that I was really proud of like performing but that really took my breath away when I walked into that room and I was about an hour late [laughs] so I was all rushed but that moment walking in was incredible.”
As I’ve said, The Townhouses provide a humongous display of sounds. Being a one-man-band, it’s clear that Leigh wouldn’t be capable of simultaneously playing all these instruments live on stage. What he does instead is set up a keyboard with programmed sounds, as well as bring a guitar with him on stage. Are these sounds that Leigh has recorded himself?
“That’s kind of a mixture of software instruments I’ve programmed myself and there’s a few real Gamelan instruments in there. It’s a little bit tricky with the Gamelan instruments because they’re completely different tuning. So it doesn’t work a lot when I try and make my own software. But yeah, it’s about half-half real instruments and on-the-computer instruments.”
What’s to come of The Townhouses in the new year?
“What I’d really like to work on is putting out a 7”. So I’m kinda heading in a big direction where I’m playing a lot more guitar now and just experimenting with more different sounds. What I’d really like to do hopefully by February or March is put out a new 7” and yeah, in February I’ve got the album launch shows coming up. Apart from that I’m happy to go back to Indonesia and study some more Gamelan which would be lovely but hopefully I can get some time off work have money to do that [laughs].”
W0rds by Hannah Galvin.