How the past has shaped the present for Slum Sociable
In primary school, you were introduced to the collage medium. Cutting out images from redundant magazines and newspapers and layering them over unlikely figures and backdrops, you suddenly became a surrealist, curating new scenes in alternative looking dimensions consisting of tools that would otherwise fail to live harmoniously in the “real world”; yet all of a sudden make sense on the page. Apply this concept to the sonic realm, and meet its aural equivalent – Slum Sociable.
Born out of a University task, Edward Quinn enlisted Miller Upchurch to join him in experimenting with both traditional and unconventional instruments to collate whimsical arrangements that voice multidimensional narratives; both in their lyrical content and elite composition.
Humbly putting forward their glistening first single, ‘Anyway’, in 2015, Slum Sociable debuted their live show at Melbourne music & art focused festival, Sugar Mountain, before playing other large stages at Laneway Festival, Connect and Splendour In The Grass, supported #1 Dads and Mansionair, pushed out their debut body of work, TQ, and began headlining their own shows – both nationally and abroad.
Having released the exciting news of a full-length record currently in the works, accompanied by its leading single, ‘Name Call‘, alongside a national launch tour, we caught up with Ed Quinn of the Melbourne outfit, moments before he ran off to a studio session with his bandmate, Miller Upchurch.
Purple Sneakers: Your music dabbles in a variety of different themes and sounds. Could you describe your musical background? Were you classically trained?
Ed Quinn: Nah I wasn’t classically trained, I mean I’ve got a fair base in theory, but it was more jazz based stuff. I did music throughout Year 11 & 12, and then I studied to go to the VCA [Victorian College of the Arts], but then I decided not to do that. But yeah, I’ve got a fair bit of training within theory and jazz theory, to be more precise. Not classical though.
You released the TQ EP last year, that really opened up your sound to your listeners. Being the introductory release, was it a record you’d been working on much earlier than the release of ‘Anyway’?
I guess a fair bit! Probably like 18 months of just writing tracks together I suppose, and then yeah, labels came and we kind of had to cut it down a little bit and workshop some stuff. It could have actually been about two years of writing. It was never within the mindset of releasing it, it just kind of happened.
So it was more something you guys just did for fun?
Yeah, all of those tracks were. Originally, I had to submit something for a University project at RMIT, so it kind of started with no expectations, with a computer and a microphone, and I enlisted Miller [Upchurch] to help me out with that.
We wrote a bunch of tracks, submitted it and realised we were having way too much fun writing music in this manner. So we just kept on doing it for shits and giggles, and then it got picked up!
Did you get a good mark at least?
Yeah I did [laughs]! I think it was more based on the amount of effort I put into it, not the quality of music subjectively, I don’t think they can mark on that.
Speaking of ‘Anyway’, why was that track only released on the vinyl format of the EP?
‘Cause we’ve been writing for about two years, that track kind of did way better than we ever could have hoped for. We still had a lot of other tracks that we were considering for our EP, and we wanted to do them justice in their own right.
You know, I think we were just trying to sell more vinyl [laughs]. We like special vinyl releases and stuff like that, so I guess we thought if we put ‘Anyway’ on it, it might be more of an incentive to buy it?
It’s the last track on there, so maybe the flow of the EP didn’t suit to have ‘Anyway’ in there, so we chucked it on at the end.
Without meaning to intrude, the EP was dedicated to Thomas Connor Quinn, who I assume was very close to you. Was he someone that was musical himself?
Yeah I guess so. He was my cousin, and he was the first person who heard, Slum Sociable. We’d send it through to him, because his opinion was so highly valued. I think the very first song we wrote, we shot it through to him, and he was like, “Yeah this is sick.” So we were like, “Sweet [laughs], we’re on the right track”. He wasn’t a musician himself, but he was a lover of music, so to have him enjoy it was a good go-ahead.
There are some really beautiful interlude tracks on TQ, such as ‘I Want To Sit On The Biggest Chair You’ve Got’. What was the motivation to break up the EP with these?
[Laughs] ‘I Want To Sit On The Biggest Chair You’ve Got’, and, ‘My Main Broad Goes Into My Wife’s House’ – I think having long titles was kind of like a juxtaposition against the tiny length of the songs. They were originally full tracks, because we had so many songs from over two years of writing that we wanted to put out. So we had these tracks to put on there as well, but it would’ve become an album, and we didn’t want that, we wanted to release an EP. So there were some moments in those tracks that we cut out, like minute-long snippets to put as instrumentals. So yeah, they were once originally full songs, but chopped down to suit the flow of the EP.
Can we expect the same little gems on your forthcoming album?
Yeah! Well we’re recording today actually, and have been since about August. It’s been a big task but yeah, I’m hoping to have some instrumental tracks on there. Our favourite records always have little moments of space that can almost become your favourite points of the record.
It’s not like a three hour-long concept record or anything, but spacing it with some instrumentals is something that we really enjoy doing. So hopefully, if the label approves it, yeah!
Will it be a concept album?
They were all written for an album in-mind, because once we released TQ, we just went straight into writing again. That’s what we enjoy the most. So I wouldn’t say it’s a concept record in terms of theme, but then again, Miller can probably comment on that more than I can.
I think sonically they’re all in a similar place, and we want it to be so that you listen to it from start to finish. It’s just not like there’s going to be ten singles on there, it’s meant to be listened to as a whole.
So I guess the way that it’s laid out in its composition holds more of a story in itself, than from its lyrical point of view?
Yeah, that’s probably a better way to put it.
You’ve just released its leading single, ‘Name Call’. A solemn sounding track, could you describe its story?
Originally, it was a really long song, like six minutes long. The whistle wasn’t a hook, and we thought, let’s chop it down and make it something a little more digestible. The whistle came in just because Miller was just whistling this tune over these chords that I’d written, and it just kind of happened. It’s hard to explain when you’re writing a song just what you’re going through at the time. You get into that zone and something pops out.
We thought it was a good introductory track to the record, because it’s got the groove, it’s got a nice bassline, it’s got an interesting hook, in terms of the instrument that’s playing it. I think it sets a tone for the album that we’ll release next year.
There’s so much happening in a Slum Sociable song. Is there a certain sequence that you guys follow when writing? Is it the lyrical, instrumental or production component that generally comes first?
I write the music first, and then don’t think about it, you know, don’t think about any potential melodies over the top of it, and I guess try and make it interesting enough musically without having vocals in – just because I’m listening to it for like three hours, so I’ve got to make it interesting. Then I’ll send it to Miller and see if he does or doesn’t like it, and he’ll write over the top. I guess throughout that process, we’ll start stripping it back to make it a Slum Sociable song, and then maybe we fill in the gaps after that.
We like interesting songs, instrumentally, especially Miller. I think if he had his way, he wouldn’t sing on anything, just make instrumental tracks [laughs], cause he’s got a real knack for coming up with really cool stuff. So I can understand how there are a lot of things going on in people’s view, but to us, it’s all necessary [laughs].
Slum Sociable have been described as everywhere between hip-hop, to jazz, to electronic. Do you see a place for genre in 2016, or do you think it’s diminishing due to the different types of ways that music is now articulated and perceived?
People are coming up with new ways to incorporate music that they love. Everyone has access to every type of music now. It’s not uncommon now for an artist or a band, like us, to enjoy a variety of different genres and, because we like them, try to implement some of those aspects into our music. I don’t think any artist likes being categorised in a genre, because it may limit them; put them in a box.
We don’t particularly feel like we adhere to any one of those three genres that you mentioned, but we do acknowledge that there are elements of them within our tracks. I guess it’s just a compliment, if you get a lot of different genres that you’re kind of lumped into. It’s a really nice thing to be able to play music with that in mind I suppose.
Your music is so dense and colourful. What is so important about texture in music?
I don’t think Miller and I really think about it much. All of this music is created because we like the sound of it. That sounds like a really shitty answer. It’s just subconscious, we don’t really think about it.
The overall sound is cool, and that’s all that really matters for us. We don’t go into the studio and be like, “Okay, we need to layer all of these textures up,” we just grab sounds that we like and try to implement them as best we can. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really nice that we have all of these textures going on in these songs, but yeah, I don’t really think about it that much to be completely honest.
It’s not forced then, it just comes out that way?
Yeah, if you sample something from a 60’s record, or whatever, you’re instantly going to have that texture if it’s a feature; but then if you’ve got a pretty modern synth, like an electronica sounding synth, then I guess that’s going to be another texture as well. Maybe it’s just a result of us having different genres in there I suppose.
I feel as though this chopped up and collated vibe translates in your press shots and album artwork. Do you think that marrying the visual aesthetic helps to promote what your music is trying to voice?
Yeah, all of our press shots and stuff try to incorporate a lot of different colours and cut-and-paste type visuals, because the music is quite cut-and-paste, I suppose. Having said that, we’re not artists in that regard [laughs], so it’s really hard to nail it on the head. It does make for some pretty lengthy and soul-sucking conversations about what direction you want to go to that does justice to the music, it’s kind of really hard to get the two lined up. I think we’ve gone about our press shots in a particular manner.
You’re currently in the middle of the ‘Name Call’ launch tour. How did the Adelaide leg treat you guys?
Yeah, it went really well! The promoters treated us really well, the crowd was loose, naturally in Adelaide. It was fun!
What are you most excited to show fans with this tour? Can we expect any new material from the debut album?
Yeah, there are a lot of tracks that haven’t been heard before. We’ve really rehearsed pretty hard, diligently over the last three months, getting these new tracks up to the standard live. There’s probably about four or five new tracks that wouldn’t have been heard before.
It’s a luxury to have such an open-minded audience with that stuff. That’s what we’ve found out. We are going to test new stuff live, and it’s usually received quite well from our audience, so we’re lucky.
How is 2017 looking for Slum Sociable?
Ummm stadiums, you know [laughs]. Nah, we’ll hopefully release this record within the first quarter of the year, and I think we’ll head overseas around the start of the year hopefully. Then come back for an album tour maybe, I’m not sure.
We want to release this album, but then we also want to keep on releasing music, because we do have so much new music ready to go. It’s just what we like to do, you know, it’s not a chore for us to write new music. So, I think once we release this album, the idea is to keep on releasing stuff, but [laughs], I haven’t actually spoken to the label about this uhhhh… Yeah! We’ll just keep busy, stay in people’s minds.
This is all a bonus pretty much from a University assignment that I had to do. We get to go to London and Europe, and we’re playing our own shows. It’s insane, anything is a bonus. So hopefully 2017 will mean a lot of new music!
Catch Slum Sociable play at Newtown Social Club in Sydney this Thursday, 8th December with support by Mossy. Grab your tickets from Eventbrite, and be sure to listen to their latest track, ‘Name Call’ available now via Liberation Music.
Words by Hannah Galvin.