Stepping out of the rainforests of Borneo with a new EP and another one on the way, Slumberjack are returning to our shoes for a national tour, kicking off on Friday March 8 and rolling into the Enmore on Saturday, March 16. We caught up with one half of the duo, Fletcher Ehler to talk recording, touring and what’s next for the powerhouse pair.
BYO: How did spending time in Borneo influence the record and the sounds you were working with?
Fletcher: We've been working on this EP for a long time, we started some of the tracks around three years ago and you write the first 80 per cent of the song in one day and then the last twenty per cent you deliberate over for years. With all the touring and this really hectic lifestyle we couldn't manage to finish any songs and call them done, so we thought we needed to take this trip. For Morgan it was a change to get back to his roots, see family and visit some of the places he'd been as a kid and for me it was a chance to get out of my comfort zone and have a unique experience. We had a lot of really amazing experiences over there and that's kind of what's helped us push these records over the edge. We recorded a lot of the stuff over in Sarawak and we laid it over some of the tracks and otherwise we had a fresh perspective.
BYO: Could you run us through some of the extra stuff that was happening while you were in Sarawak?
Fletcher: We did a lot of really unique things that you wouldn't really have the chance to do in Australia. One of the days we drove five hours into the jungle and jumped onto this tiny little long boat where you couldn't lean too far to the side or you'd fall into the river, which was potentially infested by crocodiles and we took an hour boat down the river to a tribal long house and it's probably the most isolated I've ever been in my life. I've never been in that deep into the jungle, out of society and it was 40 degrees at night and no electricity after 10pm. We ate crazy foods, we bought worms in the market and took them up there and they cooked them for us. Even the bugs they had out there were insane, 50 cent piece sized mosquitos and stick insects as big as your whole hand, it was pretty gnarly!
BYO: Was using found sounds in your tracks that something new or had you experimented with field recorded sounds in the past as well?
Fletcher: We've done a little bit before but mostly it's been recorded instruments, or samples of recorded instruments, but here we were more trying to capture textures. We recorded this instrument called the sapeh which is a guitar style instrument. We were lucky enough to find a traditional version, so it was extremely quiet and you had to be very close to it, and the best thing about that recording is that you can hear all the birds and the cicadas in the background. We layered some jungle ambience that we recorded and I think it opens the track in a really grounded way. It settles you in a place, as opposed to before it was very synthetic sounding. Some of the sounds we also layered were a tribal gong that we recorded, and we used the gong sounds to match the melody that was in ‘Closure’. It brought the track out of the electronic world and into the real world which is all it needed to be finished.
BYO: How did you find the time to put into recording between all this touring?
Fletcher: Well that was part of the problem, we were travelling so much at the end of 2017, we did a three-month bus tour with 35 shows which was a non-stop slog, and we sort of continued that touring rate over in North America and Canada for all of 2018. I think I went back and forth between the States and Australia eleven times last year! That's why we needed to take a step back and chill and write. It's weird that the solution to travelling around too much was to travel again but for some reason it kind of helped re-set us.
BYO: You've been around the festival circuit in Australia and were slated to played Mountain Sounds festival which was just cancelled, how did that news hit you?
Fletcher: It's definitely sad. We've been doing a lot of touring in America but we've been seeing through social media and things like that that the market has definitely changed over here in Australia. It’s very multifaceted there are a lot of factors coming into it that are causing this to happen; pressure from the government, changes to the economy and what not, but it's definitely really upsetting to see the thriving scene we had in Australia that helped build us up in our early days slowing down. It's our livelihood as well that's tied in with this and I hope we can pull through. I hope that we can pull through this and come out with a really strong music scene still for Australia.
BYO: What was the contrast like in the States?
Fletcher: America is a big place, there's literally hundreds of festivals over there every year and it's mind-blowing that you go to the shows and there's 50 000, 60 000, 100 000 people capacity. It's mind-blowing to see all this happening over there and then we're just seeing festivals drop like flies almost in Australia. It's definitely a shock and it makes you realise we've got to protect what we have and keep alive as much live music as possible.
BYO: What's it felt like to hear the response to Sarawak over the past week?
Fletcher: It's been great actually! We just landed back in Sydney from LA so we've only just started to feel what the buzz is like in Australia, but just over in America people have been coming up to us left right and centre and saying they listened to the Sarawak EP and they love it. We've been getting tons of messages from our friends and fans as well saying that they're really enjoying the track, so it's definitely a rewarding experience after putting so much effort into it as well.
BYO: You've mentioned that there's another EP in the works - what's that process looking like at this point?
Fletcher: Writing is a very continuous process for us and the default for us is to write. Our style of releasing music is that we always complete the product first, so we write as much as we can, and then once we feel like we have a body of work that feels cohesive we kind of intuitively know we need to release it as a EP or maybe an album.
For tour dates and to follow Slumberjack head to https://www.slumberjackmusic.com/sarawaktour or stream the EP below: