I’ve never been truly privy to the inner workings of the Australian music industry, but for someone whose primary mode of expression is the written word, I’ve been considerably lucky to have had a decent amount of exposure to it.
Years ago, when we printed Spit Press as a magazine I was fortunate to interview countless Australian musicians. I also worked with the management team behind Angus & Julia Stone’s rise to international stardom and enjoyed being part of a culture that was fostering the creative talents of musicians like Matt Corby, George Maple, my good friend Oliver Tank and many other acts cutting their chops in Sydney.
This life of immersion, reporting, interviewing and festivaling was undoubtedly a pillar of my identity at the time.
All of the parties we threw, backstage passes, free stuff and access mixed together like the ingredients of some kind of ego lube, and I found myself well and truly lathered.
Whilst during this time I wasn’t necessarily inauthentic, I was definitely a pop-culture poseur and for my own sake and for that of those around me, I’m glad my interests eventually changed and I moved on to the next thing.
In contrast to my own flakiness, however, were a few people I met at that stage of my life who had the passion to stay the course – they were the true music fans – and since then they’ve gone on to do some great things. People like my mate Gabby who handled the immensely commercially successful 5 Seconds of Summer on their UK tour or my friend Suzanna who’s worked on renowned festivals and cinema pop ups, for example.
But there were also some really genuine people I crossed paths with who’ve laid relatively low on the scene with a kind of bubbling anticipation, that is, until now, and I’m really excited by what they’ve got planned for 2015.
One such talent is Paul Taylor, a multi-instrumentalist, producer and vocalist who I first met through a mutual acquaintance in 2008. They played in an indie rock band together and I attended their gigs over a number of years with dedication. Paul was the front man, songwriter, and I’d later learn, he also wrote many of the parts for other band members.
He was an undeniable talent, so when their band split I was saddened for him and for the fact that I would no longer get to see him perform.
It would be a few years again before I heard any music from him but he’s resurfaced in 2015 as ‘Paul Conrad’, with a sound that already has interest circling above him.
Dubbed by Yen Magazine as the male Lana Del Ray, his new sound is one of an artist who has been around the block before and knows how the game goes. It’s produced flawlessly, the lyrics are incredibly rich, but most importantly – it’s got that sweet commercial appeal.
This is the type of music that takes incredible skill to create and when I listen to it, I can sense all of the experience Paul has as a solo artist, band mate and producer on projects that may not have done so well. Paul Conrad is the changing of that narrative, and with it comes Tim Carr, John Depth and Reel Deep.
I reached out to Paul to see what he’s been up to lately, shoot the shit about back in the day and get his take on where things are headed in this scene.
STUDIOS 301 & JOHN DEPTH
It’s Saturday afternoon, just past midday, and Cam and I are waiting for Paul outside Studios 301 in Sydney. The day is warm and we watch discreet musician-types come and go from the recording studio’s fortified gates. He’s running late, but eventually we spot Paul walking down the street – which, thanks to his Golden age of Hollywood style, isn’t very difficult.
We greet each other and I get a small rush – we are, after all, about to walk into a recording studio that has been used by the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kiss, David Bowie, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks and a whole bunch of other music icons.
We walk in and inside one of the smaller studio rooms under dimmed lighting Paul introduces us to Tim Carr, his co-producer and new collaborator.
Tim strikes me as a good guy thanks to his laid back demeanour. I know that he has some serious gongs to his name – Aria awards and the like – and at my request he shares that he actually recorded Matt Corby’s smash hit “Brother”, worked with The Herd and recorded tracks for Julia Stone’s UK vinyl release. He’s obviously talented but he’s also really humble.
He plays an important role in Paul’s musical journey since I met him in those early years. The pair had initially been introduced by Paul’s manager, which led to them working on some raw recordings that Paul and his old band had laid down at their home studio. That progressed onto working on Paul’s solo stuff, which eventually gave cosmic birth to their latest production collaboration.
More than just their musicality, though, the pair shares a common thread throughout their thoughts on the music industry.
“The draw for getting into music for me wasn’t to impress old dudes at record labels. It was to make cool new shit. I did the label thing and I just got deflated. I felt like I was at school again. I don’t want to rubbish anyone, but it just wasn’t for me,” Tim says when I ask him why he’s chosen the independent route over being signed with a big label – which he could very easily do if he wanted to.
Paul agrees and shares his experience being “thwarted” by labels, his own limitations, third parties and other factors.
The result of this crossing of minds and musical skill is John Depth, the duo’s production outfit. Their debut release “Couches” was premiered by our friends at the AU Review and picked up by Hhhhappy.
It’s a meeting of MoM’s hip hop, Sarah Aaron’s Lorde-like hook and Depth’s deep synths, 808s and hi-hats. It’s impressive and a natural next step down into the darkness from Paul Conrad.
For two guys taking the road to success less travelled in the music industry, it’s an impressive offering that makes you want to groove, drink and think real hard.
They’ve also been working with the awesome sounding Twin Haus:
REEL DEEP RECORDS
But things don’t end there for the pair. They’re starting Reel Deep Records.
We spend a lot of the afternoon inside 301 talking about why they’re doing this. There are the expected answers – to do something cool, to meet other musicians, to work on projects that actually matter, to push boundaries. But beneath all of these (legitimate) reasons, there’s something more.
Our conversation peaks when we start to talk about how hard it can be for an artist to avoid the red tape of a label.
Paul riffs, “We like heavy beats, melodic stuff and dark stuff. If you take a folk artist or someone who sings blues and put them in a situation like this and they have a good pop sensibility or can write a cool melody, all of a sudden you’re blending all of these cool things. It’s fucking weird.” He adds, “Getting an artist to see that way is a lot harder than you would think.”
“But the thing is, we can’t really be humiliated. We want to put out good music but if it gets shit-panned or no one likes it, it almost doesn’t really bother me. Minimise the diva shit.”
“It’s just a song,” Tim adds.
“Minimise the preciousness. We don’t want to sit on stuff forever. We want to have a platform that we can just put a song out and then do another one.”
The guys go on to talk about how contrived artists can become when they work with big labels, how they can put all their energy into recording something only to be told by management that it doesn’t fit the mould. I get the sense that they’re both speaking from experience.
WHY THIS ALL MATTERS
I think taking on the record industry’s shortcomings and setting up a label and production duo to collect the artists that fall through the gaps and get spat out with nothing but a recording debt and an embargoed release is a noble thing to do. Likewise, creating cool new sounds for the sake of it, moving quickly and never looking back is a great way to remain irreverent in the face of big business. These guys have the talent, confidence and vision to shake things up and create music that people as individuals, not artists, can be proud to release as a true reflection of who they are.
But that “something more” I mentioned, the reason I like what these guys are doing so much, and what I believe motivates them, is that they are actually doing all of this not for the good of the world, but first and foremost for themselves.
And that’s what you want in this industry.
These two are a far cry from the person I was on the scene a few years ago or some of the people I met and mingled with back in the day. They’re hardcore technicians, they’re for the cause, they’re musicians who are willing to take the difficult-as-fuck option over the easy one. They’re not fake. They’re not posers. And you should support them for that.