The Lo-Fo Duo
In January this year, Australian duo Slum Sociable enigmatically released “Anyway,” a song echoing R&B influences as well as subtle house with breezy snyths and modernized jazz. Their next release, “All Night,” reached the top of Hype Machine charts, but Edward Quinn and Miller Upchurch kept their identities a mystery. It wasn’t until the release of TQ, the pair’s debut EP, in early October that they revealed their names, and it wasn’t until their arrival in New York to play CMJ that they agreed to sit down for a full interview. Prior to CMJ, neither 24-year-old had ever been to the U.S. and they were enamored with New York (“The Strokes are from here so maybe some of it will rub off on us,” Quinn says) and even a crowd’s unison during a hockey game (“Once a goal was scored, they all had this little chant that they sang. I was confused, but impressed,” Quinn continues).
Referring to their music as “lo-fo, washed-out jazz,” Quinn and Upchurch often finish each other’s sentences and speak of live shows as different entities from their recordings, particularly emphasizing Upchurch’s use of a tambourine and dancing on stage. While a track such as “Anyway” is rooted in heavy bass, smooth lyrics, and an overall pleasantly mellow tone, when performed, the energy shifts to include live bass, drums, and upbeat dancing. A song like “All Night” continues their chillwave sonic soundscape, but also introduces blissful layers of piano and saxophone.
When speaking with the duo at Interview‘s office, Quinn and Upchurch cite Radiohead and The Strokes as recurring influences, but Upchurch stresses, “it’s probably healthy to have as many as possible,” noting that they currently listen to everything from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tame Impala, and Ratatat to Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and L.A. Priest. This year served as Slum Sociable’s introduction to the world, and 2016 will offer a platform on which they can confidently stand—beginning here, with the release of their first interview and photos showing their full faces.
NAMES: Miller Upchurch and Edward (Cregan) Quinn
BASED: Melbourne, Australia
FIRST MEETING: Miller Upchurch: We met each other because the drummer for us at the moment—I played in a band with him beforehand, and he and Cregan and the bass player were making music as a trio. Ryan, the drummer, contacted me asking if I wanted to come in and see if we work well together. We had a little jam and started making music straight away.
Edward Quinn: We covered “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead, which is like, why would you try to attempt that?
Upchurch: That was my idea. You were like, “Tell us all a song that we could learn that you know that we could all play when you come in.” I was like, “‘Paranoid Android.'” I just assumed you guys already knew it.
Quinn: That band kind of fizzled out—
Upchurch: —and we just started making music in my bedroom. That’s been going on for two and half years.
THE NAME GAME: Quinn: It’s a line from Gangs of New York that Daniel Day-Lewis says. I was watching it and I thought, “That’s a cool combination of words.” We didn’t think anything was ever going to come of this project and now we have to answer questions as to why we called ourselves Slum Sociable. If we could change it we would.
Upchurch: But it’s kind of too late now.
A CLEAN SLATE: Quinn: We put a couple of tracks out at the beginning, but the right people heard it and told us to take those tracks down to give us a fresh start and some time to produce something fresh. We released a single in January this year called “Anyway” that went pretty well. We didn’t expect it to go so well and we were left without anymore content to release. We hadn’t recorded any more songs and didn’t have a follow up for it… So we got together with an incredible producer, Tommy Iansek. He worked well with us and nurtured our sound, as opposed to stripping it back, re-recording everything. He acknowledged that a low-fi-ish element was necessary for us. He didn’t try to change the songs too much, so the tracks that are on our EP, TQ, they’re pretty much demos that have been touched up. That’s just how we like to work, I suppose.
TQ EP: Quinn: It’s hard to talk about. We had someone close to us who died and that’s who the EP is named after. So that moment will certainly resonate, for better or worse. It’s still pretty hard to elaborate on. It was my cousin who died and it was a terrible moment, but it’s good that we can honor him in some way with the EP. It’s shit to talk about. I don’t mind talking about it, it’s just hard to bring up.
THE WRITING PROCESS: Upchurch: Cregan here’s just the musical genius—yeah, I call you that behind your back—he writes the songs pretty much, and then I come in and tell him to change everything. If I’ve got anything topical beforehand then I’ll know what I’ll be singing about, but usually the song indicates what I’ll sing about because the sound relates to a topic for me. Usually we manage to get most of the vocals for a demo done in a day, sometimes two if I’m being difficult. [laughs]
Quinn: A foundation is created, then Miller comes in and tweaks it, and then we work together after that… A lot of it is self-sampled. We’re fiddling around on instruments and then chopping that up within the programs we use.
FIRST INTEREST IN MUSIC: Upchurch: I was always singing and learning instruments when I was a kid. My family’s very big on the arts, so even when we all get together with the extended family they always get the kids to put on a show. I was the oldest out of the kids so I was running the show and coming up with little musical pieces and stuff like that. We made them all up; we made them from scratch—invent a musical, or maybe a drama, or make up songs on the spot, and put them on for the parents after dinner. It’s what we did every Tuesday. They were our audience. Then I kept doing it in high school, got a bit more serious about it, and realized that I really loved to do it and wanted to do it.
Quinn: [laughs] Oh my god. Mine is far more embarrassing than that.
Upchurch: Thank god, because I felt like that was pretty bad.
Quinn: I was maybe 13 and I was obsessed with Jack Johnson so I started learning acoustic guitar. I wanted to learn “Taylor,” and it grew from there to loving The Mars Volta—which is a weird jump—only really going into production when I was at university. There was a major project we had to do in our course so I was forced to write music for an EP and that was how this came about.
VISUAL ART, LITERATURE, AND TV: Upchurch: I love paintings, old paintings especially. We went to the Met the other day and I loved that so much. Going to see Claude Monet is a big one. Sometimes I can get inspiration for lyrics based on how the colors work or the scenes. Movies as well, but I don’t think I purposefully have ever written about a movie.
Quinn: I’d have to agree. I’m reading this book at the moment called Shark by Will Self. It’s mind blowing, really free-from and stream of consciousness. It’s really hard to read…I hope that doesn’t make me sound unintelligent. It is a lot of pressure on your brain. Musically, maybe it would inspire me a little bit to write, but I think other music inspires me to play with certain ideas. It might be hard to do if I see a painting—actually it might be easier than reading a book, making an instrumental sound like a book, that would be crazy, that would be really hard. But I guess it could make it fun.
Upchurch: I’ve kind of dropped off the radar reading-wise, but I used to get a lot of inspiration from reading. You get such a strong idea in your head, you paint the pictures in your head that you’d be able to score. Maybe I should get back into reading.
Quinn: Actually, in terms of inspiration or relaxation outside of music, I think TV shows at the moment are so strong. Scandinavian dramas are so good. The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen, that’s a political drama, it’s good content and well written. It’s kind of really dark as well. The guy that plays Vladimir Putin in House of Cards Season Three [Lars Mikkelsen] is kind of a big player in Scandinavian dramas. He’s really impressive. Handsome as well.
MILLER’S “TAMBOURINE WORK”: It’s all improvised. My mom runs a dancing school, so when I was a kid—I don’t know if I was forced into it or if I chose to do it—I definitely went to dancing class. I stopped doing dancing when I was 13, 14 or something, but I still always get out and dance. When I’m on stage, I know that I’m singing, but if I stood still that wouldn’t be enough for me and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. So it’s helpful that I’ve had that background, even if I’m not good at any of it. The tambourine’s helpful as well. Guitarists come up with crazy things to do and drummers flip their sticks, and I’m like, “I’m going to try to expand on this as well,” so I do some throws and extra shakes and make it as entertaining as possible.
HANGOVER ENERGY: Quinn: I never underestimate Miller Upchurch when he’s hungover because that’s when he’s come up with some of the best stuff.
Upchurch: That’s true. I get really weird. Sometimes I feel like dying; sometimes I get really energetic. It’s some unnatural energy that I’m burning off from last night still.
Quinn: When I’m hungover, it’s nothing. I can’t listen to anything. But you kind of thrive on it.
SLUM SOCIABLE IS CURRENTLY TOURING IN AUSTRALIA. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE DUO’S WEBSITE.
For more from our 16 Faces of 2016, click here