“I don’t labour…I want to get the magic out as soon as possible”: Talking Tech with Mildlife

In 2018 Australian multi-instrumental outfit Mildlife released their debut album Phase for Research Records. An introduction for most to their unique sonic output, the six tracks explored the cosmic borders between a host of different influences, from jazz and funk to disco and kraut.

The LP was met with huge acclaim; they sold out their debut headline tour both at home and abroad, picked up nominations for Best Album at the Worldwide FM Awards and the AIR Awards and had the likes of Tornado Wallace, Mount Liberation Unlimited and Sleep D rework their original tracks.

Now they’re gearing up for their sophomore LP Automatic which signals a more disciplined and determined approach than their debut. Ahead of the release, Adam, their guitarist and the man behind the vocoder, takes us on a tour around their shared studio, and chats to us about being in the right headspace and how a masterful musician should only need limited or cheap gear to create something beautiful.

Automatic will be released on 18th September via Heavenly Records.

First off, what’s your musical education?

I studied improvisation at the Victoria College of Arts. But, I’m still learning about music everyday.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

It was a PG48 mic that I had lying around, a cheap Roland interface, some stock PC speakers and Ableton. There’s a secret sound in the PG48 paired with this Roland interface, obviously very lo-fi, but also very magical and interesting. I made a bunch of albums on that set-up. Now I have better gear, but looking back it’s really all you need as long as you’re creative with it.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

Recently we bought a nice UAD Apollo x8 interface for the Mildlife studio, it’s pretty slick. It’s been a real step up for us. We can now jam in headphones comfortably as a band and come out the other end with a high-quality recording to work with.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

The UAD is basically the central brain of it all at the moment. We also have this nice old field recorder that we use for the preamps for when recording drums (Audio Developments AD145). Our set-up has always been pretty modest. That’s it really. The main thing is how everyone performs and the individual sounds they pull to create something beautiful.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

We have our own studio located in Carlton, Melbourne, Australia.

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

Yep it has been gradual, little pieces here and there that we’ve bought and put together to make the studio as it is now. Main thing is getting the room sounding as good as we can. It’s still a work in progress.

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?

Yes and no, I’m a pretty firm believer that gear won’t make you do anything that interesting, or it does for a moment, that’s until you get bored of it and realise that interesting ideas and sounds come from an interesting forward thinking musician. And an interesting and masterful musician should be able to make something beautiful with very limited gear and or cheap gear.

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

It would be a guitar so I could compose, improvise and perform.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

Wake up early, make a strong coffee and do some practice. Head in there all warmed up and clear headed.

Sometimes I do the complete opposite, I come in hungover and foggy headed, and sometimes that’s a great headspace to be in… but it’s a fine line, it’s got to be the right hungover, where you feel like you’re floating. 🙂

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

Me, personally I don’t labour over tracks, I have done in the past as an experiment, but it doesn’t work for my work flow. I want to get the magic out as soon as possible. Usually I finish a track in a day or two. As for Kev and Jim, it’s the exact opposite. 

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I’ve never really had writer’s block. I’ve definitely had times where ideas don’t come that easily, but you work through them, listen to some music, or walk, or do something else, or go out partying, or go see a gig, or go hang with a mate. When ideas don’t come, it’s usually down to my general headspace, or the dynamic of the people that I work with, or the dynamic of the people in my life. Sometimes it’s stress, that can be a real roadblock. So, the way to fix that is to address the issue and then your head is free and you can access all the creative potential.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

People mostly, food, sometimes gaming, a forest, a river, a nights sky. I live on the only hill in Melbourne looking at the city, sometimes I stare at it, or sometimes I look at the palm tree in the backyard… It’s dying but has lots of birds and possums living in it. Or sometimes I stare at the moon for a bit and then walk back inside and talk to my housemate. Sometimes I paint or draw, but only when I want to get in a different zone.

Congrats on your forthcoming album, Automatic. Could you pick a track and dissect its formation, in terms of the creative process and what you used.

Thank you! Yep, the title track ‘Automatic’. Structurally, the bass and drums are like a planet and me and Kev are orbiting around the planet like a moon or space debris. The song has a bunch of musical movements in it, we tried to steer away from some of our usual structural habits and make something different with this one. This track and the album we used the RME fireface, with the old preamp and a bunch of mics, C214’s, SM57, and guitar and bass direct in the preamp.

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

We’re in stage 4 lockdown at the moment so for me it’s being able to get back into the studio, jam and write music.

Automatic will be released on 18th September via Heavenly Records.

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