Interview: Ella Thompson

Interview: Ella Thompson

With a nine piece ensemble and crazy booked up double schedules for the entire band, Figaro called up Ella Thompson from Melbourne band ‘Dorsal Fins’ this week to chat about how their new album ‘Digital Zodiac’ came to be written/recorded, what was on the cards for their upcoming Australian Tour and how her side-piece electric/dance duo ‘GL’ are taking the stage for St. Jermone’s Laneway Festival this weekend.

With a 9-piece group born from bits and pieces from other bands such as 'Eagle & The Worm', 'The Bamboos', 'GL', and 'Saskwatch', could you tell us how you all came to form a band?

Well Melbourne is quite a small community really, although all the different bands we come from are different genre-wise, there are a few similarities there, and a lot of us also studied at VCA or Box Hill City TAFE and we just kind of met there, and then you find the people that are into the same music that you like.

That's pretty cool though, how the band not only came to form but that it also stuck around too…

Yeah, well, it's not always easy getting everyone together, and doubling everyone’s schedules, but I guess everyone is used to playing in lots of different bands and music is kind of what we love to do the most, so we're used to that, and from the outside it may seem impossible, but it's just kind of what we're used to I guess.

With such a large number of band members, and doubling of schedules’ is it hard to organize rehearsals for the band and did it make it hard to record the album?

Yeah, there's lots of 'off' times, I mean, it's not like any of our bands are number one around the world or anything, and in Australia there aren't a million shows to play all the time so a lot of these other things are born out of being like "hmmm well my other band isn't really doing anything at the moment, I'm bored, I wanna make some stuff" and then it becomes something and then you're stuck being like "shit I have so many things to do!” but, you know what its like when you have something you love, you tend to create opportunities for yourself.

In terms of the writing for the album, how was that managed and allocated between a group of different musicians? Like where the music and lyrics split up or songs in general?

Liam does most of the arranging and instrumental ideas. He's an amazing song writer as he writes all the songs for Saskwatch too, and he'll come to us with a full demo of what he wants and all the instruments to show everyone what he wants them to play, and then say for example if I sing a song, I'll write the lyrics and melody over the top, or if Jarrad does then he'll write the lyrics/melody. So whoever was the kind of 'guest' of the song wrote their lyrics/melody to Liam's instrumental.

Oh that's so cool, so it starts out as one project and then everyone adds their pieces and it eventually turns into a finishing product?

Well yeah, its kind of written like that, there's only a couple of songwriters in the band, and so then we bring songs pretty much finished to the full performing band.

Although you know, Dorsal Fins have always been that we always tried to keep that excitement of the immediate idea. Some of the other albums I've worked on have taken a long time to record, but it’s just a different process. With Dorsal Fins we’re a bit more in the moment being like "that feels good let's keep that in there”, so whether or not it makes a good product I don't know but it's just kind of how we work.

Well, it works for you pretty well seeing the result of your new album. But having just released that album "Digital Zodiac', you're all about to start a semi-big tour in March around Australia, could you tell us what else you guys have planned for 2017 or anything special for the tour?

Well, the shows will be really fun and be good to be back on the road again cause we haven't played for about a month or two, so I think that’s a good way for us to get back into it. We'll be playing all the new songs and some we haven't played live yet, and who knows maybe we'll try and get some of the guests (performers) in there when in their city, cause they're not all from Melbourne. But we'll see who's available.

And could you tell us where an album name like that came from?

Well...*after a giggle and long pause*, originally it was gonna be called ‘Digital Watts’, because on our last record when we were in the studio, you can get a bit loopy after a while, and there was this funny sound and Jarrad was like "ooooooh that sounds like a digital watt”, and then after that watts just kind of became our token for the band. And it's kind of about a celestial path, and finding your way in a digital world.

With a cute little inside joke and sentimental meaning, it stuck and they rolled with it. 

And it’s the ol’, don’t think about it too much and roll with it. People can kind of, just make what they want out of it.

Both the older and the new album have a unique sound, were there any artists that inspired "Digital Zodiac'?  

The thing that’s great about Dorsal Fins, is that we're all influenced by such different genres, and we don't really have a set guideline or anything to kind of adhere to, so we're a bit free to do whatever we want, and it’s a bit of a melting pot of influences. Like, I always listen to soul music and some of the others do too, but it’s always a bit of a mix, no particular genre.

What’s your personal favourite song off of the album and favourite song to perform?

Hmmmm, I like singing 'High Low’ live, that’s really fun, and I also love playing 'Full of Fear' which is the duet with Jarrad, that one’s nice. Because the set can be quite phonetic and frantic, so it’s a nice cooldown moment, so those two are mine, they’re kind of opposite to each other but fun in their own ways.

Putting your work with Dorsal Fins aside for the moment, your dance/electropop duo 'GL', which you released album 'Touch' in July 2016, is there more coming from this collaboration? 

Yeah we're working on something, I guess so far we've only really done short-form songs, not intentionally but it just kind of comes out that way, I mean, we weren't trying to write the ultimate 3.5 minute pop banger but we just kind of wanted to keep them short, but this time I think we wanna just try something a bit more long-form, so we’re gonna do a 12” inch single which is pretty different to what we’ve done before.

Our team over at Figaro were pretty excited to see GL were playing at St. Jermone's Laneway Festival this weekend, how do you feel about playing at such a iconic Melbournian festival being Melbourne born yourself?

It’s definitely a lot bigger from when it started as Laneway down in the city but it’s still kept some if that intimate kind of vibe, and we'll be playing shows around the country for that festival so we're really looking forward to it, it's dope to be on the bill. 

Are you Melbourne based? Yeah I am, born and raised. Yeah nice

(After clearing up I was from Melbourne, the bond was practically unbreakable)

Who else are you excited to see at Laneway?

Nao, I'm excited to see her. And Tame Impala are always amazing! And King Gizzard! 

I also saw Tame at Splendour and that was amazing so it'll be good to see them again.

Spending a lot of your life involved in music, from the Bamboos and Dorsal Fins, to your solo work and even GL, it’s clear in your repertoire you have a lot of experience in the industry, do you have any advice or tips for people trying to work in that industry?

I think, just make the music you want to make and don't compromise when people tell you to do things that you don't want to do. Just be what you want, you'll be much happier in the long run, whether you sell 10 or 10 million records. 

Well Ella thank you so much for taking the time out to call us up. Being busy with the band and Laneway this weekend you must have lots on your plate so thank you!

No no it was no worries at all. Thanks for chatting!

Mick Jenkins Review: Max Watts, Melbourne

Mick Jenkins Review: Max Watts, Melbourne

Enter, Godriguez

Enter, Godriguez