In this series, contributor Georgia Graham brings together a group of her friends on the advent of their 30th year.
Since moving to New York, there have been two primary objects of my affections; my friends, and the city itself. Thus in creating a project from the heart, it seemed immediately obvious that these two elements should take centre stage.
Just as in a relationship, it is my friends who have helped me navigate the moments of infatuation and frustration that characterise my affair with New York City. Coincidentally, this year sees many of my closest friends celebrating their 30th. Between us, age is something we discuss a lot. New York is often compared to Neverneverland, a playground where one never truly has to grow up. Empowering as this can be, it is also a crippling ally to popular culture’s unhealthy obsession with youth. At 24, these friends are people I look to often for advice and information, the kind that they have accumulated in the years that separate us in age.
I decided to conduct the following interviews as a means of celebration and examination; celebrating these individuals, their creative minds and experiences, whilst also examining the idea of age and the concept of living in New York. The accompanying photo series was shot by Mitchell McLennan. Like the friends I have asked him to photograph, he is both an artist I admire and a friend I cherish.
I often refer to Jaie as my first friend in New York. I’d heard his name mentioned by many of my Australian friends, routinely followed by the words “total legend”. When I arrived from Sydney, hopelessly ill-equipped for the city Winter, Jaie showed me warm bars to hide in and warm friends to hang out with. Jaie is the unsung hero behind so much good music, working with various musicians out of his New York studio as well as playing keyboards in the band Splashh.
I have Jaie to thank for introducing me to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brian Eno and Modelo beer, as well as New York City itself and so many good friends here.
How did you first get into making music?
My dad is a professional guitar player and he brought me up on lots of good music. I played saxophone for quite a few years, but that was more like a school thing. Then I started playing the bass and that got me into actually making music. I think the real turning point was in my high school they had did this extra-curricular music recording course. I never really thought about engineering and recording – I found it so interesting and that just kind of slowly became what I wanted to do.
What instruments do you play?
I play a lot of instruments very badly! (laughs) I’ve become the synth guy – I started buying a lot of synthesisers as they’re so cool. When I started writing songs with Sasha (of Splashh) he was like: “Oh, you should be the keyboard player in my band”, and I was like: “Fuck, now I actually have to learn how to play the keyboards!”
How do you feel your craft expanded once you moved to New York?
My first year or so in New York – I’m at about 5 years now – was kind of figuring it out and struggling to get shitty bartending jobs and survive. The first real opportunity was getting to work with Natalie and help record her Weyes Blood album The Innocents. And once I got my own studio – that has really been a dream.
Do you look to other musicians for inspiration? Do they tend to be older or younger?
Yeah of course. I’ve been mostly inspired by my peers though. People in the same place and age as me; other bands in the same scenes or whatever.
I think when I was younger I was resistant to being influenced by other people – I had this kind of deluded idea of originality where I wanted to make something that was totally unique.
How does it feel to approach 30?
I’m really excited to turn 30. I feel like I’m only getting better at what I do, so every year feels more promising than the last.
I’ve never been too concerned about getting older or ageing, life is just a thing that happens. I was never one of those people that was obsessed with being 21 forever.
Do you remember any particularly good advice or wisdom you were given?
I remember my dad telling me that the most important thing in music and playing in bands is to love the people you’re doing it with. If you don’t love the people that you’re working with then there’s no point – it never goes well. It’s true. I’ve found I’m always more inclined to keep it in the family and work with people I know, which also makes for cultivating a really creative group of people that you surround yourself with.
Do you still get that feeling of “when I grow up I want to be…”?
In a way. I’ve found in life that things that I’ve fantasised about have quite often ended up happening. You kind of will it by imagining it – then with a bit of work you find yourself getting there sooner than you expected. So yeah, I still think about what the next thing is and hope that pattern continues. But then it’s funny as by the time it happens you’re thinking about the next thing – that’s just how life works I guess!
"I'VE NEVER BEEN TOO CONCERNED ABOUT GETTING OLDER OR AGEING, LIFE IS JUST A THING THAT HAPPENS. I WAS NEVER ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE THAT WAS OBSESSED WITH BEING 21 FOREVER."
You have made your home primarily between London and New York – how do the two differ for you?
New York I’m drawn to by choice more as a place. I’d say London I’m drawn to because of the people in it. I’ve learned to love London, whereas New York was more love at first sight.
Like an arranged marriage?
Something like that! But it is nice breaking it up. Sasha and myself are definitely kindred spirits in the sense that we both have this gypsy urge in us to be always moving around.
In terms of musical output, would you say there is one place that is more influential?
In New York I’m 10 times more productive but also 10 times more distracted, so it kind of evens itself out! It’s a lot more chilled in Europe, in London. I don’t know if the place I’m in affects me as much as where I’m at in my head at the time.
Can you talk a bit about your music career?
I started just playing in bands in high school.Then I played in the band Danimals and we won a competition to make a song for a beer commercial in New York. That was the beginning of my love affair with New York.
Through my early 20s, I spent most of my time making music with my childhood best friend as Domeyko/Gonzalez. We would do these improvised shows around Sydney where we would just set up all our instruments and keyboards and toys. I never expected it to become anything, but it ended up creating a trajectory for itself that kind of became my life for quite a few years. I really loved that time; just doing literally whatever the fuck we wanted onstage and making people endure it. Emptied a lot of rooms! But then sometimes it was really good!
Improvised music is something that I’ve left behind recently but I’m starting to feel the urge to revisit. When I first came to New York I started playing shows with Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and we would do shows that were similar. I thought that was the path that I was on, but then I realised I wanted to focus on making pop records as well. That felt like the next step. To really make an album that kids can get into, that people’s mums can get into, that can get played on the radio.
I think in that deluded youthful idea of originality I was talking about before, I had this idea that playing pop music is a cop out, and then I had a realisation later in life that making a hit song is actually the most difficult thing to do.
What role do your friends play in your life?
Living in New York, your friends are your family, so they’re everything. There’d be no point in doing any of the things I do without the friends around you to share it with. Also we have the sickest mates! That’s what makes New York so special for us.
Your friends influence everything. Friends showing you music, your friends who make music. A lot of the songs on the Splashh record are inspired by our lifestyle in New York.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
I have a handful of wildly varying ideas for the next 5 years, but just got to see which direction my life takes me! I think I kind of let my life choose for itself. You’ve got to make things happen for yourself, but also I never try and force it.
I think it’s just important to do what you love. Otherwise what the fuck is the point” Maybe that’s selfish but, y’know, life is precious.
Interview by Georgia Graham
Photography by Mitchell Mclennan