Snawklor’s Dylan Martorell and Nathan Gray are a whole artistic package rolled into the one duo.
They do artwork for their own albums and they often create music to go with their visual art. They don’t draw lines between creative experiences and instead their artistic endeavours are often a package of diverse elements. You could say that the boys like to think of new ways of doing old things, and so for this article they decided to interview each other as well as talking to me. “It’s fun interviewing each other because we never talk about music,” says Dylan.
“In the past you have described your installation work as a gift to the audience,” says Dylan. “Is your music a ‘gift’s to the audience or are there more base motives being satisfied here?
“Well I think I’ve mentioned previously that I feel our music is a bit more selfish,” Nathan answers. “Like a present from your mum, it’s what they feel you should have and not what you want. This is probably a belief in the power of music and the way it changes a lot, very quickly. You just can’t dumb it down, can’t make it digestible because people need time to get used to new music and when they do they value it more than something easy. Not that we are grating or even that challenging when you look at it. I think our sense of melody is what separates us from other experimental bands, every other musical convention can go out the window except that.
“In the 10 years we’ve been doing this sort of music we’ve seen a lot of changes… experimental music has become the most popular form amongst our friends and a lot of rock and roll has gotten more experimental. Shit’s got weird but we still don’t fit in somehow. No matter, really. We’ve also changed what we do numerous times from sculptural work to electronic then to acoustic instruments and now to this synth/guitar trip.”
Dylan and Nathan both come from Perth but didn’t meet until after Dylan had moved to Melbourne where they both now reside. “I didn’t know Nathan when I lived in Perth,” says Dylan. I met him when I was visiting my family in Perth through a friend of ours who went to art school with Nathan. When Nathan moved to Melbourne he came to live at my house and we started playing music together. Before we were Snawklor we actually had another band with my brother for three or four years. It was called Fong and had two guitars and drums. I guess the closest reference to that would be that we kinda sounded a bit like Truman’s Water.”
“Snawklor came out of the tail end of playing in Fong and being dissatisfied with drums and guitar. We wanted to explore lots of different mediums and we wanted a platform where we could explore. Snawklor actually started out as a record label and when we started it Nathan and I were doing separate things, solo projects that we attached to the record label. We put on an exhibition two years in a row called The Fifty Record Players exhibition. We got 50 polycarbonate records pressed in NZ and everyone that put in a record would bring a record player along to the gig at the gallery space equipped with headphones and we just had a weekend of performances and you could buy the singles that you liked. I think we did like a run of 10 or 20 of each single. After that we started playing together as Snawklor the band when it quickly became evident that running a record label wasn’ our forte, although it’s a great way to make enemies and lose money.
“When we started Snawklor it was a gallery based project. We were using sound sculptures with record players, xylophone keys and using answering machine tape loops and percussion from water and things like that. Then we got into laptops. We got into computers when we could afford one, probably five years after everybody else could! The first computer I got I think I bought it for $150. I think it could make a 30 second or 1 minute loop or something like that before it crashed. So I would make loops and then record it onto tapes and play tape decks and stuff like that. It was pretty ridiculous. Then we started playing laptop music which is kinda what we are best known for but we don’t use laptops anymore. The last laptop album we did was about five years ago. We stopped using laptops mainly because we were dissatisfied with the computer as a live instrument. We wanted the live format to be more interactive and more instantaneous and it’s just a lot nicer moving around and playing instruments. Playing a laptop is really tension inducing. We’ve almost come full circle. The sets we’re doing lately, it’s just Nathan playing keyboard and me playing guitar through effects. It’s really nice.
“What makes Snawklor what it is and where do you think you’d like to take it next?” Nathan asks.
“Well it’s not a chess game,” says Dylan, “and it’s probably not a socio-political model. It’s more like the garden in Dark Star; a set of ecological constructs moving through time and space. Melody is the manure and sometimes the ants are flying the ship when everyone’s in hibernation.
“Not sure about stylistic changes but setting up our own small scale outdoor sound system felt like a big breakthrough.
“I know we had talked about it a lot, but when the environment you’re playing in becomes the third member, both sonically and visually, the air-conditioning in the pub loses the race. I get the feeling that the environments we choose to play in will naturally dictate the music Snawklor will play in the future. Water music, cave music, tram music, garden music, zoo music, dog beach music, airport music, hospital music, graveyard music, sewerage plant music, wetlands music, kindergarten music.”
They can already cross a few of environments off their list. Music in a field for bats? Done. Tram music? Done.
“Yeah, we did a show on a tram. We did a brief residency in Osaka last year where we did a collaborative sound and visual installation based on the tram and train systems of Melbourne and Osaka. We took part in a day of tram based performances on the one tram line in Osaka which is about seven or eight kilometres long. They had a bunch of Japanese performers. I think it was just us and some Japanese people and that was great. It was like a sister exhibition with West Space tying the tram culture of both cities together. The exhibition was housed in an old train station and all the pieces were based around the trams and the train lines. For the performance the trams were moving and you could get on at either end but it didn’t actually stop for people. There was a table setup in the middle of the tram where everyone would play and it was really good.
“There was a tram in Melbourne, I’m not sure it exists anymore, but it was decorated by artists from Pakistan. It used to go around the city on Friday nights just playing Bhangra music, flashing lights and stuff and people would just get on and dance. There was a guy that curated a series of bands and spoken word people to go on the tram on Friday nights. Snawklor played on that as well. My other band, The Hi God People, were asked to play in that and when we played we had about 20 people playing the centenary bells and were backed by a couple of Pakistani musicians playing the harmonia and tabla and that was totally crazy and the tram was just so packed that it became hard to play and then the tram broke down half way and everyone had to get off.
“Do you remember the time we tried to start a three kilometre radius pirate radio station by hooking up – was it an amp and microphone? – to the pipes in the toilet?” Dylan asks. “This streak of blind optimism still rears its head occasionally, recently typified by the free gig and barbeque we put on a couple of weeks ago in front of 30000 flying foxes on the banks of the Yarra. Unbeknownst to me was the six months in jail and $5000 fine for ‘disturbing’ the bats. Of course nothing happened but good times, great memories and 30000 oblivious flying foxes.
“We always look out for interesting places to play and recently we got our own power setup with car batteries and a transducer so that we can actually put on shows ourselves. The show we put on at the bat colony was one of those and we’re going to do another one on the banks of the Murray. When we got to the bat colony I was convinced that no one was going to turn up. We ended up playing to about 30 people which I was more than happy with. We got reports afterwards that people actually tried to go to the gig but couldn’t find it. It wasn’t the easiest place on Earth to find. I kinda like that idea that you make the effort to go somewhere special and it really was special.
“We did try to avoid playing in pubs for a while because a lot of the music at that stage was delicate musique concrete sound art. But now we’ve developed two sets: one that is based around hand made instruments, field recordings, trumpet and various percussive instruments, and then we’ve got a set that was designed pretty much to play in pubs or in venues where we can play really loud. That’s the set where we play keyboards and guitars, but not at all like our older stuff.”
Right now both members of Snawklor are busy working away on pieces for an annual show at the Bus Gallery curated by Pat O’Brien. “It’s a costume show. Nathan and I are both working towards putting pieces in that. I’m working on two costumes. One costume is already done and it’s made of plant materials, mostly dried Victorian plant materials. It looks like a triffid from Oudah. Inside the head there’s a 3D viewer. There’s a 3D drawing that I worked on in collaboration with a friend of mine, Matt Voldman and there are speakers inside the costume as well playing the sound of the fibres being burned but slowed down so it’s all crackly. The other one I’m doing is hard to describe. It’s a four-armed figure playing tone clusters on various keyboards. It’s supposed to be a street musician circa 2030 from Djemaa El Fna.”
The cover of this magazine combines the artwork of both Snawklor members. The pieces have been done as separate drawings and then combined in Photoshop. “I’m not sure how Nathan feels but I always find it quite difficult to collaborate visually. It’s a totally different ball game from playing music. With the older albums we just took turns with the artwork. Somebody would do one and then someone would do the other. If Nathan’s designing the artwork I just give him a free reign and he does the same to me and then we bring two or three different examples to the table and decide on the one that we both like the most. I think collaborating visually held up the album for about six months! It’s actually a lot harder than just handing it over to each other,” says Dylan.
“What do you value more in music,” asks Dylan, “its ability to make time disappear or its ability to make you disappear?”
Snawklor’s Quick Be The Feet…That Run To Mischief is available from Outer. More information is available from www.snawklor.com.