Words by Emily McConochie // Image by Claire Salter
Turning the heads of creatives and laymen alike, Aussie multi-instrumentalist turned composer Sinj Clarke has just dropped an immense debut album titled “Music for an Italian Afternoon”. Clarke’s fluidly visual release has something for the jazz cats, movie buffs and late-night YouTube fiends of this world.
His title track ‘An Italian Afternoon’ is as Clarke puts it “best enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz somewhere along the Amalfi Coastline”. True to his word, it’s a sonic elixir that we should all taste. With flighty trills and dramatic turns, we are reminded of French duo Air mixed with Toronto trio BadBadNotGood and healthy dash of some seriously evocative movie scores from the 60’s and 70’s.
We caught up with Sinj for glimpse into his world, unearthing a stint as a 2000’s pop-punk icon, his newfound process of personal ‘creative blackmail’ and what may be next for the enigma that is Mr Sinj Clarke:
Well, I started playing violin around 5 and quickly picked up piano after that. But I didn’t enjoy it for many years, in fact I hated it… I hated playing music until I was about 16 when I was given Amnesiac by Radiohead and a Herbie Hancock greatest hits compilation album. I think they both really resonated with me and I was surprised at what music could be and that hadn’t felt it yet.
So, I’ve been playing keys in a band called Velvet Trip which is a psychy-blues rock ensemble, The Good Boys who are a surf rock band, Joseph Liddy and the Skeleton Horse which is a 13 piece funk band and then another called Lazy Colt which is quite ethereal and folky I guess? So a lot of genres being covered (laughs).
Umm… I dunno what you’re talking about (laughs). I guess you don’t have to Google far to find that information. It’s true, in a past life I was a pop-punk superstar although I never felt like one to be honest. I knew deep inside I was an old, old, old rickety composer not a spritely young pop-punk kid (laughs). Everyone had their awkward emo-punk phase but not many of us ended up with it being splattered all over 13-year-old girl fan pages. Let’s move swiftly from this one.
I came across a book called ‘ The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron and realised I’d set some pretty dangerous limits for myself which weren’t true. I had always been an accessory to other people’s dreams and visions and hadn’t really taken the initiative to write anything of my own. I basically had a routine of intense journaling and bringing awareness to my inner critic. I basically had to creatively blackmail myself over four months through telling people I was working on the project, it’s due date and the musicians I wanted to feature.
It was pretty interesting for me to be working with not only people I usually perform with but also some lovely people from the Sydney Symphony. I don’t think there is a musical hierarchy but that was pretty daunting for me. I had to step up into a leadership role while facing a lot of inner demons. I realise now that it was bold aiming for an 11-piece band and an accompanying string quartet for a first album.
You know, imagine being on a plane and the pilot opens the door and says, ”sorry we’re heading in the wrong direction”. I just really didn’t want that so, I’m lucky I had a bunch of amazing musicians on board. It was amazing how it came together, it couldn’t have gone any smoother in such a short amount of time.
I kind of held this idea of having a narrative arc across the album. While composing I pulled up archived footage and old films to take me there… So I hope that resonates? I have an intro, outro, light and dark moments and a dramatic pinnacle the brings it all together.
I also had to remove my identity as a keyboard player and think for each instrument. So, I taught myself bass because I needed a dissociation point. I wrote half of it on a bass guitar that I had never really played before. It ended up being quite bold and full bodied – like me (laughs)
I just thought going through the usual avenues wasn’t for me. Sometimes the joy gets sucked out of music when you suddenly have to think about the rigmarole of promotion. With a first album I just wanted it to appeal to a space that I gather inspiration from. That for me has always been on obscure playlists and well curated YouTube channels so, I just reached out to a few and Adventures of Sound got back to me.
People like them are taste makers who already reach an audience that is musically inclined or conditioned for my kind of sound. I was lucky to get that promotion on a global stage. I’ve been asked for vinyl presses and had lovely comments from all over the world so, it put into perspective the reach the internet has.
I reckon… We are going to do a one off performance of that… When? I dunno. But, I would be aiming for it to be a spectacle not just a performance. The way that it is arranged means it can’t just be a half-assed version of it. It needs to be done in full, yes yes in full I tell ya.
I’m already writing another album.. Music For An El Salvadorian Afternoon (laughs). Not really, but wouldn’t that be nice. I guess the next one will be more practical… So it can be played live but still in the same vein, I’m not done exploring that sonic pallet quite yet. I’m aiming to have the Sinj Clarke band up and running in a few months as I move (to Melbourne), so hopefully that all comes together in the same light!
Like what you’re hearing? You can download Sinj Clarke’s Music For An Italian Afternoon for free from his website right here.