Step outside yourself and into the vibrant world of Vlossom and their debut EP
When you take two of Australia’s finest musicians and put them into a studio together, the chances are the results are going to be pretty great. But, in the case of VLOSSOM, the results are something else altogether. PNAU‘s Nick Littlemore and Cloud Control‘s Alistair Wright create music that serves as an entry into another world, one that helps you escape almost completely if just for a few moments, and with their first EP as a duo, they provide an escapist odyssey into their very own wonderland.
Across six tracks, Vlossom‘s first body of work is titled My Friend. It’s emotive, expansive and euphoric, and is a perfect combination of the vast influences that helped inspire Vlossom including the soundtrack to the original Blade Runner, neo-expressionist painter Peter Max, Miles Davis’s late-’70s output and Riane Eisler’s cultural anthropology text The Chalice and The Blade. It’s also somewhat spiritual in nature thanks to both Littlemore‘s and Wright‘s philosophical views of what it means to be living in this world at this time, and their shared appreciation and respect for the natural world around them.
Originating from a mutual respect of each other’s art and an initial bond that can’t quite be described when they met for the very first time, the pair adopted a policy of continually saying “yes” when creating the first body of work for Vlossom, and by doing this, they opened themselves up to tap into unchartered territory together. My Friend is futuristic dance music that infuses psych-rock and pop elements, complete with masterful lyricism that further imbues each song with a palpable emotionality. With a shared hope that the many different worlds they created within each track gives the listener a sense of being able to momentarily surrender and let go completely, they have achieved a record that transports you into a beautiful, positive space where it’s okay to step outside yourself.
Speaking of the EP, Littlemore said, “The whole EP represents the start of what’s become a huge part of our lives, both in actual work but moreover in a greater understanding and greater reward living through nature and sacred practices. We hope to bring back from the distantly close dimensions some force of joy and love, like flowers opening over and over again, like the first breaths of spring, to the clearest azure summer day and into the early autumn warmth.”
“In a world that’s increasingly hard to navigate and understand, I think it’s so important to have those moments of levity and beauty and positivity, with the hope that maybe some of that feeling might carry on into the rest of your life,” Littlemore said.
Ahead of its release at the start of April, I spoke to Al Wright to talk about his own personal experiences with Vlossom, his first official foray into dance music, why the world needs this record now, and how doing solo karaoke helped him return to the stage.
Given that both you and Nick have extensive histories in the music industry, does it feel different to be releasing music this time around?
Definitely. It’s not my first release, but it’s my first thing outside of Cloud Control so it feels exciting to be doing it again. It feels really lucky and good.
Nick of course has a long, long history in dance music, this is your first official foray into the electronic world. Did this differ at all from your past experiences of making music?
It’s a different approach in the songs I think. I feel like my process has been in the box for a lot of my writing anyway. When I was in high school, I learnt how to write music in Fruity Loops and Reason, and I was a big nerd on my computer making all these tracks. It was after high school that I joined Cloud Control and writing songs on guitar. At the same time, I was always writing demos on a computer and it would become more organic later. I think the writing process for me has been pretty recording based, so in some ways it’s very similar. But then, instead of having that extra step of going and working with the band and making the songs more organic like figuring out how to play it or making an arrangement altogether, the stuff we’re working on now at the start makes it all the way through to the end. The aim of the music is quite different too I think.
There’s definitely a very specific aim with this record and the songs you’ve been releasing. Even tying in the visuals, you’re obviously setting out with an intent of, “This is the kind of music we want to make.” Am I right in saying that?
It hasn’t felt like a really deliberate thing but there’s definitely that vibe. It feels different to when I was writing for Cloud Control, even though the lyrics are pretty opaque it was all still very autobiographical and it’s about defining myself and this character within myself. With Vlossom, it’s a totally new character and that feels different too.
It’s a whole new world that you’re exploring. I was listening to your interview with Zan Rowe and how you actually started making music. Something about running into each other in Adelaide and going from Instagram to ending up at Nick’s house in Bondi – can you tell me a bit about that?
I was in Adelaide on tour with Cloud Control, and Nick was on tour in Adelaide with PNAU. Me and Doug, my brother and best mate and bass player, were walking down the street and bumped into them and it just kicked off from there. I knew the drummer, Timmy, from sharing a studio in Sydney and just said hey and chatting there. I feel like there was an instant kind of connection with Nick, I don’t really know how to describe it. Instantly he was like, “I’m coming to your show tonight,” and after the show he left and didn’t say anything but texted me later and said, “We’re going to make music together and I’m going to buy all your albums.”
Moving forward into then creating music together at his house in Bondi, that goes back to what you were saying before about how different this process has been compared to previous works of yours – it’s the two of you, Nick’s created a bunch of tracks already and he just shoved you into the booth and you went from there?
And just let go! That’s exactly what happened. He’d made a whole album’s worth of instrumentals that he’d made while flying all over the world and working with all these amazing session musicians. I was completely blown away that someone would do that and I was really humbled and excited.
What you were saying about there being an initial connection between you guys, that would had to have existed for you to be able to trust in this person, right? Obviously he’s got a reputation for being this incredible musician, but still for someone coming from a band where you know your bandmates so well, to then go and make music with someone else would be I’m sure a somewhat liberating but nerve-racking experience as well?
It came for me at an interesting point in my life where I was thinking about writing with other people and I’d started doing sessions with other people. I was trying to broaden what I thought I could do, so it was really good in that respect because I was like, “This is crazy! This is the best thing that could happen right now!” Nick and I are just pretty open people and we just sort of say yes to everything, so it’s just felt like from the start it’s been a series of, “Do you want to do this?” and saying, “Yeah!” We’re still on that train.
That strategy of saying yes to everything was a key part of how you were able to write songs so quickly, because you were always moving towards the song. It goes back to that liberation which you can really hear in the music because as you, Al, start to let go, the music starts to really come together and as a listener you can follow and feel that as well. Nick was describing the EP and said it was the representation of a greater understanding or reward in living through nature and sacred practices. I wanted to talk to you a bit about this and what scared practices you might be undertaking in this time?
[Laughs] I’m not sure exactly. What that made me think of is just having an awareness of things being sacred and an awareness of mysticism. That’s a real thing and an important thing for us to hold onto to survive. To give those things space and not to just write things off. I think there’s so many things we can’t understand or that we can never fully grasp and that’s what that means to me.
I’m a big believer in that we never really hit a finite spot in development or learning. There’s always more things to learn and a deeper understanding to achieve. That’s kind of what I was thinking in regards to how this might have been created? Even just in terms of your own artistic development as two separate artists coming together and being able to continue to try new things and push yourself further and saying yes to things you might not have said yes to.
It reminds me of this quote from Terrence McKenna: “My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.” It’s really interesting because it’s also an argument to believe in everything as well, but not to the extent to exclude things from your belief. It’s having that openness to things but also engaging fully and going all the way. Going as far as you can but also holding space for the opposite to be true.
Is that something you’ve always held true, Al, or something you’ve developed more recently?
I think I’m pretty open to things but when I read that I realised that’s really how I feel. It’s so easy to shut things down and be cynical but it’s cool to be open enough to take things as what they are and really listen to everything when you find it.
With what you’re saying here and the way the record has been created, it’s designed to really make people escape. To step outside themselves in the best way possible and really let go. You’re releasing it now with the world needing something like this more than ever. Given everything that’s happened recently, do you feel this is amplified or that the songs sit a different way now?
It is a really crazy time, isn’t it? We don’t have a choice. We need to have a sense of cohesion and think about each other or something terrible is going to happen. And maybe this is the first terrible thing but it’s a soft disaster compared to other upheavals that are going to take place if we don’t learn how to listen to each other or if we don’t learn how to have a sense of cohesion and community instead of being market-driven and believing in the consumer as this all-powerful thing that we all have to obey. If we keep thinking like that, it’s only going to end in one way. I’ve always felt that and I think we share that thinking as well. I feel like what’s happening now is revealing things we already knew and helping people understand the situation we’re in a bit more seriously. It’s like showing how fragile our system is.
I read a tweet that said this isn’t creating problems, it’s just showing the problems that were already there.
Oh my god, I couldn’t agree more.
You spoke about how writing in Peter’s studio in LA were some of the best times you’ve had making music. What was it about this time that was so special to you?
It just had that feeling and the normal markers of having a good time. We were constantly laughing and these crappy in-joke things going on. It was really joyful and all about that forward momentum. The feeling that we were making stuff that was genuinely really exciting and whenever we’d listen back to the songs we’d be like, “Wow this is so cool!” I think it comes from having shared ideas and shared optimism about making music and being able to make something really worthwhile together.
How did it feel doing your Lansdowne residency and getting back to your roots in that regard?
It was so much fun! It was so good to have so many friends there and by the end we were getting lots of new faces too which was really cool. I think I just love being on stage and I love singing. It was so exciting to do that with something new where I felt all the songs were working really well. It was also really new for me to play without a guitar. I was just dancing and [thinking], “What do I do with my body on stage?” When I was living in Redfern, I was super nervous about it because I didn’t really know what to do so I started going to karaoke by myself. I’d go into the bar in the public bar and choosing a song I don’t know and just trying to sing it. Just doing things to try and get myself comfortable on the stage in that way.
That’s very brave!
I’d be deliberately embarrassing myself and think, “Oh my god, this is so scary.” It was really good though, it really helped. When I got to the stage at The Lansdowne, I felt pretty like, “I don’t even care now.” I can just have fun and focus on listening to the songs and let myself go. The other thing about those shows was, I don’t know why but in the last year a lot of my friends started new projects and bands so it was so good to have them all support as well. My girlfriend’s band Babitha played one show which was amazing, and my friend Russell who plays bass in Vlossom played with his band Skeleten. My friend Kyle, who’s project is Kyva, his band played one of the shows as well. It had that community feeling and that special vibe where each show felt really meaningful and that we were doing it for a reason.
Interview by Emma Jones
Image by Imogen Grist