Interview: Passerine are having a ball


Phoebe Dubar, Alex Gooding and Ben Murphy, better known as Melbourne-based trio Passerine, are supporting the release of their new EP with a tour of the East Coast of Australia. We caught up with them for a chat:

Hi and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Something You Said. Congratulations on the new EP, The Morning After / The Night Before. How far back do some of those songs stretch back? Is it all relatively all new material or have some of these songs been with you for years and are only now seeing the light of day?
PHOEBE: Thanks! We’re really excited to get it out there as it’s far more representative of our live sound these days. As for the songs, two are ones we’ve had kicking around for a while (one I’d actually written for another band but it never got released), two were written for the EP and the last track is a cover, which we’ve been playing live for a while.

Your single Look Up was a song that so quickly came together with Phoebe whistling the vocal line in her iPhone before sending the idea over to Ben and Alex and the track being laid down several days later. Can you describe the moment when inspiration strikes, is it a tunnel vision that you enter where the world goes quiet and the instantaneous sensation filters through the pen to paper?
PHOEBE: Pretty much! I was out walking and came up with the hook and the main chords in my head, then despite being under pressure to check out of where I was staying, I quickly grabbed my microKorg keys and recorded myself on my iPhone playing the chords and whistling the melody. Usually for me, the instant hook or idea comes pretty quickly and yep, that’s when the world goes quiet… but it’s the finessing of lyrics that takes me time. I have to think hard about how I want to say, what I’m trying to say. That said, even Look Up’s lyrics came together pretty quickly – I wanted that 90s house vocal vibe, hence all the ‘ation’ and ‘action’ words in the chorus.

BEN: I really like playing with messy recordings because there’s a lot of texture, so you get fun unintended results. That choppy chorus was always the idea in my head as soon as I heard that original demo. As I was re-sequencing it I guess the concept was already pretty firm in my mind, but little quirks like the shuffling background noises that ended up grooving rhythmically are partially good luck. A bit of both helps!

Look Up is not so much of an evolution from your previous work but an about-face, what was the drive to make a break from your previous work?
BEN: I suppose I take some of the responsibility for the synth-laden sounds, as that’s what I joined the band to provide. I guess you just keep doing things that don’t sound incredibly tired to your own ears, and that’s a super personal thing. I’ve been toying with production long enough that I know a few key things (e.g. broken drum grooves, sampled field recordings, big bold synths) that tickle my fancy.

ALEX: As much as I enjoyed our old work, I feel like this version of the band and the songs we’ve been writing are a lot more focused and individual. The writing process is more productive and personal and fun, while the end results are, I feel, a more accurate representation of the music that we want to make, as well as hear. Also, having more work to do to make up for the massive live show we used to have makes my job of bashing the crap out of my instrument just that much more fun!

PHOEBE: The first EP had a lot of 90s influence through it, but maybe not so pronounced. This time around we just went for it. And anyway, I figure disco kinda became 90s house. It’s a logical progression really.

What does your new material say about the stage you are at in your life at the moment?
PHOEBE: We’re just having fun making music together, and are writing really well as a group. With this EP, I think we just wanted to make something fun, danceable and not too serious… and bring back some classic 90s sounds in the meantime.

BEN: Music, like all things, you get more confident with over time. It’s nice to be a place where making this EP has felt like a pretty comfortable process throughout. I hope that comes through in the final result, we’re just having a ball making each other laugh half the time.

ALEX: Honestly, when I listen to these songs I remember how much fun we had writing and recording them. We’ve had a blast making these tunes.

Is your lyrical content derived from direct personal experiences or do you tend to approach writing in a disconnected 3rd person style?
PHOEBE: 100% based on personal experiences – I’ve done a few songs written from a different perspective but they always feel insincere to me. Often there’s only a tiny grain of truth in a song, even just a comment someone said to me, which I then use to draw on other experiences. But however small, I need a connection to develop the song. Maybe it’s because I find it hard trying to be someone else. I’ve been pretty much the same person ever since I was a kid.

Melbourne has a very vibrant music scene, bursting at the seams with bands. Have you found it to be a competitively beneficial environment that helps you push your own artistic boundaries?
BEN: There’s certainly always competition for peoples attention on the weekend when you’re doing shows. That being said I’m thrilled to be a part of a large community of talented musicians, producers, events people and so on. I’ve met and had a beer with plenty of talented folks just because we’re on a line up together. I’ve maybe not done as much collaboration as I’d like, but there’s still time (and the beers are still good)!

ALEX: I don’t like to think of music as being a competitive endeavour, but to say that Melbourne isn’t full of ultra-talented bands and musicians would be crazy. I think our boundaries are often pushed organically by our desire to keep making music that we ourselves like. But at the same time, how could we not be influenced by the ridiculous talent in this town?

Working with Simon Lam (KLO, I’lls), what did he bring to the table for this EP?
BEN: The talented Lam family involvement in our EP starts with Nic (DXHeaven), who was our producer through the hefty recording and mixing process. Although we put the sounds together initially, Nic makes it work and even plays negotiator to the odd tough choices like a champ. Simon (whose equally lovely) is doing our mastering, that dark art of giving the songs their final polish so they’re ready for the world.

PHOEBE: And Eliza Lam (Dr Doctor) played with us at Revs in February! Seriously talented and super-lovely family.

On a technical level, what is in the kit?
BEN: I produce with Ableton Live (and also run a Ableton user group in Melbourne with some other folks, ehrm yes I am a bit of a fanboy) and use the Push controller a whole heap. I also use that stuff live with a sort of customised stand and a few extra MIDI controllers. Then there’s a healthy amount of Moog Voyager and Prophet 8 synths on the EP, which are probably the backbone of the Passerine sound lately (although we did get to play with some of Nic Lam’s awesome synths too).

ALEX: When we first made the switch to an electronic vibe, I thought I was going to have to get an electronic kit. Luckily, we’ve found a way around that by adding triggers and a Roland TM-2 module to my existing acoustic kit setup, so I can layer some sampled sounds on my drums, in real time. Technology is amazing.

PHOEBE: I run my vocals through a Voicelive processor, and my viola goes thorugh a Digitech RP360 multi effects unit. And I love my MicroKorg for writing – it’s super portable.

You are about to embark an East Coast tour, do you find touring to be inspirational whereby it helps you write and create more material or are you so focused on the task at hand that writing and creating new material takes a back seat?
PHOEBE: I find travel really inspirational but touring is different – you get so focused on what you’re doing and where you’re going that the rest of the world is a bit of a blur. I need more space to soak up what’s going around me and that doesn’t happen on tour. And usually I need more than 3hrs sleep.

ALEX: I’ve been on tour with other bands where we wrote new material on the road, but in this band that’s a little more difficult, what with the technical limitations of not actually being able to bang out chords and melodies on an acoustic instrument. Although, touring is a great time for Ben to collect more field recordings for use in future tracks. So be careful what you say around him, it might turn into a hook.

BEN: Touring might not be the most creatively inspiring thing for generating new songs for me, but I do enjoy it. The best part is you get a narrow focus, and the rest of your life is forced to the side for a short while. For someone who is always juggling many projects and jobs, being forced into just doing one thing is a welcome reprieve in a way. But yeah, I could always use more sleep…

What has been one of your most memorable gigs to date and why?
PHOEBE: funnily enough, the first Million Dollar Pony Club gig (a chick-led electronica night we’re getting off the ground) at Worker’s Club a few weeks ago. We did it as part of Fringe Festival, so we had all this crazy theming, glow sticks, balloons, party games between sets… it was so much fun, the vibe in the room was incredible and after we finished our set, the vocalists from the other bands jumped up with us and we did a really shambolic, unrehearsed version of “Pony” by Ginuwine. It was pretty epic. We’re pretty pumped to do another one later this year.

What does music give you that nothing else does?
PHOEBE: Bruises on my thigh from bashing my tambourine against it.

ALEX: Tinnitus. Empty pockets. The ability to express myself artistically, intellectually and emotionally. A sore back.

BEN: Excuses to buy more new synths, toys and tech gadgets!

You can catch Passerine at the following venues in Australia over the next few weeks:




Interview by Courtney Dabb.