Gareth Schott : sink \ sink
by Ian Duggan
‘sink \ sink’ was formed in 2010, and have to date released two albums — 2012s ‘the darkest dark goes’, followed by 2013s ‘a lone cloudburst’.
Going on hiatus for a time, with primary songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gareth Schott spending much of this time playing in ‘Ancient Tapes’, sink \ sink have recently begun recording again. I talked to Gareth about the project, including their sound, how they get their music heard, and a fixation on lower case.
HUP: Gareth, sink \ sink’s music is difficult to accurately categorise. The descriptions of the band’s genre on your Bandcamp page include lo-fi, shoegaze, ambient and post-rock, although all of these could be debated. For example, your recordings are of high quality and complex, while post-rock is just such a diverse genre to really give any clear idea of style. To help readers get a better idea of your sound, are there bands that have particularly influenced you, or that you consider your sound to be similar to?
Schott: I guess the answer to this is a bit historical really. sink \ sink was initially 4 Hamilton based guys playing in various rehearsal spaces around the city. We were gearing up to play our first gig, had 4 or 5 songs that made up a 25 minute set, and then things just fell apart. No dramas, just a variety of things that prevented us continuing.
When that happened I was left with nothing to do, so Alicia [Merz] from birds of passage, who at the time was releasing her first album via her European label Denovali, persuaded me that I should start recording my own material. She really inspired me for her capacity to make music on her own and secondly by the huge international following she had for her music.
So back to the question, the genres were part of generating an audience online. I didn't feel there was one here for me in Hamilton at the time. I became part of a very real community connected to the lo-fi, experimental and ambient genres on Soundcloud. I also tagged my work with those genres to attract the kind of listeners I thought might be more open to what I was doing, rather than describe the work itself. I was made Soundclouder of the Day during that period too, which was nice exposure for my work given that 10 million people were using Soundcloud at that point. The majority of my albums were sold in the US and Europe. I got a bit of a kick from having success without having to necessarily fit in with what was happening in the local scene.
In terms of my influences going into sink \ sink, I initially wanted to make soundtrack music, as I can't sing. So I was inspired by Clint Mansell's work on The Fountain, and John Murphy's work on 28 Days Later and Sunshine. I have been a big fan of Sigur Ros since the start as I could hear the UK indie and shoegaze influences on their first album. From a post-rock perspective I wanted something instrumental that could go from intimate to epic. No sink \ sink songs are ever written with singing in mind, which I think what makes them interesting when vocals are added to them! There are no obvious verses or choruses to them. I turned being on my own into freedom rather than a limitation. I didn't have a drummer and I didn't need one – bands like Sigur Ros taught me that you don’t have to have all instruments going all the time on every song. I admire bands with those kinds of dynamics, where members are prepared to drop out, or come in late in the piece for the benefit of the song.
HUP: Given you have found some success internationally, without needing to have engaged with the local scene, would you recommend to others going down the Soundcloud (or similar) route? And on the flipside, do you think there are advantages to playing, and having a following, locally?
Schott: From my experience the local scene always moves in ebbs and flows, sometimes active, sometimes less so, conditional on venues and activity levels of bands. For me Soundcloud was a way of reaching people whose tastes extended beyond what people seemed to be wanting in the local scene at the time. I am not criticizing local bands, they just weren't doing what I was doing and so I wouldn't have fitted neatly into any gig lineup. A lot of bands matched each other at the time. A lot of garage rock. I could have seen sink \ sink and Sora Shima on the same bill for sure, but they weren't active live at the time, as they were finishing off their debut album You Are Surrounded. In 2013 I decided to put sink \ sink on hold while I played in Ancient Tapes (A shoegaze influenced band). We were a 100% local and live band. We initially struggled to find venues and other bands to play with, as there was nothing going on. Within that time period though, things started to happen again, gig organizers became very active (HUP, and Chumz and Cam), venues opened their doors to a broader range of music genres and we got a number of gigs in a short space of time. With that it was a matter of winning people over. With no shoegaze scene or similar bands in Hamilton it was a matter of trying to convince people. That was a completely different challenge. Not that people aren't receptive, they just took a bit of time to understand what we were trying to do (e.g. our mix preferences which purposefully de-emphasized the vocal as a focal point). It was healthy for us as a band, we had to play often, be consistent and play to people who weren't necessarily out to see us. The advantage of playing live was getting to know and play with other New Zealand bands — some amazingly talented, yet humble people out there who have since become great friends. Building an audience is hard though. People come out to see specific people. There are few people who just go out and catch whatever is on. So while we played to a lot of people we found it hard to build momentum. It was always different pockets of people at each gig really. Next May I am playing in birds of passage at the Further Future Festival in the US. That gig is about translating Alicia's recordings (taken from her 3 albums) and playing them live. That will be interesting as people will be there to see her based on her recorded work and will have their own expectations for the set. That will be a completely different experience that melds the recording / live thing.
Schott: The international collaborations came out of being active primarily on Soundcloud, as I wasn't a live act. I was approached by a producer based in Chicago who also had a singer, Kim [Schulke]. Together we made the first album. I wrote and recorded the music, sent it to them and they wrote and recorded the vocals and mixed and mastered the whole thing. It was a cool experience getting your song back not having had a part in some elements of the process. For the second album I wanted a much more minimal approach and more control or access to the songs during the process, so I spoke to Callum [Plews] (producer) and Kim and told them I'd like to do something different. I have continued to collaborate with both of them since that first album. Kim is on the soundtrack I did for Julia Reynold's short film 'Returning', and I recently recorded some guitar parts for Callum's band Sleeves, which should be coming out this month. For 'a lone cloudburst' I approached Ylva [Krantz], who is based in Sweden, as she had a voice very similar to Rachel Goswell from Slowdive. I grew up watching Shoegaze bands back in the UK and wanted that kind of sound. She also sang in Swedish on the album, which was great as I have no idea what she is singing, but it fits with the mood of the song whatever it is! I also started working with Sean Lynch from Conway on that album. He produced the whole thing here in NZ, which meant I was much more involved in the mixes. He makes the odd appearance on the album too. He was wonderful to work with. When we recorded the Hummingbird EP with Ancient Tapes we asked him to engineer and produce it as I trust him 100%.
HUP: The members of the band have changed between albums, with you remaining the constant. Has that been a conscious decision, and do you have all new contributors on your latest recordings?
Schott: Yes, line up changes have been a conscious decision based on the songs that I have written and recorded. There are some lovely versions of ‘a lone cloudburst’ songs that have Kim singing on them. But I had a very strong idea for that album and the same vocal approach that worked on the first album didn’t really match what I had in my head for the second album. I do have a consistent cello player in Catherine [Milson] who has been with me a while now. She is also on the Hummingbird EP by Ancient Tapes. Rob [Shirlow] (Sora Shima, Ancient Tapes) has guested on bass, on a track that I have yet to release. While I can do most things myself, it is nice to have someone come in with different ideas and a different style of playing. At the moment I have basic ideas and recordings for new songs but nothing too developed. I am torn at the moment, as I have loved playing live over the last two years. Plus I am in the process of starting a new project locally with some familiar faces from bands I have already mentioned in this interview. These days I have to think is this a sink \ sink song or should I try it out with the guys in the new project? I have never played any sink \ sink songs live. It is something I'd like to do one day.
HUP: On the naming of your band and its releases, and in common with Alicia Merz from 'birds of passage', you have a love of using lower case at the start of your titles. What it the deal with that?
Schott: Yes, I have an unreasonable dislike for title case! I don't know where that has come from. The name itself was chosen for our eventual proximity to other bands in iTunes (e.g., Sigur Ros or Slowdive) and also its look on posters, album covers, etc. In choosing sink \ sink we were bouncing band name ideas about and I suggested “sink [insert word] sink”, but couldn't decide what the word should be that should go in the middle, and then the graphic designer among us (Mr Alan Deare) came up with the idea of using a symbol. I think too much emphasis was placed on how it looked and not how you pronounce it. Is it “sink sink” or “sink backslash sink”, and if so, what the hell does that mean?! No one ever presented it correctly or as it was intended, people used title case anyway and forward slashes instead of backslashes! Lower case is also simple and seems to match the uncomplicated and understated nature of the music. A stupid name in retrospect.