Group Interview: Ok Moon's four members talk creativity and collaboration
The supergroup, made of Dustin Tebbutt, LANKS, Hayden Calnin and Xavier Dunn, share their debut album today.
What happens when you combine four of Australia's most spectacular names in songwriting and production together in a room? Ok Moon happens. Composed of Dustin Tebbutt, LANKS, Hayden Calnin and Xavier Dunn, Ok Moon's combined discography stretches to the outer edges of Australian music, essential in the creation of some of Australia's strongest music across the last few years regardless of whether it's pop, indie, electronica or beyond genre restrictions. It should be no surprise then, that Ok Moon's music does the same.
Formed out of friendship, Ok Moon is a project driven by collaboration and free-creativity, giving the four musicians a place to explore and experiment amongst each other without the creative restrictions that may come with a loyal, yet expecting audience or label A&Rs looming. From the get-go, this freedom has come to shape the group and how they operate, whether it's in their music - opened with their introductory single Loved You Right at the start of this year, followed by a collection of teasing singles since - or the creation of the group itself; built on friendship and their connection to one another, not for the purpose of album sales or Pitchfork reviews.
On Ok Moon, their self-titled debut album, this feels evident in a musical sense, and it's a privilege to watch it unfold. Across the album's ten-track duration, the four-piece swerve between indie, pop, electronic and genres outside of this intersection, highlighting and fleshing out their individual strengths in an intimate and familiar space - Dustin’s studio on the Central Coast - that makes it all the more personal. This intimacy becomes an album strength on Ok Moon - the band's familiarity with one another allowing them to be personal in both lyricism and songwriting - and it translates through their soft, close-knit productions and how their voices are able to intertwine and harmonise without feeling too overly-layered or complicated; something that can only come with friendship-built collaboration, not A&R-built.
The album-opening Loved You Right, for example, layers soft (and now-well-familiar) chorus chants with delicate keys that twinkle around their joining vocal, while on Stones a few tracks later, a gentle upbeat pulse welcomes one of the album's more anthemic moments, while solidifying the album's rawness in a way that feels defining of the whole record ("There was something about its rawness that made us keep it in there. Stones had always felt quite uplifting, but the more times we listened to it, the more we realised what kind of song we had written," the band say on the song).
It's a masterclass in songwriting and collaboration, and to get a little more information about the record and how it went down, we got all the members of Ok Moon to interview each other, where they talk about the album and a tonne more. Dive into the group interview below while you lose yourself in the beauty of their debut record, then catch them at east-coast shows throughout September and October - more information HERE.
Hayden to Dusty: What’s been your favourite part of the whole Ok Moon experience so far and what is your favourite song on the record?
I think my favourite part has been getting to see how some different creative brains work, we did so much intense work, writing and making the record, and to see everyone’s musicality, and approach to making music was really amazing. As a solo artist that collaborative element is really missing from the process in such a pivotal way. So that was really cool. My fav tune I think is Sure Man, it just has this warm smoulder-y energy, kinda like sitting to close to the fire in winter.
Hayden to Will: Besides your familiarity with the guitar, cause you are a pretty darn pro, what is your favourite instrument to write on, and what is something you’d love to pick up and learn one day?
Thank you! Ok Moon actually taught me to love the guitar again, after not playing as much of it since I finished studying it at uni. The instrument I really love though is piano. That’s where my heart lies. If there was one other I’d want to learn in my life it’d be cello I think. It is such a stunning instrument and can communicate such incredible emotion.
Xavier To Will: what one thing you have learned through creating these songs with us?
I’ve learned many many things working in this group. One that comes to mind is about development. With the four writers, you can pick the best ideas from us to be the main drivers of the song, but also, the excess creative ideas that four brains produces allows for all these incredible details and counter melodies and little moments in songs that give it the depth to still be engaged and intrigued after hearing the song multiple times. Some of those moments become your favourite parts of songs too.
Xavier To Hayden: As the unquestionable "bass" of the group, how low can you sing? And what age did you become aware that you have a large range?
It’s not about how low you go, unless you are doing the limbo.... I guess I started singing low the moment I hit puberty and my voice started doing all sorts of weird things and my range dramatically increased, or worsened I’m not really too sure. But to be honest, I was always a bit afraid of singing in the lower register until about five years ago or so when I was in the studio working with Tim Carr at 301 in Sydney and he sorta forced it out of me for the good of a song. And since then, I guess I haven’t been too scared of getting down there.
Xavier to Dusty: When in writing sessions for the Moon, do you find yourself thinking of great song ideas and wondering whether you should share with the group or keep it for your solo project?
I think I've had a few sessions writing more generally where that has been the case, usually when I've been really feeling the pressure to have the next single or whatever, and perhaps get a bit protective of stuff.. but with Ok Moon that was never the case, the creative process with you all moves so quick, everyone is pitching in and most of the ideas we come up with are things that it just kinda flows.. we also start everything from scratch together, so the writing always really felt like a group thing to me.
Dusty to Xavier: How do you know what sounds to put in a track? is it an outcome-based thing or more of an exploration?
It comes from messing around with different tools and instruments to find what pallet of colours you lean into for certain emotions. Once you have found what sounds work with certain emotions you can pull from that collection of sounds to paint the message you want.
Dusty to Will: How do you know when you've got a keeper of a chorus/melody?
Songs can be elusive. Sometimes you swap the pre-chorus and chorus of a song and all of a sudden it makes sense. There is no right way of doing it and because of that, it can be incredibly hard to know when it’s actually done or right. I have a small group of key people I trust (including all the other members of Ok Moon) that I often get feedback from when I feel stuck or equally when I feel good about a song. They always have things to contribute that help empower me to see the song in a different light or see a new perspective. Having said all that, art is subjective, and it’s a balance between being self-reflective and open to feedback and at other times, sticking to what your own instinct feels. Because of the song fails anyway I hope that at least I was proud of it.
Dusty to Hayden: As a personal kind of writer, what was it like sharing the role of storytelling with the three of us?
It’s been an absolute pleasure. I haven’t written songs with a group of more than two people since I was a teenager playing in metal bands, so it’s definitely been a time of learning and growth, both as a musician and as a person. We are all such different songwriters, but we play to that as a strength and fight for those little details that we hold true to both ourselves and what is good for the song. It’s felt really healthy. I’ve done so much co-writing in the past, in a one-on-one sense, and it’s always been pretty rare to get something that sticks around, but with us four it just seemed to click and we just kept making magical things. We’ve all given parts of each other and sacrificed other parts to create the world of Ok Moon, and that’s what I think I love the most about our writing. We never settled on a song until it felt it belonged in the world we were trying to create. And we did just that, sonically, lyrically, and collectively as a team.
Will to Dusty: How do you balance pushing yourself creatively with establishing your long-term brand/consistency? Since your song The Breach has been so incredibly successful do you ever find it weighs on you or subtly steers your creative direction with future work? Some artists talk negatively about big songs they have - how has your experience been with this?
I think for quite a while after The Breach I felt a lot of pressure to have another song that connected in that way, it was definitely the song that defined my sound and probably most people have found my music with that as a reference point.. So yeah I'd say it's definitely influenced everything from then on... There was a stage where I felt like I was writing in its shadow so to speak, but I think over time, the fanbase and releases grew, and from working through that I've felt a lot freer writing and am now just focused on trying to tell the best story I can.. I think I almost value that pursuit more than trying to reinvent my sound with each record. but, yeah, I love that tune. I'm still really proud of it and love playing it live, so I guess I got lucky there.
Will to Hayden: As someone who has studied both film and music, how do you think that has changed or influenced your creative process and output? Has it had any impact?
It’s definitely had an impact. I’m drawn to the visual world as much as the sonic one. They can go hand in hand so well. I always think of film being split in the middle, half visual, half audible. Sound, or lack of, can have a huge impact to the overall feeling of an image. I got drawn into production through my film degree and I became the go-to sound guy for a lot of the student films that were being made during my time at Uni, and it was there that I realised I just wanted to make music. A lot of my musical influences are film composers so it’s natural for my sound to hold on to that drawn-out, emotive and often repetitive cinematic tag that a lot of people associate my music with. Ironically a lot of the work I do in music is for film and television, so I never really got out of the film world at all.
Will to Xavier: You are a prolific collaborator and songwriter. What do you think are the integral skills you have that help this happen?
Being Stubborn. If I wasn't as stubborn as I was to make music I wouldn't be here. As long as you are determined in pursuing anything you wanna do and not a cunt to work with you'll be fine.
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