Interview: Exhibitionist is making beautiful music for a dark and cloudy world
Let Go of Love, the debut EP from Sydney multi-instrumentalist Kirsty Tickle, is out today through Future Classic.
Header photo and in-article photo by Amanda Merton.
There's a lot of darkness in the world right now, and sitting in the start of June – with the temperature hitting no higher than 20 degrees Celsius and the days more overcast and rainy than bright and sun-filled – the Australian winter seems to be reflecting that. However, despite the typical gloominess of the Australian wet season, it's always subsided by the parallel US/UK warmth, which brings with it bright, sun-stroked hits by pop music's best in a bid for the elusive and somewhat over-desired title of 'song of the summer'. That isn't to say that there's no room for wintery music – in the past week alone we've had drenching covers of Moses Sumney by Sufjan Stevens and James Blake, for example – and when it comes to Australia's output in this realm, there are little doing it like Exhibitionist.
Let Go Of Love, the debut EP from the Sydney multi-instrumentalist and singer who goes by Kirsty Tickle off the stage, is a brilliant example on soft and subtle songwriting perfect for those days darkened by rolling rain clouds. Hands, the slightly sensual debut single which initially launched the project, shimmers with moody melodies of synth and flute along with her intricate vocals, which float above with an emotive push. Sway, another highlight from the EP in which she details the feeling of being tangled up in a relationship, sees these vocals return to the centre stage with a notably upbeat, clapping production aided by 6LACK collaborator LUCIANBLOMKAMP. It's intricate and detailed, with every instrument and vocal meticulously placed to create this woozy, murky sound that is washed with personal anecdotes and insight.
"I went through a pretty big personal change as I was writing the songs on Let Go of Love," Tickle says on the EP, which arrives today through her long-time label Future Classic. "I found myself single for the first time in my adult life and I turned to writing to deal with all the feelings associated with the ending of something significant and the start of something new." Let Go Of Love, as she explains, is her attempt at letting go of the stories which inspired the EP, allowing them to rest so her next chapter – in both life and music – can continue. "Let Go of Love deals with longing, heartache, and reflects on my own failures and mistakes. It’s a collection of songs that document my relationships with a few key people over the course of a year as I was figuring out how to navigate my new life," she says.
This is your debut EP, can you take us behind-the-scenes and tell us the inner-workings of the release?
I’m so excited for people to hear these songs. I worked on them for about a year. I actually had an EP ready to go in the middle of last year, but it was only four tracks and I felt like I still had a few things to say on the subject matter, so I banked a few of the songs and kept working. I wrote and recorded most of the songs in my studio in Marrickville, with the exception of Sway which was written in LUCIANBLOMKAMP's studio room and produced in Sydney. I like to change up how I write each time so they were all born by trying different methods. I brought in my mate Jon Boulet to work his engineering magic on all of them and to help with the arrangements.
Pretty much every sound on the EP is played by me or Jon, but I had Peter Hollo (Raven) come in to do some Cello and Wade Keighran (Wolf & Cub) play some bass and double bass for me. Wade brought in this flat wound bass guitar that used to be owned by Olivia Newton-John and played it on the record!
You mention that the EP is a reflection of some major personal changes in your life and how you dealt with it. Do you go into music writing with these themes in mind or does it come more naturally? How do you entwine these themes in your music – just through lyrics?
It came pretty naturally on Let Go of Love. I sat down and wrote Hands when I had a pretty pivotal experience and it sort of just flowed out in an afternoon. But my musical strength is in playing instruments more than it is singing, so I tried to make the arrangements match the mood of the song too.
Does it feel cathartic to write about personal topics? Or does the vulnerability of sharing these stories with everyone who listens somewhat unnerving?
Writing about personal topics is extremely therapeutic for me. It allows me to consider all sides of an altercation, moment or shared experience and look at it with a clear head. Releasing these songs scares the shit out of me, and I really considered the implications for the people the songs are about before I ok’d them for the release. Truthfully, I feel so vulnerable and exposed on Let Go of Love, but I am proud of myself for opening up. I am not someone who will say when I’m upset, and I normally put others’ feelings before my own and bottle it all up. But writing for Exhibitionist has allowed me to grow as a person.
Blood, the EP’s first song, was written after someone told you to prioritise your relationships over music. Can you tell us a little more about the track’s meaning and what you’re trying to say with the track?
Blood is definitely meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are a few elements that went into this song. I was pretty obsessed with the science that we are passed more than just physical genes from (potentially) generations ago, and I was also pondering the nature vs nurture debate in relation to personality traits. I really wanted to write a song that was more confident to start the record and make the statement that it’s ok if you do some things just for you. It’s ok to find out what makes you happy and not put someone above that. But then I had this (now very funny, but at the time rage inducing) conversation where I was told that I should prioritise a relationship over my career and, if I didn’t, I’d be alone forever.
It made the song take shape. I used to look at relationships so differently than I do now, in many ways I’m now so much more open to love and emotions. But I know what makes me happiest, and that thing is working on my creative practice. That’s not to say that having a partner wouldn’t make me content, I just find my time eaten up by music these days - and that’s ok by me!
Prior to Exhibitionist, you played in a countless number of bands, while in your own project, almost everything you hear is just you. How has your approach to music changed in the process of becoming a solo project?
This is the first project that hasn’t just been a “hey let’s get in a room and jam and see what happens”. Now I sit down with a synth at my laptop and have to make something happen otherwise nothing happens. But the recording process hasn’t changed much. I still play everything I can play myself and record it live. I get friends to help with things like drums and mixing. I think my approach to writing for Exhibitionist now is “ok, do I already have a song that sounds too much like this? Yes? Then move on and challenge yourself to make something that compliments but doesn’t copy”. And that approach is very similar to the way we write for Party Dozen too.
The EP is the latest piece of a partnership you have with Future Classic. What have been your experiences with working with Future Classic and how have they impacted your career thus far?
God, I lucked out on the label thing. Future Classic have supported me to make music that I am proud of from the beginning, and are always finding helpful ways to compliment my vision for the project. Sure there’ve been a few conversations where we’ve agreed to disagree, and I know I’d make their lives easier if I just wrote a pop banger, but I am honestly just so floored at the support they give to Exhibitionist. Everything in the project from the press shots, the video content, my wardrobe down to the minimal arrangements is really considered so I’m thankful I found a team who want to support these creative decisions and not take over them.
There’s often a lot going on in your music - vocals, flutes, saxophone, clarinet, strings, piano, synth, percussion and so on. How do you translate such a multi-instrumental work into a live show with the obvious restrictions of money and not having the capabilities of playing every instrument you play while singing?
I decided to only sing for Exhibitionist in a live setting. The arrangements are so minimal that it helps connect the message, but also I’m not as strong a singer as I am an instrumentalist (I’m working on it) so it’s nice to focus on vocals and movement. I don’t love pre-recorded tracks so have three really talented mates play with me so things the four of us can’t play, (like woodwind and strings) are at Adam’s fingers. You should see him play his sampler, he has excellent dexterity! The money thing is hard, especially when starting out a new project. I teach saxophone to teenage girls to support the live projects I do. It’s corny but I honestly get so much out of teaching my students, I want to inspire them to feel like they can achieve anything they want musically.
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