One of Melbourne’s most beloved live bands, Saskwatch are back this week with their fourth album Manual Override, its title giving away the most exciting part: it was co-produced and mixed by the band themselves, and released completely independently.
This freedom combines with a newfound confidence from the six-piece, allowing the playfulness that shines through on the stage to weave its way through the album too, toying with genre and expectation on tracks like ‘Gemini’ while also giving us their most full-formed work yet.
Having fallen in love with the band all over again, we’ve had a great chat with frontwoman Nkechi Anele, trumpeter/songwriter Liam McGorry, and drummer Olaf Scott about Saskwatch’s career so far and how the new album came together, as well as Nkechi’s important work with her community at The Pin, which focuses on the issues Australia faces with cultural diversity.
You can check out the new album here, as well as the dates on their upcoming national tour, and read on below to find out what makes Saskwatch tick.
Saskwatch’s latest clip ‘The There’s You’ shows off the gorgeous sounds on their new album
Making the new album, Manual Override
Let’s start with your album Manual Override, which is coming out in August – how do you think it differs from your previous three albums?
N: Well first of all, this is our first album without a horn section, and we’ve taken a year off between when our last album came out and the process of writing and recording for this album. So I think that time away has given us enough time to kind of work out what we wanted to do with the sound, since we had that dramatic change. But Liam writes everything, so he should probably answer this more than me! (laughs)
L: As the name kind of alludes to, it’s kind of a bit of a reset… We had quite a few kind of full on experiences around the last album; we went to the states to record it, then when we came back last year we had this huge tour for like three months long, and it was full on. So I guess after that it was a bit of a changing, transitional period. I guess it’s a bit more of a honing in on a sound that represents the band as it is now, more so than what we’ve ever done before.
And you guys went up to Byron Bay to record this album, what was that like?
N: It was in this old cottage that was in two pieces, and we’d just closed the door and a full on snake slid past, and we all kind of freaked out – it was like ‘fuck, there’s a snake!’
And it’s been two years since the release of your last one?
N: Yeah, so when we were touring we thought it was a good opportunity because we were all in one spot together, so we had time to work on new music. So we converted this tiny house into a studio space using curtains and carpets and a lot of gaffer tape, and it was really hot as well because it was in the middle of summer. I think that’s where we got the initial stages of a lot of the songs… ‘Then There’s You’ we pretty much had, except for a verse…
L: Yeah, that was the first song pretty much.
N: That was kind of the first song that really came together straight away. When it came to recording it, I think we were all quite apprehensive to record it, because we all loved the pre-production version of it – the really rough kind of version – but I think it set us up quite well with Liam and Rob’s idea of how they wanted the album to come out, and the ways in which we were going to explore new sounds, which was really cool.
Well speaking of which, you guys released a video for it about a month ago, and it’s great. Where did you get the inspiration for that?
N: The inspiration actually came from the director Madeline Kelly. She really listened to the lyrics of the song, and all the imagery was based on making something delicate and alien, and being strong and emotive, but without alluding to a specific storyline.
She felt like the song was relatable on so many different levels that putting it to a storyline would kind of narrow people’s idea of what it was about, so she gave us a really great treatment, and it was just really beautiful and with really strong colours.
What were your biggest musical influences while writing this one?
L: Good question… a lot of Beck, and the Avalanches, and that sort of thing. All of us listen to a bit of a broad church of things.
The band’s “broad church” of influences is on full display in ‘December Nights’
How Saskwatch all came together
You’re obviously a fairly big band, but do all six of you write together?
N: Liam – Liam writes everything.
L: I guess everyone has played together for so long, so everyone just naturally works out if there’s a bad part or something – everyone will go ‘oh alright, this is better’.
So you guys are from Melbourne, and you started off doing a residency down there once every week. Does playing live like that impact how you perform and write?
L: Good question! Olaf, I believe you were the first probably of us out of all to be involved in Cherry Bar in that residency I reckon.
O: Yeah, it was a place called Cherry Bar playing at a soul night on a Thursday, which is still going after 17 years. I think it made us a better live act, and I think that’s always been our biggest strength, being a live band.
Last night’s gig was awesome, by the way…
O: Oh, thank you!
N: I think we feel a lot more comfortable, or at least I feel a lot more comfortable performing. I’m still getting used to recording.
O: Yeah, totally, I feel the same. Rather than bands that have come out of making the EP in their lounge room, and then they go and do gigs, we kind of went the other way in terms of doing lots of gigs and then we thought, well, maybe we should go and record.
You kind of found your legs on stage?
N: I think this album has been the first time where we haven’t played songs in front of people before we’ve recorded them, so these are songs that no one had actually heard.
O: Yeah that’s true! It’s the least prepared we’ve been. Even with the previous ones, we’ve known what we were going to do before we recorded them. The songs were all pretty much arranged, whereas these were all pretty loose.
Do you like that songwriting and recording process a bit better?
O: Yeah, we do!
L: Personally, I think it’s kind of better for the album, but maybe not preparing you as well for playing it live.
N: Which was really interesting – normally we’ve had songs where we think it’s great in rehearsal, and then we go out and play them live and they bomb, and we never ever play them again! (laughs)
Your recent shows in Melbourne and Sydney were your first playing the new album, what was that experience like?
N: Oh my god…
L: Yeah, we were just saying before, ‘Oh awesome, I’m super stoked with the album and how everything’s come together’, then 15 minutes before we were about to go on it was like, ‘Oh, oh! No one’s heard it – hopefully people like it’.
N: Yeah, it’s always hard playing your new stuff to an audience with your fans who haven’t heard it before, and you’re like… will they like it? Do they like me!?
New single ‘Gemini’ is a string-laden slice of bright, joyous soul
Tackling cultural issues in Australia
So you’re the founder of the beautiful website ‘The Pin’, which deals with race, identity and culture in Australia. Why do you think it’s such an important issue to talk about, not only in music, but across the whole of Australia?
N: I think it’s important because of how heavily we rely on technology, and how the internet has made us a very global society, so it’s giving a lot of people with voices who haven’t been heard for a really long time a platform to be heard, and to be louder, and to be recognised, and not be quieted by other things that are going on in Australia.
Australia has a real issue with its identity because of our ability to pretend that our history doesn’t exist
I also think it’s just the effect of globalisation – everyone’s moving and the world seems like it’s getting smaller somewhat with the ease in which we travel, and obviously as a byproduct of that you’re going to get people like me who are biracial. Australia has a real issue with its identity because of our ability to pretend that our history doesn’t exist, and to not relate to it or take any responsibility for it, because we feel that we’re too many generations away from it when realistically we’re not.
There’s a lot of stuff that’s still going on that it makes it extremely hard – the ideas around ‘what is Australian identity?’ are so fleeting, but at the same time because of that, people who are in the majority of the population are quite… I don’t know how to say this… They’re scared, so they get very aggressive.
I don’t know the right way to say it, but they get a bit hostile when it comes to Australian identity. So if you don’t look like what the general population of Australia looks like, people will be quite hostile, and when you don’t conform to the way people think that you should act as well, that’s a really big thing.
If you don’t look like what the general population of Australia looks like, people will be quite hostile
For me personally, the reason why I think it’s important is because growing up I didn’t have that medium. I grew up with that Africaness from one parent – an idea of blackness from African American culture and not Australian culture – and I didn’t relate to either of them that strongly, and I felt very odd because of it.
It took until my twenties, until I was in Saskwatch – hanging out with musicians, and meeting other people that looked like me, that liked the same things as me – that I felt much more secure in who I was and in my own identity.
My friend Lucy Cutting who I created this with, we both met each other in our twenties and found out that we had a similar background, and through our experience of having a friendship like that with somebody, we were like, ‘Oh my god, is this what everybody else goes through?’
We don’t have to explain hair things, or why our skin is a different colour to everybody else’s skin, and so we wanted to make sure that there was a platform out there for people – younger, or older; isolated, or in big communities – that they could go and look at, to find people with the same opinions as them.
Being in a minority and speaking in public, a lot of people perceive your view to be the view of everybody that looks like you
Because the other thing is, being in a minority and speaking in public, a lot of people perceive your view to be the view of everybody that looks like you. So we also wanted to show that there were people that look the same, but might not have anything genetically related to each other; or are the same, but don’t even think the same way about how they see themselves or how they society, and that that’s okay.
That’s the whole point of The Pin… which is to say, we’re kind of this weird third culture of people who belong to everything and nothing at the same time, and we’re awesome, so deal with it! (laughs)
Has it made you more confident with your identity as a performer, and being onstage?
N: Yeah! Last night and the night before was the first time where I’ve really been in the front of Saskwatch with my hair actually out in its natural state. I think the biggest impact of me starting this site was realising that I didn’t necessarily have any hang ups about being black – I don’t hate being black, I love it – but I wanted to have my hair look as neutral as possible. Because to me, that’s probably the thing people identify the most with feeling ‘foreign’, because my hair is so foreign to everyone else.
I wanted to have my hair look as neutral as possible, because that’s probably the thing people identify the most with feeling ‘foreign’
Being in the site and meeting all these people… you’d think they would be angry at the experiences they’ve had, but just like loving themselves and the lives that they are living, which just made me feel a lot more comfortable with being myself, and not feel like people were staring. I think that’s the other thing: you think that people are always like staring, and it’s not just about looking different. Everyone feels like people are going to be looking at them if they do something different, and the reality is that we’re all just worrying about ourselves.
Being able to take my hair out, and feeling very comfortable with that and actually liking it… I’ve tried it before and I’ve hated it, and I got so depressed, I was like, ‘I’m putting this away’. So this has actually been the first time that I’ve felt really confident with having my hair out, and not worrying about how it was going to be perceived or if it changed people’s minds about me. Which sounds really ridiculous, but…
Saskwatch’s fourth album Manual Override is out now, and you can grab a physical or digital copy here. You can also catch them playing their 14-date national tour throughout October and November, dates below.
Saskwatch Manual Override album tour
Fri 6 Oct – Rollercoaster (Previously Players Bar), Mandurah
Sat 7 Oct – Mojos, Fremantle
Thu 12 Oct – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Fri 13 Oct – Republic Bar, Hobart
Sat 14 Oct – Barwon Club, Geelong
Sat 21 Oct – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thu 26 Oct – Strawberry Boogie, Wollongong
Fri 27 Oct – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Sat 28 Oct – The Small Ballroom, Newcastle
Sun 29 Oct – Long Jetty Hotel, Long Jetty
Thu 2 Nov – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast
Fri 3 Nov – The Triffid, Brisbane
Sat 4 Nov – Byron Bay Brewery, Byron Bay
Sat 18 Nov – Fat Controller, Adelaide