Simon Lam has a unique style that brings warmth and a subtle soulfulness to each of the three separate musical projects he’s involved in. The Australian is becoming a sought-after producer, in part because the music he creates as Kllo, Ill’s/Couture, and now Nearly Oratorio demonstrates an incredible range, from terse and energetic pop to soundtracks for solitude.
Tin, Lam’s latest EP as Nearly Oratorio, achieves the kind of simultaneously decisive and effortless effect that can only be created once an artist really understands him or herself as a songwriter. There’s a feeling of improvisation within songs like “I Would Not.” With each repetition, its mantra and moaning harmonies seem to grow in their need to be expressive, but they come to a close once the they’ve served their purpose, acting almost like a spiritual invocation rather than a song with a calculated arc. And though tracks like “Occlude” and “Tin” are held together by intriguing and shrewd percussion that lends the sense of a more traditional song structure, the fact that their four- and five-minute run times don’t feel nearly that long suggests a similar application of intuition.
Still, the important thing to highlight here isn’t Nearly Oratorio as an exclusive entity. Tin is the second EP of this project, just now being released two years after its completion. And though it’s undoubtedly able to stand on its own, after corresponding with Lam, it became clear that the nostalgic hush of this collection is the rendering of a specific headspace or moment in time. It’s just one facet of a large body of work.
Some artists work on adapting and growing a single project for their whole lives, like Walt Whitman and Marianne Moore. But as music evolves and traditional roles collide and shape-shift, we’re beginning to see a melding of the producer and the performer. With this, artists like Dev Hynes — and, in this case, Simon Lam — are able to be present in a wide variety of musical projects that are all unique but reflective of their style.
And by challenging the limits to his own creativity, Lam challenges us as listeners too. His work in Nearly Oratorio and previous projects provides enjoyment through its confidence and intuition. By defying his audience’s expectations, he enables them to expand their imagination. There’s no doubt that he’ll continue to take on a number of different musical monikers and styles as the years go by, but the specific personality and skill that he lends to each track he makes will no doubt keep us faithfully interested while keeping us on our toes.
Stream Tin and read an email interview with Lam below.
STEREOGUM: How and when did you start making music, and what has your journey as an artist looked like up until this point?
SIMON LAM: I started writing my own songs at 16. Until that point I had played drums for a lot of people. It was a great learning experience, and I learnt about song form as that was kind of crucial from a drummer to be on top of. I learnt a lot about where things should go up and down, and anticipating that with songs that I don’t know. Writing my own music was kind of like getting let off the leash, because suddenly I had control over everything, not just the drums. In hindsight, I probably should have just stuck to drums.
STEREOGUM: Being that Nearly Oratorio is one of 3 musical projects that you’re a part of, which different facet of you as a musician/person does each project fulfill?
LAM: Nearly Oratorio is the quieter side of me, the part that endlessly (and most of the time needlessly) thinks about things until I forgot what I was thinking about in the first place. And basically just record that.
Kllo reflects the person I aspire to be. Someone more direct, considered and most importantly palatable, while keeping the flaws or oddities that provide character. Everything has its place and I know why it’s there.
I’lls/Couture is the more experimental side of me. One that wants to put something stranger forward, and trying to find the boundary of what I’m capable of but also whats acceptable and what isn’t. It’s where I develop a lot of my techniques.
STEREOGUM: What is the overall affect that you’re trying to reach with this project? Is there a specific message you’re trying to convey, or a way that you’re hoping that audiences perceive your work?
LAM: My whole ethos for this project is to make it like no one is ever going to hear it, which was the case for a long time. Through the different projects and producing for other artists, every bit of music I make is somewhat directed at person or a culture. But for Nearly I just make exactly what I want to hear. I’m pretty aware that notion might result in a lot of people not liking it, but you have to do some things for yourself sometimes you know? It’s completely selfish. I think it’s just lucky that other people can connect with the sound that I want to hear, so I figure its nice to release it for those people.
STEREOGUM: How do you know when a song is done?
LAM: For this project it’s a lot easier. I just call it done when I’m not inspired to work on it any longer. There are a lot of mistakes, wrong notes and words that aren’t real words in these tracks, but the best thing is there’s no one else in the project to say ‘it’s not good enough’. Sometimes I call the song done and have a laugh to myself because I know how much of a shambles it really is!
STEREOGUM: How has your approach to song writing developed over the years?
LAM: I’m always trying to make songs simpler in their construction but sound more complex. Those are the types of songs I like most. Most of it has to do with the way the songs flows into each section. I love it when a song doesn’t have clear verses and choruses but still has a form that feels natural and isn’t confusing and is easy to memorize. Its not really something that can be consciously done, I just try and hold onto those moments as they happen.
STEREOGUM: On “Tin,” the percussion sounds like a sample of someone hitting a bottle or something, is that correct? Did you use any interesting sampling methods for percussion or otherwise throughout this album?
LAM: The percussion was actually made by hitting a tin whistle on the table and a glass. Most of the sounds on Tin are made with one tin whistle; the keys and the bass drum and other little sounds were all made with it. It was all recorded to tape and I played it back at different speeds and sampled from there. A lot of the sounds on the record were made with tape and sampling the playback.
STEREOGUM: This project contains some of your earliest work. When you decided to revisit these songs, how did you go about modifying/adapting them so they would fit within the context of your present career?
LAM: I didn’t really modify them at all. There a lot of different fidelities across the tracks, mostly lofi, but still variant. I like listening back through them and being able to hear what piece of gear I was using at the time as it reminds me of where I was. In terms of my career right now, I knew this release what going to be the odd one out, but for the people that know me personally the sound of this music makes sense, so I kind of just left it ‘as is’.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned in a previous interview that you like that electronic music can be all about the balance of the different sounds. How do you go about blending acoustic and electronic elements in order to achieve such an organic sounding balance? What do you think about when you’re constructing the tonal/textural palette for a song?
LAM: I think I have a natural tendency to push sounds into a certain sonic pocket. I really like pushing acoustic instruments through effects and saturation and sampling them to shave away their realness. Things sound warmer to me when they sound like a memory. On the other side, I like when electronic instruments breathe and behave like acoustic instruments. Like when a synth has an envelope similar to a piano, when the top end peaks and dies instead of hovering unnaturally and wavers a bit in pitch. Push the real instruments into the fake world and pull the fake instruments into the real world and they seem to end up in the same place.
STEREOGUM: What kind of music did you grow up listening to or what do you think your earliest influences are?
LAM: My big brother and sister played a huge role in what I listened to. My earliest memories was hearing Something For Kate and Radiohead come through the walls from my brother’s room. My sister got me into Sigur Rós, Sufjan Stevens, and Beirut, which was hugely pivotal for the way I sing.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any creative outlets other than music?
LAM: Not really. I’ve done a bit of photography but I’m a real hack. Also tried some 3D modeling art stuff — also a hack at that!
STEREOGUM: What is the most unique/favorite piece of equipment you own?
LAM: I don’t really have anything super rare. Veracity was all recorded through a Thorn DCR-1. It’s by no means a collectors item, but it is absolutely cooked and has a sound to it. It was also my Grandfather’s so it’s special in that sense.
STEREOGUM: Do you plan to play any shows in America any time soon?
LAM: I unfortunately don’t have any plans for any shows at the moment, mostly because I’d just rather not. Who’d want to listen to some guy play heaps of really sad songs for 40 minutes? I don’t want to put people through that. :)
Tin is out now on Solitaire Recordings. Purchase it here.