Oscar Key Sung Talks 'Altruism', Bangers And Emotions

Written By Meshell Webb on 05/22/2015

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Oscar Key Sung (formally Oscar Slorach-Thorn) is a name that you’ve most definitely heard of if you’ve been paying any attention to Australian music. From the success of Oscar + Martin to his soulful Key Sung solo project and also producing for the likes of Banoffee and GhostPoets, this is a man who clearly likes to keep busy. We caught up with Oscar during his down time, chilling on a farm in Victoria. In between gazing at a field full of sheep, he had a bit of time for a quick chat about the new EP, his upcoming tour and of course…his mum (calm down ladies).

Congratulations on the new music video for Altruism, can you tell me about how that partnership with Coco & Maximilian (Production company) came about?
Well…It all started because I was at this wedding last year where everybody was in all white, and there was this guy walking around with a super-eight camera filming everybody…this super lanky guy called Max and we got to talking and then he told me that him and his partner really wanted to work with me on a video. Anyway, the process after that was we had a lunch meeting and they pitched a few ideas and we went back on forth on those a lot and then we found one we liked that was simple, (a) very tonal environment that was about creating a kind of duality in that there were moments where I felt really supported by the people I was with and others where I felt estranged and kind of not…connected to them.

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The aesthetic of the video felt much darker than previous works, how much of that came down to your creative direction? Where did this darker side come from?
I think, basically it’s to do with the headspace I’ve been in… I think I’m coming out of that now but I did lose somebody very close to me last year… at the end of the year and it really threw me into a downward spiral-I became very angsty, very dark and in a lot of ways. I think there's almost this sense of being down that came out which is pretty funny. There's definitely a reflection of the headspace in the aesthetics while I was making the video.

How much of that also filtered through into the EP? Or had you already wrapped that up by this point?
Well, it's funny because I’d actually pretty much done all of the EP but I hadn’t done any of the vocal recordings, and then I recorded them while I was in Sydney. I think it’s a weird thing where it gave them a sort of strange layer…I was quite emotional and I was trying to keep it together so the way I sung on this EP sounds kind of quite restricted in that way where you can sense the underlying emotion but I’m trying to sound relaxed about it.

"I was quite emotional and I was trying to keep it together so the way I sung on this EP sounds kind of quite restricted"

A little more composed?
Exactly. So it kind of came out in that way which is kind of interesting. But the writing had all been done.

Talking more on the EP, there are a lot of inventive sounds on there. Do you find that you have to sit down and dedicate time to that or are you the kind of person where things just rush to you and you go, “Oh shit now I’ve got to drop everything and track that before I forget”
It's kind of a bit of both, because there's a lot of cases where writing kind of comes out of nowhere in a real flurry but then y’know even if one synth layer comes really quickly or a lyric-there's always going to be other layers and other elements to finishing off the piece and then you have to be strict and think, “ok, let's turn off the internet for four hours and focus on this” *Laughing* I feel like If I was just a singer in a band I would have a very different approach where I’d just sort of rock up, do my layers really quickly and then leave but because I write all the other parts.

You’re really doing the whole thing from the ground up right?
Pretty much!

A lot of people forget now with the dawn of bedroom producers that there is actually a huge difference between an artist coming in and working on an EP and then somebody who has done the entire thing themselves. One of the big differences being that an artist often does not know when to step away from a track, do you as a producer (first and foremost) have a good sense of when a track is done?
Yeah I guess it kind of depends again but there is something that happens where there might be enough air in something…or there aren’t any moments that make your brain go, “oh that needs work, that needs work too.” It’s the moment when you can listen to the song through and actually just enjoy it. That's generally it, when every single sound has been massaged, like it's been squeezed into its rightful space-you know? It’s almost like a visual thing where it fits at some point.

Do you give it a bit of a test when you think it's done? Like on different sound systems or do you send it to 20 friends for a bit of advice?
Oh yeah, all of the above! Test it on everything you can possibly think of! Test it while you’re in different moods. Show it to somebody like your mum, somebody who knows heaps about music then somebody who knows nothing.

What does your mum think?
My mum always…she’s funny because she was always really into punk and nu-wave and stuff and goth music. So she really likes the new film clips actually: “I like how you’ve gone a bit dark!” *Laughing* She’s really into that. She’s pretty harsh sometimes…I’m trying to think of some of the funny things she’s said. She said she wants me to make more celestial music, more spiritual music. Growing up mum went from being a Buddhists to a Hindi to…y’know tantric practice to everything you could think of. On Mum’s side of the family there’s a real interest in magical worlds and all of that. I grew up going to a lot of hippy festivals.

Back to the EP, I know that you’ve cited Drake as an influence before and people say that you’re a bit of a trailblazer for Australian R&B…So do you have to make a serious effort to shut out a lot of musical influences when you’re working new material? Seeing as there is a serious issue at the moment when someone like Frank Ocean or The Weeknd comes out, 2 months later there’s 10 thousand copycats…
Totally!

Do you find that you have to shut yourself away from everything?
Yeah, well I think that is such an interesting point! I think it’s really easy to sound like other people and not to find your own sound…I think in terms of taking influence it’s all about taking elements from something you find exciting and integrating that into what you do. Because otherwise you can get kind of stagnant and end up like, “This is my sound, I’m never gonna change!”. But I fully agree that it’s really lame [when people copy]
. I feel like with this EP that I’ve done it's like…me still developing my sound and trying to find out where to sit because I still want…I want my music to have more…intensity in it or something. Like more aggression.

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Do you think that's something you would try with your instrumentation? I mean, your sound design is stunning-it’s a big part of what keeps you fresh.
Yeah I guess it would come down to the sounds and the feel. I mean, there's a song that I’m working on now that I think, to me… I worry that it sounds too much like a dance pop track. At the same time, it’s that whole thing of like…dance pop tracks are fun BECAUSE they do a certain thing. You know they have the big build up, and the moments where you really just dance and feel really good and all that stuff it’s not unoriginal to have those building blocks. It’s about finding a way to re-claim it and give it your own. As Craig David says, “What’s your flava?”

"It’s about finding a way to re-claim it and give it your own. As Craig David says, “What’s your flava?”"

*laughing. Too True! The building blocks of any song- it’s all been done before right? It’s just your own interpretation.
Yeah…it's all about tone.

So Oscar…Are you hinting right now that you’re writing a banger? Is that the vibe I’m getting from this?
I….I think so…Yeah it’s a bit of a banger.

Is that something fans are going to get to hear on tour next month?
Goooood question! Um…probably, I have been known to have no restraint in showing new material. So I’ll most likely play a bunch of unreleased stuff. *laughs

Excellent! I mean, you're the master of keys with this thing because it’s your own project so nobody will tell you off for doing that.
Thats right!

Or will your manager slap you on the wrist later?
I can take him! *laughing

I’m sure fans are looking forward to hearing this and the EP. How do you go about trailing new music, does that make you a bit nervous or do you just get excited about sharing it?
Yeah…it’s more like, “This is where I’m at right now and it’s really fun to show that.” It’s always really fun playing songs you’ve already released and stuff but you’re never excited about them in the same way as something that you’re working on at that moment.

What about a favourite tour date? Any city you’re looking forward to more than the rest?
*In a moment of uncertainty at how to answer, Oscar sings a pitch perfect melismatic “UM!” that puts me in a fit of giggles. Maybe…um…god I don’t know…I don’t have a favourite, I am an endless fence sitter but maybe for this tour I am pretty excited about my Sydney show because I’ve got great supports who are all friends of mine and a couple of sort of secret elements that are going to be really fun… And I like Oxford Art Factory.

This is totally ignorant on my behalf but who is supporting you?
Not ignorant! It’s not been announced yet!

Oh, well can you tell me?
Uh….Good question…Hopefully, so I’ve got Banoffee and Habits. Who [Habits] happen to be in Sydney at that time and they’re two of my best friends…I recorded some of their stuff for them. They are really fun..one sec... “Do you wan’t some help?” *I listen on as Oscar helps a lady with a pram. Sorry, there's this big gate and a lady is trying to get through with  a pram.

I’m really trying to envision this farm you’re at right now, it sounds fantastic.
Yeah I’m sitting on this big sort of brick bluestone fence, by a gate…there's a bunch of sheep in front of me…pretty funny. Anyway, yeah Habits are really good! Basically we’re going to do something a little special for it and some other guests from Sydney are going to get up and I’m just going to make it a bit…Y’know, I love in rap shows how they bring out other friends and performers, I always love that vibe.

One last little question-has there been a standout track or album of 2015 for you so far?
Hmmmmm…God there’s been lots this year! I feel like my favourite thing has been my mate’s one-the Cassius Select one [Crooks]. But there’s other stuff too, like all the stuff that Skepta’s done and all the grime stuff that’s coming out is the best! I’ve been loving all of that. I love the grime sound and the deep feel, the pace of the tracks. It’s those types of sonic palettes that can really work with a more R&B style vocal which is…really exemplified in Future Brown’s stuff. That Future Brown record was really good too, I’ve had that playing that really loud in the car too.

Read: How Grime Is Taking Everything But The Kitchen Sink In 2015

You can catch the ever-charming Oscar Key Sung next month as he tours the new EP Altruism (Available now through iTunes & Spotify)

Saturday 13th June – Howler, Melbourne, VIC Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Friday 19 June – Flyrite, Perth, WA Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Saturday 20th June – Rocket Bar, Adelaide, SA Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Friday 26th June – The Brightside, Brisbane, QLD Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Saturday 27th June - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

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Oscar Key Sung (formally Oscar Slorach-Thorn) is a name that you’ve most definitely heard of if you’ve been paying any attention to Australian music. From the success of Oscar + Martin to his soulful Key Sung solo project and also producing for the likes of Banoffee and GhostPoets, this is a man who clearly likes to keep busy. We caught up with Oscar during his down time, chilling on a farm in Victoria. In between gazing at a field full of sheep, he had a bit of time for a quick chat about the new EP, his upcoming tour and of course…his mum (calm down ladies).

Congratulations on the new music video for Altruism, can you tell me about how that partnership with Coco & Maximilian (Production company) came about?
Well…It all started because I was at this wedding last year where everybody was in all white, and there was this guy walking around with a super-eight camera filming everybody…this super lanky guy called Max and we got to talking and then he told me that him and his partner really wanted to work with me on a video. Anyway, the process after that was we had a lunch meeting and they pitched a few ideas and we went back on forth on those a lot and then we found one we liked that was simple, (a) very tonal environment that was about creating a kind of duality in that there were moments where I felt really supported by the people I was with and others where I felt estranged and kind of not…connected to them.

 

The aesthetic of the video felt much darker than previous works, how much of that came down to your creative direction? Where did this darker side come from?
I think, basically it’s to do with the headspace I’ve been in… I think I’m coming out of that now but I did lose somebody very close to me last year… at the end of the year and it really threw me into a downward spiral-I became very angsty, very dark and in a lot of ways. I think theres kind of just this, theres almost this sense of being down that came out which is pretty funny. Theres definitely a reflection of the headspace in the aesthetics while I was making the video.

How much of that also filtered through into the EP? Or had you already wrapped that up by this point?
Well, its funny because I’d actually pretty much done all of the EP but I hadn’t done any of the vocal recordings, and then I recorded them while I was in Sydney. I think it’s a weird thing where it gave them a sort of strange layer of…I was quite emotional and I was trying to keep it together so the way I sung on this EP sounds kind of quite restricted in that way where you can sense the underlying emotion but I’m trying to sound relaxed about it.

"I was quite emotional and I was trying to keep it together so the way I sung on this EP sounds kind of quite restricted"

A little more composed?
Exactly. So it kind of came out in that way which is kind of interesting. But the writing had all been done.

Talking more on the EP, there are a lot of inventive sounds on there. Do you find that you have to sit down and dedicate time to that or are you the kind of person where things just rush to you and you go “Oh shit now I’ve got to drop everything and track that before I forget”
Its kind of a bit of both, because theres a lot of cases where writing kind of comes out of nowhere in a real flurry but then y’know even if one synth layer comes really quickly or a lyric-theres always going to be other layers and other elements to finishing off the piece and then you have to be strict and think “ok, lets turn off the internet for four hours and focus on this” *Laughing* I feel like If I was just a singer in a band I would have a very different approach where I’d just sort of rock up, do my layers really quickly and then leave but because I write all the other parts.

You’re really doing the whole thing from the ground up right?
Pretty much!

A lot of people forget now with the dawn of bedroom producers that there is actually a huge difference between an artist coming in and working on an EP and then somebody who has done the entire thing themselves. One of the big differences being that an artist often does not know when to step away from a track, do you as a producer (first and foremost) have a good sense of when a track is done?
Yeah I guess it kind of depends again but there is something that happens where there might be enough air in something…or there aren’t any moments that make your brain go “oh that needs work, that needs work too” it’s the moment when you can listen to the song through and actually just enjoy it. Thats generally it, when every single sound has been massaged, like its been squeezed into its rightful space-you know? It’s almost like a visual thing where it fits at some point.

Do you give it a bit of a test when you think its done? Like on different sound systems or do you send it to 20 friends for a bit of advice?
Oh yeah, all of the above! Test it on everything you can possibly think of! Test it while you’re in different moods. Show it to somebody like your mum, somebody who knows heaps about music then somebody who knows nothing.Yeah…Totally

What does your mum think?
My mum always…she’s funny because she was always really into punk and nu-wave and stuff and goth music. So she really likes the new film clips actually “I like how you’ve gone a bit dark!” *Laughing* She’s really into that. She’s pretty harsh sometimes…I’m trying to think of some of the funny things she’s said. She said she wants me to make more celestial music, more spiritual music. Growing up mum went from being a Buddhists to a Hindi to…y’know tantric practice to everything you could think of. On Mum’s side of the family there’s a real interest in magical worlds and all of that. I grew up going to a lot of hippy festivals.

Back to the EP, I know that you’ve cited Drake as an influence before and people say that you’re a bit of a trailblazer for Australian R&B…So do you have to make a serious effort to shut out a lot of musical influences when you’re working new material? Seeing as there is a serious issue at the moment when someone like Frank Ocean or The Weeknd comes out, 2 months later there’s 10 thousand copycats…
Totally!

Do you find that you have to shut yourself away from everything?
Yeah, well I think that is such an interesting point! I think it’s really easy to sound like other people and not to find your own sound…I think in terms of taking influence it’s all about taking elements from something you find exciting and integrating that into what you do. Because otherwise you can get kind of stagnant and end up like “This is my sound I’m never gonna change!”. But I fully agree that it’s really lame [when people copy]
. I feel like with this EP that I’ve done its like…me still developing my sound and trying to find out where to sit because I still want…I want my music to have more…intensity in it or something. Like more aggression.

 

Do you think thats something you would try with your instrumentation? I mean, your sound design is stunning-it’s a big part of what keeps you fresh.
Yeah I guess it would come down to the sounds and the feel. I mean, theres a song that I’m working on now that I think, to me… I worry that it sounds too much like a dance pop track. At the same time, it’s that whole thing of like…dance pop tracks are fun BECAUSE they do a certain thing. You know they have the big build up, and the moments where you really just dance and feel really good and all that stuff it’s not unoriginal to have those building blocks. It’s about finding a way to re-claim it and give it your own. As Craig David says, “What’s your flava?”

"It’s about finding a way to re-claim it and give it your own. As Craig David says, “What’s your flava?”"

*laughing. Too True! The building blocks of any song- it’s all been done before right? It’s just your own interpretation.
Yeah…its all about tone.

So Oscar…Are you hinting right now that you’re writing a banger? Is that the vibe I’m getting from this?
I….I think so…Yeah it’s a bit of a banger.

Is that something fans are going to get to hear on tour next month?
Goooood question! Um…probably, I have been known to have no restraint in showing new material. So I’ll most likely play a bunch of unreleased stuff. *laughs

Excellent! I mean, you're the master of keys with this thing because it’s your own project so nobody will tell you off for doing that.
Thats right!

Or will your manager slap you on the wrist later?
I can take him! *laughing

I’m sure fans are looking forward to hearing this and the EP. How do you go about trailing new music, does that make you a bit nervous or do you just get excited about sharing it?
Yeah…it’s more like, “This is where I’m at right now and it’s really fun to show that.” It’s always really fun playing songs you’ve already released and stuff but you’re never excited about them in the same way as something that you’re working on at that moment.

What about a favourite tour date? Any city you’re looking forward to more than the rest?
*In a moment of uncertainty at how to answer, Oscar sings a pitch perfect melismatic “UM!” that puts me in a fit of giggles. Maybe…um…god I don’t know…I don’t have a favourite, I am an endless fence sitter but maybe for this tour I am pretty excited about my Sydney show because I’ve got great supports who are all friends of mine and a couple of sort of secret elements that are going to be really fun… And I like Oxford Arts Factory.

This is totally ignorant on my behalf but who is supporting you?
Not ignorant! It’s not been announced yet!

Oh, well can you tell me?
Uh….Good question…Hopefully, so I’ve got Banoffee and Habits. Who [Habits] happen to be in Sydney at that time and they’re two of my best friends…I recorded some of their stuff for them. They are really fun..one sec “Do you wan’t some help?” *I listen on as Oscar helps a lady with a pram. Sorry, theres this big gate and a lady is trying to get through with  a pram.

I’m really trying to envision this farm you’re at right now, it sounds fantastic.
Yeah I’m sitting on this big sort of brick bluestone fence, by a gate…theres a bunch of sheep in front of me…pretty funny. Anyway, yeah Habits are really good! Basically we’re going to do something a little special for it and some other guests from Sydney are going to get up and I’m just going to make it a bit…Y’know I love in rap shows how they bring out other friends and performers, I always love that vibe

One last little question-has there been a standout track or album of 2015 for you so far?
Hmmmmm…God there’s been lots this year! I feel like my favourite thing has been my mate’s one-the Cassius Select one [Crooks]. But there’s other stuff too, like all the stuff that Skepta’s done and all the grime stuff that’s coming out is the best! I’ve been loving all of that. I love the grime sound and the deep feel, the pace of the tracks. It’s those types of sonic palettes that can really work with a more R&B style vocal which is…really exemplified in Future Brown’s stuff. That Future Brown record was really good too, I’ve had that playing that really loud in the car too.

Read: How Grime Is Taking Everything But The Kitchen Sink In 2015

You can catch the ever-charming Oscar Key Sung next month as he tours the new EP Altruism (Available now through iTunes & Spotify)

Saturday 13th June – Howler, Melbourne, VIC Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Friday 19 June – Flyrite, Perth, WA Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Saturday 20th June – Rocket Bar, Adelaide, SA Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Friday 26th June – The Brightside, Brisbane, QLD Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

Saturday 27th June - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW Tickets: www.nicheproductions.com.au

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