Treading New Territory: Interview with The Desert Sonnes

October 1, 2016
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By Mae Anthony
Photo by J’aime Fazackerly

The Desert Sonnes are a four-piece blues-inspired rock band from Perth. They are made up of members Jacob Sartori (vocals & guitar), Madeleine Menezes (keyboards & organ), Matt Campbell (bass) and Marcus Davidson (drums). I got the chance to chat to front-man Jacob Sartori about the band’s history, development, unique blues-infused vibes, and their debut EP Another Etch, which was released earlier this year.

How did the band come together?

It began a long time ago. I always wrote things before this band and I was working in a few other projects and studying at WAAPA [Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts]. I was trying to develop myself and play a lot of music and as that happened I started writing for myself more. Once I left WAAPA, I thought “Okay I should probably do something now.” I was drumming in Segue Safari [as I still am] and it was so much fun, but I wanted to validate myself more and start to do more for myself. I was also in the band The Baskervilles at the time, too. Those projects gave me the means to feel more confident enough to start doing my own thing. It’s interesting though because when The Desert Sonnes started, we didn’t gig for the first six months. We started in April 2015, and didn’t do our first gig until October. We started with some tunes I had written, but then decided that they weren’t where I wanted to go. So basically we had to start from scratch and I wanted to start writing stuff I was really proud of, which was good because just having come from WAAPA and with all the band experiences I felt like it was right.

How did you pick people out?

We tried a couple of incarnations of the line-up. It originally started with me and Mads. We had all sorts of people playing with us. Mostly people who were around us at WAAPA from different genres. We had jazz and contemporary bachelor students playing with us. We were just grabbing who we could find. Then we found Marcus and Matt: I knew Marcus from Rock Scholars, and Matt was a friend of Mads. I think these guys felt it more. The other guys just read the charts. I mean they had chops, no doubt about it, but Marcus and Matt just had different kind of chops. They taught themselves, which is just the way Mads and I did it too.

It’s good because the four of us are just a bunch of self-taught wackos trying to make a living in the world from music. We got to get something done before we kick the bucket, you know?

…on reflection, that wasn’t meant to sound as bleak as it did!

Well it’s like you said, you want to do something that you’re actually proud of, right? What was the initial vision? Would you say it has changed much?

I think I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t necessarily know how it was going to get there. I had always listened to a lot of different stuff. I try to do the whole low-fi psych band thing that everyone seems to do here in Perth. I had been in those bands, and I’d done the low-fi thing, the punk, the psych-rock, and I guess, initially, I was so into that because that was the fad at the time. It was a musical fad, and I guess I thought about what I was into around that time other than low-fi psych stuff, and I realised it was blues. In fact, I didn’t realise just how into it I was up until that point. So I went with that, but I guess this project has become an amalgamation of lots of different genres. At the core, it’s got this blues-rock sound to it, but I’d say the only thing that’s really changed is that we’re not afraid to infuse different sub-genres into the main thing. I’ve stopped labelling it blues-rock now because I feel that it’s more alternative blues-rock RnB. It’s not traditional blues-rock, so I like to think of it more as blues-inspired, so people don’t get disheartened when they think they’re going to hear some good ol’ blues-rock tunes.

Who would you say has influenced you as a group?

On a big scale, I’d say a lot of the old Blues artists. They are the ones who fan the flames to keep it going and pass it on to modern artists, who then pass it on, and so on.

Joe Bonamasser, Gary Clarke Jr, Albert King, B.B. King, Jimi Hendricks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and particularly Eric Clapton. Even a bit of John Mayer, which is a bit awkward, but he’s really got something going for him, and he’s a good musician. If we’re going to talk in terms of local groups then I’d say Old Blood. They’re great and they’re doing that traditional blues-rock sound, and they’re doing it so well. But then it’s so funny because other than that, no one’s really doing that kind of thing. There’s a lot of low-vibe psych vibes going on, which I won’t bag because hey, I’m drumming in one of them and it’s great, but locally the blues thing is harder to find. Plus, we’re blues “inspired” so, we do take influence from local stuff, of different styles just by being amongst it.

Let’s talk about the E.P you released earlier in the year. When did this start?

We’ve only been gigging (together) for about a year. Most people say, “I can sing along to all of your songs.” A lot of these songs are on the EP, so it’ll be good to start working on new stuff because I feel like this has grown to a certain place, and we’re now ready to build on that. We have heaps of new stuff in the works.

What was the recording process like for the group?

I found that we had to set deadlines for recording, otherwise things were just getting put off. I mean sure there’s stuff on there I would have loved to spend more time on, but that’s the way it is. You’re always going to want more time with these things, and restricting yourself is, therefore, a good thing. You just get stuff done and it’s how the best records are made. And I am really proud of it, which is great because we’re just doing our own thing, putting it out there and hoping people like it.

You definitely seem proud of it, in a very modest way. I say this because you did a tour to launch it. What was that like?

I tried not to sell it as a tour, to be honest. When we got the date for the release, we found ourselves a modest venue for the launch, but we felt it was right to touch on some other venues as well. I was going to call it a tour, but it’s not really that. It was mostly the case where one of our band members has family in both Collie and Bunbury, so we knew we could get a crowd. I figured, if it’s a viable option, it’s a great way to release an EP, we haven’t done anything like this yet as far as gigging goes – let’s do it!

What are the group’s long-term plans/goals?

We’re going to go for the album next. I feel like it’s the natural progression [for us] as opposed to doing another EP. Although it’s weird in Perth doing releases because it is quite a small place so you get yourself a small following and it’s harder to put bigger content out there. We’re lucky because our drummer is so good with the recording and mastering, so we can afford to take time with it and sink into things. We also want to start playing really decent gigs. Because we’re not in the low-fi circle, it’s hard to mix with things. Don’t get me wrong though, I love a lot of the places we’ve played, like we’ve done a few gigs at the Perth Blues Club which has been great.

We also want to find other bands to form connections with, but we just have to find our niche and what works with the genre and sound. There’s good stuff coming up all of the time, so it’s exciting.

Keep an eye out for The Desert Sonnes playing a gig near you and future releases by liking their Facebook page. You can find a review of their EP Another Etch here.


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