Oh Silence Record Co.

The tiny, independent record label

Interview with a M U S I C I A N

Markup by Michael Gale

thumbnails of Camryn orchestrated around a YouTube video for rain sounds

On Thursday, 3rd Feb 2022 - I ambushed Camryn with a hyperlink to a shared Figma document ↗ where I had crudely prepped some questions and in-joke memes, designed mostly to make him laugh.

As I watched him nervously answer my questions, I listened to his latest release Musician, and reactively added additional clippings and scribbles to the document. Despite my efforts to derail him - Camryn spoke earnestly about the song writing process and what it means to be a musician and artist, speculating on the future of the music industry as we know it.

Michael Gale: Who are you? and where did you come from? and why did you agree to do this interview?

Camryn Rothenbury: I am Camryn, and I come from Perth (Mooro/Goomap) in WA. I agreed to do this interview, because you seem like a nice guy and I want to support your music blog. Plus I also want to promote my new record "Musician".

MG: Your music is complimented beautifully by a rain generator or white noise accompaniment. Did you deliberately write music to put people to sleep?

CR: Ah that’s nice - I’m a big ‘fan’ of white noise. I can imagine white noise going well with it. This EP wasn’t designed to put people to sleep, but I think some of the songs would work well to send you off. It’s meant to be a soundtrack to a film which hasn’t yet been made. A lot of people have told me that my music sounds like a soundtrack - my mum used to say "background music". I used to get offended by that, but then I realised that it’s pretty on point.

MG: The arrangements on Musician are very sparse and hypnotic. When you first told me about the record you mentioned that most of these pieces were half-finished works that you tidied for release.

Could you speak more about the production and decision making process? e.g. How do you decide when a track is finished?

an even older photo of Camryn as a child
Camryn dressed as "knicker man" as a child

CR: That’s an interesting question and I was just recently talking about this with my friend - when is something ‘finished’? I think that’s something I’ve struggled with to a degree throughout my entire life. When I first start making music, I was about 16 or so. I always had a kind of “punk” approach to making music - that things didn’t need to be polished, mistakes were fine, noise was good and single takes were perfectly acceptable. To me that fit fine with making abstract/avant-garde music, and I always enjoyed working quickly and leaving things to chance.

As I got older, I had a difficult time reconciling this approach with my peers - especially around things like composition, mixing and mastering. I kind of developed an inferiority complex about my work not being “proper” or “good enough” because it didn’t meet the standards or idea of polished, finished, consumable and marketable content. It took me a long time to come to terms with my own process, and to figure out a methodology that didn’t feel lazy or incomplete. I’d never ever even written a song that I could play repeatedly until I teamed up with James Beck in our band Personal Touch ↗. I guess eventually, as I came to realise that my music was a very personal creative process, I was able to overcome the shame I felt about having a different approach.

a very old photo of Camryn and James
Camryn Rothenbury and James Beck’s old band was called "Soul of Condemned Ape"

Sorry - I’m kind of rambling. To answer the question, Musician came together from about 10-12 different recordings that I’d done over a nine month period. Some were unfinished sequences or unarranged loops, others were long form improvised recordings. For whatever reason, I one day woke up feeling inspired enough to compile a new release, and so I spent a week revisiting these recordings, editing them, adding to them, turning them into arrangements, and deciding on a concept for a complete EP. I don’t know what the answer is to something being finished. It’s different in every situation, but I think inevitably you can feel it. It depends on the nature of what you’re doing - who you’re making it for, and for what purpose.

Black and white album cover of Personal Touch
They later formed an electronic duo called "Personal Touch"

I think working on other projects, such as scoring video work and writing the Egami EP with James - both of which were intensive, highly edited and revised types of audio production - gave me a lot more confidence in my intuition, and in my laissez-faire approach to composition. My personal music comes from the gut, and that’s what guides me, I suppose.

MG: My favourite track on the record is "THE PENINSULA" . Would you consider writing more pieces like this to suit my personal taste? If not, why?

CR: I really like that track too. There’s something very comforting about the piano, and it’s been the main instrument that I’ve used in the music I’ve released under my own name. My personal expectation is that in the near future, streaming music platforms like Spotify and so on will no longer play libraries of music, but instead will use algorithms to spontaneously improvise music that perfectly meets your tastes, mood, patterns of consumption, and so on - so you won’t really need a real human to produce music that aligns to your tastes.

MG: Why did you title the LP "MUSICIAN"

CR: For a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it’s meant to be the title of the supposed film being soundtracked. I first had the idea of a phantom film for a track I recorded called "White Rhino" ↗ released under the name Participant on an EP called Flowers. Whenever I would play it to anyone, I would tell them it was from an unreleased Michael Douglas film, and I could imagine the trailer, or a montage to that film every time I listened to it. I would actually really like to score films, so I thought perhaps the films don’t even need to exist. I think because the music is ambient and emotive, I’m often trying to imagine moments or visual aids when I’m performing.

A picture of Michael Douglas from the 1993 film Falling Down
TIL: Michael Douglas starred in an unreleased film called White Rhino

Secondly, the title is meant to be a signifier of finally obtaining acceptance about my role as musician, and believing myself to be worthy. You know when you meet someone and they refer to you as an artist or a musician, or a family member says that about you at some gathering, and you cringe? I think now, I am finally (probably) at peace with the idea of being an artist, and a musician also.

MG: What would a live performance look like if you could execute it?

CR: Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve performed solo in the past and it’s largely been a disaster. My music tends to be very loop based, so I would need a laptop or looping pedal at the least - but I’m really more of a recording artist, than a performer.

MG: Would you describe your sense of humour as ironic and/or sarcastic?

CR: Most definitely. I really like to make people laugh, but it does get me into trouble. I was described as sardonic when I was in high school. Sometimes I say things to be funny and end up putting my foot in my mouth. I spent a long time thinking that being self-deprecating was hilarious and now I realise it’s actually quite upsetting for those around you. But yes, my humour and self-awareness are very much woven into my creative outputs, and it’s super important to me.

MG: When I asked if I could interview you for this blog you said "Sure, I guess, but no one will care." - What meaning did you hope to impart with this statement.

CR: Haha - there’s that sarcastic sense of humour you mentioned, I guess. I don’t know if I need to expand upon this. I guess 10-15 years ago people really cared about independent music, and that’s kind of fallen away. To be successful and gain exposure now, you just need a 15 second audio snippet for Tik-Tok. I guess also I do not perform live, I am not a “serious” musician on a record label. My royalty statements from APRA are usually less than $1.00 nowadays. So yeah, no one will care about this.

MG: Are you familiar with the French philosopher Guy Debord?

CR: I first heard about Guy Debord when I was working as a student intern. This fellow I was working with told me about the Situationists - I think maybe he had studied them. Anyway Debord’s idea of the dérive really stuck with me. I love the idea of exploring cities in an accidental, serendipitious kind of way, that is chance-based and leads to experiences that are out of the ordinary. I like the idea of tools for ‘butting up against reality’. I feel like Randonautica is the modern equivalent.

MG: You are a designer, professionally. Would it be fair to say this? What sort of things outside of music, inspire you to be creative?

CR: Sure, you can say that. I’m terrible at reading - I’m the kind of person that has a huge pile of books next to their bed, but only finishes one or two books a year. I think one of the reasons I’m so bad at finishing books, is because I read a sentence that affects me, and then I start down a rabbit hole of tangients, that leads me to my own ideas, so I end up putting the book down and writing notes, or Googling something, or whatever. So yeah, reading is inspirational. Film is another significant influence for me. I also get a lot from podcasts and just having conversations with people. I find that so rewarding. Listening to and being involved in good, meaningful converastions is one of the things I enjoy most in life. There are certain people who are always exposing me to new and unusual things that I will either go and look up straight away, or that I might come back to years later. Connecting with others, I think, is the most important thing in life, and often the most profound.

MG: Thanks for agreeing to answer these cooked questions.

Listen to Musician on Bandcamp ↗, Spotify ↗, YouTube ↗ and iTunes ↗