This week I will be interviewing local Melbourne artist (and my partner) Sydney Miller about herself and her latest release - Bad News.
Sydney has made waves since the release of her first single "Out From the Inside" which blended the captivation of pop with the strange kookiness of Sydney's diverse sound palette, including as many squeaks, bleps, beep boops, boings, blangs, dings, bing bongs, fwips, brrps, and pangs as you can.
Hi Sydney… so you got a new single out! I might ask you out of curiosity where you learned to do all this, because frankly it’s still a bit mysterious to me.
So... how did you get into making music?
Um… I started making music on Garageband when I was in year seven.
In year seven?
Yeah and I started making lots of songs, and then… yeah it was lots of fun! I did it on my iPad, my little iRig setup and a little microphone, and I would make a lot of pop music. I made like 10 or 20 songs…
Really?! 10 or 20?!
Yeah, they were full songs! My sister still has them on her iPod touch. And then... I released some of those songs when I was 14.
Did you do much music stuff before that?
Well, I did lots of choir, and I did band stuff, I did some jazz and improvisation in primary school…
So I was like the vocalist, I did piano and guitar, I did singing lessons for a long time. It only got until high school where I started “making” music.
Did you write your own songs before then?
Sometimes… I actually just remembered this, I would make songs on the piano and sing them, and I made voice memos on my DS.
Oh really! Can I…
No, I deleted them unfortunately…
I know! But they were so cute. I dunno. I think what drew me into music in the first place was dancing. It went from dancing to tap dancing. I told my mum when I was 3 that all I wanted to do was sing, so she was like “Okay! Let’s get you singing then”. Then she signed me up for lessons. Then it was instrumental stuff. Fast forward to 2014 and some Garageband and I put out my songs!
Are they good?
They were okay… I mean, y’know, they were competent for 14. I listen back to them sometimes and think “this was not mixed badly, it was okay. I’ve mixed worse stuff now.”
So yeah, but when I got to year 10… see, other than the Garageband stuff I didn’t really know tech-y stuff, I only really knew piano. So I got into a group with 3 other girls and I wrote songs on the piano and we sang them. I only wrote two songs… I took a huge hiatus in that time. I was like “I can’t do this as a thing, I can’t compose music, that would be silly”. But at the end of high school I felt drained and exhausted from studying, and I was anxious for doing more work like that in the future. But then I remembered “I like composition! I like doing music!” so I studied composition at university with you. I did that for three years…
You learnt a lot from that I guess…
Yeah, well, I didn’t know what a DAW was before I started! But yeah, that’s basically the timeline for how I got into music.
I was gonna ask about your music groups... well, you already told me about the one from high school.
Yeah that was basically it. I did a lot of choir growing up, but to be honest, I really wanted to be in a band. But I was too nervous to do it and I was always super nervous about not knowing anything about live sound or production or anything like that. So I never really got into it. I’m slowly getting into it now through playing keys for Orange, but yeah… that’s basically it unfortunately.
It will be more though! From what I hear it will be plenty more! :-)
Yeah! It will be a lot more.
Yeah that’s good!
I think we can agree that the most striking thing about your music is your production style. All my friends heard “Out From the Inside” last August and said they’d never really heard anything like it before. It was so fresh. So I might pick your brain about this…
When you make this kind of music, whattaya thinking about?
University really made me think about how I create a piece. Before I start a piece, I would be like “How do I deliver my concept in a creative yet intentional way?”, so it set me in this conscience that like every piece of music has to have a purpose and has to include that physical and literal sound that I am trying to convey. The first thing that I always do for every song that I make (and I’ve never been able to successfully make a song without doing this) is to take a heap of different samples of textures and percussions that remind me of what I am trying to convey, and cut them up and chuck them around in different places until I get a rhythm and a pulse that is really striking and catchy to me. When I get a beat that I listen to and think “heck, I need to listen to that again, and again, and again,” that’s when I start to build on it.
So do you have a core concept, or idea? Or do you just play with “today theme is… a squeaky toy rhythm,” and then see how I feel from hearing that.
Yeah, well with Bad News…
Ey, name drop single!!
...it’s just so stupidly plain, but when I started the song I was like “the media is pissing me off right now, I’m gonna take all these sounds of newspapers, and record slamming books, and then get all the phone samples I can find, and then cut them in a way together that I like”.
Woah, that’s cool, that’s super cool!
But yeah, I also think it’s because I started producing like, shockingly recently. I didn’t really start making music like that until… 2019? I think it’s also because no one really taught me any methods, so I was just trying out all this random shit that people don’t usually do when they produce music. So I felt really nervous about trying all this weird stuff, and I don’t even use the platform in a conventional way, but it still works in the way I want it to.
I think that’s really good, and I kinda relate to that because the way I started production was through sampling...
...and cutting up other people’s songs.
Yeah! And like you I didn’t know how to make sounds. I didn’t understand how a sine wave worked.
I still don’t understand how a sine wave works.
It’s a lot.
It is a lot. But if it works, it works.
But yeah, that’s what I’m saying about your style. You have this concept and then you get in everything about this concept and arrange it in a way that suits you and build it from there. I just think that’s super cool.
I just want to clarify, you have a concept, and then you gather the sounds?
Yeah that’s it.
That’s so weird I love it.
What did you listen to growing up that compelled you to make music like this?
See, the thing is that the music that I listened to when I was growing up, it doesn’t reflect my production style. I listened to a lot of Jamiroquai, and Ministry of Sound Dance Music growing up, and even bloody music theatre, GLEE stuff. But as I grew up I had a real affinity with pop music, but not like sickly pop. There’d be some songs and I’d be “that’s a great pop song” and then the rest I’d just not listen to. Does that make sense?
I also have to mention Róisín Murphy, she has this one album called “Ruby Blue” from 2005, and I grew up with a couple of the songs and liked them. But when I got older and listened back to them, I was just like ”they are the pinnacle reference tracks for the music I make today.” That’s how my music style started, because that was very weird music but I wanted to make it more synthetic and mix it with Britney Spears and Lady Gaga and pop that I love. But it works though, and it is a lot of chopping and cutting in the production too.
Yeah. I mean I’m not as intimately familiar but I have listened now, and a lot of the concepts that she’s doing are so far out. I love that “Sow Into You” so much, the production in that song.
“Yeah, everything was awesome!”
And you love “Night of the Dancing Flame”, I mean, that’s a big influence on Out from the Inside.
Yeah it was a huge influence for that and everything moving forward.
Let’s talk about Bad News - You already know that Bad News is my favourite Sydney Miller song, and you know I love songs with only two choruses.
Yes, I do know that.
When you say that you got sick of the media, how did that arise? Was it an iso thing?
Yeah it was. In June and July last year I was so tired of social media. Every day I would open up my phone and look at the news, and it would be filled with anxiety and stress. It made my eyes hurt, it made my head hurt. So I wanted to put that into a song, where I was really frustrated at how the world was seeming to work out and pan out, it just felt like everything was just falling apart and people were just saying it online, being like “DO BETTER”. Like “we’re trying, but we’re failing!” So I was feeling very pessimistic, in a way that made me want to tell people what was happening in the future. But I wanted to put it out in a way that was fun and exciting, and contrasted with this introverted fearful feeling.
I like that juxtaposition of dread and… dance.
*sobs while dancing*
Ah, yeah. Do you have a favourite lyric?
Oh god. “Folding folding folding.”
Ah I dunno.
What does that mean? The “folding” stuff?
It’s just like “I’m folding, I’m folding,” It’s kinda like “I’m giving up”, like “ah fuck”.
Yes, I know what giving up feels like.
Yeah, but it’s like “giving in your cards” in Poker.
Just also as an aside. I’ve found writing about the media interesting because there’s so much you can write about and it can be relatable in so many ways. I’ve had people tell me this song reminds them of having to give bad news to somebody. Which is interesting.
That is interesting!
Well, I’ve somehow exhausted all my questions about Bad News before asking you about the song. So uh, yeah... let’s do our favourite thing right now. I like to call it “QuickFire SongTime”.
Oh my god okay.
What would be the first song you’d put on for your best friend in your car?
Best friend in my car? For you?
For your best friend.
Hm, I don’t drive.
But if you did.
If I did.
It’s a hypothetical.
I know, I’m just stalling for time.
No, take your time, it’s fine.
Probably a Britney Spears song. Like Toxic.
Toxic is great, yeah.
What would you listen to heading home in a rideshare service?
I’d have to choose something that was somewhat mainstream.
...Like Britney Spears?
I was like “don’t say Britney Spears, don’t say Britney Spears.”
Um, I’d probably say “5, 6, 7, 8” by Steps. That would actually be the best-friend-in-the-car song now that I think of it, sorry.
Alright, we’ll change best-friend-in-the-car to that song. And also heading-home-in-a-rideshare-service song…
...no no on. It would be a Jason Derulo song.
So you’d actually do a Jason Derulo song?
I dunno, something fun…
What did he do that I know?
*sings Talk Dirty to Me*
Oof, sick bastard.
What about letting out anger? What would you listen to, to be passive aggressive?
I’m not really angry, but…
It’s so hard to think. It’d probably be “You Don’t Know Me” by Armand van Helden, either that or “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown.
What song would you play if you were babysitting a three-year old?
Like does it have to be…
Yes, a three-year old.
I dunno, probably the Wiggles? Or would I be trying to educate them. No, you know what? I would probably play them Roisin Murphy!
You gonna raise your own army of Sydney Millers?
What would be something you play before a date? I dunno if that’s…
Boy Problems by Carly Ray Jepsen.
ALRIGHT. What about at the start of an exercise routine?
Push Up - Freestylers. I used to use this for sit-ups, and push-ups as well.
What song would you play at the end of a party so that everyone leaves?
Probably… what's a bad song? Actually, there’s a couple of Roisin Murphy songs that are just so whack, so probably that.
Yeah, but which one?
Prelude to Love in the Making. I’d just put this on loop.
You're right, this is just... strange.
And finally, what was the last song you listened to voluntarily?
Probably “Immaterial” by SOPHIE. That was the last song I listened to before work
ACTUALLY, for the Car song, change it to “Please Don’t Stop the Music” by Rihanna.
It’s too late.
My final point is what are you doing next in your life & your Sydney Miller life?
I am spending the year working on my artists stuff, hopefully helping other artists with remixes or singles, and I will be releasing my EP hopefully in the next couple of months.
That’s this year!
Yeah it is! AND I'm preparing a live set too! Be very excited.
I’m very excited! Thanks for being here.