San Francisco has proved itself capable of producing very distinct musical styles and diverse scenes. Emerging out of this hub of musical originality is PillowTalk who, with their idiosyncratic style, have flagged the motto ‘D.A.G.’ (Destroy All Genres). Fusing rhythms of R&B, Boogie and Disco with the modern energy filled styles of Underground House and Techno they are a prime choice for Melbourne Music Week’s electronic filled Where?House. Sammy D speaks with me about PillowTalk’s influences, creative process and his childhood fascination with Australia.
Michael Tello and Sammy D met Ryan Williams in 2007 through his brother. After hanging around Ryan’s apartment where a baby grand piano was suitably located, the early beginnings of PillowTalk began to form. “[We] come from different [musical] backgrounds,” Sammy explains, “[My influence] was from my parents. Dad was into soul and jazz and I played basketball and grew up on hip hop in an all black high school... Mikey grew up in LA in a Latin community and was into hip hop and dance culture at a really early age. Ryan was more into indie rock and acoustic style music then dance music later.”
Their inspiring and beautifully unique music has a range of influences from the Beach Boys to Sam Cooke; from Freddie Hubbard to Harry Nilsson; from Larry Heard to Theo Parrish. These young musicians found their sound by what Arthur Russel would describe as ‘first thought, best thought’ compositions and three musicians hovering over a baby-grand piano, late in the night with Sammy tapping away at the Wurlitzer, Tello strumming his guitar and Ryan bringing in stunning piano melodies . It wasn’t long until these organic jam sessions took serious form and an iPhone recording app was introduced. After a little ‘lab work’, these musicians had created amazingly original sounds ready for the masses.
With a unique style that wields together many different elements of various genres, it’s not all that surprising to learn they have a very relaxed creative process. “We go in with not too much planned,” Sammy says, “A lot of ideas are recorded into a song. We record melody vocals onto our phone then we will get together and mess around the piano then get to the studio and work on it from there. We have no set plan when we start making stuff.”
The solo electronic performer becoming more and more common, I had to question the perks and limitations of working with an extra two members. “First and foremost, it’s an odd number so we always have a democratic vote,” Sammy laughs, “But at the same time we can all have different ideas, and get bogged down in it all which can hold up the work process. Then again, being on tour with your friends is fun and makes touring more exciting.” On the topic of tours, Sammy indulges me with some crazy stories that have gone down at shows. “I’ve never fallen,” he warns, “But someone threw a pillow at me at an event. Our power went out once too. Every night out is pretty crazy. Mikey and Ryan and I like to get down, but we’ve never been arrested!”
Proud of their logo “D.A.G.” concerns about PillowTalk’s ever-changing style isn’t at the forefront of Sammy’s mind. “We don’t think about it,” he begins, “It’s whatever comes up. We don’t plan we are going to make this type of music…[we are] not worried about what direction we are going in. We probably should start thinking long term though.”
The San Fran sunshine has also left its mark on the music produced by PillowTalk, saying the fairer weather allows their music to open up and to become more intimate and softer. “Weather has a huge influence on our music,” Sammy says, “When it’s cold out you want to shut the windows and get under the blankets.”
Sammy admits he is blessed to have had so many local and international musical highlights. The one that takes the plate is playing at The Garden Festival in Croatia. “We played the main stage,” he says, “The crowd was really receptive. It was the perfect night.” On the top of the collaborative wish list is James Blake, Dam-Funk , Mayor Hawthorne and Twin Shadow.
Excited to hit our shores for the Where?House party in Melbourne, Sammy confesses a long lost love for our fine land. “My family was about to move to Newcastle in 1984, which is before the earthquake hit,” he explains, “We ended up living in Alaska instead and consequently never moved over. I really want to see Australia and take tons of pictures. I’ve always wanted to see it in real life – it’s been a childhood fascination.”
Where?House will see an iconic Melbourne space transformed into a temporary cultural and multi-function hub, providing the flagship pop-up venue for Melbourne Music Week 2012. In the spirit of the days when the pursuit of electronic music culture in Melbourne resembled a seek and find mission, the actual location of the Where?House venue will not be announced until the opening day of Melbourne Music Week. The cutting edge ten day program at Where?House will showcase electronic and independent music, interactive arts and technologies, local and international artists, industry events, workshops and screenings. One of three acts headlining the show, Sammy says, “I don’t know where we are playing, but I love warehouse parties!”
BY TAMARA VOGL
PillowTalk [USA] play alongside Housse de Racket [FRA] and more on Friday November 16 at Where?House on the opening night of Melbourne Music Week. Stay tuned to facebook.com/melbmusic for clubs and updates about Where?House's location.