Born from a cultural capital: Middle Name Dance Tracks

We all knew Brisbane’s music scene was bubbling away. But without being immersed in that culture and thriving community, it’s hard to get a first person insight. Enter stage left, Sampology, Megan Christensen and Sam Maguire.

A trio of well-seasoned musicians, they’ve just launched a brand new project resulting in the release Middle Name Dance Tracks – an EP that rides an intersection of soul, electronic and club music. It’s bright, enveloping and an exciting development for a music city that was already no stranger to collaboration.

The thee artists no doubt all bring their own flavour to the mix. Prolific producer and DJ Sampology takes on MPC drums & programming, Megan Christensen of neo-soul pop group Pink Matter looks after keys, while notable bass-man for Astro Travellers, Tiana Khasi and solo project Sam Stosuur, Sam Maguire stays true to form occupying the bass and bass synth.

March/April 2018. The journey begins. 

Take us back to the very start. Where on the timeline did you three decide to start the project? And what was the initial inspiration? 

Sampology: I would say around March this year. Sam invited Megan to an ‘anything goes’ jam at my home studio initially last year and after that session I wondered if there was a way to set up these random jams that would likely result in a project. It’s frustrating sometimes, having a stack of amazing ideas from jams that never come out, and I knew I didn’t want to start a new band – so the idea of a collaborative project between the three of us felt like a really great solution.

Sam Maguire: According to the recording software April 2018 was when we had our first session. We had jammed a little bit prior to this, but this time around Sampo came in with a collection of ideas to help shape the music into something a little more developed. Apart from the creative challenges, I believe the idea of being a project of 3 musicians collaborating together rather than being a band really defined the sound of the final product.

Megan Christensen: The initial idea was to join together and build a collaborative project inspired by each individuals musicianship and creativity. 

The trio have always ran in similar circles.

Had you three ever worked together previously? 

Sam Maguire: In different pairings we had all worked together prior to this. Sampo and myself have worked together on a variety of projects for years now. I think early 2017 I met Megan and could see straight away she was a serious musician to watch out for. I didn’t hesitate to act as soon as the opportunity arose for the three of us to connect. In late 2017 we got together for a few different jams. There is still some gold from those moments floating around the aether too!

Megan Christensen: Out of pure curiosity, I took it upon myself to try and get involved with a range of musicians that were of interest to me. Sam and Sampo have always been of huge influence to my musicianship and I didn’t shy away when this project started to flourish into a bigger project than just a weekend jam. I had worked previously with Sam in a different recording format and had had my fair share of gigs with him too! As for Sampo, always just admiring his work and attending gigs. What a pleasure it has been to finally combine minds together on this very special project!

Sampology: Sam Maguire and I have been working together for a few years now, and he’s been backing up my Sampology live sets on bass. Megan I only met middle of last year, I believe. She’s got terrific energy and music chops.

With everyone on equal footing, the table was open to any and all ideas. This proved to be a creatively enriching experience for all three.  

In this project you’re all collaborating equally. What do you feel like everyone brought to the table?

Megan Christensen: Personality and the acceptance of this idea. I love how this created an open and honest platform to bare our creativity to. So much of this collaboration comes from different experiences, age and influences. I do like the emphasis on the importance of dance and I hope the boys can agree that there were many references to old disco tracks in the making of this project. Watching Sampo’s mind unravel was one of my most profound memories in the making. I have never seen someone push so many buttons or adapt to ideas so quickly! He was so incredibly accommodating of Sam and my ideas and it was such a learning experience to watch him string them all together. As for Sam, I hope he never puts that god damn bass down to rest, for that’s when we know we’ve lost a true Brisbane treasure.

Sampology: When I think of that question I immediately start humming the synth melody from ‘Only Joy’ Megan came up with, I think she’s got great melodies in her! Sam Mags, in addition to a great bass player has a really open and outside of the box brain which comes in handy. 

Sam Maguire: So much about this music is defined by our individual personalities as well as our collective identity. I think as a collective we did a great job of supporting each other through exploring sounds and the development of ideas. Apart from that we’re all of different ages, backgrounds and influences and I’d like to think that those individual characteristics come through the voices of our parts. Meg comes up with such fantastic melodic ideas and the quirkiness of those I believe are truly unique to her as person. Sampo also has such a fantastic mind for glueing a project together and it shows in the way he crafts drums around the other melodic and rhythmic elements.

The recording process worked in a similar fashion to the initial jams, with a big emphasis on authenticity and literally sounding things out.

From what I’ve read and seen, the recording process seemed to be a very live and interactive affair. But in your experience, how did these songs come together?

Sampology: I’d usually start with a groove that would inform the rhythmic pocket, and then Megan and Sam would find a note – maybe taken off some bells I wad playing on the MPC, and then building some harmonic movement. Then we’d try some different sections to each song that would give the tracks a nice flow, and then cycle through a whole song playing live. Each of the songs was this process in a 3 hour chunk. I can’t think of any better way to spend my time than hanging out with musicians and making things

Megan Christensen: It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly this project unfolded the way it did, but for me personally, it has educated me on the different ways to approaching writing and recording. Whilst at times it was quite confronting, the idea of recording each idea as it was written was quite a forward way of collaborating. To me, this was a clear statement in that all ideas were welcome and were of use in its own right. I remember in the beginning we limited each song to a 3 hour time frame to compile as many ideas as possible. At times challenging but in terms of stringing the songs together, quite valuable. I enjoyed the heat of the moment.

Sam Maguire: It was definitely a very live and interactive affair. From memory we were all set up close together pretty much facing each other and nutting out ideas together. Most of the time I believe Sampo had already sorted out a few percussive elements to kick of the session and from there we would just let sounds develop naturally until it was in the right place. Once we had the basis of a solid idea together we would start to dive in a little deeper with layering, instrumentation, harmonies, rhythmic moments and also further developing alternate sections. Hard to say if there was a particular reason we worked this way other then the fact it just felt like the right way to do it.

The trio are Brisbane locals, through and through. The project definitely shines a light on their hometown.

This project is unequivocally rooted in Brisbane’s music scene. You three are locals, and featuring artists Gus Cereiji, Kerry Raywood and Merinda Dias-Jayasinha are all based in the area too. Was it a deliberate choice to keep that local focus and if so, why?

Sam Maguire: I don’t know if it was really a decision to be working only with artists from Brisbane. The goal, at least in my mind, seemed more so to be about showcasing collaboration with the amazing musicians we’re surrounded by. Inherently being based in Brisbane those artists are going to be featured first but who knows what might come in the future. Brisbane definitely had a lot of amazing creatives around the place though.

Megan Christensen: I don’t think there were any intentions to keep it Brisbane based as I think it was more about showcasing the talent of people we’re regularly affiliated with. The thing about Brisbane’s music scene is that is small and slow growing. With that in mind, I really enjoy how much emphasis Brisbane musicians place on family. This collaboration is definitely a creation of that as it showcases our homegrown talent. 

Sampology: For me it was. While it was a deliberate choice, it wasn’t forced – because we all see each other at gigs around town anyway. It was natural. There’s already a dialogue, why not capture this point in time by making some songs and having a thing to share with people?

Their surroundings have always proven to be an inspiration. 

Did watching developments in the Brisbane music scene (ie. more cross over between soul/jazz, club and live acts) inspire you three to put your own spin on something?

Megan Christensen: For sure! I am constantly amazed by the talent we have here in Brisbane. I am very fortunate and empowered to rise amongst so many creative artists and feel lucky knowing that generations to come will take inspiration from these people too! 

Sampology: For me it did. I’ve seen the city’s nightlife and music scene slowly change a few different times since I started going out, there’s been valleys and peaks at different points. The last couple of years there’s been some hugely enjoyable nights out on the dance floor that have felt more shared between communities that felt more disparate age or genre groups previously.

Sam Maguire: Most definitely. It’s hard not to be inspired to try something different when there is so much creative goodness happening around you.

It’s an exciting time for Brisbane music, there’s absolutely no doubt.

What’s happening in the Brisbane community right now?

Sampology: Cities are always evolving, physically and socially. There was a 2 stage party all of us played in our different groups two weeks ago with outdoors hosting Theo Parrish, Marcel Pittman and Jnette and indoors hosting us three with our groups. It was a really big marker in my mind of the culmination of a lot of small parties that had happened around town recently. I think both artists and punters are slowly realising the importance of supporting gigs of value to make the city more enjoyable. That might change for the worse in the future, but I hope it keeps slowly improving in this way.

Sam Maguire: Brisbane has so many dope collectives banding together currently it’s truly exciting. It’s really to hard to list everything that’s going on though. I’d say the rest of the world just needs to keep it’s eyes and ears on Brisbane to see whats going down. 

Megan Christensen: The Brisbane scene is forever adapting and improving. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly represents Brisbane as there are so many different creatives exploring a variety of different art forms. What I like most about this is that people aren’t limiting themselves or their ideas and creations and I think if we can support and showcase as much of this as possible, Brisbane will definitely be a city worth keeping an eye on.

Collaboration is key. It’s something that’s getting more prominent, too. 

Do you think this is the first of many crossovers and collaborations? Or, maybe this has been happening for a while – the rest of Australia just hasn’t caught on yet? 

Sam Maguire: Well there isn’t a lot of this sort of collaboration happening in Aus just yet but we’re not the first or only project around. For example, Horatio Luna is a dope project run by our good friend, Henry Hicks (30/70), in which he is working with a different group of musicians on each recording. It wouldn’t surprise me though to see this type of collaboration continue to gain momentum around the country. It’s fun to be apart of and the creations are usually super exciting to listen too. 

Megan Christensen: I think collaboration is on the rise. We can only better ourselves if we’re bold enough to reach out and elaborate on our own ideas with the help of another. Like Sam mentioned, Melbourne’s 30/70 collective have always been very supportive of this idea and are a great example of what we should be pushing for. I’m so excited to have been a part of this project and hope that it sparks new and exciting ways of thinking for other musicians. I like that the result of this music is a result of our friendship and individuality and showcases a strong collaboration of musicianship and creative thinking. 

Sampology: I hope so! With groups sometimes you have this feeling you want to start a new band/project, but something like this is fun because we all have our own projects already and this is just a bridge between them for a musical moment in time. It’s happening so much all around Australia right now, jams at peoples home studios, that’s what this is built out from I reckon. I just got sad at the thought of this stuff not being able to make the leap into a thing that’s actually packaged up nicely and shared out. 

Keeping it in the family.

Sam, your Mum put together the artwork for the release. It’s not the first time your mum has contributed artwork, there was 2016’s Natural Selections too. Why is it important to have that family element? 

Sampology: It’s not actually super deeply thought out, I’ve found it’s easy to work with people who I can have a shorthand with because creative communication can be hard when you don’t. So talking with family is pretty easy in discussing what you want to do. If I were to delve deeper into the importance though of it I’d definitely be able to say that I feel working with family or letting my surroundings into what I’m working on just seems completely the right thing to do. Also, my Mum has really great art too so that’s a pretty neat reason alone!

A collaboration for the ages: Middle Name Dance Tracks is available now.