Q + A With Sainthill

First up, can you please give us a quick intro?

I’m Sainthill (aka Tom Larkey) a Melbourne-based, Hobart-born musician raised on a steady diet of Bruce Springsteen courtesy of my mum. I make a kind of dreampop/indie rock/folk hybrid with a sprinkling of shoegaze. I’ve been described by music critic Marty Jones as making ‘intelligent, beautiful music’ which is quite nice of him to say. My new album ‘Dream Animal’ is coming out March 1st.

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today?

I’m not a full-time musician, in fact today I was at my day job (which is a trainer at a mental health organisation). Today my team were planning programs for the year and having heaps of amazing discussions. Then we all went for a beer afterwards. I’m now writing this and looking at a pile of laundry I have yet to put away.

Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for?

I’ve made music since I was a teenager – I would spend hours recording weird little melodic guitar songs by overdubbing cassette tapes. It wasn’t until 2009 (when I was 29) that I put out the first music I was really happy with, an EP of sparse folk. Since then I’ve released 3 albums (which morphed more into dreampop) and played many live shows with an array of amazing local musicians. I’m keen to keep on making music forever.

Who are your greatest inspirations?  Why?

Bruce Springsteen for his countless masterpieces, incredible live shows, and character-driven lyrics, The Cure for their lush textures, bittersweet melodies and of course big hair, and more recently Adrianne Lenker for her unpretentious attitude along with sublime, incredibly moving solo works.

How do you create music?  Are you lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first?  Explain your process.

I always start with guitar or piano chords and the lyrical melody, along with some placeholder lyrics (like how Paul McCartney first sang ‘scrambled eggs’ before landing on ‘Yesterday’). I’ll then bash out a set of lyrics that are unquestionably average, then keep refining until I’m happy with them. My favourite part of the whole process is recording, and writing extra parts for my songs. Historically I’ll shroud my lyrics in a character-based narrative, however I’m attempting to write more directly personal lyrics – they are often so much more powerful.

What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?

For me it’s promotion and organising gigs – they’re obviously integral to the life of a musician, but often not the strong suit of a creative. If I could just write and record music and then millions of folks magically heard it, that would be great. But the reality is you need to put the hard work into promotion and playing live, so that your labours of love can be heard by as many people as possible. 

Tell us about your new release The Black Bull, how did it come about?

All the songs on my upcoming album originated from dreams, and for this song it was (unsurprisingly) one about a black bull. I took that for its obvious metaphor (a black animal as depression) and told the story of someone taking matters into their own hands – in this case to train as a matador and overcome it (as grotesque as bullfighting is). Production-wise, I was inspired by the textures and sounds of bands like Slowdive and The Cure who often weave pulsing bass with shoegaze elements along with a bittersweet, melancholic atmosphere

What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out?

It’s fairly common advice, but always, always just be yourself. Musicians chasing fame and writing music that attempts to be popular or adhere to trends/algorithms will always come across as fairly soulless. If it’s in your heart to make weird music, do that. At the end of the day it’s the creativity and authenticity that draws people in.

Tell us your favourite Zen practice

Getting in a flow state drawing. It’s my second creative passion after music, and when I’m in that process I’ll lose hours in what feels like minutes. Chuck on some good music and that’s heaven.