Interview :: The Singing Skies
October 4th 2011
Nick La Rosa
The Singing Skies is the stage name of Kell Derrig-Hall, a musician most notably known as half of avant-garde duo Moonmilk with his partner Lia (Melodie Nelson). His debut album, Routine and War, is a haunting and measured collection of songs that toy with the alt-country tag, but effortlessly transcend it. It was recorded in Melbourne by producer Simon Grounds (Underground Lovers), and features instrumental illumination care of violist Biddy Connor and songwriter Laura Jean. The Flog spoke to The Singing Skies in the deserted courtyard of an ancient Redfern pub on a blinding afternoon late in winter.
FBi: Your record sounds warm and human, but precise and clean and crisp at the same time. Was it difficult to record?
The Singing Skies: I spent a long time thinking about who I would do this record with. Simon was really good because I think he's able to hear something that has a little bit of fragility in it and some space, and go with that and not try and squash it. I was really lucky to work with Biddy (Connor) and Laura (Jean Englert). I was lucky they liked the songs enough to put so much energy into it.
You and Melodie Nelson recorded and released records in very rapid succession, and appear to be fairly involved in each other's work. Was it a comfort or a curse working so closely with your partner?
Definitely a comfort, although there were times spent having little tanties. We're in each other's bands now, for example, and I think the people that we're playing with in both bands are sometimes a little bit shocked by how blunt we are with each other. We would definitely find a really roundabout way to direct someone else's playing, whereas with each other, there's no mincing words. I think it was a pretty enjoyable process. We both had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted, and we were both on each other's page. It wasn't easy, but it was nice.
I'm curious about the influences for your record, given that it's so different to your previous work. Which songwriters were you listening to when you wrote it?
Leonard Cohen, a lot. Lots of stuff I grew up with like Neil Young and Dylan and stuff. Then I got really into Townes Van Zandt and Bill Fey. I guess people that really sound like they're not faking it. It feels as though the first track, 'Acting Fine', is something of a mission statement for what follows.
What's it about?
When I started writing a lot of this record, I was in a bit of a rut. I felt like I was disappointed in myself, and I suppose I felt disappointed in the way that routine can take over, and you sort of get to this point where you're tied up in presenting some side of yourself, and it's not necessarily what your heart would really want you to be doing. It's about finding solace in the real relationships in life that mean something, and in music as well. It's almost like a personal reminder to myself to cut the crap and get to that stuff so that you can elevate out of that quagmire feeling of the day-to-day stuff. It's a pretty steep thing to write down on your to do list.
The record deals with some fairly difficult things, but has a peculiar lightness of touch to it as well. Looking back on it, does it appear to be more optimistic than it might have felt to write and record?
I was pretty concerned about how heavy i