Chatting with Australia’s Fender’s Player Plus Studio Sessions winners on their unparalleled experience

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Chatting with Australia’s Fender’s Player Plus Studio Sessions winners on their unparalleled experience

Words by Mixdown Staff

Photography by Catherine Black

How free studio time at Sing Sing with Adam Rhodes for two deserving winners panned out!

Following the release of their new Player Plus collection of instruments, Fender was in a giving mood. To inspire musicians to get in the studio and record after the pandemic, Fender decided to front up for over 260 hours of recording time in studios all over the place, with product and mixing credits to boot!

Each winner would receive 10 hours of free studio time with an on-site engineer, a US$500 credit for a mixer, a free Player Plus guitar or bass, and mentorship from top industry professionals.

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

Australia’s winners both decided to employ Adam Rhodes (Paul Kelly, Angus Stone, Dirty Three) and the iconic Sing Sing Studios, with The Great Emu War Casualties (Joe, Bibek, and Saskia) and Sidney Rose the deserving recipients. We were able to chat to both winners about the experience and how it’ll shape their musical futures!

Hey guys, first off, congratulations on winning the Australian leg of the Fender Player Plus Studio Sessions. Tell us a bit about yourself and what this opportunity means for you.

The Great Emu War Casualties

Joe: Thank you very much! We are a three-piece alternative indie rock group from Liverpool, Sydney, and Kathmandu, based out of Melbourne. The three of us have been making music together since 2019, but obviously once COVID hit we found it challenging to get ourselves into the same place at the same time.

Thankfully we’d already been writing remotely by sending Logic demos between each other so the pandemic wasn’t too big a stretch, but it was a huge bummer because the dream was always to one day to do the whole ‘spend a week in the studio’ thing.

So this gift of professional studio time meant that we could finally take a few new songs into a proper fancy studio and flesh them out in the live room together. What then happened was that Bibek’s kick pedal broke and my voice gave out around three takes into the first song. Proof that planning can only get you so far.

Sidney Rose

Thank you so much! It really was (and still is) a ‘pinch me’ kind of opportunity from Fender! I’m a Melbourne songwriter, usually found slow-dancing my way through the indie-pop side of music, however my roots lie in tinkering on my Mum’s nylon guitar or Poppa’s upright piano. In a sentence: I adore linen, clever lyrics, and honest reflections on life and mental health.

My artist project is quite the newborn – sharing a birthday with a worldwide pandemic – so to be entrusted with a space to intentionally create and collaborate with such a well known company within the music industry, this early on, was a huge encouragement!

It can be so easy as an independent artist to lose heart or question your decisions when you’re not backed by a huge team or fan base, but we all start somewhere and I am beyond grateful to have had my artistry acknowledged by the panel and feel so supported as I venture in to the next few years of my career.

What’s the basic setup on your tracks?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Bibek: It is usually bass, drums, vocals, and guitars. Joe plays guitars and sings, Saskia plays bass and keys, and Bibek plays drums and sample. And we have Cat Sanzaro sometimes for more vocals and percussion. Our old records were mostly done in our bedroom and some DIY studios all around the east coast, from all the way up to Byron down to country Victoria.

Sidney Rose

For most of my releases, the set up typically would involve my producer (Ben Oldland) and I recording myself playing either keys or guitar – whatever I initially wrote the song on. Then Ben would experiment and record a variety of live instruments/sounds, as well as add a few electronically-made ones, to build a ‘world’ surrounding the organic track.

We love to get really experimental in the studio and usually add a bunch of vocal layers (as well as harmonies) to each track too, which is becoming a signature part of my records. That’s my typical, indie-pop setup.

However, with my band, we have always played completely live with keys, guitar, drums, bass, and myself. So when I applied for this opportunity, I fell in love with the idea to strip it all back and create some magic live in the room. One take. Not overly produced. Mostly to challenge myself but also to show my audience where the songs originally lived and breathed before we created new worlds for them to sit in. It’s raw, confronting and honest but it’s a precious and humble way to show another side to my music.

Sing Sing is one of Australia’s truly iconic studios and with Adam Rhodes (Paul Kelly, Angus Stone, Dirty Three) behind the controls, I can imagine it was pretty informative, being in such experienced hands and surrounded by so much amazing gear. Were there any particular techniques or equipment used by Adam on the recordings that surprised or impressed you?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Joe: I’m far too obsessed with my own performance to really notice when the smart people with the knowledge in the wires and faders room are working their magic. But the most surprising and impressive thing Adam did for me in the studio was set up everything in about half an hour. Usually that takes about three hours so that blew our minds. He’s definitely a pro!

He also had an idea to dig out an old Gibson Les Paul to use when I was recording this thrashed faux-tremolo part because we couldn’t get enough definition out of the Tele during tracking. It sounded great. Should I have kept that to myself? I would have used one of the Strats but you guys locked them all away when you were finished filming Saskia’s massive weird unicorn head. Sorry about that.

Sidney Rose

For starters, can I just say: Adam is phenomenal. Absolute gold.

I felt so privileged to work with him and had heard nothing but incredible things from Tony Floyd (The Black Sorrows) leading up to my studio time.

It was such a vulnerable space for me, just the guitar and my vocals, no fancy tracks, yet he held that space so well and filled me with confidence; partially due to his breadth of knowledge and experience, but also within his own artistry and willingness to jump on board my project and capture it with the same passion I had creating it.

Trust is a massive part of creative collaboration and he immediately gained mine from the first moment we met and he calmly said: “Whatever it is you want to walk away with today, we’re going to make that happen. I want you to be absolutely thrilled with it!”

Immediately, I felt comfortable jumping into recording the live takes, and it was amazing to see his knowledge of the equipment (like his careful selection of each mic for different songs to suit my vocal range in each context) lift the entire process of recording. As well as having his artistic vision bouncing off mine, so we could experiment with different elements that you’ll hear in the record, like an old organ and even the Wurlitzer which made it into a track (instruments that I would never have originally thought to use in those contexts but now I can’t picture the tracks without them!)

His humble and intentional approach to capturing each track of the live EP was really refreshing and I loved his suggestions to keep everything simple so as to not detract from the powerful message behind each song. The songwriting really stands on its own in the EP we created and he never let his production or suggestions overpower that – which can be rare sometimes with collaboration.

What was your favourite memory of your time at Sing Sing?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Bibek: It was quite an experience to record at Sing Sing surrounded by all the fancy equipment. Apart from that my favourite memory was to see the Locomotion record by Kylie on the wall.

Sidney Rose

It would definitely be the moment Adam called me into the control room after recording my very first live take of the day. The media team were all still there, my manager too, and we all gathered together to listen back to the raw recording before moving onto the next bit. Usually, I can find myself being overly critical when listening back to takes but I remember sitting next to the speaker, closing my eyes and just being speechless within seconds of hearing it.

There was so much authenticity and emotion captured, and I think we were all dead silent just soaking up that initial moment. It felt so special what we were working on and set up the rest of the day to be a really exciting venture to stay as true to the music as possible; not hiding behind production or walls of sound, just a small team with a heart to capture the realness.

What were the emotions like after being announced as one of the winners of the competition with over 1,000 submissions, knowing the kind of opportunity that was in store?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Saskia: I genuinely thought it was a hoax or they’d accidentally sent it to the wrong people because I put in such a silly application. I just went on about how we were Leo Fender’s great great grandchildren or something. I didn’t think we would even vaguely be in the ballpark because they kept going on about TikTok and none of us have any idea what that is (some kind of clock app…?).

I was this close to putting the email straight into the bin until I thought, ‘well, may as well double check just in case…’. It was only when they shipped us the guitar that we thought it might be legit! I guess there’s somebody out there at Fender that really likes unicorns?

Sidney Rose

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to call so many people at the same time! I was completely bewildered and couldn’t stop smiling. Honestly, I just could not believe it – genuinely. My imagination ran wild for a solid few hours, days, weeks even and my heart was really taken by the idea of keeping it simple and still; in my hands was an opportunity that could have my creative fingerprints all over it and I felt as though there were a number of songs, written during isolation, that told pivotal parts of my story that were yet to be shared.

I also was just ultimately grateful upon grateful upon grateful. Being an independent artist, it is rare to have an opportunity that isn’t carrying a tonne of pressure due to the finances poured into it. So the freedom that the Player Plus Sessions brought me to record an entire live EP, was invaluable.

What kind of impact has Fender had on your music career up to this point?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Saskia: After winning this competition I suddenly realised just how much of my (and everyone else’s) music gear is from Fender. It’s actually crazy just how much Fender dominates the whole market. I’m going to sound like a total simp now but there’s really no other brand that has such consistently good quality at every level, from beginner to pro, for such a wide variety of gear.

Well done Fender. Do I get another guitar now? Ignore what Joe said about the Les Paul, he didn’t mean it.

Sidney Rose

Fender has always been a huge household name in the music industry, so I was constantly in awe of the artists they would collaborate with, long before I launched my artist project. Unsurprisingly, the first electric I ever laid my hands on, was my mate’s telecaster and within a week I had bought my own stunning white Tele to have and to hold (who would have thought there would be a collab down the track).

I’ve also been incredibly privileged to have a plethora of strong, creative women who are absolutely killing it in the industry to look up to, like Phoebe Bridgers, Lennon Stella, and Holly Humberstone. Each one of them I’ve seen vibing out on a Fender guitar and bringing their own unique flavour to their songs through those instruments; so the influence and inspiration thanks to Fender’s support of artists has been paramount to my ability to create and play the way I do!

In a podcast I was on recently, the interviewer was commenting on a live set I had played with my Telecaster (the first gig I’d played as Sidney Rose) and he said there was something that seemed ‘just so right’ about that pairing of electric guitar with my vocals and he couldn’t fathom how up until 2020, I had written all my songs on piano. I’d say it’s thanks to Fender that I felt inspired enough to try something new, to get off the ivory keys and now I haven’t looked back!

My songwriting is all the better for it and walking on stage with just my Fender and I, I’ve not felt more like myself!

How are you planning on using what was laid down in the sessions?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Saskia: We managed to squeeze in tracking for two and a half songs before Adam looked like he wanted to die and/or kill us. Poor Adam. We’ve got two of them mixed and mastered already and the last one is hopefully a week or two away from being finished. After that… I guess we will put them on the internet…? Maybe on a TikTok…?

Sidney Rose

We have an entire Live EP recorded from our day at Sing Sing Studios, which will contain four tracks – each one recorded in a single take, with some subtle harmonies or extra embellishments added on afterwards. The heart of this live project was to capture my songwriting in its most organic and heart wrenching state, with nothing to hide behind, so there won’t be too much more work to happen on the record.

I’m just incredibly excited to share it with other people now; each track we recorded for the EP had been hugely therapeutic for me at the time of writing, and now I feel as though they are ready to be that for someone else. That’s the beauty of music and what I aim to do!

Life experiences, heart ache, tears, and prayers, all of them are weaved into each song and this record in particular is the most real and candid I have been in speaking about my walk with mental illness, sexual harassment, adulthood, the list goes on.

I hope that with the release of this Live EP, comes a large sigh of relief for both myself and for those who listen; as if you are chatting with a dear friend and both your walls (and theirs) have been completely lowered as you deeply discuss the realness of life without the mask of perfection.

How will this experience craft your future work?

The Great Emu War Casualties

Joe: It’s definitely different being on the clock in the studio needing to bang out takes quickly, as opposed to having all the time in the world at home. The sound is obviously so superior it’s totally worth it though. It’s too bad we can’t do the studio thing all the time!

Well, although my own personal experience on the day was pretty harrowing. I lost my voice during the vocal tracking of the first song and needed Cat Sanzaro (who does a lot of our backing vocals) to come in and save the day. She totally did do that too. But it’s definitely made us rethink how much we should be recording out our bedrooms, that’s for sure.

Sidney Rose

This entire experience has filled me with a new appreciation and confidence for art in all its stages and contexts. Recording at Sing Sing was such a timely reminder that even stripped back with nothing to hide behind, the songs really do stand strong; so I want to prioritise finding space in my project to hold and honour both sides of my music – the full atmosphere of an indie-pop soundscape along with the organic, barely touched musicianship of live instrumentation with simple melodies and imperfect vocals.

I still have so much to learn as an artist, however I feel so grateful to have been entrusted with that studio time and beautiful Stratocaster to experiment with, to play, to dream, and create something I was challenged by and incredibly proud of. It also reminded me that collaborating with a range of creatives and trying out things you’d never have originally thought of, can sometimes make the project. There are almost too many things to list without making this an entire reflective research paper.

All in all, I was gifted with more encouragement and inspiration than I ever imagined I would have, walking away from Sing Sing that day. I can’t wait to take the new perspective I hold toward my project and keep creating, keep growing and keep making music that is authentic to who I am!

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