"It tired me out" Tam Vantage

Tam Matlakowski (aka. Tam Vantage) is one of Melbourne’s hardest working musicians. His new video, High Definition, is out this week and we had a chat to him about technology, under-appreciation and living in the past.

Can you tell us about your new video? 

Well, it’s for a song called ‘High Definition’ from an album that came out late last year. The song itself was written about being engulfed by technology, media and the digital world. I had a lot of different things going on in my mind when I wrote it. I had all these ideas about being reborn inside the internet and about the internet being a form of mass consciousness; about art and media as a means for people to document their lives and to express themselves, but also as a means of escapism; about trying to re-invent yourself; and about your reality becoming warped by your ego and from disconnection to those around you. Anyway, I filmed the video with my friend Matt Cribb who I play in another band called The Newsletters with. We went through all these complex existential ideas for the video, and then in the end, I kinda said ‘fuck it, let’s just smash technology. I’m sick of it’. So the video clip introduced feelings of frustration and anger into the equation which I think were very necessary. I had spent too much time thinking about it all and by the time we got to making the clip I just wanted to smash some stuff and vent some anger. It felt good. Conversely, the footage of me singing is very cold. The running joke while we filmed me singing in the clip was to just be ‘dead inside’. We’d be casually chatting about music or whatever else in between takes, and then each time we came to shooting, things got real, and Matt would say ‘ok… just remember… dead inside’. I found it very amusing. I have a rather dry, black sense of humour at times though.

Where are you at with technology? 

I really fucking hate it. I am bitter about my dependence upon it. But I also feel like we’ve become connected to it in a very deep way, and it weirds me out. I am aware of the degree to which it’s become an extension of myself, and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m becoming an android. I almost believe that some people are practically androids now. It’s like some weird modern spiritual dilemma or something. Sometimes I just want to curl up and die peacefully in the woods and be at one with nature, but I know that I’m still too deeply entrenched as a social being who wants to be accepted by the people around me, to ever let that happen to myself. Sometimes I think that technology literally hates me too; like, that computers break when I go near them and that wi-fi signals get weaker when I’m around…

There’s been a pretty big gap between the record last October and the video now. How has the release felt to you in that time?

It hasn’t felt great. I put so much of myself into making and releasing that album. It tired me out. I thought more people would have been interested in it and appreciated it, and to be honest it really hurt me in a very deep way to see it go largely unappreciated. I was very proud of the album. I should have put it on vinyl but I didn’t have the money. I have always had trouble networking and with the business side of making music, as well as feeling introverted in general and when playing shows. I couldn’t find a label to release it on vinyl. I hope it gets a vinyl pressing one day. I’m hoping that this clip might give it a bit more exposure. 

I’ve always loved your writing, from when I first heard Pop Singles on myspace to the stuff you’re doing today. You seem capable enough on all instruments to not need much assistance in the studio, yet a lot of your releases are with collaborators. Is working with other people vital to your work?

Thanks! Yeah, collaboration has become more and more important to me, I’d even say that it’s vital now. I consider myself to be quite a talented multi-instrumentalist, and also good with production, but I haven’t got much enthusiasm or excitement about recording things on my own anymore. I’ve done home recordings since I was 17 years old, that’s 10 years ago now, and I have hundreds and hundreds of unreleased demos where I play every instrument. I still love all those demos; sometimes I dream about getting them released as cassettes through small indie labels or something - but it just doesn’t excite me anymore. I like that through collaboration, every person’s role can become more specialised, and things can be achieved in a shorter amount of time. You still direct what happens by choosing who it is that you collaborate with. I personally think it works best if you choose people you have faith in, and then give them the freedom to do what they want with only a few guidelines and open-ended suggestions. There’s no point telling someone else to do something a certain way if you can do it yourself; instead, it’s about embracing and encouraging the creativity in the people around you, or taking advantage of the talents they have which you don’t. It’s also just more fun to have someone else as part of a project, I spend enough time on my own as it is. 

I remember years back Mess and Noise gave a review of Pop Singles’ debut album suggesting that it was for fans wishing they ‘were born 20 years earlier’. Your latest record also has some similar comparisons to the Go-Betweens and the Church. How do you feel about these comments? What’s your relationship with nostalgia? 

Ha, yeah. Both The Church and The Go-Betweens have been big influences on me. There are similarities. The sound of their sparkly, glistening, chorus and reverb drenched, but also rather clean sounding guitars, has certainly been a tone I took up early on. I think Pop Singles was more impressionistic and abstract than The Church, slightly akin to the first two Go-Betweens albums. I don’t actually see much correlation between those bands and my new music but I guess it’s still there. My musical nostalgia is quite deeply ingrained. I think it stems from my relationship with my parents who are both artists and music lovers. Also, it’s a form of escapism from the present day, amplified by my tendency to glorify things that I am disassociated from. I’m quite nostalgic. I’ve considered an album, a book, a work of art, etc. as being like a time capsule, which captures the lives of those involved up until that point, and condenses that life into an object/medium which can then be shared with others. Consuming art from the past is the closest I’ll ever get to being a time-traveller [laughs]. This idea of existence being captured in the form of art is why I titled the album ‘Life in High Definition’. Anyway, I’m quite a nostalgic person in general when removed from music. I spend too much time living in the past and thinking about people who I miss, who are no longer a part of my life. I have too many of those people in my life. They say that depression is constantly living in the past, hey… 

What can we expect in 2017? 

Well, I already have a new album recorded, mixed and waiting to be mastered. I recorded it with the band and with John Lee at Phaedra Studios. So, I’m trying to figure out how to release that one. I’ve got another music video for ‘The Boy Who Always Wins’ ready to go, and I’m planning on doing a few clips for this new album too. I’d like to start recording another new album soon, but I don’t know where I’ll get the money from. To be honest, I don’t have high hopes or grand plans for the future at the moment. In 2017, as long as I’m not dead, not homeless and I don’t have any serious health conditions – I’ll consider myself to be pretty lucky.

Follow Tam Vantage over here.

FeaturesLee Hannah