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El Gusto of Hermitude: “It’s amazing to see the world looking back into Australia now for these sounds”

Fresh off the circuit from their most recent national tour, 2015 has been a big year for Hermitude to say the least. January saw the release of their first single Through The Roof, off their newest album Dark Night Sweet Light, followed by a series of intense touring and shows both here and abroad. Second single The Buzz, released in May, became Hermitude’s highest charting single to date, peaking at number 20 on the ARIA singles chart, a testament of their ability to effortlessly marry slick electronic beats with their hip-hop/urban roots. 

Having had their fair share of prominent US festivals including the Governor’s Ball in New York City, Buku Festival in New Orleans and SXSW in Austin, Texas, the duo will now bring their musical prowess back down under to grace us with some of their biggest solo shows to date. After playing at the Enmore Theatre and Groovin’ the Moo Festival earlier this year, Hermitude will head to the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney and Festival Venue in Melbourne during November.

We caught us with one half of Hermitude, Angus Stuart, a.k.a El Gusto, to chat about their enormous year, their new album and how they’re feeling about their growing international fan base.

Hey Gus! How are you going? Where are you currently? What are you up to?

I’m good, I’m currently in the studio in Sydney, just doing a couple of remixes at the moment, so it’s keeping me busy while not on the road.

Yeah, because you just wrapped up your most recent tour, didn’t you?

Yeah, we just finished a bunch of shows over in the States, and we did a couple of festivals out here which has been fun as well. A LOT of travelling as of late.

How did it go performing the new material off your new album live?

It’s been really fun actually. When you’ve been writing new material in the studio and it’s all bubbled up in your brain as to how people might react to it, it’s a beautiful thing when you go out and actually play it in front of a bunch of people and see how they react. So far it’s been really positive, which has been really cool. It’s always good hearing the music really loud, blasting people with it.

For your next round of Aussie shows you’re playing at the Hordern Pavilion and Festival Hall, which are both some pretty big performance venues for any artists. How does it feel to be playing some of your biggest solo shows there?

It’s really exciting – and nerve-racking. It’s one of those things. The people around us that we work with were like, ‘I think this is the right time for you guys to step up and grab this,’ and we were excited and nervous about it, but it has been really cool watching tickets fly out the door. Everyone seems to be really vibed up about it. Actually, I walked past the Hordern last night, and thought, ‘We’re gonna be in there soon, with a whole bunch of people and it’s going to be really fun.’ I’m pretty excited about it!

Because your other biggest shows to date have been festival performances right?

Yeah, I mean we did the Enmore recently, which was one of our largest headline shows to date, and that’s like two and a half thousand. But festivals are generally massive, twice that or more. At festivals we usually play in front of a bigger audience, so it’s pretty cool to be able to know that we’re going to have a festival size audience just for one of our own shows.

How does that compare to, say, one of the big overseas festivals you’ve being recently playing at like SXSW? Do you think there’s more weight playing a big show in Australia?

Well, those shows are really exciting overseas for us, we’ve got good a fan base over there now. And there’s always a bunch of new people coming along to see us and it’s new territory you know, but the beautiful thing about playing at home is it feels like you’re playing to your family after being overseas and doing shows like the festivals and stuff over there.

Do you guys want to try keep playing bigger and bigger venues or do you want to still keep it small and intimate as well?

Small club gigs are a beautiful thing in themselves, it’s so intimate and gets hot and sweaty and all that sort of stuff and we never want to rule out those types of things for sure.

Speaking about your new album, we’re a little late on the congratulations seen as it was released back in May, what’s something new that you learnt during the process this time round?

For me I felt like it’s always different, writing each album. For this one, something that we learned about was trying to not fill up the song with too much, and to let the main part shine. And however you support the main melody or the vocal or whatever, in the most minimal, but the most effective way. I think that was the challenge for us with this record, and I think we got there pretty well.

What did collaborating with the artists like Yeo and Young Tapz bring to that album? How did they influence the direction and the sound of it?

We wanted to use vocals in a way that still retained the Hermitude flavour that we’ve had previously. We’ve always been a bit more of an instrumental outfit, but we do like to incorporate vocals. The challenge was to figure out how to incorporate those vocalists but not have it like a feature song. But those guys brought such great vibes to the album, and Young Tapz was just really fun to work with. You know he’s eighteen and just got so much energy and he is super charismatic, and it was just a lot of fun to get in the studio with him. Those guys bring the flavour and the energy and then we go in and hack it to pieces!

Did they come to you or you guys sought them out?

We heard about Young Tapz on SoundCloud, a friend of ours mentioned that he was really cool. We’ve always got our ears open and we heard his own tunes and we were really feeling his vibe, like his voice and everything, so we just hit him up basically and we were like, ‘Hey do you want to do a song with us?’ and he was really keen.

He actually did some demos (he’s from New Zealand) and sent them over, and we were feeling it, but I guess we just really like to just try and be in the same room as the person we are working with. Sometimes you can get away with not doing that, but sometimes when you really feel like you need to direct someone a little bit in the way you want, it’s way better to just be standing in front of them than to write an email and try to describe the vibe.

I remember at your Groovin’ The Moo Set how you two premiered Through The Roof and it got a really awesome. Is it really tricky performing new material considering that no one has had a chance to review it themselves?

It’s fun, I like chucking it in there every now and then, surprising people. Sometimes it’s great because you get a really good reaction to a song no one’s ever heard before, and it can let you know that you’re on the right path. Sometimes we play unfinished material, but we just play a verse and a chorus and then we’re out again. I really like to do that just to gauge the people’s reaction: if it works on a dance floor; if it works emotionally – it’s a cool thing.

I loved it! I thought it definitely got a great reception. How do you guys prepare for live shows? Is there a strict script you stick to or do you try to mix it up with a bit of improv?

Yeah, we play a lot of the instruments over the top of the tracks live, so we have to prepare quite a bit. We’ll sit down and figure a good track order, and then if we find a new order that’s good, we might have to do some edits to make them work together. Then we’ll do those edits and we’ll rehearse. It makes me really want to play in a live band because you go, ‘hey bass player, you play this and everyone else play this,’ and then we’re good. But with electronic music you have to sit in front of the computer and do edits and all that. Once you’ve done that, then you can rehearse it, so it’s fun but frustrating.

Well considering that your roots are in hip hop, I recall from a previous interview you said your sound is like ‘hip hop electronica with a hint of demented R&B’. What is it about that blend of hip hop and electronic music that makes it work so well? What do you love about it?

Hip hop for us was one of the early loves, you know? We grew up playing in bands and playing funk and reggae and soul music, and hip hop stemmed from that music, as well as sampling and stuff like that. Then when we started writing electronic music we were getting inspired by that stuff but we wanted to do, we didn’t want to do it with rappers, just be straight hip hop.

We had our own vibe going on, being actual players of instruments, and we wanted to explore those worlds. For us, the core of hip hop is the groove – in terms of bringing that to the electronic sounds that we use.

Who are some of your favourite artists who are successful in bringing the two together?

I love, at the moment, a kid called Sam Gellaitry from Scotland, and also from Scotland is Hudson Mohawke. He’s cool with that demented R&B – he is king of that stuff. And there’s Flying Lotus, where it’s more experimental but he’s got this American LA hip hop infusion in his sound.

So you and Luke have been in the music business for a long time now, and you’ve grown up together as well, so you’ve been able to witness how all these genres you’ve been involved in evolve and grow, and how they’ve blended to create new ones. How does it feel to witness that and how does it parallel your own musical development?

It’s a beautiful thing. I think the Australian electronic music scene is really healthy right now and it’s been really cool to watch. When we started, it was still a micro thing. There were other elements of the electronic scene that were big, like dance, that kind of house music was bigger, raves and stuff like that. Now there’s a beats scene, like us and Flume and Wave Racer and all that sort of stuff. It’s really shining.

It’s just amazing to see the rest of the world looking back into Australia for those sounds. Whereas, maybe five or six years ago, we were still looking out to the rest of the world for the sounds and trying to get noticed. But now it’s turned back the other way and we’re leading the charge. We’ve toured about three, four times in the last year, and each time we go over there, more and more people are just like, ‘oh those Australians got the shit right now’. It’s really cool. That’s been a really nice thing to witness. For us as artists, we’re really just trying to evolve and not repeat ourselves, and stamp our own sound on what’s going on, and just try and stay fresh.

What plans do you guys have now that you’ve wrapped up all of your touring for the moment before you embark on your next round? Are you going to take some time to relax or straight back into the studio?

We’re doing a bunch of remixes at the moment for some crew and then actually Luke [Dubbs] is getting married, so we’re off to Brazil which is going to be great because: A) he is getting married and we’re celebrating that and they’re having a fun time, and B) I have never been to Brazil before and it’s going to be a mad holiday. Just going to take a little bit of time off, and then we’re back on the road.

Dark Night Sweet Light is out now via Elefant Traks and available on iTunes

Check out the dates below for when you can catch Hermitude later this year:

Friday 27 November – Hodern Pavillion, Sydney NSW – Tickets

Saturday 16 May – Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC – Tickets