Sydney-based electronic pop collective Mel Blue have released their debut EP, 'Sanctuary Point Part I' - a culmination of funk and dance-inspired tracks that embody the band's energetic, nostalgic sound.
The past year has been filled with milestones for the band - gaining a million streams on Spotify as well as numerous playlist placements from Apple Music and Spotify, spins on triple j, sold out shows and love from music media at home and around the globe.
Written over the last two years in a studio in Coogee, bedrooms in the Eastern Suburbs and the Northern Beaches over Zoom during lockdown, and in a holiday home in Sanctuary Point on The South Coast of New South Wales, 'Sanctuary Point Part I' is just the beginning for Mel Blue.
We had the opportunity to speak with them on the release as we dive a little deeper into the creation, inspirations and stories behind the EP...
Introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about the band!
"Our name's are Oscar Sharah and Luke Gerber. We write and produce songs for the band Mel Blue. We make pop electronic music inspired by 90s and 2000s dance music. We’re based in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and have been making music together as Mel Blue for about 4 years. In our band we also have Lewis Clark who plays synthesisers and is our art and video director, Jacob Siles on drums, Jack Janis on keyboards, and Pat Byrne on guitar."
How did you meet and when did you start making music together?
Luke: "Oscar and I met a few years ago in 2014 when we were both fresh out of High School and working at the same studio on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We played in each other’s bands when I needed a drummer and when Oscar needed a bass player. However it wasn’t until Oscar invited me to come do a session at a small room he was hiring at a different studio in the city that we started spending more time together. We really didn’t know what we wanted to make but we knew we both liked disco music. We put a funky bassline over some housey hi-hats and even though we didn’t know it at the time, this would become the sound that we love making together the most.
It took us about 5 years to come back to this sound as we made music together in other projects. We had another band that Jacob and Jack were also in (who Oscar knew from High School), and we had a horn section in the band too. We were eventually pretty lost with what the music in this band wanted to be, but along the way of trying to write demos for an album for this project we made a bunch of electronic based music.
This music always felt like something we weren’t “allowed” to be making because it wouldn’t fit the band of live instruments we were in, and we didn’t think it’d ever come out. It became almost like a guilty pleasure for us. That was until we realised that we could put all of this different electronic music we loved to make into a new project. Mel Blue gave us a place where we could realise these ideas into something that can live and breathe outside of a Hard Drive."
Is there a story behind the band name?
Luke: "Mel Blue is kind of an alter ego for Oscar and I, and the name comes from an abbreviation of “melancholy blue”. We think of “melancholy blue” as a way to describe the moment you’re experiencing something so beautiful it makes you feel nostalgic and reminiscent, and how this in turn starts to feel a little melancholic even though you’re content.
It felt like the right name to explain the shift in sound we were creating. Before Mel Blue we would write real 70s/80s upbeat, funk, happy songs. Along the way though we realised that we love dreamy synths, dark chords, electronic drums and nostalgia and we feel “Mel Blue” is a name that captures that."
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Luke: "Oscar and I love all sorts of music, though the underlying themes of what we’re both drawn to are groove and nostalgia. Anything that makes us feel like we’re kids again and has big drums and we’re into it. That said, the most important artists for us are Daft Punk (like everyone), Phoenix, Frank Ocean (also like everyone), Paradis, Air, James Blake, Disclosure, Tyler The Creator, Empire Of The Sun, and Underworld.
In terms of era and style: French House; 90s House and techno music; 2000s pop house; and Acid Jazz are a really big part of our musical DNA. Songs like Music Sounds Better With You by Stardust, Lady by Modjo, Murder On The Dancefloor by Sophie Ellis Baxtor, Just The Way You Are by Milky, Sing It Back by Moloko, Little L by Jamiroquai, Gypsy Woman by Crystal Waters, and Chime by Orbital. Anything that’s in the lineage of Nile Rogers, has a 909 drum machine, and a Korg M1 or Juno.
Indie electronic bands (groove ✓) that were big when we were teenagers (nostalgia ✓) are also a big part of what we love - groups like MGMT, Friendly Fires, and Miami Horror. We take a lot from these groups with how we approach percussion (do lots), drum sound design (we love mixing in an overhead of live hats and tom fills, and then adding a big 909 kick), synths, as well as guitars. These bands have a raw energy and lively time feel that comes only from playing parts live rather than programming them in. This is something that we’re trying to do more of in our productions.
There’s so much music we adore it’s hard to whittle it down to just the most important inspirations but that probably covers it. Still there is one more composer to mention! Steve Reich and minimalism are huge for us, and his music has helped us contextualise all the techno and house music we’re into. This music seems to be about stating a strong idea or concept in a simple, elegant way that is easy to digest, and this is something that we are always striving for.
Not to mention that without realising it at first, Oscar and I have found ourselves always in search of repeating patterns that have a particular mood when we’re writing. Steve Reich’s music definitely helped us become cognisant of that pursuit, and also reminds us that one simple idea can provide so much emotion."
Have you had a particular stand out moment so far?
Oscar: "We just did two shows to launch the EP. One at the retreat in Melbourne and one at the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney. We’ve made most of our music in bedrooms and lounge rooms in our parents homes, so to perform it for people in these venues and have them dance and sing the songs back to us - that’s probably one of the best feelings ever. It felt like a full circle moment. We felt like we got to share these songs in the best way possible, and we got to see people enjoy them as you intended them to be. These gigs have been really special moments and felt like dreams coming true."
You’ve just released your debut EP ‘Sanctuary Point Part 1’! Tell us a little about it!
Oscar: "Yes! We are so excited to have Part I out in the world! Luke and I would find it hard to get together and write music because we are pretty busy usually. So we decided we would block out 4-5 days and go away with all our gear to just write and record music. I used to work at this restaurant called Laurie's Vegetarian in Bondi (if you want a yum vego feed) and my boss had a holiday house in Sanctuary Point. He let us go there and use his lounge room as our studio. Being in such a beautiful quiet town we got so lost in the music, and this was where we found our sound and direction. Going to Sanctuary Point feels like our special ritual that separates all our other music work from Mel Blue."
How did you decide on the EP name?
"We made a lot of music down in Sanctuary Point and we were trying to figure out what to do with all of it. It felt like an album to us, but we know that we are still getting the band out there and don’t want to release it all at once. Instead we’ve decided to do a series of EPs (Part I, II and III) and because Sanctuary Point is the birthplace for the music, as well as the place that helped us clarify what we wanted to do, it felt perfect to have that name as the title for all three EPs."
Are there any key themes, stories or inspirations that run throughout?
"The thread through 'Sanctuary Point Pt. I' is the story of losing yourself in the promise of a long distance relationship. The EP wrestles with the apparent impossibility of making a relationship work across oceans, romanticises the elation of seeing someone you thought you might not get to meet again, and eventually embraces the end of something you desperately believed you could make work."
Do you guys have a favourite lyric or whole track? If so, which one and why?
Luke: "I think our favourite track changes from week to week but at the moment it’s 'Wake Up Call'. We love this song because of how not-a-struggle writing this song was. Pouring hours and hours and sometimes years into songs is how we have done most things, but this song came together in less than 12 hours. That process kind of showed us that, although very rare, this is something possible for us and we now always try to get the song we’re writing as close to finished as we can in a single session.
We wrote 'Wake Up Call' over Zoom when Oscar and I were both in isolation (we both had Covid which I had given to him a few weeks earlier in a mixing session we did together!). We wrote all the instrumental parts over a few hours, finishing our late session at about 2am. Oscar was still firing and wrote the lyrics straight after the Zoom. He didn’t sleep and recorded the final vocals straight after writing them, and the song was done by 11am. Other than a couple tweaks here and there we didn’t change anything from this first day.
We love this song because it reminded us that writing can sometimes (and probably should usually) be effortless and pure joy."
Have you got any fun behind the scenes stories from the writing / recording process?
Luke: "One of our favourite stories from working on the EP was how the 'Yesterday' bassline came to be. We had spent the best part of a day working on 'Yesterday' in the Sanctuary Point House, and it was getting late. I was starting to fall asleep on the couch behind Oscar as he was still working at the computer. Oscar was talking to himself and mumbled something like “I dunno I just think it needs some extra element that I can grab onto man”. He then turned around to me and asked me to do a bassline. I don’t know if I saw him turn or felt his presence turning, but one way or another I didn’t want Oscar to know that I’d fallen asleep so I pretended I had been awake the entire time and jumped off the couch to grab my bass. Still half asleep I played the bassline for Yesterday. I did the take in about 30 seconds and then went straight back to sleep. Somehow this ended up being the best bass line I’d ever recorded and we ended up keeping it on the recording. Every time I hear the song I think about this exact situation and I have to pinch myself that that’s how it happened."
What can we expect next from Mel Blue?
"Sanctuary Pt. I is part of a three part EP series we’ve got planned. The songs are a collection of the demos we’ve been writing over the years and are still writing more of. The song list changes all the time, but there are some tracks on there we’ve had in the bank for years and are desperate to share. EP Pt. II is getting closer every day and there’ll be some singles from that later this year.
We’re also always keen to keep our live show growing. We’ve just started incorporating drum machines and sequencers to help us do some live techno programming and improvising rather than sticking to playing along with stems. We’ve got big dreams for huge festival stages, amazing light shows, and euphoric house grooves, so you can come see us chip away at our dreams at the next show!"
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