Since breaking onto the Australian electronic music scene in 2014, Slumberjack have expanded their sound with bigger hooks and more visionary textures. Powered by their kinetic chemistry, the Perth-based duo’s latest output includes “Open Fire”, an energetic collaboration with former Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns (released via Diplo’s Mad Decent in North America and Onelove elsewhere across the globe). Having earned 10 million-plus streams across all platforms, Morgan Then and Fletcher Ehlers also recently released “Enigma (feat GRRL PAL),” a bright and airy track that reached #4 on HypeMachine in late 2015. In each of their new offerings, Slumberjack channel their complex musicality and passion for innovation into music both deeply inventive and distinctly timeless. First revealed on their self-titled debut EP (a 2014 release that hit #2 on the iTunes electronic chart), Slumberjack’s trend-surpassing sensibility forgoes what Ehlers calls “the instant gratification of a big drop” for a sound that feels just as vital at home as on the dance floor. “We want to make tracks with that same classic feeling as when you a hear a Beatles song on the radio,” says Then. “It’s a huge shoe to fill, but that’s the goal.” In the past year, Then and Ehlers have pushed toward that goal by pursuing a more melody-driven, songcraft-minded approach to making music. By building off that foundation, Slumberjack feel freed up to delve into more eclectic sounds and embed more intricate textures into their tracks. Among their inspirations: Mongolian prayer music, Hans Zimmer’s use of razor blades as a cello bow on the Dark Knight soundtrack, the ethereal post-classical music of Italian pianist/composer Ludovico Einaudi. No matter which sounds they’re exploring, Then (a Borneo-bred, classically trained concert pianist and former world-music instrumentalist) and Ehlers (an Australia native who taught himself to make electronic music at age 11) play with the endless contrast at the heart of their collaboration. That contrast manifests itself in their musical tastes and creative process (Then starts out on piano when writing new tracks, Ehlers likes to work off a cappella recordings from collaborators), and extends all the way to their points of view on Will Ferrell movies (Ehlers is a fan, Then’s adamantly averse), video game consoles (Ehlers is an Xbox guy, Then’s a PS4 devotee), and basic lifestyle preferences (Ehlers likes mornings, Then hasn’t seen 9 a.m. in weeks). Slumberjack are now gearing up for a run of major festival dates that includes Lollapalooza, Electric Forest and HARD Summer in the U.S., as well as their second consecutive appearance at Australia’s Splendour In The Grass. During their time in the States, they’ll also join up with musicians across all genres—from pop to hip-hop to rock—and start writing for their next release. And when it comes time to produce, Slumberjack will likely operate according to a process that begins with each artist working on his own and then culminates in close collaboration. “Both of us believe that you need to spend that time alone in the studio to really discover what you’re going for,” says Then. “And then when we get together, we end up finding new textures and adding new flavors to that. The reason Slumberjack sounds like Slumberjack is that we’re bringing those two worlds together—either of us alone would never be able to create this sound.”
How did you two meet?
Fletcher: We actually met at a DJ competition. I think I won it in 2011, and Morgan won it in 2012. We were both sussing out the competition, and we decided to hang out a bit after that.
Morgan: Fletch pretty much summed it all up.
When did everything start falling into place?
Morgan: I think it happened both externally and internally. Internally, I think things started to come together when we hopped into the studio with Mr Carmack, when he came to Perth. He showed us the super secret production secrets. I’ll tell you now, there’s no secret! Just do what you want to do, don’t care what everyone else does. You do you. Externally, I think it was when Triple J started to support us, our single was on spot rotation, but it was that boost we needed.
Fletcher: For me it was the both our studio session with Mr Carmack, and the Triple J support. On top of that it really dawned on me when everything started to fall into place when we first heard our tracks being played in a club. A shout out to the World Bar in Sydney for sparking that life changing moment for me. It was the lovely Nina Las Vegas who played it, and gave us a shout out. We were both like, “Wow… we made it, people are actually playing our songs in clubs.” It was a big moment for us because people were listening to our music besides our mums.
How did you move into music initially?
Fletcher: I always thought I wanted to do film when I was growing up, I was obsessed with it. When I was around 14 or 15, I started to realise I was more interested in the music side of things. I tried my hand at a few different programs but I ended up settling on Ableton. I’ve learnt my skills, like how I do everything through trial and error, and tinkering. When I met Morgan, he’d never really used Ableton before, and I didn’t know anything about music theory, so we helped each other out. We both have a deeper understanding of each other’s worlds, and I think it really reflects in our music creation. It’s nice having that dynamic to spread our skills across two people.
Morgan: As Fletcher said, I never really delved into production until I moved to Australia, because I couldn’t buy a keyboard. Luckily, I had a friend who lent me his guitar, because I was so close to being, “Like I’m out… I don’t want to be in music anymore.” I was inches from accepting my fate. That friend who gave me the guitar is very dear to me, they somewhat saved me. I remember going to a department store, and saw the DJ/ Production department, and I bought Logitech Express or something, I went home and just started recording. I didn’t know much about samples or loop packs, because most of my background is live music recordings. I was even recording my guitar with the headphone jack! It sounded really bad. After meeting Fletch we did a bit of a trade off, he taught me about production and a sense of musicality, and I taught him about music theory.
If you could make a cocktail called “SLUMBERJACK” what would you put into it? To best describe you and your music.
Morgan & Fletcher: RUM!
Morgan: Rum, definitely rum and maybe something spicy, and minty.
Fletcher: It would be Asian influenced, it would be a spicy cocktail. You’re a bartender on the side, we’ll leave it up to you to create it for us!
Slumberjack is also the name of an outdoor camping company. How many times have you been confused for it?
Fletcher: We always get tagged in their sleeping bags sales on Instagram. Apart from that, we get confused for the artist, LUMBERJVCK, more often.
As a duo, what’s the production process like for you guys, do you work as a team, or will you brainstorm ideas separately and combine them?
Fletcher: It’s changed a lot actually, when we started we would start everything together in the studio, always together. It would be like walk into the studio, full blank canvas, let’s try and get something happening, but now we literally cannot do that at all. If we start in the studio with a blank canvas, if it’s just us two in the room, it’s just brick wall after brick wall. As soon as you put someone else in the room, even if they’re just on their phone in the back, we can suddenly write a whole song in a day. It’s really weird, so we love working with other producers,vocalists, just someone else to be in the room. Just to go oh that’s cool, and then it’s suddenly 2-on-1 and we can actually make a decision rather than being one-on-one for everything.
Morgan: Because if it’s 50/50 you get nothing done.
Fletcher: So the best way we work now is having someone else in the room, just to bounce ideas off or start separately and bring the idea to the table. And it’s really great having a duo because a lot of the time when you’re writing by yourself, you hit a wall and you can’t go anywhere so I can just send it to Morgan and he can change a couple parts which will then re-inspire me to take the track in a completely different direction, do something new.
What was the song that you listened to when you were a child that made you want to play music?
Fletcher: Oh wow. I think a heard a track called “Ghosts N Stuff,” by Deadmau5, on the radio. I was in the car with my dad and I was just so blown away by how a song can use so many crazy electronic sounds and be so amazingly catchy. That’s what got me into producing electronic music.
Morgan: It’s so cliche. It’s going to be “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” by Skrillex. It made me want to get into electronic music. It was too cool.
You both have made music for a long time. Fletcher, doing electronic, and Morgan being classically trained. How do you find new sounds, stems, vocalists? Where do you find the inspiration?
Morgan: The vocalists are a little bit hard for us because in the states there’s a lot of top liners, but I guess you need to sift through so many to get one good one. In Australia, everyone tries or makes a point to be different. So everyone you get is instantly unique and then you just have to see if it fits your song. But in terms of how we balance it, yes, I’m classically trained but sometimes I write the drum beat and Fletcher actually comes up with the harmonies to fit with it.
In the balance here, I’m the one that’s trained but that could also limit my knowledge. Fletcher isn’t trained in terms of harmonies, but what he hears could be more in tune with how he feels, so there’s a very magical way of how that works. You know, there’s a lot of people I know that aren’t classically trained but they come up with great melodies. I mean I can come up with some of that stuff, but I live among rules and it’s really hard to get out of that. And we sample… we just scout everywhere, the whole internet.
Fletcher: Yeah a lot of friends as well, our friend producers. We’ll do sample swapping with them if we like their style, but a lot of it is pretty organic.
If you could replace yourself in Slumberjack with a celebrity, who would it be?
Fletcher: Probably Thor.
Morgan: Now that we’re with the superhero vibe, I would go with Robert Downey Jr. He’s Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man. I would have him replace me. It would be his honor.
Any words or messages for the fans?
Morgan: Keep pushing the boundaries, keep listening to new stuff, it doesn’t have to be dance music, it just has to be music. People need to understand that it’s not all about just raging. I mean there’s great raging music out there, we love it, we absolutely live by it, but there are moments when you just want to drive down the coast and listen to a great track. Moments when you want to play music and you want to go to bed.”
Fletcher: We have a Spotify playlist of all stuff specifically for that, it’s called Slumbercrate. It’s all the stuff that’s non-EDM that we like listening to.”
Morgan: We don’t discriminate, that playlist is all about whatever we feel everyone should be able to enjoy. You can listen to a jazz record, a country record, a folk record, and then dubstep, and that’s okay. Literally we like to embrace the idea of no genres meaning not just dance music, it can be classical, it can be soundtrack, it can be folk, it can be rock, it can be punk, it can be pop, whatever.”