11 Apr Artless Armchair Feature – Grace Dalton
It started 3 years ago, and from then on, life has never been the same for Matthew Vaughn, creator extraordinaire of “Lesstalk Records” – a DIY record company originally hailing from the shores of the Central Coast of NSW, and now gracing the big city of Sydney. “It’s not a scene because there’s no one in it. You kinda just adopt the ideas about releasing your own stuff, booking your own gigs, and we needed to put this under something, so we booked it under Lesstalk Records.” Nathan Martin life long pal and band mate was starting to play acoustically and recording under the title “The (temperamental) Pocket,” and other music friends were also creating their own sound, forming their own bands and needing a formal stamp for their releases. “It’s kind of cool, because bands come and go, but at least it’s there [the label] to remember them by.”
Meanwhile whilst this explanation was unravelling, Matt was taking phone calls, beer can in-hand, from interested punters on the way to the latest “Artless Armchair” festival that he is running as a part of Lesstalk Records. Twenty five talented local acts, fresh-faced rookies and faithful Artless followers made the musical pilgrimage to the rural landscape campsite, eager for the weekend.
“Yeah, follow the Pacific Highway until you get to Lakes Way and then turn right, drive 14kms through the bush, along the dirt road and look for the lights on the top of the hill,” Matt explains to the other end of the phone. We were up in the middle of farmland where the fest was taking place; the moon was full and the stars were plentiful. This was number 6 in a series of annual celebrations of the event. “Have you seen that movie, Taking Woodstock? Well, I just thought it was like the dream festival; this guy just finds this piece of land and thousands and thousands of people turn up, and he just has this ridiculous spiritual experience.”
Mushroom Family, a Lesstalk two-piece, had just played in the downstairs living area of the country house, complete with ukulele and tambourine accompaniment. Matt had taken time out between managing the sets to sit down overlooking the farm (and keen campers) to have a conversation with me.
Luckily, the mood had shifted from earlier on when the owners of the farm house interrupted the frivolity only to discover the 4 people Matt had originally booked for the weekend had now turned into 40 people, and was growing at a rapid rate. I had turned up to the gig whilst tension fuelled negotiations for more payments were being made. It was all getting a little Gonzo as we chatted about all things Lesstalk. Matt explains to me that the whole Artless Armchair project started in the kitchen in one of his band mates houses. Lesstalk musician, Daniel Hogan, moments away from racing off to his own set, explains “So we cut out the middle man, cause it’s hard to get a gig at a good venue on the Coast, so we found we didn’t really need one, cause everyone you know is just going to go to the venue anyway.”
In true DIY form, a compilation formed and the decision to continue the festival annually was made. Lesstalk grew, and so did the fan base. Matt says he now spends 70 percent of his day on his actually work work (in the Marketing division of a communications company in Sydney) and 30 percent on Lesstalk, “I jump between work and Lesstalk and they’re all kind of connected in some strange way, because it’s all design, marketing and business… and I kind of just use my work money to pay for Lesstalk.” Ultimately, Matt spends approximately $400 a month on Lesstalk; from releases, printing, and maintaining the Lesstalk website etc, “Because I love it, it’s like a hobby.” On this topic, Matt compares his Lesstalk lifestyle to another Australian DIY music specialist, “tenzenmen,” “He pretty much does the same thing as me; he works full time and spends his money on tours for Sydney bands and Melbourne bands.” Conversationally, we start discussing the way in which so-called “independent” labels are actually displaying themselves as smaller, DIY labels to grab on to those niche areas within the independent market, “because then you find out they’re actually sub companies of EMI or SONY or something else like that.”
So what’s different about what Lesstalk does, and what makes it DIY? “I think it’s a refusal to do what everyone else is doing; I think it’s a sub-idea of how music should be displayed to other peoples ears…It does get hard to work out who’s who and what’s what.” Our pretty much candid discussion about the DIY culture fell into place after this. As we discussed the notion of DIY, the interview naturally transformed into a conversation, and I have a slight inkling that Matt became more and more enthralled with the subject – as if a lightbulb had gone off in his head; he placed his beer can down onto the chair, and rubbed his hands together like mustering up an idea he’d previously been brainstorming and only now had the chance to verbalise. “So you see, how I think about it, is that for every band you start or gig you put on there is only about 1% of people that will actually tell you they like you or contact you, there must be this other 99% that you don’t know about.”
As I sit there listening to this, whilst Matt was drafting up imaginary graphs and pie charts to explain his mathematical equation, I wondered, could he be right? Can you multiply your likeability by 99? Is this just thinking positively or could there really be a much larger fan base of all these bands that literally do-it-for themselves? And as Matt was due to play in the next set with Lesstalk wonder gal, Jess Locke, we wrapped up our countryside conversation. After a charming set from Jess, I made plans to visit Matt and continue our conversation. I then started the trek back to reality.
From the moment I walked in, I knew this was the right house. A whole room decorated with hanging picture frames, filled with intricate, yet bold paintings, and mountains of bric-a-brac, including a humble “Craft Corner.” He tumbled down the stairs, greeting me with an overgrown Matisyahu beard as he offered me a cup of tea. I asked him how the rest of the Artless Armchair festival went on the weekend, “It turned out great, I got no sleep, got to party with my favourite friends slash musicians and we left the place exactly how we found it. I left with some great memories, a cold and a great feeling of pride.” I also asked about the debacle that was the negotiation with the farm stay owner; “Well Ted showed up the next day on his motorcycle wearing a Frank Zappa shirt, totally digging the vibe. He thought it was great, he took some pictures for his photo album and I gave him a poster and a couple of CD’s of the bands that were playing… He wants us to come back next year and support the whole thing that we are doing.” Obviously somebody’s keen – and so they should be. It seems the festival continued on throughout the weekend without a hitch. Over choc-chip-chai tea, and other varieties, I asked Matt what was next for the Lesstalk label. Despite the fact he loves it, Matt thinks this will be as big as Lesstalk gets for the moment. Eventually Matt does want to get distribution for his releases, and there are a few other options on the horizon for Matt and his label, including future releases and gigs. However, personally, I don’t think this will be the last we see of the Artless Armchair festival either, if Frank Zappa has anything to do with it.