When I first met Jack Layard, he was just a regular, fun-loving dude running amok at a Happiness Hill 2. Little did I know the bloke whose errant water bottle nearly bopped me in the head (before I joined in on the game) wasn’t just a cheeky punter – he was one of the scene’s most passionate bush prog producers!
This week, I chatted with the loveable larrikin from Sydney’s northern beaches about all things production.
From getting his first gig in just two months, to revealing his favourite tricks and tools of the trade, to his opinion on “press play” sets, in this interview, Gumnut lifts the veil on the things that keep him busy and us doofers entertained.
The Soundcloud upload that started it all
How long have you been making music for?
I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was about 10-years-oldand bits of guitar and piano, playing in bands and a lot of jazz and rock and stuff. I’ve always been doing a bit of music and I did a bit of composition in school.
So, when I got into electronic music in the summer at the end of 2015, I had a head start in terms of making songs that make sense melodically. When I got into writing I just was writing music every day all day for a long time.
It was maybe two months from when I uploaded my first track on Soundcloud until I had a label (Kinematic) and was playing sets. It all happened from there.
But, I would tell new people out there don’t expect things to happen over night. There’s people who have this attitude where it’s like “Why haven’t I been discovered yet?”, you see it occasionally – not too much in this sort of world. It’s a bit of an ego thing. I think that if you’re making really good music and you keep at it, people will notice you and you will get to play sets. I can’t think of anyone who is making amazing quality music and isn’t getting any recognition for it in our scene. There’s people who are definitely under-recognised but if you keep at it it will happen.
Whether or not you can make a career out of it remains to be seen – that would be awesome, but I’ll keep at it regardless.
That sounds like a pretty quick progression (no pun intended), was there a moment that triggered your passion or did it build up over time?
I did have a day at uni where I downloaded Ableton. I started writing funny remixes and messing around and at some point I said, “Hey I’m actually getting pretty good at this!”. And other people seemed to like what I was doing, so it went from there. It all happened pretty quickly.
How would you describe your sound & how did you come up with your name?
You’d probably call the genre bush prog, or Zenon-eseque. My music is a bit different to other examples of that, it tends to be more melodic and I draw influences from a lot of different genres like funk, jazz… whatever I’m listening to. I’m really trying to make something a bit different and exciting. I try not to worry too much about a label or a specific genre.
I just had a list of names, I can’t remember what the other names were. I got to a bunch of mates to look at it and they were like, “Yeah it’s good. It works, it’s the bush, it’s Australian and it suits your sound.” I thought about making a dark psy project “Gumnutter”.
Did you aspire to be performing and producing music?
It was just messing around having fun and learning the software. I never had big goals of being a touring artist – at least not initially. It just sort of worked out. I only had one or two tracks on Soundcloud and I got a message from people who run Collaborations festival in North Queensland and they actually booked me for that gig up there, which was the first gig I got booked for.
It was an interstate gig and I had no idea what to do, I had to ask friends how much do I charge? What do I ask for? Do I need flights?
I gave Nick (Formationz) a call and he told me what to charge, and to get a bed and flights sorted. And luckily it’s an awesome crew who run that party. I’ve played there twice and it’s been amazing with that little family up there in NQ.
I’ve actually just played at Second Solutions up two weekends ago and I had one of the best sessions in a long time. It was more of a crew party, everyone knew everyone and good music from start to finish. Oh, and a warm North Queensland dance floor.
Do you have a dream gig?
Midnight Sun festival – just because of the location.. it’s on a beach in Norway (not sure if that fest is happening anymore though). I’d love to do some of the big festivals overseas. I did Hadra Festival in France which was awesome. Everyone talks about Ozora and Boom, Universo Paralello in Brazil. But to be honest my favourite festivals are the Aussie ones because you know everyone there. It’s not just work, you’re at a party with a bunch of mates. Dragon Dreaming, Psyfari, Collaborations are all highlights.
I am really proud of my last EP that I put out on Weapon records called “Inside Out”. Proudest moments playing sets… I’m not particularly “proud” of those (although I’ve had some awesome moments), anyone could do it.
It doesn’t take a lot of personal strength or skill to actually play a set. Writing music that I’m happy with is what I’m proud of.
I also am proud of some of the remixes I’ve done like Electrypnos track Funny Faces. He’s a big influence on me and one of the best artists in the biz, to have that track released in his compilation was a pretty awesome moment too.
Toils, tools & writing when “nothing comes out”
What’s the biggest struggle you face as a musician?
I haven’t had any huge struggles, the biggest limitations is how hard I’m willing to work and hours put into writing music.
Sometimes the creativity or motivation just isn’t there. You might have really productive periods of writing music and then sometimes nothing comes out. That can be pretty tough sometimes, especially when you feel like you’ve got to keep putting out releases to stay relevant. Every time I finish a track and I go to start a new track I’m like, “How did I ever write those tracks I’ve written”” It’s like I forget how to do it every time.
You start with a blank canvas and the idea of a full track is daunting. I’ll start things and they really needs to excite me or catch my ear -I don’t want to do something I’ve done before. I’m increasingly hard on myself. Often I’ll start things then scrap it because it’s not good enough. I’ve written tracks that go really well on the dance floor and I ask, “How do I do that again? Maybe that’s my best track.”
I think the best is still to come though, I’m always learning.
I’ve spoken to artists who say success makes them feel as they’ve peaked – they fear they’re only as great as their last track. Have you experienced that?
It’s weird because you’re already looking towards the next thing. In a way, it has taken off because I’m playing gigs and doing what I love. But it’s not like I’m a superstar- I don’t think there are any in psytrance.
I am happy with where I am now – there are more goals to reach and you go through periods where it feels like you’ve plateaued. There are definitely milestones – first release on a label, first interstate set, I still love doing it but it becomes just a normal thing.
If you’re treating your music about playing this festival and making this much money I don’t think that will be satisfying. You get to those milestones and then you’re just looking to the next thing. I think all you can really do is to create the best art or music that you can and that’s the only way you can really be satisfied with it.
You can put all this effort into promotions trying to make it and be famous but I don’t think that’s ever going to be that fulfilling.
The other thing I’ve done now is put it in Bandcamp and people can pay what they want. All my music is there to download, most of it is free some of it costs like a dollar for a track. Good music promotes itself and people will share it if it’s good.
People should definitely, if they have to choose, put their time and effort into getting better at time and music than self promotion.
What do you think the biggest misconception about making music is?
People underestimate how long it takes to write music. You might have a seven minute track, but it takes more than a month or longer to write – you write and come back to it a few times.
How do you approach playing live?
I play with Ableton and I separate through Stems. I have percussion on one channel, kick and bass in another channel, melodies and chords in one channel, and noises and sound effects in another channel. Each channel has filters and fx on it that I can control.
So I have four channels then the next track that comes in will be in another four channels so I can mix it and do things like take out the bassline from one track and replace it with another one, and mix between different elements of the track. I set them up in arrangement view so the tracks come in when I want them to and I just have to mix between them.
I do preparation of some of the stuff for sets I do. I go back to the original track and I’ll write in a key change because I know it needs to change key into the next song. I’ll have a live version of the track that needs a key change because I know what’s coming next. I tried playing live in Session View but I don’t like it because with my music it’s so melodic you really have to work on when the tracks can come in together.
Three tools that every amateur producer should have?
These are just a few of the tools I use all the time:
Synthesizers: Serum, Sylenth1, Razor.
Kick drums: Bazzism.
Reverb: Valhalla Reverbs.
Samplers: Kontakt libraries, Addictive Drums, Addictive Keys, Trillian.
Psychedelic sounds: Uhbik-G probably the most fun plugin for making psychedelic noises. You can put it to anything and it makes weird, cool sounds. It’s a good way to start. (All the uhbik plugins are pretty cool!)
LFO tool: Great for side-chaining.
On “press play” DJs and the importance of programming
How do you feel about people who get frustrated when an artist comes onto the decks and doesn’t play a set that necessarily matches the vibe of the dancefloor at the time?
That’s probably due more to programming more than anything else. Programming makes or breaks a party. People who make a party need to understand the flow of the music, what’s going to flow into other things what is going to sound good at a certain time. One thing parties sometimes do – and it’s understandable – they put their headliners at the peak times and base their set times around that instead of thinking about what sort of music is going to sound the best at night or during the day.
Some parties program really well, and some not so great with styles and tempos that are up and down and there’s no cohesiveness.
That’s where a great DJ fits in – being able to read the vibe and play what is appropriate. For a producer like me, when I get booked, I’m going to play my sounds. I’ve been asked to play a slow set or a fast set, all my music is fits with in a kind of narrow range of styles, I’m not going to be able to change it significantly from set to set.
If you book me, you know what you’re going to get. Producers can’t just change styles all of a sudden, the person who booked them should now what they play and put them at an appropriate time.
Does it bother you when artists are criticised for “just pressing play”?
The thing with playing in Ableton is that you can set it up to do as much or as little as you want when you play live. If I made it too easy for myself it would be kind of boring but, at the same time, I don’t hold any sort of anger to people who press play. I don’t really care if it’s a producer doing that, they’ve spent hours writing music at home – that’s where the real effort is.
And anyone who doesn’t know on the dance floor couldn’t care less, because the musical experience is just as good. Even if you’re a producer who just presses play, in the end, who cares? It’s about what comes out of the speakers. If the music is good, if the mixes are tight it doesn’t really matter when its done it.
There’s so many ways to do it, there are people who have really cool live elements and play instruments live. Playing live with instruments is something I’d like to look into. At the end of the day it’s about the music that comes out and the vibe on the dance floor, I couldn’t care less how someone does it as long as it sounds good on the dance floor.
What’s the best time to play?
For me any time between 12 midday and 2am would be sweet. The dance floor at an outdoor party (in Aus) will tend to fill up after 11am and then people tend to start disappearing after around 2 or 3am. But sometimes you get a really pumping morning dance floor at 6am, sunrise is often an awesome time. It really depends on the party. I personally really like playing the afternoon or around sunset.
I also do like sleeping. I don’t love having to stay up all night to play. You can’t pull an all-nighter every weekend, especially if you’re performing and travelling it’s pretty brutal if you’re playing like 5am set times. It doesn’t happen too much to me because of the style of music I play. Generally, in Australia you tend to have my music like progressive in the daytime and afternoon, then it’s faster and darker at night, then morning psytrance in the morning.
I am lucky like that, if I was making hi-tek i’d be playing 3am to 4am every party.
Have you had to deal with hecklers or haters?
One time someone asked me if I purposely put in noises to wig people out (which is funny because my music really isn’t very dark). I like weird sounds but I don’t try to wig people out haha. Most of my tracks are meant for people to enjoy and have fun.
I think generally psytrance and doof crowds are some of the chillest people around. I invite any hecklers, if they want to give me any constructive criticism, feel free to do it after I play.
Which three tracks would you recommend to someone who hasn’t heard your music?
Swing Thing: Very jazzy, it’s got my friend Travers playing sax and my friend Jesse playing trumpet. They’re in a band called Thunder Fox. It’s a cool tune. It’s fun, very melodic.
Pspiralife Darkness Feels Good Remix: It’s a bit more dark and chunky and it always seems to do well on the dance floor.
Nuthouse: It has pretty melodies. There are three main sections to the track, the first has a synth melody, the middle has a guitar melody, then at the end I put them on top of each other and they just worked perfectly. It seems like I’ve done it intentionally, theres these two melodies playing off each other and working together it was really was just a fluke.