Delsinki: Where city and country meets


Delsinki is set to embark on a 16 date tour of Victoria, delivering songs from his ‘City/Country’ album. Les Thomas chatted to him about his diverse musical palette, the projects and experiences that have kept him inspired and the power of collaboration to help get through tough times.

Well it’s great to join you, Delsinki. It looks like you’ve got a lot of plans coming up in the very near future. Although we’ve met a few times, I’m really yet to get my head around the full Delsinki story. Can you fill me  and the listeners in on how Delsinki came about?

Of course. Thanks for the chat. I played in a band called Gretchen Lewis, eight years ago. In 2010 we released an album. We were a Faith No More, Mr Bungle, Red Hot Chili Peppers influenced band and we wrote a comic book with our first album, which was called ‘Issue One’. We wrote it and had it drawn up and we all had characters in the story line and the main protagonist was a cowboy called Delsinki. So when I left the band, I set up a thing called Delsinki Records, which we were going to put the Gretchen Lewis stuff out under. We just did it independently; we didn’t want to be using that name so then when I went to do my own thing I just called it Delsinki Records because I already had the web address, so not really anything that exciting about it. Then after a little while, I guess that was 2012 when I did my solo thing, and then in late 2017 – just before I put out my first album – I lost the “Records” and just went under Delsinki, so that’s how it came about.

And listening to your releases in that time, you’ve released music across the heavy end of the spectrum, all the way through roots, gypsy, jazz, country, folk and so on. There seems to be no end to the terrain you’re keen to explore.

Yeah. My mate Roger Grierson, he’s pigeonholed me as uncategorizable, which is a word that I do like even though what’s truly original in this day and age? There’s not much.

But with this project, it’s fun to not have any boundaries with what sort of style you do, although it does become a bit of a pain in the bum when you go for a festival application and they’ve got a dropdown menu of eight genres and you’re a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But I guess when I started doing the project, in my head it’s an art project; it’s something that I just said I’m going where the wind blows. Collaboration has been a big part of all the music that I’ve recorded, so that influences the songs as well. I work pretty closes with Cameron McKenzie. He produces all my stuff and we’ve just sort of treated every track as its own standalone track. It’s been a lot of fun.

But having said that, after the album that I just put out in February ‘City/Country’, which is why I’m doing the shows that are coming up in support of that, I’ve got a bag of songs that are being worked on now and I do plan to do some collaborations with vocalists and writers, recording with the one band of the same people and do the more traditional way of recording an album and go into the studio for a week or two and track everything and work it that way as opposed to a lot of the tracks we’ve done. We’ve started off with a vocal and an acoustic and then built it with the band around it, so we’ve sort of done it backwards. But it’s been fun.

Collaboration seems such an important part of all of your work. Is that a key to the writing and inception of songs as well?

Yeah. On the album ‘City/Country’ there’s ten songs on there and I think collaborated on four of them. So I wrote six on my own and there’s four where I collaborated with other songwriters. I dunno, it just sort of worked out that way. That’s about usually the ratio. It’s a reasonable chunk of my own self slaving away with a pen and paper and then a fairly good portion of it sharing the load with other people and having somebody else’s influence on the actual writing. I find it really inspiring and invigorating.

And you also seem to have a real orientation towards projects, from Songs in the South to Sing a Song of Sixpence to Keep the Circle Unbroken and so forth. Can you tell us about how projects fit into the world of Delsinki?

Once again, Keep the Circle Unbroken was born around the whole COVID thing and us being locked down and it was an idea from one of the band members of Row Jerry Crow to do something in the vain of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’. So after having a bit of a look at that from the suggestion, I just got excited to put it together, so that was sort of that. The other songwriter night that I’m putting together Sing a Song of Sixpence, the later one, was just an offshoot of Songs in the South which is a traditional format singer-songwriter evening which was inspired by your singer-songwriter evening which was Unpaved and we spoke about this briefly at a gig. You booked me. It was a Monday night. Was it at The Old Bar?

It was at The Old Bar.

Yeah, The Old Bar. And I played with Christopher Coleman and Gus Rigby, the sax player from Fools. After doing that gig that you booked me for, I think you finished up a month or two later, so a couple of years later I put together Songs in the South using basically your format, cos there wasn’t a lot of music happening in the South. There was obviously a lot of music happening, but there wasn’t a lot of original songwriter supporting shows or nights that were happening over here in the South. That ran up until COVID, for about five years. And in the last couple of years, Joyce Prescher came on board and she helped with booking people and organising it. It was really good. And then after doing that, in 2019, I decided I wanted to do an evening that incorporated … because I play with so many really great musicians who aren’t actually songwriters, and I wanted to incorporate musicians into the evening into the process as well because for some songwriters, they don’t need any accompaniment because they’re very special people they can set something up and have these and they can capture a moment which doesn’t need any accompaniment but sometimes, there’s songwriters were having somebody company who has a really musical feel or can bring a lot of musicality to the song. it’s just really magic to watch. And when that happens, it’s really special and that was what made me kick off Sing a Song of Sixpence. And I think I just basically tried to come up with as many Ss for the titles as I could accidentally.

[Laughs] Nice work. Yeah, it occurs to me that in each of these projects you have a great deal of consideration for audience experiences, creating memorable, dare we say, magnificent experiences. So do you do have an attitude around what constitutes a good show?

Yeah, well, I guess every show is its own thing, isn’t it? And I think especially with Songs in the South, was traditional on a stage setup, and then after having done Keeping the Circle Unbroken in-the-round on the floor with a full band, and having the audience members sit around us, I put a tour together for Sing a Song of Sixpence, which was the songwriter night. We did the same thing we; we did the circle in the center of the floor and most of the gigs. And it was a really … it’s just a special thing. having an audience sit around you … going back to a traditional stage does feel odd, after you’ve had the experience of music and joy with people sitting behind you and in front of you and to the side of you. So I think, but then yeah, having said that, you go and see a really fantastic show on a stage and you can have a really special night that way too. So I guess it’s just the every, every show is its own standalone thing. And I think it’s just, to try and speak about it really basically, you start to get a feel for lighting and sound and just whatever the room is and trying to set the room up so that people walk in and they have a space that they feel somebody is in control of and that they can just sit there and let the music or the performance wash over them effortlessly.

The last show that I managed to catch up with you at was Joyce Prescher single launch for Sleep Now a couple of weeks ago now in a beautiful band room at George Lane. It kind of got me thinking about the history of music in St Kilda. It occupies pretty much the same building as the Crystal Ballroom. Where are things at on the south side and Melbourne? And do you think that things might have changed a little bit in terms of the relationship across Melbourne between different musicians in the North and the South and so on?

Yeah, I think for a long time, the South has taken a bit of a hit with venues closing down. For me, it was when the Duke of Windsor in Prahran shut down. And then there was a whole bunch of bars, obviously, the Espy went through a long period of time they were it wasn’t operational, and even places like Dog’s Bar, which sort of when it was being run … I’ve not been down there since the new owners have it and I’m sure it’s really great, but when Gavin and Sonya had it, it was a real sort of hub and, and just a great spot for people to play live music. And I think Lachie and the guy at the George Lane they’ve done a really, really great job with that band room. It’s a fantastic room, and it’s about 115 capacity. So it’s a really great room for mid level bands, people that might not be able to put 500 people in the Gershwin room or go to Memo and sell 450 tickets, which can be hard for a lot of acts. But, you know, you can go to the George and there’s 100 person room. So it’s a good vibe, and the North has a lot of those venues already. So yeah, I think there is probably now and, if there is another couple of venues that pop up over here in the South, there’s going to be much more crossover between the North and the South. I think it’s still probably is a little bit other side of the river people, big effort to get sorted. But yeah, I think it’s going to, with the right attitudes from people setting up venues, I think we’re going to see a little bit more of it and I think it’s going to start to flourish a little bit more over here in the South. And, and the people in the North will be wanting to to cross the river for something good, hopefully.

Yeah, absolutely. And that brings me to another question you’ve got this ‘City/Country’ titled album; you’ve been accumulating experiences playing in Melbourne, and everywhere from Mallacoota, down to Port Fairy. What’s it been like, as a performer, putting on shows to people well and truly outside of Melbourne? Is that a really different experience?

Yeah, it is! And it’s been really good, because the two major tours that I did in the last … so there was one in March of 2021 and then there was this this year, January and February. And  both times were 16 dates across regional Victoria and the energy and the vibe out in the regions at the moment is really, once again inspiring. I’ll use the Mallacoota example; we went down to Mallacoota in January for the Sixpence tour, and we were to play at the mud brick pavilion. And I think we’d sold about 70 or 80 tickets, which was great. But people were worried about at that time, there was still the COVID cloud looming. So it was good weather and the guys down at Music Victoria, Far East, which is based in Mallacoota, they basically banded together and said, “Look, we might be able to do this”, that’s Jesse and Katie down there in Mallacoota. And they said, “Look, we might be able to do this outside.” So they spoke they rallied together, and they got a really fantastic PA set up at the front of the mud brick pavilion, and cordoned off the area so that people could get in and out with tickets, and they just sort of really at the at the 11th hour put on this really, really great setting. And it was just great to see all the townspeople rally together for them. Like just to get it all done, we felt really privileged to be able to do that. And obviously, they were able to sell more tickets then because of that side. So people weren’t worried about COVID. And it was just a good vibe, man. That stuff doesn’t happen all the time. And it’s just at the moment, being through what everybody’s been through for the last couple of years, It’s a really special time. It’s a hard time at the moment, but it’s a good time people; there’s still lots of reasons why people aren’t going out and doing things. It’s going to be a slow building process, but out in the regions is really … it’s a fun place to be at the moment.

Fantastic. Well, I’m really excited to get along to the Melbourne show when possible. One final question. You have this built up experience now, over what’s been a tough couple of years. What, would you say are the things that have kept you going through this?

I really don’t know. It’s just a thing where I guess, like a shark or something; you just feel the need to keep moving forward. So I’m not really sure. And once again, I think connection with people possibly is a factor that’s made me want to do things because I actually quite enjoy talking to people and picking up the phone. And, when organising things, there’s a really nice feeling that comes with doing shows with people. So I think maybe collaboration is the thing that sort of kept me going through through the last couple of years. But we’ve all … I think everybody had the same thing where it was peaks and troughs, and you’d have times where you thought ‘I can do this. I can push forward; I can do whatever. ‘And then you’d have other times where you think ‘What’s the point?’ and you want to throw your hands in the air and just go ‘I’ll have a little sit down here I think for a bit.’ So yeah, it’s been obviously a bit of a roller coaster.

I think the power of optimism is an amazing thing. And you can see it and experience in people’s faces at shows that they are, I would say, very grateful. I certainly got that sense of Port Fairy and other shows. So, yeah, more power to your work, and great to chat today.

Thank you, Les. I really appreciate the chat, mate, and I look forward to seeing you in a bar, be it in the North or the South, mates, so we can have a beer.

Fri April 22 – The Archies Creek Hotel with support from Lee Spence
Sat April 23 – The Pig & Whistle Main Ridge with support from Holly Hebe
Sun April 24 – Coolart Wetlands & Homestead with support from The Chris Commerford Band
Fri April 29 – The Commercial Hotel Terang with support from Tim Woodz
Sat April 30 – George Lane St Kilda with support from Gypsy Collector
Fri May 6 – The Basement Discs Melbourne CBD
Sat May 7 – The Hindmarsh Hotel Jeparit with support from Justin Bernasconi
Fri May 13 – P.O.M.E Richmond with support from MOZË
About Les Thomas 106 Articles
Narrm/Melbourne singer-songwriter and Unpaved editor