Mike Tilbrook is a composer, producer, performer and educator originally from Clare Valley, South Australia – now based in Melbourne, Victoria. Mike has 10 years of experience working in the Australian music industry. During this time, he has been nominated for awards and worked with a variety of artists. In his more recent years he has been an active contributor to the Melbourne world music scene, working with local acts such as Bortier Okoe, Ajak Kwai and Ausecuma Beats.
In his formative years he studied music technology and orchestration at The Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide, South Australia. In 2016 he was Nominated for ‘Best Jazz Artist’ and ‘Best Avant-garde Artist’ in the 2016 S.A.M Awards for his debut E.P ‘Blue Solace’. In 2019 was also Nominated for ‘Best Jazz Artist’ in the 2019 S.A.M Awards for his debut album ‘Domestic Dream’.
I caught up with Mike for a chat to find out about his new single ‘I Can Tell’, his influences and what we can expect to see from him in the coming months.
When I first started releasing my own stuff I guess my biggest influence was a lot of neo soul artists. Bands like Hiatus Kaiyote, they are a local Melbourne act, and D’Angelo and all those sort of soul artists. I started playing with a lot of different jazz musicians locally in Adelaide. I just started getting interested in lots of different styles. I was playing with all these artists as well. I played with an artist that lives in Adelaide whose name is Bortier Okoe, even though my music isn’t necessarily influenced by him maybe subconsciously it its. Maybe that’s where this mutant style has come from. In terms of genre I still call myself a funk/soul musician because I think that there is still a big influence of that in there.
Whatever it is it works. So do you have an album/EP coming out?
I released an EP in 2015 when I was still living in Adelaide. I did a launch at Casablabla because I had been playing there regularly with another local band. I then released an album called ‘Domestic Dream’ that was a similar vibe, I was still going down the funk/soul route. But I was starting to experiment a bit more. I had a few tracks that were very experimental on there, they were just instrumentals. What I was trying to do with that album was, it’s a bit hard to explain, it had like a 1950’s domestic life sort of vibe. Not the actual music but the theme of the songs. One thing I did was got instructional videos from the 1950’s and cheesy adverts and I got samples from them and added them throughout the songs. It just reinforced the theme of the 1950’s domestic lifestyle. I released that in 2018 and since then I have just been working on singles. I’ve released a few singles already this year and they will be part of another album.
Playing in funk/soul bands for the past 5-6 years I wanted to try something a little bit different this time. This time I tried to ditch the whole traditional band thing. On this album I don’t have any songs that have a drum kit in them. The main instrumentation of all the songs is mainly guitar based but there are some random stringed instruments added as well. I have violin and cello in a lot of them, there’s a bit of classical influence in this with the layered stuff I am working on. I’ve been working with a friend of mine from Lebanon and he has introduced me to a new instrument called the Qamun. It’s like a harp but it sounds different, it’s a bit more nasal sounding. It’s played on your lap with your fingers, it’s a really cool instrument. The Qamun just goes really well with the theme I am trying to go for in ditching the traditional band format. It has a string theme but not as in an orchestral string. It’s the individual instruments that I want to be able to focus on and really speak through. That’s pretty much what I have been doing in Covid times. It’s been alright for the most part, working on these songs. The hardest thing has been trying to get people together to record.
Do you do all the recording side of it yourself?
When I first was releasing stuff if there was something I didn’t know how to do I would go to someone I knew who was good at it. I compose and write everything myself, that’s something I have always been really confident in doing as a musician. Now I am doing most of the mixing and recording myself because over time I have learned these skills from my friends. It’s been challenging doing it all myself, but I always get opinions from friends about stuff that I am working on. Especially with mixing my own music. You’ve written this song, then recorded it and then edited it. By that time you have probably spent 20 hours on it and gained an emotional attachment to it. When you start to mix it you need to look at it objectively which is really hard.
It’s then becomes when do you stop!
Yeah absolutely. That’s what happens.
I suppose that is one of the plus sides of being an independent artist though, you don’t have other band members with different ideas
Yeah. You don’t have someone else asking for changes too.
Who do you listen to when you’re not playing?
Lately it has been a lot of classical music. Maybe that’s because I have been writing a lot of these string parts. Wanting to be influenced by that. The interesting thing about classical music is that it is a formula that has been tried for a long time. There is a reason why they work so well. I still get very influenced by funk and soul musicians.
So what is the song that is coming out about?
Briefly its having feelings for someone else and the feelings aren’t mutual. It was around a short relationship that I had, that’s where the influence came from.
So will you keep working towards an album or do you have everything nearly ready to go?
Everything is written and arranged. I’m planning on releasing it mid next year, depending on what the situation is here. I’m pretty excited to get this done, I have a lot of plans for other projects too, my own and other peoples. It’s been interesting working on these last few songs because it has been something challenging because it is completely different for me. One thing I was influenced by on the last song was the Prince song Kiss. He sings entirely in his falsetto in that song except for one tiny bit where he goes down a bit. When I started writing that song I wrote it lower in my register and then I realised why don’t I try bringing it up to falsetto. It added to that ethereal mood I guess that I wanted to go for in the song.
When does ‘I Can Tell’ come out?
It will be released on November 20th
Go and make yourself familiar with Mike and his work and check out his previous music on his bandcamp page.