Interview: Nkechi Anele, Saskwatch
Phone interviews are always a strange affair. It doesn't matter how much you prepare in advance, you never know what's going to happen on the other end of the line. Or what’s going to happen with your phone line.
It’s 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon and Makers is desperately trying to get a hold of Nkechi Anele, front woman of Melbourne band Saskwatch. Our PR supplied calling card has failed, and when we do finally get in contact with the diminutive singer our phone reception is faint and tinny.
After a couple of minutes struggling to hear each other I decide to hang up, with the promise and hope that when I call back our reception will be crystal clear.
I dial a complicated set of numbers but once again the call rings out.
About a minute later, Nketchi phones me direct. “It’s so much easier this way,” she states understandably after I apologise profusely for the shoddy phone line.
It’s nice to hear that after five years of recording and touring both nationally and internationally, success hasn’t gone to the singer’s head. The 9-piece indie-soul outfit have had a hectic schedule since the release of their second album ‘Nose Dive’ a little over a month ago and so far this year have found themselves playing a string of festival shows including WOMADelaide, Panama Festival and Bluesfest Byron Bay. They’ve also just finished up a support slot on British singer John Newman’s debut Australian tour, and were recently announced on the lineup for this year’s Splendor in the Grass. Not to mention that the band will be headlining their own national tour in June and July; travelling through regional Victoria, the ACT, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth before wrapping it all up with a homecoming gig at Richmond’s Corner Hotel on the 5th of July.
Saskwatch started out as a bunch of University students busking outside of Flinders Street Station “It was a quick way to earn money to go out and party,” Anele explains while discussing the heritage of the group. It was only after PBS radio announcer Vince Peach waked past the band that things started to get more serious. The DJ asked the buskers to perform live on his show and later invited them to take up residency at his soul night at Cherry Bar. “That’s when I joined the band,” she continues “and we ended up playing at Cherry for two and a half years before moving into festivals.”
Nkechi: “This is the second band that I’ve sung in, the first was more electro and Saskwatch actually supported us when we launched our single. There were a couple of nights that the former singer of the group wasn’t available to play and the boys asked me to fill in, then I was asked to join the band full-time.”
Things continued in an upward trajectory after those auspicious beginnings, “We were performing at Cherry bar and the night began to pick up to the point where it was selling out every time we played. There was always a queue and each week people were being turned from the door. From there we found a manager who helped us get on the lineup for Golden Plains, that was the big kick off for us.”
I recall seeing the band play a scorching set at the 2013 Sacred Heart Mission’s Heart of St Kilda concert. It was the first time that Makers of Melbourne had experienced a Saskwatch performance and we were blown away by their efforts on stage that night at the Palais theatre. I tell Nkechi that from my outsider’s point of view, the band seemed to go from playing the charity concert to suddenly being everywhere. (Laughter) “From the outside I guess it does seem like that. A lot of people think that we’ve only been around for about a year and a half when really we’re up to our fifth year of playing together. I don’t know how to explain it, but there was an interesting period of time when my face was on every poster that my friends saw around town. I’d be getting text messages everyday saying “you’re on the radio” or “I just saw your face at the tram stop.”
I mention that the bands sophomore album ‘Nose Dive’ has a darker feel to it than their first release, the 2012 album ‘Leave it all Behind’. “It was a little nerve wracking making the second album because at the time of releasing our first record the soul scene was huge here in Melbourne. We were trying to keep our writing up to that original standard of music, while moving away from that soul movement. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of being a novelty soul band that could only play themed nights. It sounds so exclusive, and creatively being a soul band is quite limiting. As much as the scene had helped us, it felt like it was time to move away and establish ourselves as a more serious band in our own right. The second album was written as a reaction to personal experience.”
She continues “Our first album felt like a party album and I think that’s because we established ourselves in a bar where it was like a party every week. Now we’ve grown up and have moved away from that university lifestyle, we’ve started taking on responsibilities. Moving through life there are some dark sides to relationships and reality and I think we’ve all reached the stage where we are happy explore that. The culture that we find ourselves in as a band reflects our creative output.”