Music / Features
Pleasure and Necessity -
A chat with Tam Vantage
Words and interview by James Lynch
Monday 6th July, 2020
For the past three weeks, local lo-fi pop mastermind Tam Vantage has been releasing collections of his extensive home demos to Bandcamp - featuring everything from fully realised guitar-pop songs and considered piano pieces, to sprawling instrumentals and spontaneous sound collages.

Ahead of the release of his fourth and final demo album tomorrow, we had a chat with Tam to dig into his 10+ years of music-making.
Tam Vantage (aka Tam Richards-Matlakowski) has always been an expert at crafting nuggets of radiant lo-fi pop. Without even touching on the countless other projects he’s performed in, he’s spent the better part of the last decade making music under his rock ’n’ roll pseudonym, specialising in playful indie-rock blurred with hints of punk tendencies and art-pop sensibility.

His music has always beamed with a grubby charm, and even his most contemplative or seemingly meticulous songs have had a certain wobble to them, marking Tam as a musician that could sound upfront and earnest, as well as irreverently charismatic at once. As these demo compilations reveal however, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

For all the songs that were finished and “officially” released, Tam has had more than five times the amount in spare ideas, with these comps not only offering an insight into the creative process of the prolific songwriter, but also a whole heap of consistently interesting new tunes to dig into. We caught up with Tam to find out how this project came about.
TJ: Hey Tam, for those not yet acquainted with you, want to tell us a bit about yourself?

TV: There's not heaps to tell. I've been listening to a lot of an 80's NZ band called Skeptics at the moment. I have really sub-par personal hygiene.

Each Tuesday for the past three weeks you’ve released an album of home demos, and there’s one more due tomorrow - what inspired the project?

I've wanted to do this for ages. I guess the thing that inspired me to do it now, is that I haven't released much of my own music in a while because I've been busy playing in quite a few bands. I'm also going through a period of preferring obscure, outsider music to anything popular or easily digestible, so it's in-line with my current interests.

Some of the music released so far is more than ten years old. What was the process of sorting through these tracks for each album, and what’s it been like placing them alongside songs that might’ve been written years earlier or later? Is each album meant to capture a certain mood or theme, or are the full albums more random?

It was a very enjoyable process and a bit of a trip down memory lane. Some of the recordings had really strong associations or brought up specific memories, whilst others I had no recollection of ever making.

I listened through about 300 recordings and then narrowed it down to my favourite 100 tracks or so. Then I sorted them into categories like "piano pieces", "instrumentals", "full songs" or "original demos" (meaning, demos of songs that have since been re-recorded and released). I then tried to spread it out in a balanced way, so that each album had some piano songs, as well as some instrumentals, as well as some full songs, etc. From there, I just did my best to place them into an order that flows.

There are no moods or themes within each album that I consciously tried to create. But each one might very well have it's own mood/theme. As far as sound, genre or atmosphere are concerned, it is fairly random; and this is also the case in regards to date of conception.

There are so many different styles and types of song across the albums, which makes this a particularly difficult question to ask, but could you talk us through how you might typically write music? Did most of the songs on these releases come easily to you or were many laboured over?

I have a lot of different approaches to writing music but I can summarise my most typical way of writing these tracks. It's largely based around spontaneity and improvisation. It usually takes me about three hours to record a typical demo. I mix as I go. Sometimes it's pure improvisation, sometimes there's a rough plan. I do a lot of stream of consciousness singing, and then write "proper" words later/re-record the vocals if I feel the need. It's a pretty fluid, easy, free process and I would describe it as not labouring over a song at all. It's mainly something I do for pleasure but also it's something I do out of necessity.

You’ve also played in a heap of bands over these years. Were these songs little bits and pieces that couldn’t find a home at the time or were many intended for projects but never saw the light of day?

More of the first - little bits and pieces. These recordings exhibit my most natural way of writing music; there is no purpose to it other than the enjoyment of expression and the exploration of sounds and ideas. If a band I'm playing in needs some new material, then I usually just choose one of my home recordings that I think will suit the band, and offer it up. If someone who is already a fan of my music listens through these demos, they will find a few early incarnations of songs they've already heard.

It’s a pretty overwhelming amount of music to dive into, especially if someone hasn’t listened to any of your other stuff before. How would you encourage someone to dig into these releases? Where’s the best place to start?

Pick one based on the cover and the song titles. Whichever one you choose is the best place to start.

Although the releases are largely digital, you’ve made a short run of cassettes to go with each album. What’s your ideal format to release music on? Is there a best way (real or imaginary) for listeners to tune in?

In my opinion, the ideal format is live performance. But by this reasoning, the best way for listeners to tune in would be for them to have been in my room while I was recording. But this doesn't work because I wouldn't have been able to record comfortably and honestly if I knew that I was being watched. Also there's the time travel factor. So we have a conundrum. There is no ideal format.

What are you working on at the moment? Anything you're excited about?

There's lots. The main thing I'm working on at the moment is a new "studio album" which will be my third solo record. I'm getting a band together to play some shows again, once that's an option. I've got a desire to make some music that is "heavier" and more experimental and hostile than anything I've made before. So I've got a vision of a new band called Orgasm, which is going to have some strong industrial metal influences. A fairly new band I play in Carpet Burn has an EP in the works. There's an LP by Permits that is waiting to be released. I joined Chook Race and we're slowly chipping away at a new album. Girlatones and Leah Senior both just released albums, so I've been enjoying a bit of a breather there, but am excited about new stuff on those fronts too. And of course, I'll keep writing/recording new demos at home, as per usual.

And finally, what’s up with that AC/DC cover?

I was doing a sound engineering course at Box Hill. We had a project where we had to record a song by a band, in the style of another band. ‘Thunderstruck’ is a pretty stupid song, and DEVO are kings of mockery. So it seemed appropriate.

Tam's fourth demo collection is out tomorrow - head to to check out each album and purchase an extremely limited cassette copy (if you're quick enough).