After a week or two of back and forth, we managed to snag twenty minutes with the hardest working man in Newcastle. One morning in the middle of June, Nick was already multitasking (editing some kind of animation he was working on whilst sitting in on a Quokkas mixing session in the studio). He generously sat his laptop down, popped into the booth and let me grill him about his songwriting. Through the half shut doors of the vocal booth, we could hear Matt putting the finishing touches on “Opposite Song”, yet another intoxicatingly catchy tune Nick had written for the children’s group ‘The Quokkas’. I realised pretty quickly that I only knew Nick within the context of that group. Between his breakfast radio show, community engagement, family and his own personal projects, I’m sure that the people around him are constantly impressed with his decathlete abilities. Throughout this interview It became clear to me that with motivation, hard work and some pretty incredible time management skills you can achieve wonderful things. You can be anything… and be kind at the same time.
The following is a transcript from that conversation….
I feel super strange interviewing someone who interviews people for a living. Hah
Haha! It’s all in good fun. It is weird being interviewed, just because it’s strange for anyone showing that depth of interest in you.
Yeah. I haven’t had much experience with it but I always find it super awkward.. I can never think that quickly on the spot. How do you do it at the Station?
Oh, like, we’re kind of lucky in that I’ve got two other people who I’m talking with. It’s not an interview/interviewee situation really.. I find that I barely do interviews as the subject. I’m always the interviewer. Having done, not many, but more and more over the years, you just have to take your time, like, particularly with the non audio ones. You can take a moment and go… “What is my thought on that question?”. A good stalling tactic is just to say “ good question” then contemplate your answer. I think it’s a natural inclination to just be like, “ah well, you know, you need this answer now and I’ll get whatever first thought pops into his head” And then ramble for a while and then go, “does that make sense?”
Ah the stalling tactic is such a good piece of advice hah! Did you interview Dua Lipa?
How was that?
It was sick. So it was a pre recorded interview, a couple of days before she released her first single, I think. So we didn’t know anything about her at that point. Genuinely, our first question was like, “how do you pronounce your name? You’re from where, sorry?” And those sort of feeling-out questions because we didn’t know anything about. And it’s funny, because you speak to a lot of people like that and then some of them go stratospheric (like Dua). Then sometimes you’ll get record companies contacting you about an artist. We spoke to that band ‘Magic’ and the record label was just like, “this is the next big rock band, this is them, you’re very lucky to get them” And I’m like “Wow, awesome”. Then they released that song (sings) “Why you gotta be so rude” And so far, they’ve kind of faded into obscurity for the last eight years. So you don’t know where they’re gonna go..
I haven’t caught you since the Quokkas show at the Cambridge Hotel.. How was it?
Cambridge was a lot of fun, it blew our expectations out of the water. We were so excited to have a response because the thing with events that you normally are organised for is the crowd is either taken care of, or the onus is not on you to be able to provide that. You’re getting paid for a service, you can do your service and put on your best performance. And if that’s to seven people and those seven people enjoy it, then wonderful. If you suck in front of 300, then that’s on you. But, you know, that’s just what happens. Cambridge had a lot more pressure on it for the band, I think. Because we were driving the audience and anybody who was there was there for us. They weren’t there for a festival and were with some kind of side show or they were just having a day out and then happened to see us or whatever. Yeah. And so to get 400 people there..
Pretty epic turnout..
Yeah, we were stoked. We’re really really surprised and very humbled by it.
The Quokkas really gave me a new perspective on the importance of kids’ music. Your writing is not only accessible to that demographic in the sense of arrangement and lyrical content, but it seems like under the guise of all the fun and games it is really preparing the next generation of children for life ahead. What made you start writing conscious kids’ music?
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head in that I think a lot of people, by the time you meet your friends or whatever, they’re already a pretty well painted canvas. And, you know, they’ve got a lot of their colours and their inclinations and stuff like that already. You may, either as a friend, or maybe by the media that they digest, that’ll always be viewed underneath the microscope of their prejudices, or their inhibitions, or the stuff that they’ve learned from their family, or their upbringing and stuff like that. So there’s only so far that you can lead people down a different path to what they’re doing unless they’re an exceptionally open and malleable person. Whereas I think, when it comes to kids, they’re a blank canvas. They’re a sponge for everything that you give them, and you can make fundamental changes that will set them up for life. And so they have really, really simple messages that they can digest, all of a sudden, that can become a part of their subconscious psyche. And if you can, I guess, put into their subconscious psyche that you should be kind to other people, learn that you should accept diversity, then great. They can’t grow those prejudices from the get go automatically. They think that the norm is acceptance. Like you’re not born with a lack of acceptance. You learn that either consciously or subconsciously from the environment around you. And if we can consciously embed in them that the norm is acceptance and inclusivity, then all of a sudden, everything around them, seems off if that’s not the case. And hopefully, that’s the way that their entire world becomes coloured. I don’t think you’d get that opportunity with any other age group.
Yeah wow.. There really is a huge responsibility, not just as parents but as a community where there are young kids, you don’t realise they are mopping up everything that’s going on around them.
Yes. And seeing it with my kids, they really do repeat everything you say, and they, they take it on, and they bring it up. Like our kids are only four, but they’re bringing up stuff from two years ago still. You know, like, half their life ago, something that we mentioned in passing that we didn’t even realise, but for whatever reason that topic has come up again, and they’ll bring it up again. “Oh, but you said something or other two years ago dad” and I’m just like, oh, man, yeah, okay..
A tune that really resonates with me is ‘For Everyone The Sky is Blue’. I remember sitting in on a mix session and thinking ‘man the instrumental could be a bonus track off sgt peppers or magical mystery tour’. Paired with the ever-so-inclusive lyrics and charming performance by the band, it is a melody that I find myself humming unawares at odd hours. Where do you draw inspiration for both your writing and musicality for songs like this?
Well, first lyrically, as I said, I’ve got the four-year-old twins, and I like to see the world around them, and what interests them, what’s relatable to them, and what exists in their world that they’re interested in. So their existence and their understanding of the world is very minimal to start with. But the concepts that they can grasp so far are really, really basic. But they’re sponging everything up. So, from a lyrical perspective, I try and create concepts. And there are other writers in the band, too. It’s not just me create concepts that can boil down into a single phrase, or a single overarching theme or something like that, that’s so easily digestible, that from there, you just build around it to create examples of that, that are going to be relatable to that particular audience. Which I think is. I’m not saying I am, but the people that I respect, do that in a different sense. Like, I think some of the best songwriters in the world manage to boil down something that you didn’t even know necessarily was relatable to you. And then they have epitomised that in this perfect phrase, and it’s like, man, that’s so true. And you’ve got to try and get inside the head of a four year old, they’ll never do it, they’ll never acknowledge it, but to be able to go, Oh, that’s so true.Like ‘You know, I do like riding my bike!’ You know. So it’s an oversimplification for the kids.
From a musical perspective., again, it’s got to be simple to hear. But you’ve got to have fun writing it as well. So I like to make something simple sounding, but then I can enjoy the back end a little bit with harmonies and subtle chord changes. So, you know, the learned portion of the song remains, but you can have fun with the back end, that nobody is going to have to relearn. But you can enjoy the sonic nature of how it’s changing around you to try and keep the interest piqued.
Yeah, that’s awesome. It almost feels in a way that you’re kind of like, boiling down the harmony, essentially. Like it’s never any more complex than it needs to be. But as it’s never really alarming, you know?
I think it’s super cool. How you can just squeeze in all these genres to like, you know, it feels like you’re having fun.
It’s fun to write. Yeah, We’re not straying too far out in genres. Yeah. But it’s fun to just just lean one way!
I always find myself captivated by the prowess you have with melody and chord. I stand by this for your other music more targeted for the adult demographic too, I know I’ve had a bit of a sneak preview already, but are there any plans for a ‘January Choir’ release?
Oh, absolutely. I want to and the interesting thing is that I’ve never written anything solo, which is like January Choir essentially as my solo project, but because I can’t sing really.
I think you’re getting better!
Oh, thank you. But without being modest my tone isn’t great. It’s not a voice that you want as a lead singer. I think we can all agree that you don’t have to say it out loud, ha ha. I know it’s true. And I’m not being modest in that sense. So I do need people around me to be able to sing stuff. But I always had a fear of not being blanketed by a band. So I’d always written stuff for bands and stuff like that. But to release it on your own, as I’m sure you’re aware, you really expose a lot of yourself there. The sad thing is that I’m past the point of worrying about that sort of stuff. But the Quokkas I guess, and the surprisingly wonderful reaction they’ve received meant that my focus has been taken by the Quokkas because at the moment, I still write a lot of original serious adult stuff, but I don’t have time to be able to produce it. So we’ve got three finished songs for January Choir, they’re ready to go. They’re mastered. But I don’t have time to sit down with Abbi Yeo and Komiti and Fely (the vocalists) and film A film clip yet.
Yeah, for sure.
If you put so much into writing, so much into producing it, thinking about every single note, every single harmony, there’s no point in not having a marketing strategy to be able to release it and give it the best chance of getting the most listens. And along with releasing a song a month with a video on the Quokkas, sometimes more – we’ve done EPs as well – it just soaks up a lot of time when we’re working full time with kids.
Yeah, it’s almost like the songwriting is the easy part. The recording is the easy part. The fun bit. And the promotion is the work or the hard work, for me anyway..
Yeah! Like I was thinking about it. For us to write, and then demo, and then record, and then choreograph, and then film, then edit, then release and promote a song once a month is fairly time consuming. So with January Choir, I just hadn’t had a chance to release it properly. But yeah, there was one song that we finished I think 2019 Yeah. And that’s, that’s the song that I want to do first because it’s about my daughter, I just want to be out there. But I’ve got a filmographer, I’ve got a couple of actors ready to go, I’ve got the concept for the thing. I just need a few weeks man!
Well that leads me to my next question.. Apart from writing, recording and performing with the quokkas, working on your own solo projects, showing up to your job as a radio host, mind you which involves a wake up somewhere in the vicinity of four in the morning?
Yeah, four, four thirty, Hah!
And all the extra stuff that comes with being a community figure, you are also a dad and a husband.. I struggle just making myself breakfast in the morning.. What does a regular day look like for Nick Gill? How the hell do you fit everything in?
I’ve never been one who really likes to waste time. So I’ve found I’ve actually become more productive in the hours that I have available since having children because they’re so precious. Unless I’m eating, I’ll never really just sit down and watch a show or binge or or do anything like that. Because my leisure is music. Some people like to do that sort of stuff. And that’s totally fine. That’s their leisure. But I get so much joy, even though as I’m sure you’re aware, being creative can be banging your head against the wall for three hours and then doubting everything you’ve ever done. But still the process of it, I really relish. And so I guess a day looks like to me, waking up for the radio show.
Do you eat breakfast before you go?
Yeah I eat breakfast about five. And then get home normally about lunchtime, get some lunch, and then we’d normally get childcare till early afternoon. Then I’ll try and use those maybe two hours trying to get creative in whatever capacity I can. And then look after the kids and put them down at night time. Then try and get some time to hang out with my gorgeous wife.
Sounds like a hectic schedule..
Well, it’s fun. I guess if you’re used to the routine, then you can enjoy those moments more. But before I had kids, I did a radio show in the afternoon where I could sleep in or whatever. I had heaps of time after the show, had heaps of time before the show. And so it made it less urgent. So I was probably less productive. Now I’ll go. I’ve got 90 minutes. And we’ve got a song that’s got to be released in a month. Can I deliver the video concept or can I write two songs in that time? And then I’ll worry about editing tomorrow. You get a concept down or a demo and vocals.
A quick aside, who inspires you?
I mean, this is a bit corny but my wife. She’s a pretty wonderful person to service all the different portions of her life where every portion of her life feels as though they’re the one thing in her life. I think her children feel very well loved and tended to by her. She helps organise their lives and gives them so much love. But she’s a geriatrician as well, like she’s a consultant doctor. I’ve never spoken to anybody at her job that thinks she’s anything short of one of the most dedicated people you’ll ever meet. She does a lot of extracurricular activities, George really puts in with like, reviewing students’ articles or organising basic physicians training for up-and-coming doctors, stuff like that. Her friends, like she’s always on the phone to her friends. She lives distantly from every single one of her childhood friends. And yet I think all of them feel a connection to her as though she never moved away from Sydney or they never moved away from Sydney. And so to have somebody so strapped for time, and yet being able to give so much to every single portion of their life that it doesn’t feel as though she’s strapped for time. She makes you feel lazy.
Thanks heaps for doing this man, appreciate it!