/ Gentle Leader

words, photos & video by josh yong

 



After multiple delays, it is early evening by the time I arrive at Matthew Oastler’s apartment in Ashfield, in Sydney’s inner-west.

“Top floor! Door should be open!” He tells me over the phone, as I stand awkwardly on the street, not knowing which building I’m supposed to be heading into.

Slightly flustered after navigating Ashfield as well as hauling my gear up to the top floor of the apartment building, I meet Matt at the entrance to his flat. Immediately I pick up on the fact that there is a very deliberate sense of calm about him.

Even though the daylight was disappearing fast, and I had arrived many hours after I was supposed to, and we had two videos to do, there was no urgency in either of our minds. It seemed that we were both of the belief that pressure cripples creativity, so the key was just to roll with it…

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His apartment has a balcony that looks directly over Ashfield Station, which I quickly gather is a pretty busy train station, judging by the amount and frequency of the carriages rolling through.

“The sounds and rhythms of trains, and that chirping of the birds is the soundtrack to my songwriting, so I don’t mind hearing them in these performances” Matt explains to me.

I totally agreed, after all, what use is there fighting against something like that?

No matter what, the 5pm service to Campbelltown was always going to win, so may as well embrace it.

**

“The more I learn the less I wanna know,  //

Isn’t that family? Way too much honesty for me…”

                                                                                 – Gentle Leader “My Mother Was A Girl Once”

**

Matt’s balcony faces directly west, and so the sun was setting right behind him as he plays his track My Mother Was A Girl Once.

It is a track that didn’t actually make it on to the album. He explains to me how that was partly a motivation for getting a live video for this particular track. It would give people a chance to still experience the song and where the other songs originated, externally from the context of his album.

This is actually the first solo body of work that Matt has put together, the debut for not only Gentle Leader but also Matt’s solo career. He previously played in bands, but went through a phase where he fell out of sync with music and creativity in general for a bit.

“I took some time off music, I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted to do. So I did other shit, and then realized that actually it is important to me, doing creative things.”

“I think I was just burnt out, so it took time off to realise ‘holy shit, I really do need to do this.”

**

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*

His primary focus for Gentle Leader is conveying the story, as honestly and clearly as possible.

Emerging from playing in band contexts, he really wanted to make conscious decisions about how he wrote and played.

“I realised that it’s okay to give your opinion and say what’s in your head. Not only is it okay, but it’s actually really important to do that.”

“It was a big challenge for me to actually say shit, and for people to understand what I’m saying.”

**

With the sun completely set now, and darkness rolling in, Matt sits down at his electric piano to play a second track. It’s another new one, so new in fact that he still references the lyrics on his laptop, which is perched on top of the Yamaha.

“It’s funny,” he turns to me to say,

“people won’t actually know whether or not I got the words wrong, but it’s important to me, you know?”

I totally understand, and it makes me understand a bit more about Matt’s creative process. It’s a careful balance between flexibility, variability and also a strive for perfection. When I say perfection I mean that not in some kind of objective decree of “correctness”, but perfection within Matt’s own expectations of himself and what he wishes to convey through his art.

**

This leads us onto a bit of a discussion about creative process, and what it takes to create.

“It’s all about not expecting anything from the process” he says. “I might sit down here and not come away with anything, but that’s okay.”

“As soon as you have that pressure, you stop being creative. It happens as soon as you have that expectation.”

They are wise words to live by, and I think that it held true in our collaboration.

We had captured what we needed, we were both happy with the results.

I regathered my things and set off back down the staircase and into the Ashfield evening, following the sound of the trains to the station, figuring out where I was supposed to be heading next.

**

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Enjoy – more projects on the way so keep in touch.

Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the project so far.

 – JY x