Melbourne-based pianist / producer, Joshua Smeltink, aka On-Ly, has a new E.P., Anthochaera, poised for release on Inner Sauce Records – the latest musical venture from Tribe Records frontman, and former Shock Sound System founder, Zepherin Saint. Featuring four flights of future jazz-fusion, tempo-wise this quartet of cuts stretches from the simmering, sultry, soulful, Theo Parrish-esque beatdown of Hows That, to the glorious, joyful, gallop of That One. Flush couples military snares and bleep LFOs to classic, classy piano runs and bright brass fanfares, full of light and hope, while Funky Isolation is focused around a brilliant drum battery. The Insider caught up with Joshua at the city’s Evelyn Hotel, where he’s currently in the middle of a month long live residency.
Interview conducted by The Insider.
Hey Joshua thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Where are you right now and how are you spending your day?
Hey, no worries thanks for the questions! At home, getting ready for a gig tonight with one of my bands.
How is the vibe in the city of Melbourne at the moment?
Manic in the very best way – it’s a great vibe because everyone is hustling and putting on great shows and spreading lots of musical love.
You suffered the longest lockdown around the globe. Do think there will be some lasting effects on the city from this or are things starting to feel normal again..
It does feel like it’s back to normal after our arduous lockdown saga. It certainly had an insidious effect on some sectors of the community, and sadly some bands just aren’t around anymore. I think artists are finding it hard to recover because it all happened so suddenly – 0 to 100 – I just had three gigs over three nights, huge nights, very late and lots of socialising. I’m exhausted (laughs), but it was such a good time. I’m just grateful that we’re getting back into it, and everyone is smiling.
Even though you’re on the other side of the world, we know that Melbourne is a melting pot of musical culture and hive of quality activity on the soul, neo-soul, jazzy hip-hop front. Why do you think that Melbourne has cultivated that particular sound so much?
I think it’s a combination of things. Melbourne has always been the epicentre of jazz in Australia, and I think it has, overtime, boiled down into these sub-genres, as the music has progressed further and further away from convention. I think too it’s such good vibe music, these sub-genres: it’s what the punters love to hear and it’s what the artists love to play.
I’ve heard that there are some music schools in Melbourne that function as great hubs for musicians to meet and connect – focused on jazz or adjacent styles. Are you involved in any of these circles? What artists have come out of these hubs?
Yes, the VCA and Monash University seem to feed the scene with young, hungry music students. Also, the ANU in Canberra, and other music institutions across Australia, like WAPA in Perth, and the Con in Sydney and Brisbane – people just seem to end up in Melbourne because it’s always had that reputation for cultivating the arts, particularly music. I personally started at the ANU and finished at Monash, and studied with people from 30/70 and The Rookies / Claps. On-Ly has some young guys in the band who just finished at Monash recently.
Hiatus Kaiyote’s 2012 Tawk Tomahawk E.P. did a lot to popularise the neo / future soul sound within your community. Do you think that the explosion in Melbourne’s sound can be tracked back to that record?
Absolutely. I think Hiatus filled a gap in the Australian landscape just a little bit more than the groups that had come before them with similar vibes – they had a combination of things going for them that really inspired a lot of people.
The Bamboos and Cookin’ On 3 Burners had been championing the rare groove vibe too. Are you familiar with these bands?
Yes. I believe one of the founding members of The Bamboos – Ben Grayson – teaches at Monash, or taught there when I was finishing up.
Bradley Zero has signed acts from Melbourne for Rhythm Section like 30/70 and he’s often in the city. Are you aware of his label and the nu jazz / neo-soul / broken scene in the UK?
Yes, Rhythm Section and Bradley Zero are household names over here. Much respect to all the crew and everything they’re doing in the UK. Definitely a well of inspiration for our scene.
As an individual performer, there are many parts that you play within your music. Can you talk me through those different parts and instruments that you play?
Sure. I’ve got a couple of DX7s and an old Roland RD300SX. Combined with some physical kit / percussion elements, and Ableton for my capture, that’s pretty much how I do it. All my bass, harmonic and melodic elements are done through the keyboards, and the rhythm and groove are a combination of programmed drums and layers of percussive / kit overdubs.
Are there additional musicians that join you on stage when playing live?
Yes, in fact the next album will be the full band.
What does live performance set up comprise of?
I’m joined by drums, bass, guitar, and percussion – congas, etc. – for the live set plus my two DXs and the Roland.
Are your live gigs totally improvised?
Yes. Coming from a jazz background, improvisation has always been the be-all-and-end-all for me – to be able to just play from nothing. I feel as though there is no better way to express how I feel than through improvisation, nor can I better express the connectivity, as humans, we all implicitly share to the universe around us than through improvisation.
When did you first start out in music?
I started playing music very young, on the violin and eventually settled into piano at 8.
Where were your first performances?
My first performance was at a primary school, for a primary student music competition. We all played solo piano pieces. I was thrilled to have won. It`s a very fond memory.
What words would you use to best describe the sound that you currently make?
Jazz, house, hip-hop, psychedelic, funky, groove-based fusion music.
Who are some of the artists that inspire the music you create today?
Pretty much all my contemporaries in the Melbourne scene, and then greats like Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Kieth Jarrett, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, `70s Miles Davis, Jan Hammer, Azymuth, Deodato, Stevie Wonder; Mndsgn, Kiefer, Knxwledge, Dilla, Shostakovich, Chopin, Bach…
Is there some perfect record from the past that you wish you had made?
No, because the perfect records are the ones that inspire me to make my own perfect record, and hopefully take my own turn to inspire.
I know that Zepherin Saint is really active on the live scene in Melbourne, and he is a big fan. How did you first connect?
He is! And we’re so thrilled to have him here. I first connected with him through Henry Hicks, a stalwart of the Melbourne scene – he connected Lush Life, one of the bands that Henry and I are a part of, with Zeph Saint, and in turn we all got to know him.
Can you tell me about the title of your new E.P.? What does it mean?
Anthochaera is a type of bird genus – The Wattlebird – very common here in Australia. They have a very funny call, and their chest is stained yellow. I felt very connected to them through lockdown, when I was finishing off the E.P. They would dance around the backyard and bring a lot of joy.
What was the process of production on the making of these four tracks?
Overdubbing, overdubbing, overdubbing. Start with one element and then let it inspire the next.
Can you talk us through the tracks on the E.P. a little.
That One was actually written in 2018. I remember being inspired by Tenderlonius while writing that track. It seems to have the most parts – it’s quite varied with its orchestration. Flush was one of the last to be written. I was super inspired by the Tribe Records catalogue at that time, and I think you can hear that here. Flush is one of those tunes that sat there for a while, I remember, and then one day I culled about two thirds of it and landed on what we have now. How’s That is the quintessential rainforest music: reminiscent of drives to the coast from my home in Canberra as a kid. I used to always have Chillout Session 7 banging in my headphones. Zepherin Saint lent me his Voyager to record on this one. Funky Isolation is kind of exactly what it’s called. I was isolated at home, I was feeling funky, I wanted to shake off the isolation funk, boom, this track wrote itself in a day. Total flow.
Have you yet performed these tracks live? How were they received?
Yes, and very well! I’ve had a residency down at one of the local venues here in Melbourne, leading up to the release of the E.P. It’s been a great reception thus far!
If we find ourselves in the city of Melbourne, where are some great places to hear live music?
Well, The Evelyn Hotel – where I’m currently playing until the end of March, The NightCat, Colour Club, Abbottsford Yard, Bodriggy Brewery, Howler, The Northcote Social Club, Galah Bar, Whitehart Bar, to name just a few.
The Evelyn Hotel
Any tips for great record shops on the city you can share?
Who are your hot tips for fresh artists out of Melbourne?
Claps Band and JEP.
What would you say your next ambition is as an artist?
On-Ly is hitting the festival scene this year, so trying to keep that up and taking it international – coming to say Hey! to the UK and Europe and book as many shows / hangs / jams as possible (smiles).
What’s in the pipeline for you release wise?
I’ve been waiting on some vinyl for On-Ly’s 2021 release, Yurodivy – which is arriving any day now – released with La Sape Records, plus my album, Broth, from 2020 is getting pressed this year, after popular demand, also with La Sape. After Anthochaera, on the 25th of March – with Inner Sauce Records – I’ll be getting the band into the studio in April and sending the results of those sessions off for a 22 / 23 release date, plus I’ll be getting another E.P. together for Inner Sauce. As far as my other other groups are concerned, John Henderson is finishing off a recorded album, while Lush Life will be releasing an E.P. with Inner Sauce Records later this year too. Lots to come!
Do you have any upcoming gigs?
Well, apart from the the month-long residency at The Evelyn, and the Anthochaera Launch party there on March 24th, so far we’ve got the 3rd of April at Bodriggy Brewery. Melbourne, and then the 23rd of April – for Record Store Day – at Plug 7.
Thank you very much for your valuable time!
On-Ly`s Anthochaera E.P. is out this Friday, on Inner Sauce Records.