Have you been to Singapore before?
No. When I was 15, my parents took me to Israel, and Singapore was [a stopover] along the way. A very good friend of ours is going to show us around when we arrive, so we’re going to pick her brains to find out all the good spots to check out.
How’d you first get into music?
I guess I’ve always been a music fan. I grew up surrounded by my father’s LPs – I spent a lot of time listening to them and the radio. I think it was always something that attracted me. I didn’t pick up an instrument until I was 18. I dabbled in piano a little at school, but I wasn’t a huge instrument player until the guitar. Within a few years, I was pretty much writing my own songs.
Then when I was 20 in Melbourne I joined a band called The Benders, and after that the drummer and I went up to Sydney, found a bass player and a guitarist, and formed our band Do-Ré-Mi. We ended up travelling the world – we were together about eight or nine years – and then I went off and started doing solo records. After my first album, I needed a guitar player, and was told to get in touch with a man called Willy Zygier. When I opened my door, I think there was a mutual attraction as well as a professional one.
How long have you and Willy Zygier been together for now?
Twenty-one years. We had mutual music friends, and I needed a guitar player, and he seemed to fit the bill.
It seems to have worked well, considering you got more than you bargained for since that first meeting.
The father of my children, that’s right.
How did you come up with the idea of playing at fans’ homes for your album Summertown’s release?
It was the first album we released without a record company, and I was just thinking about the idea of marketing – and there hadn’t really been any new marketing ideas since they started releasing records. The idea was that you sent the album to radio stations to get them to play it, then you’d go on tour. So aside from giveaways to various influential people, there wasn’t really anything innovative or original in the whole marketing of records.
I started thinking of Tupperware. How do you get into people’s living rooms? Well, you just walk in. So that’s what we did. We made an offer: if you buy this many records, we’ll come to your house, deliver them, sign them, then play you a 20-minute acoustic set. It was much, much more successful than a marketing idea; it became one of the very successful ways in which we sold the album. We did well over a hundred of them, and they not only managed to get an enormous amount of publicity through the usual channels of television and radio, it also helped sell the record in itself. No one had done it before we did. People had organised house concerts, but that was different.
What was it like being a part of an ever-changing movement that music brought?
Music was central for a number of decades. The ’60s music was central, the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s…it’s probably only in the last ten to 15 years that music hasn’t been central anymore. In the last 15 years music has taken so much a backseat to other things that people do. Youth culture kind of collects around Facebook, or video games, or what fashionable chef is working at some fashionable restaurant. It’s not so much involved with the latest hot band and the latest hot single. I don’t think people collect around those ideas as much as they once did. Music is so much more fractured now than it ever was.
People tend to find their own music, make their own playlists on their iPods and make their own selections from the internet. It’s not radio-dominated as it once was. What we wanted to do at the weekends was to go out and see music and play, and it’s just not as popular as it was before.
How was the process of music making for you and Willy, with music styles changing over the years?
We were very susceptible to what was going around us. We were also very reactive about the records we’d just made. If you have a listen to our albums in [choronological] order, the latest one always seems to be a rebellion against the previous one, which is musically shiftless [laughs]. And a little bit ruthless. We both kind of decided this at the same time, so there you go. I think since Summertown came out, there’s been much more of a firming up of the direction that we’re going in. With Summertown and Half Man, Half Woman, which came out in 2010, and now with our new album that we’re working on even as I speak to you now.
We’re almost at the point now where we can taste it [as] a new album, but we just have to wait until we’ve got it completely right. It’s not that we couldn’t have it out now, but it’s the way we like to have things. We want at least 16 to 17 songs that we’re completely happy with, and go in and record now. So we are close, but we can say that the style since Summertown has been more consistent.
Are we going to be hearing any of these new songs when you come over to Singapore?
Yeah, you are. You are. There’ll be a few new songs we’ll be playing. They’ve gone down very well. We’ve been playing shows, and the loveliest thing is when people come up to you and ask ‘Where did that song come from?’ – and a lyric has stuck with them – and I have to tell them that we haven’t recorded it yet. I feel like we’re going in the right direction.
Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier are in concert on 5 June at Esplanade Recital Studio.