The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently kicked off a new series, aptly entitled Sonic Sessions, in which they will bring new musicians in each month to perform. This Friday, they welcome Sinkane to the Rock Hall.
“Oh, man,” said the New York transplant in a phone interview this week. “I mean, I’m excited to play there. I went there on a school field trip when I was in high school, you know, and I don’t really remember much about it, but I remember it was really cool. There’s always that joke about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a musician, playing there or being inducted. I’m really excited about it. I’m sure it’ll be a really fun time.”
Sinkane is no stranger to the Midwest.
“I moved to Ohio when I was 13,” says Sinkane. “I lived in Kent, Ohio, which is about forty minutes south of Cleveland. In Kent, there was a pretty cool music scene there and they had a bunch of bands in Kent and Akron and throughout the United States. I played shows regularly in Ohio and they toured a lot and it really showed me the DIY music and DIY spirit. They did everything themselves; they booked their own tours, they had total control of everything. That inspired me to do music, you know?
Before then, I just kind of figured that music was such an intangible thing, to figure out how to get into this sort of secret society because all you see about music is these rock stars on MTV and people making music that way, but when I moved to Ohio I got the opportunity to see people do it themselves and be able to talk to them, go to their shows and shake their hands and ask them for advice, to learn directly from them. It really inspired me to just do it. It gave me a lot of confidence and drive to do it all on my own. It was really nice because it promoted a lot of community. You’d go to shows and buy records from the bands themselves and it inspired you all to just work together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Do you think being in that sort of environment where there’s a community feeling allowed you to play around with different soundscapes more than if you had been somewhere else?
I don’t know if it let me play around with different soundscapes, it just gave me the confidence to do what I wanted to do. It’s really nice to have a community that supports you. It was nice to know there were a bunch of other people doing music as well and we could work together to create a community. It also, more than anything, taught me how to do everything else: how to book a tour, how to release an album, how to book shows locally and work with other people to make the community survive.
How do you go from being a musician in that setting to being a session player for bands like Caribou or of Montreal or Yeasayer?
That was all kind of a lot of work, but a lot of me going to the Grog Shop with a demo of mine at every single show and passing them out. With Caribou, I literally went to go see them because my friend’s band, HotChaCha, was playing and I got in the show for free and was a little cocky and hung out in their dressing room and I gave them one of my records and told them that I really liked their music and it was really inspiring me to make music. My email address was on the back of the demo and they emailed me a few months later and told me they liked the music, so I asked them if my band could open up for them when they came back to Columbus. They said yes.
It was a really weird story where their drummer broke his wrist and they called me and asked me if I wanted to play, they liked my music and felt like my style was comparable to theirs. I totally got lucky. It was one of those Almost Famous moments. I started playing with them and through them I met the of Montreal guy, then the Yeasayer guy and every single band that I’ve played with. Once I got into it, it was a lot of networking and people saw me play and asked me if I wanted to come play with them. I feel really fortunate that that happened to me.
So, would you advise other people who are trying to get into the music world to be confident and approach these musicians that we tend to kind of put on pedestals?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s weird when you go to a show and you really want to see this person and you feel really intimidated to talk to them. Every musician wants to have a conversation with the fans. Everyone wants to go play a show and meet the fans because without the fans coming to your show, you wouldn’t have a show and you really wouldn’t have a career at all. I remember when I was younger, I was really intimidated, but I did it anyway and I realized that it always yielded a really fun conversation. I was never snubbed by any musician, I was never told to shut up or treated unfairly or poorly. They were always really excited to meet me and we’d always have a fun conversation. It got me to where I am now. So I would say yes, definitely be more confident about that.
When did you decide to branch out on your own and stop being a session player?
I put out Sinkane in Columbus in 2007 and I made two records before I even started playing with any of the guys I even played with. It was always my aim to do Sinkane full-time, but when I got the opportunity to play with Caribou and Yeasayer and all those bands, I thought it might be smart for me to just chill out and learn from the experience of playing with a band that was really successful. I’m really glad I did that because I learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to learn on my own. I got to see how the band dealt with their business, I got to see how they toured, I learned how to tour and then I realized this is a lot different than the hardcore DIY touring that I did before. And I was very humbled by playing with these guys because they were on a very different level and they all took me under their wings and taught me a lot of things.
Before we talk about your newest album, I’d like to talk about Mars. I’m a flute player, so when I heard the use of flute and all the extended technique work I was really intrigued. What drew you to that type of flute playing being on your album?
I’m a big fan of jazz music. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz music, so I really liked how the flute was incorporated in jazz music from the 70s in particular. So when I moved to New York, I met a lot of people who were like-minded and played music that I liked to hear. I was fortunate enough to meet this guy Casey Benjamin, who plays with Robert Glasper and a few other people. He came over to my studio one time and I gave him a reference point. I really like the tone of the flute when it’s played in that way. It’s really dramatic and also really beautiful sounding. It kind of carries a song in a way that no other instrument can.
I mean, I’m biased, but I would have to agree with that. Onto your newest album, Mean Love. It seems to kind of abandon the esoteric noise vibe that happened on the previous albums, for more of a psych/pop feel. What inspired the change?
With Mean Love, I wanted to take all of the ideas I had with Mars and kind of apply them, make them more concise and structured. So, I didn’t really abandon much at all, but I just refined the ideas. Instead of having a completely ambient and amorphous song, I just wanted some ambient music in a song that had more structuring. An example would be like, “New Name,” which is writing off of an amorphous, ambient sort of song, but it’s very, very structured so it seems a lot less showcased. I really wanted to challenge myself with that. The structure of my music isn’t like a pop sensibility and I’ve found myself having a lot of trouble with that, so I thought it’d be a really cool challenge to try and conquer that and make more pop-oriented songs.
Tickets are still available for Friday’s show and can be purchased here. The doors will open at 8pm with the show beginning at 9pm. A ticket will also grant you admission to the Rock Hall’s Ahmet Ertegun exhibit.