Welcome to Episode 11!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 11 is Morgan Then.
Morgan Then is the Sarawakian half of the popular Australian electronic duo, Slumberjack. Since launching their career with a No. 1 track on Triple J’s influential sister station, Unearthed, SLUMBERJACK has released four EPs—including their newest effort, Black & Blue—and over 10 singles. They’ve received 2 ARIA Gold Records (for their 2014 self-titled debut and their 2017 single, “Fracture”), while their second EP, Fracture, debuted at No. 1 on iTunes Australia’s electronic chart.
Who is Morgan Then?
We talked about Morgan’s childhood: what it was like growing up in our hometown of Kuching, Sarawak, and that moment where he was decided to learn the piano. Something that he had to enter into an “agreement” with his dad on:
Moving to Perth, Australia
Morgan eventually moved to Perth, Australia where he triple majored in economics, finance and commerce. And at the time, he was even determined to become the best accountant there was!
But he had amazing friends who lent him instruments – including a Taylor guitar! – and that kept the fire going.
Entering the Music World
Having spent time playing at weddings & gigs at the Ilama bar, there came a point where Morgan graduated and he was faced with the choice of taking on a full-time graduate role or pursuing the world of music.
And we talked about:
- How he ended up participating in the Limelight DJ Competition in 2012 when he didn’t even know what DJing was about!
- Meeting Fletcher & how they first got together to make music and form Slumberjack;
- Getting Slumberjack’s first agent & performing live;
- What it means to have synesthesia & what the Slumberjack sound “tastes” like to Morgan;
- Defining the Slumberjack sound with the help of Mr. Carmack; and
- What it was like having Felon released & being played on-air (it’s grown to over 2.5 million plays on SoundCloud!).
2017 Fracture EP
Fracture was another turning point.
An EP that was created out of an “eureka” moment to the extent that Morgan said:
In addition, we talked about:
- What it was like when Fracture came out & started going viral;
- The 6-month process of building a live show which they built from scratch
- Why Slumberjack’s team is so vital; and
- How Morgan first found & channeled his inner Freddie Mercury when performing on stage to crowds of up to 15,000.
Going back to Sarawak, Malaysia
Sarawak is our hometown & during their incredibly eventful 8-days there, their experiences included:
- Collecting interesting sounds (e.g. sonic impulses from Sarawak’s famous Fairy Cave)
- Living in longhouses;
- Meeting real skulls kept in rucksacks & still-bloodied parangs (knives) with the hair of the victims tied to the end?!;
- Hiking to Jangkar falls during snake season & being caught in torrential rain;
- Getting a hand tapped tattoo; and
- SO MUCH MORE
Other Things We Discussed
- What it was like meeting real Hollywood stardom aka Jason Day (Lifehouse) and collaborating with Corey Enemy (producer and songwriter for Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, will.i.am, David Guetta etc.)
- How Slumberjack has been staying connecting with their fans;
- Morgan’s biggest advice for those seeking to follow in their footsteps; and
- Knowing when to quit.
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories on STIMY, check out:
- Alena Murang: Sarawakian tape player & heritage advocate for Sarawakian indigenous people
- Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt: Violist of world-renowned Dover Quartet on life as a professional classical musician
- Ashley Dean: First Artist, The Royal Ballet in Covent Garden, London
- David Grief: Senior Clerk of Essex Court Chambers – has nurtured the careers of many judges sitting at the UK Supreme Court, ICC & ECHR in Strasbourg (including the former Chief Justice of England & Wales)
- Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
- Malek Ali – Malaysian serial entrepreneur most known for founding Malaysia’s top business radio channel, BFM 89.9 & Fi Life
- Sarah Chen – Co-Founder of Beyond the Billion: a global consortium of over 80 VCs that have collectively pledged over $1 billion in funding in female-founded companies
If you enjoyed this episode, you can:
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I’d love to include more listener comments & thoughts into future STIMY episodes! If you have any thoughts to share, a person you’d like me to invite, or a question you’d like answered, send an audio file / voice note to [email protected]
Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Slumberjack: Website, Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube
- Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic
- Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
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Ep 11: Morgan Then - Slumberjack (Australian Electronic Duo)
Morgan Then: It was really difficult.
That song took so long to flesh out. But the Eureka moment for me was literally done in five minutes.
I remember just being so stressed out over just the frustration of not being able to write something compelling. And then I looked at my watch and I realized I had five minutes left before I could pick someone up from the airport. And that pressure sort of laser-focused me into just finishing it somehow.
It's so hard to explain because musicians and artists talk about being in the flow. And that flow bit me, so hard, that five minutes disappeared and the song finished. I couldn't explain it.
And I remember just sending it all over to Fletch and I'd go, like I figured it out. This is it. This is the main chorus. This is what's going to get everyone dancing. I was never more confident in my life, even now, I haven't felt that confident.
Like when Fracture was done, I was like, if this doesn't get us into the big leagues in Australia, I will quit. I know it. I feel it in my core.
Ling Yah: Hey, everyone. Welcome to episode 11 of the So This Is My Why podcast.
I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah and today's guest is Morgan Then.
Now Morgan is a really old friend. We went to the same high school in Kuching Sarawak a very long time ago, and he also happens to be one half of Australia's very popular electronic duo, Slumberjack.
To date, they have over 100 million streams across our releases, ARIA gold-certified records, performed at giant arenas like Stereosonic, Splendour in the Grass and Lollapalooza. And collaborated with incredible people like Vera Blue, Troi Boy and Corey Enemy, who happens to be the producer and songwriter for the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, will.i.am and David Guetta.
In this episode, we dive deep into what it was like growing up in Kuching, what it's like having synesthesia because Morgan can taste music when he hears it. And the journey they went through to break into the global stage. It Is an incredible journey with lots of real life reality checks thrown in and oh-
We also talked about that time when Morgan and Fletch encountered a rucksack full of real skulls and a bloody machete with the hair of its victims still attached to it. Creepy, but I don't want to spoil it for you. So let's move on to episode 11.
Are you ready?
Hey, Morgan, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining me today.
Morgan Then: Ling Yah, thanks for having me.
Ling Yah: So, we go very far back.
Morgan Then: Way back.
Ling Yah: I mean, we were both from Kuching.
Morgan Then: Yup
Ling Yah: We went to Lodge as well. And I remember that you were the person who would go on stage and do magic tricks. So you would be composing your own songs.
Even back then, you were very much into music. But during my research for this interview, I realized that you were actually exposed to music way before that, and you pushed your dad to give you piano lessons.
Morgan Then: Yes. So it's a kind of funny story.
It's almost narcissistic. So I remember I was 11 or 12. I was at a birthday party and there was a boy playing the piano, very rudimentary stuff. I think he was playing like chopsticks or something. And I just remember all the kids flocking to him.
And it's a weird thing to say, but like, I'm not ashamed to feel that, but at that moment, I was like, why is the attention not on me?
And I think that that kind of gave me the thirst for being in the spotlight. And then from there, it could have been anything. I just wanted some sort of attention. It's not that I'm not getting attention at home. I just felt like I wanted to do this. And I realize there are many ways to do it, and entertainment is going to be my calling.
I sort of almost decided there and then, but I didn't make the big call until a lot later, until I realized I can actually do it.
Ling Yah: So why piano though? Of all the things to push your dad for.
Morgan Then: I know. I have no idea. It could have been violin. It could have been guitar. It could have been singing.
I dunno. I think it was because that kid was playing the piano. So I wanted to play the piano. Although my dad had an organ in our home, and he would stick little sticky notes on it and he would write the notation on it. And I would just memorize it, not knowing really what it was. And he would sit and play.
So basically I was like, well, what that kid did, I can do at home. So I'll start practicing. And my dad was like, okay, well, I will get you a piano if you can play the theme of the godfather. in two weeks. So he taught it to me on the organ and lo and behold, I did it somehow I could in two weeks, play with two hands.
And my dad was like, oh crap. Like this guy can actually play. without knowing though, it was muscle memory. I was just watching him repeating it, like rote memory stuff. And then eventually he bought me a secondhand piano, which is still in my house at the moment in Kuching.
I think it cost him 5,000 ringgit and it was like a Brown surprisingly really good Yamaha piano. And then from there on, we made a deal. My dad was like, you can have piano lessons an hour a week and you need to make sure you're on top of your grades. So at the time I was in Chung Hua No. 3.
We didn't have semesters or trimesters. We had exams every month.
But the deal was out of those 8 or 10 subjects . There needs to be four 100s. There needs to be four papers that score perfectly then I can continue the lesson for the month.
And that was a time where I only got three. So he actually canceled my classes for the month. So it's for me, I'm like, what the hell? Like, are you serious?
He's like, yeah, like we made a deal, you've got to stick to your word. So I studied really hard the next month and I got five more , so it's almost like a trade between my dad was like academic and arts.
So you got to uphold both. And I kind of just did that throughout my life. It sort of became a habit. Because I know there's a trade off.
Ling Yah: And did you enjoy music? Because you started learning, I remember, all kinds of different instruments, and then you end up being in the Rainforest World Festival as well.
So what was music to you then?
Morgan Then: Well, I sort of played the piano and I don't want to brag, but I was pretty good. I was really comfortable with my skill. I got a diploma. and then I realized that there are a lot of people better than me, you know, it's like, I practiced so hard, but there are so kids out there that are kicking my ass, you know, like, you know, you're really good.
Ling Yah: No, but I mean, what do you mean by being better than you though? You mean just improvising or just, what do you mean by that?
Morgan Then: Not improvising, just technique. Playing things that are way harder to understand. So to me , the Holy grail of classical music at the time was Fantasy Impromptu, right?
The Chopin one, because of the weird timing and, squeezing quintuplets, and I was like, I don't really understand that art of music. Cause to me, everything is grid-like hence, you know, dance and more rock and I wanted to learn jazz and I knew I sucked at it. So I was like, I got to do something where I can carve my own lane. Where I can be unique in a way that isn't the same to everyone else.
So world music became like my outlet. I realized I could be the educated one in world music. Cause world music was more informal training, right. So I started picking up the erhu. I started playing the didgeridoo, started playing Somalian percussion, like the Jenn Bay then I started picking up the sape as well.
Not really good at that because that technique is also really hard to get.
But then I realized if I can't be good at one thing, I'll just be okay at many things, you know? and basically from there onwards, I became the kid that played everything and then basically formed the band and played waiting for us.
Ling Yah: And then what's interesting for me is that because I saw you doing all these instruments and I always thought you would naturally go into music, but then it turns out that when you went to Perth, you actually pursued business and finance rather than music. So what happened there?
Morgan Then: Okay. So what happened was, again, my dad, forming a contract.
We were not like the richest family so it was really difficult at the time. Like my sister didn't get the opportunity to have tertiary education, we went to Swinburne for a little bit.
And Swinburne Kuching as well because Taylor university and Colin port was way too expensive for us. And my sister managed to get a scholarship in Curtin as well, but we just didn't have the money. So I had to do a year in iSwinburne in hopes that I could leave Gucci.
That was always my plan. That if I can't do music and if I want to do music, I cannot be in Malaysia. At least it's not where I want to see us. I don't want to be the Malaysian meat as much as like, it sounds like I'm disowning my country, but it's like, I know for a fact that that is not the market I want to be in.
I want to be the mainstream. Westernized, media, that's where I kind of uphold myself too. So I knew that you have to be good at this stuff that you have music that you're writing. You gotta be presentable, image and everything. Step one was to get out first.
So the way to get out was a scholarship. Because we couldn't afford it. Eventually, I got it. So that almost helped financially, with leaving Malaysia. So the option was London or Australia and I chose Australia because it was closer to home and just in case, quote, unquote, when shit hits the fan, I can always go back to Malaysia.
And then I just somehow chose Perth because I thought it would be a huge cultural shock to me if I went to Sydney. And I knew that I should ease myself into new cultures a step at a time.
So I went to two years in university of Western Australia to pursue a triple major in economics, finance and commerce.
And yeah, that was the story of how that happened. And that gave me my permanent residency. Without that piece of paper, I had to leave the country. I had to graduate.
Ling Yah: So that's interesting that you had this plan that you wanted to do music but then first, you had to get out. But then I heard you say in another interview that you were at one point determined to be the best accountant. You were almost going to give up on music. So what happened then?
Morgan Then: I realized the reality of life when I moved to Perth. So I remember the first day getting to Perth.
I was like, Oh shit. Like, this is so different than what I thought
I don't know why. I just thought the second I touched down into a Western country, I'm seeing Hollywood, but it wasn't Hollywood. It was Perth. I'm staying in the shitty dorm.
The realization crashed into me. And I realized I had no piano there. I couldn't afford to buy musical instruments. And I was like, why did I learn the piano? I can't even ship that around. So every new place I gotta go buy a new one, then. It was like, Oh, well, you know, what am I going to do?
How I end up in music is because I was good at it. So maybe if I could be really good at accounting or being a financial advisor, I might actually love it.
So it's the other way round, like not finding my passion for us, but developing the skill set to then produce a passion quote unquote, but I had a friend at the time, his name is Trevor and he lives in Perth.
I'm so grateful for him. He lent me, longterm, his Taylor guitar. And he just goes, dude, take this man. I had two guitars in kuching and that was so bad. I bought the cheapest one cause we couldn't afford it too. But he's like, dude, just take this.
I don't want you to ever quit music. At least don't think about it, you know. Do it as a hobby first. And then another friend lent me his keyboard. So it wasn't a piano, but it was a keyboard. And then from there, on they sort of kept that almost dying fire alive for about two years.
Ling Yah: And I think you went to the department store and you bought like Logitech express and you started experimenting as well.
Morgan Then: I was like, okay, I can't play music. So the idea was to pretend that I was good. So when I was recording, I needed some way to edit my work.
Kind of like Photoshop for models. And I realized quickly, I was like, wait, this is just what recording is. This is basically music production. So from there on it kind of piqued my interest. I went from Logic to reason and then I bought Ableton and I still use Ableton. That's my primary audio software of choice.
Ling Yah: And I think at that time you were playing at weddings and like the llama bar. And then you got an EY internship as well, which you turned down?
Morgan Then: It was EY, KPMG. I got one at JP Morgan, too. And then a potential offer at Bloomberg in Singapore because it's like a thing for the third year, you know, you're graduating unit when you top it, you get an intern summer internship position, and then you finish that and you'd go straight into a full time employment.
But then I thought to myself, I already had permanent residency at the time. The CPA gave me some points. I'm not officially a CPA yet because I didn't take the papers and I realized I could stay in this country. So I realized that the thing I could do now is start waitering or do some sort of odd job.
And try to nail this music thing. And yeah, I called my dad. I told him, I'm going to turn down this internship. And he was like, you are throwing your life away. I was like, no, no, no, no. Erm, here is another contract for you. I was like, if I don't make money in music within a year, I'll go back to banking.
I'll go back to the corporate world. So my dad goes, okay, fine deal. And I was like, right. Yeah. I mean, you still have to be a filial Asian kid. Right.
Within eight months we got our first radio play. And then from there on, we started touring and then label deals started coming in. We had managers. I was like, Holy shit. Like it's I haven't looked back since.
Ling Yah: Yeah. But before that, I think the genesis of Slumberjack was really at this thing called the Limelight DJ competition 2012.
So you won and Fletcher won it the year before. And how do you even end up in this DJ composition that's so far from playing the piano?
Morgan Then: So my girlfriend at the time, we were living together as students in UWA. I was still, mangling around, making really shitty beats. I just went to like a music store on a weekend and she came with me.
And she saw flyers. It's like a side DJ competition for the main festival called Stereosonic and Calvin Harris and Testo and all the biggest things were playing. And the winner of this competition gets to open the festival. So my girlfriend at the time was like, why don't you just try it?
Like, here's a fly, try it. I was like, okay.
And I had no idea what DJing really was, and I didn't have the tools. So I had to kind of macGyver my own thing. I just bought a couple of small little buttons and controllers and instead of an 88 key piano , I can only afford a 25 key.
So that was one hand I was playing like lead melodies and left hand, I was playing chords on pads. I was playing drums and I was looping things. I created a 35 minute set and I practiced day in and day out. And I remember that girlfriend also at the time was helping me study for the exam. I had to ACE to get my permanent residency and my internship.
So two things I wanted to gun and that was like super hard. That was difficult. Six months there. Eventually I joined the competition and I remember. I got there late. And because I was the third slot, three hours in. And I remember going to the second floor and I looked down to the DJ that was playing and I realized I'm doing something completely different from everybody else.
That's where I panicked. But then I had to do it again anyway, and I impressed the judges and eventually won it. It was crazy. I didn't think I was going to win.
Ling Yah: So what happened after that? Because you didn't meet Fletcher then. You met him in the 2012 Perth Dance Music awards, and you were sussing each other out.
So what was that?
Morgan Then: Yeah, it was hilarious because the guy who actually ran the competition introduced us to each other, he was like Morgs, get here. I want to introduce you to last year's winner. His name is Fletcher. I shook his hand and kind of like threw some jokes. I was like, Oh, like I took your crowd.
And he's like, nah, man, it's, I've been doing this longer than you. And it just became a joke. And because of that, we took a photo. It was really funny. It's still a pretty iconic photo. We took it in front of an event billboard type thing with all the brands of icons and logos in the back on the red carpet from there, we thought it was nothing. Got each other's numbers.
And then four months later, I texted him and I was like, you want to make music together? Cause I heard that you produce now too. He goes yeah, I have to be producing for a while. I was like, okay, you're going to come over to my house. I got a little tiny studio setup, with speakers and just my laptop.
I was like, you know how to produce, but you don't know music theory. So maybe there's synergy there and yeah, eventually. It became a project we both thought was going to be one off. So we just called Slumberjack, randomly. We did think it was going to be as big as it is. We just thought it was a one off. We're going to put out an EP, 3 tracks and call it a day and go back to our own solo musical projects.
Ling Yah: And your EP then was very much like a solo slow emo kind of music.
Morgan Then: Yeah. It was kind of like lo-fi hip hop, experimental not heavy dance, not pop, nothing shimmery and high definition. It was really low definition. it's almost like some sort of mask for my lack of skill at the time, I kind of used as a guise as it's easier to produce lo-fi music then high fi music. So that was kind of our approach.
And then from there on, the guy who introduced us. The person who ran the competition, started managing us. He proposed that we go over to Sydney for an electronic music conference. It's like any conference. There's a conference or like an accountant's conference..
So for musicians. So we went there, mingled around and met our first label. So that was one live record. And at the time these guys were a huge label in Australia. There were signing guys like Tiger Lily, Calvin Harris. They were doing Testo. And this label was also responsible for putting on Stereosonic, the very festival that put on the competition, you know?
So it's kind of like just came full circle. And I remember though, no one liked our music.
Ling Yah: Oh no.
Morgan Then: We brought our USB over and showed it to all the executives of the different record labels. And everyone's just like, I can see potential in this, but it's not our cup of tea. And usually most artists will have a story to come up to come out of that and go like, screw you guys.
And then eventually they like your music, but no, they were right. We s***. And because of that, it kind of just motivated me a lot more. Like playing music on the piano was very different from producing music.
Ling Yah: Looking back now, why do you think it was so terrible?
Morgan Then: I just lacked the skill. Also. I was just naive.
I thought, because that's what I can do on the piano. And knowing music theory, I could write a song that could compel people to listen to it, but it's a lot harder even now. I'm still learning. You know to write a good pop song, it's one of the most difficult things and pop gets such a bad reputation because it's popular.
And all the cool kids are like, I don't like popular music, but it's not that. Popular music is only popular because it's catchy. And, you know, writing an ear worm is the hardest thing. So basically from that feedback, we hunkered down and had to study, but it's not like when we studied classical music, it's so different.
No one is there to teach you about this stuff. So my only teacher was trial and error, listening to other artists, trying to copy them, understanding structure and not really thinking there's one, you know, trying to have my own little blueprint. And eventually we just got better and better.
Ling Yah: I think you were spending like a year copying Skrillex and then Timberland and just finding out he wasn't your sound. What was interesting is when you said it, wasn't your sound, you happen to also have synesthesia, so you-
Morgan Then: yeah.
Ling Yah: Interpret sound in a very different way.
How did you eventually find that Slumberjack sound?
Morgan Then: So for me, the Slumberjack sound has to taste like elderflower syrup or like red candy, like a red color candy or elderflower syrup. I know that the track is in the ballpark. It's about there. Regardless it could be a soft song that we're writing like a ballad or like a pop bouncy song or a heavy sweaty base aggressive song.
It still has to taste like those. And I discovered I had synesthesia with my sister when we were kids, even before music. She has synesthesia too. And also the same. So hers is, same as mine, which is auditory and taste. So I remember her, we were like six and we were hiding behind the couch playing hide and seek.
And we were hiding from no one, but we just hid. We just both hid behind the couch against the wall. And she told me, Oh, that tv sound mmm feels like rambutan on my tongue. And I was like, well, I don't really taste rambutan but I can feel it's a round thing with spikes on it.
Similar. And my sister's like, yeah, it's so weird. And I'm like, yeah, but it's not though because me and you have it. So everyone has it. Like we were six, you know, I thought everybody had it. And so at the time we'd just been, always talking about that.
So my sister goes, Oh, that sounds so sour.
You know, that's like a word that we use. Well, I go, like, why does that sound taste gooey? And so, yeah, I didn't realize until I came to Australia, people told me that's synesthesia you know, that's not a normal thing.
Ling Yah: So did you find that kind of synesthesia when you went for your first gig, which was actually a live show or is it like a process?
Morgan Then: No, like synesthesia only works sort of when I'm writing music, I think the adrenaline and the dopamine. It's way too strong for me to have any more senses in my body when I'm on stage, the rush is just so high. It's so strong. I don't really taste anything on stage.
Ling Yah: So tell us, like you were saying that, you know, you produce this EP and everyone's rejecting, and then you started still doing gigs.
So what was that process like? How did you end up being able to perform in front of a crowd when everyone was rejecting you?
Morgan Then: We were playing for free. We have an agent at the time, and this agent is still our agent to this day. He signed this purely on goodwill and faith. He was like, I can see you both are hungry.
I'll start booking shows for you. And he wasn't even in the electronic music conference, he found us on SoundCloud on the basis of our three really shitty tracks. And he sent us an email. He's like, are you guys going to be in Sydney this weekend for the conference? I was like, yes, we are.
And he goes, I want to meet you guys, but I'm not a delegate in the conference. Would you take an hour out during lunch and meet me at the cafe near the stadium or the, I think there was a museum that we were doing it in like a theater. So we did, we left, we went to a cafe, talked to him, over a beer and Sains was someone that wasn't usually dabbling in electronic music.
He usually signs rappers and rock bands. He's notorious for working with a silver chair, which is one of Australia's biggest, most iconic rock band. So the idea that Fletch and I signed to him was because we realized no one liked this at the conference. I might as well start working with people that actually like me and believe in me.
So we signed with him. It was a handshake deal. And then he got us a bunch of free shows for us to put our name out there to eventually sort of understand how the live music business works. And what works on the dance floor. That was the important thing.
Is that we were forced to go to the dance floor and play our music and realize that no one was dancing.
So it made us ask the important questions, you know, what makes people dance. And to this day it's still an enigma to me, but I just get better at it. Out of 10 songs, like eight would make you dance. Two would make you be like, what the hell is this? So it was the pressure.
Ling Yah: And it's not common to start off with live shows. Normally you would DJ and then transition to life.
Morgan Then: Yeah. So we started live first. Cause we were like, people are gonna appreciate us more. It's way cooler because at the time disclosure was huge and they are still big. Now we kind of model our live show after them with the little money we had.
So we bought miniature keyboards that could fit into a massive backpack because we don't have roadies .No money for that. No money for a big keyboard, because if you have a big keyboard when you fly around the country, you have to pay for the luggage and, you know, oversize baggage and stuff like that.
And we were just poor kids. It was just like, we want to have a live show, so we'll buy shitty secondhand equipment and try to perform it. and I think our first paid gig was $300. This was probably three four weeks after we signed.
The second we signed, we're doing like a show a week, two shows a week and the three, and then eventually like, okay, first gig that's like $300.
I was like, Holy shit. This is way more than I've ever seen. Come in in a single check, you know. Cause I was working for $21 an hour. I'm going to get 150 in an hour. And Fletch and I are like, we need to up our game. We need to start playing live like even more. And we thought $300 was a lot. So we started buying more stuff and realized the $100 disappeared like that again.
And then we then realized like, okay, this is silly. Let's sell the equipment and be financially smart. Now we're both business students. We should know this. This is how you run a business. That's not to be reckless rock stars, quote, unquote again, and manage our money. Well, so. Deejaying was the cheaper option and also easier.
And at the time when you're not big enough, that fans don't care, you know? So we just had to learn DJ from the ground up.
Ling Yah: And before 2014, when you released Felon which kind of changed your fortunes, you actually met this person called Mr. Carmack who helped you to define your Slumberjack sound.
Morgan Then: He basically was the seed.
That was like a point in some object history that I could see was really clear. So, okay. So it was 2014. Mr. Carmack was touring the world. And one of the benefits of being in Perth is that at the time, there weren't a lot of producers. So when Mr. Carmacks' in town from LA, he wanted a place where he could work on music. To hang out.
Smoke weed, it's legal in LA. And he basically hit up a bunch of SoundCloud people. And one of my friends from Die High Records, it's a defunct label now. what's like mr. Carmack is coming to Paris and he wants to hang out. Can we all hang out at your house?
And it was really lucky at the time because I was with a couple of friends and we all pulled in together to sort of have like this really amazing penthouse.
But for measly money . five of us living together. So two couples and a single girl, and we've managed to get a penthouse. And I converted the theater room into a music room because the other guy who lives with me also enjoys music. So Mr. Carmack came around and I showed him a demo version of Felon.
It was terrible. And so he sat down and he goes like, okay, here's what I will do. I'll show you what I'll do, I hope you are a fast learner because this is just how I work. And he showed me a bunch of techniques, basically stripping everything I knew about music theory and production, that I've learned on YouTube.
This guy basically told me to trust my instincts. I just need to up my level. My technicality was wrong, but my vision was correct. So we kept working on that until 4:00 AM. I remember we had Famous Amos cookies and warm milk cause he was so stoned and then he got the munchie, so he started eating.
And then he left back to his hotel at five in the morning and then Fletcher came to look at the project again and I was like, this is something. This is something that we need to capitalize on what we learned today. And yeah, we took that lesson literally like a two, three hour crash course that defined ourselves.
So we put out felon, we uploaded on Triple J Unearthed, which is Australia's, you know, one of the straightest largest indie stations and they played it on air. And I was so shocked. I remember I was driving on a highway when I heard it and I have to pull aside. I was like, what? This is a prank.
I thought my Bluetooth was on my phone. I thought it auxed us in, but no, the presenter announced us. And then other DJs in Australia started tweeting about us and started talking about us and another guy actually said on air that he had to stop his car, pull over and go, like, what is this crazy music that these kids are putting out?
And eventually Scrillex started playing it. And the same song and Mation, you know, just a bunch of DJs started emulating the sound and playing it in their live shows across the world. And that's when I realized like, okay, I don't have to be an accountant. Thank you.
Ling Yah: So what's really interesting for me is that your first EPE went out anyways, you got 3000 plays and you've said oh the Felon really got a lot of traction and there were over 50,000 plays.
It wasn't really because of just the music and approach that you guys took. Would you contribute that to the success?
Morgan Then: I think it was radio. Radio support was important. And also, yeah, I guess in some ways the grassroot underground support was really important too, SoundCloud really helped us a lot.
You know, SoundCloud made it so easy to share your music everywhere else. And at the time it was not Spotify. There was no Apple music. You just sent a link. You literally can make the music right now, finish it, upload it, and it'd be published technically.
So from there, we got in this underground fan base of just kids, like in Perth, in Sydney and America.
And yeah, I attribute it to a lot of that. So like radio we'll listen to our music and go like, okay, so they have a little small cult following, so there must be something there. Like a validation from a small group of people. So there has to be something going on there.
And also it kind of gives me direction. It made me feel like I'm doing something right.
Ling Yah: And after you got all that, do you feel like you knew where you wanted to go?
Morgan Then: Nope. I still have no idea. I kind of firmly believe in taking it a step at a time now. I sort of have a plan, I believe in planning for the future, but living in a moment. Paradoxical now.
Ling Yah: How did you leverage on the success of felon then?
Because after that, towards the end, you were appearing constantly on triple J. You were getting 2.5 million plays on SoundCloud. You were really, really getting a lot of traction.
Morgan Then: The capitalisation was basically just keep finding good music. And it's also like a double edged sword. You know, when you have a song that's successful, your next project could cripple you like mentally as a musician.
Cause you are under this pressure now, but we didn't feel it at the time because social media was kind of crazy at the time, but it's not as rapid as it is now.
We're not really looking into validation. We're still kids that just got a radio play. Right. And at the time before Felon was even out, we had already worked on a couple of projects based on the same techniques that we've learned.
So then we just started putting them out and people go like, wow, these guys are consistent. So we'll start supporting them. And the word just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading.
Ling Yah: So then, you build on that and then I think the next big milestone for you guys was in 2017 where you released Fracture and it peaked on ARIA charts.
So what was the process like creating then? How was that different from your first one?
Morgan Then: That was different because we started working with Vera Blue and we also worked with allies. We jumped into the studio together as well.
It was really difficult.
That song took so long to flesh out. But the Eureka moment for me was literally done in five minutes. I remember just being so stressed out over just the frustration of not being able to write something compelling. And then I looked at my watch and I realized I had five minutes left before I could pick someone up from the airport? And that pressure sort of laser-focused me into just. Finishing it somehow. It's so hard to explain because it's how musicians and artists talk about being in the flow. And that flow bit me, so hard, that five minutes disappeared and the song finished. I couldn't explain it.
And I remember just sending it all over to Fletch and I'd go, like I figured it out. This is it. This is the main chorus. This is what's going to get everyone dancing. I was never more confident in my life, even now, I haven't felt that confident, like when Fracture was done.
I was like, if this doesn't get us into the big leagues in Australia, I will quit. I know it. I feel it in my core. So I picked up my friends at the airport and then worked on it for a couple more just to tweak it, and yeah, when that EP came out, festival slots started rolling in. We were playing festivals every week.
We were so exhausted.
Ling Yah: And what was it like that year? I think you also were developing a live show for you guys and you spent half a year on that. It sounds like a crazy year for you guys.
Morgan Then: When Fracture came out and then Triple J put it on high rotation. And then I think Nova played it a couple of times.
A mainstream made us out of plenty. A couple of times we started seeing it on YouTube compilations, like FIFA compilations, and dancers from around the world were dancing to it on YouTube. So we were like, maybe it's time to revisit the original Slumberjack guy to be a band. Maybe we can stand out now.
So this time we have the money, this time we have to team, we have the resources. So then we revisited the idea. We took six months off, built a tower PC with the right graphics card for it, like the studio setup, which looked more like a coding lab.
It looked more like a lab to design this live show. So, mood boards are flying around, graphics were flying around and eventually I was very inspired by Porter Robinson's show called the World's Live Show. And at the same time, I was also really inspired by Justin Timberlake's future sex love show.
And that was those two combinations that created the live show. Six months of visual work saved us about a hundred grand. Because if you get someone to create visuals for about an hour, it would easily be six figures, so Fletch and I are like maybe we could spend, you know, three grand to build a computer and a lot of times to catch up and basically threw ourselves into the deep end with visual animation and work on that with the music.
So while I'm working on music right here on my left will be Fletcher working on the visualsandt we'll be trying to put a show together with a catalog that we have. At the end of the six months, we got a call from Splendor in the Grass. And they're like you on the bill. We know the festivals in two weeks, but you're a late announcement.
We want your live show. You're playing at 8:00 PM Saturday, which is like the prime time. And it will be broadcasted through Triple J nationwide. I was like, Oh yes, let's go. I was so excited.
Ling Yah: Because it's six months. Do you guys never doubt the fact that you would take off? Cause it's a lot of investment, in terms of time and resources.
Morgan Then: No, because again, like I said, I was never more sure about fracture. When this EP came out. I was so sure. I could have invested my entire life savings in it and I could be fine. did kind of explain it. I would not tell anyone to do that though. it could be disastrous, but for me, I was like, Fletch, this is it.
Every artist has a couple of milestones. This is our first real one, like the big league.
Ling Yah: Fletch was okay with it.
Morgan Then: Yeah. he was like, okay, I trust you. You look so sure. That's a thing. He has moments like this and I have to look at him and go, if you believe in this, then I'm by your side because that's the point of synergy, you know?
So when I met him, the idea was that he didn't know managers existed. He didn't know agents existed. I did all that research beforehand already. When I met up with him to write the first Slumberjack crappy EP. That's not even a real EP. I told him, we need a few things.
We need a publicist, we need lawyers, we need agents, we need managers and a label. And he's like, what are those? I was like, well, you're about to find out. Let's do a lot of homework.
Ling Yah: So you can't actually do your work without all these people around you.
Morgan Then: Right now the operation would be too big. Yeah. So I'm currently trying to finish an EP, which could even turn into an album cause I can't leave Australia and there are talks between me and Fletch that we might want to write an album.
It's about time. It's another milestone to take at the same time, because every song has been written with different musicians. You need lawyers to deal with the publishing splits. You have artwork being dealt with and I could only give my direction. Now I don't have the time to sit down and do art, because I want to do music.
I can't be looking at graphic work because as much as I love it, that's not my core. And even when you're touring, you have tour managers to book flights for you to route the different cities, the timing. So it's a lot more complicated than people just think you fly to New York for a show, but if I have to go to New York and Utah the next day and then Tokyo and then Shanghai, we need to find the best efficient cost effective route to get us on time, everywhere else.
And at the same time, you have to schedule sleep as well, because this is why a lot of musicians get mental issues like depression and anxiety, because you don't sleep well and you get thrown on stage. Crazy adrenaline and dopamine. Pulled back into the hotel, told to sleep. Although you're still like high frequency in the brain and then wake up and repeat again, you know?
So it's their job to balance that for you, then you can't do that all by yourself.
Ling Yah: And what was your way of coping? Like the first time you went on the big stage, what was it like?
Morgan Then: Wow, yeah, I do. I remember it. It's kind of crude. Cause we're nerdy kids, me and Fletch.
Our first big show, I walked on stage about to appear. I could just peek from the stairs. On up to the stage amount of people. And Fletch is like we just can't hide behind the decks anymore, and always looked down, you have to look at the crowd and be like your favorite, pop singer or rock star has to go on the stage and smash a guitar and all that antics.
So we just keep telling ourselves for the next one hour, we imagine we have the biggest proverbial penis in the room. That was the joke backstage. And then from there on we're like, okay, let's just internalize this in the next hour. I am basically, I don't know, like, David Bowie or frickin, Freddie mercury or Diplo, or Skrillex, you know, anyone in our scene.
And we kind of just that, that feeling went from fear and stage fright and anxiety to confidence, and then eventually just fun. It just became so much fun to give love to the crowd and to receive it, you know?
Ling Yah: And was it difficult to tap into that Freddie mercury in you?
Morgan Then: Very difficult.
I mean, look at us when we were playing classical music, everyone's keeping quiet. you hardly look at the crowd, you look at the keys.
At first, my trick was to imagine, everyone was in underwear? So then I laugh at them and then I imagine them all being drunk anyway. So anything I say and do will be received with an applause because I know how drunk people are.
It's quite kind of funny. So I just assumed that. And then eventually that just became straight confidence. I can go from like, besides the recent show on the peak of our tour before COVID , I could go from the hotel into the car. Super calm. Walk on stage five minutes before the show to thousands of people and I'll not break a sweat.
I could just turn. I remember just going like oh I'm so tired. I had five hours of sleep and then, all right, give me the mic. And then the Slumberjack logo comes on. I know the queue and everyone's just cheering and I walk on stage and I just changed into a different person.
Ling Yah: And what was the schedule like for you at the time?
Morgan Then: It was hectic. Holy crap.
When we did that splendor to grass 2017 tour, we basically did a sold out national tour into splendor in the grass, straight to Chicago. The second we were done, we had one night, flew to Chicago. Did Lollapalooza, did not sleep, have to take the next flight out to Los Angeles drive.
Like six hours to Fontana and play it hard summer, and then fly back to Australia again for another show. And then that almost continued , not in that intense three days, but every week we were in a new country, like how we were in China. We played Bali and did Singapore for it was just so I kind of remember, I can pull up our calendar and I'll be like, I don't remember that city.
It became such a blur. It was really difficult. And I just remember the lack of sleep. Constantly being tired. And then you stop writing music because you were so tired. Right. That's where I realized, like we can't toward that much. We've got to have cycles.
This is a good time for me.
COVID is great. That's like a forced break.
Ling Yah: So you guys were performing with Vera blue and Troi Boy. So those were huge and clearly caught up with you. So is that why in 2018, you guys realized that you were just struggling to create something new and you had to take a break.
Morgan Then: Yeah.
The idea that kind of spawned, like the Sarawak EP, you know, we were touring so much that I wouldn't say I was like clinically diagnosed with depression, but I was musically depressed. I felt like we were only touring and I wasn't writing the best music. I wasn't proud. I was writing music that was catering to the crowd. I knew what people liked already at that time. At that time, I had the experience to know what to write and, also, the music industry kind of felt stagnant at the time.
And there were just a lot of recycled sounds like, dance music became, again, it went into another dark ages where everyone's making the same shit. I was like, this is so boring and also blamed myself for not being able to innovate. I wasn't what the monks called the beginning of my, I wasn't looking at music with like a fresh eyes.
I wasn't doing Felon, Felon opened my eyes. Right. And then just became my normal track to open it again. and then it just stays stagnant cause we started touring so much off the success of fracture. We were on a tour bus for three months. I would live in a bus for three months and then another one for two more months flying around a lot.
And then eventually I told Fletcher, we need to just go like leave LA, this is too much like, do you want to keep doing this long term?
I can now see why rock stars go to drugs to go to sleep because they can't because they're so stressed and anxious about the next piece of art they're going to do. Because most musicians and artists judge themselves off their latest work only. Like you're only as good as your last work.
Like at this moment, no one cares about Fracture. I'm only as good as my last EP, you know? So that stress is constantly there. So we realized we had to go back. I just want to go back to Kuching again. And sort of reconnect with why I did music in the first place. Kind of find my gratefulness in what I have.
I was living in Hollywood, but I didn't feel Hollywood, almost like a waking up call all my life. I wanted to leave Kuching and go to Hollywood. And then when I was there, I wanted to go into Kuching. What the hell is going on?
Ling Yah: And what was it like going to Sarawak? Because you talked about the idea of identity, which I really resonated with.
I mean, like we both come from a really small town, our whole life. We just want to get out, but then you actually went back and what was that experience like?
Morgan Then: And the experience was kind of like, it's conflicting, right? it's so conflicting because yeah, like you said, I almost hated it when I was younger.
I'll always look at it, like, why me man? Like, why am I born in this, uh, at the time I called it a shithole, but it made us who we are. Right. If I was born in the Hamptons, I probably would be a very different person, but I was like, why put talented people in Kuching just to watch it die?
And almost like at that moment as well I became, I wasn't religious as well. I was like, this is why there was no God. I was like, who would be so sick as to put like talented people? there's a lot of talented musicians in Kuching and I was still stuck in Kuching you know, but this time going back, I kind of used it as a utility to reconnect with myself as a kid. To realize how good I have it.
I remember sitting in my old bedroom where I was trying to, you know, play didgeridoo and like, played the erhu. And I realized I sat in the same chair that my parents had never thrown out. And I just meditated there a little bit.
I just sat there and realized like, I still like music, I still love it. We were touring so much that it felt more like a job than a passion. It kind of turned into that and going to Kuching made me realize, I've worked my entire life for this. This is just a reality.
I just got to get good at it and manage the expectation a little bit better, and take care of myself. So I started eating better, sleeping better. Meditating, drinking more water, exercising, reading, like, you know, self care stuff that you see on Instagram so much that I used to loath. And I realized like, you know what, fine, fine.
I'll do it. And then it kind of helped. And then that's where Sarawak was written. We went there for 8 days.
Ling Yah: Did you have a vision and sense of why you were going there? Like I'm going to be there for eight days. This is what we're going to be doing.
Morgan Then: We didn't really decide that until it was really last minute.
We just needed to leave LA. We'll go back to Perth for a little bit, pack our shit and then go back to Kuching and Fletch come with me. And then we're like, why not turn this into an experience? Like why not just sit down and relax? Why not? We fly a video journalist come and document the whole thing while we're writing.
And while we're kind of finding ourselves and the experiences that we go through while crafting this EP, recording the sounds. At the end of that, we're like, wow, we have music. So that became the Sarawak EP. Went through different names but we decided to call it what it is. We wrote this in Sarawak.
So Sarawak EP.
Ling Yah: And I think also because you collect like the sonic impulse from Fairy Cave to use-
Morgan Then: Yeah. Yeah.
So the Fairy Cave, we pop the balloon in the cave too- it's called an impulse response. So we got a mic that was capable of measuring the milliseconds of reverberations. So the second it pops and the second time you hear it, which is the reflection and not just the time, but the texture of it. And you can import that into a computer and reverse engineer that.
So then I can now record every sound in a virtual very case. also the song we have with a Ekali called closure that had the gamelons and the gongs in it in the long house, the beginning and the end, and that all was inspired.
The melody, we sort of heard that melody there. Just a bunch of percussion to just pepper throughout the AP. We didn't really sample the sape we did. and. As much as I like it, a lot of people tell me this and that. I know this might piss a lot of Kuching people, Sarawakians, but stop it just, I guess, nothing I can do about it.
I can't put it in an electronic track. It's a beautiful instrument. And I think it's just staying that way. It should stay as an acoustic haunting loop and not be bastardized and butchered into an electronic track.
A lot of people asked me to do it and I refused, I tried and it doesn't sound pleasant. It does both genres and instruments a disservice.
Some people or music are just not meant to intermingle. So I kind of had that executive decision that I made for the world by myself.
Ling Yah: Is it the first time that these kinds of unique sounds were actually heard on the world stage?
Morgan Then: Yes. Actually people ask us about the percussion sounds and the jungle sounds, and I think the texture was still quintessentially Slumberjack.
A lot of people thought the Sonics was because of Sarawak , the sound of the EP, but it was just a mental clarity we needed from Sarawak. It was more esoteric. It wasn't very literal. a lot of people thought we went there, got the instruments, got musicians, but we had to explain to them, it wasn't, we needed to get out.
We named it Sarawak because it was completed there, we took some of the records that we had and tried to find some solace in not having to tour. LA was super expensive. teaching is so cheap. We were basically Kings when we were there. Our money went so far, so there was no stress.
Fletch Was staying in my house and we just wrote music. It was awesome. That's a great time.
Ling Yah: And then you guys also went to the long house.
Morgan Then: so, my godmother, Nicki, she sorted that out for us. Another six hour drive.
That van had no suspension, no shocks. It was six hours, which was just the worst. I know at the time they were building the Pan Borneo highway. So it was just terrible roads. And then an hour on boat, on Batang Air to get to the longhouse.
That was the craziest experience. We recorded a bunch of sounds there too. So that was where the gamelan and the gong came from. And there were some screams and the shells of the men without doing the event dance. And we also were privileged and honored enough to see the severed skulls.
Real ones too. Not the ones on display in the museums. These are real heritage ones kept in a literal rucksack. We had to pay the chief of the longhouse 20 ringgit to talk about it. And he demanded a cigarette as well.
Ling Yah: Why would they keep the severed heads in a rucksack?
Morgan Then: Because at the time it was a proud thing, but I think he was really conflicted because he was a soldier and it took these heads for survival, but he was really dark about it. He didn't want to really talk about it. We had to coax him and tell him that this is okay. This is more for the Western world to learn about us and sort of gave him the onus of if you want to talk about it you can. Eventually he came around to it.
We couldn't touch the heads cause it was sacred. And he took the heads in the jungle, it was himself and versus the world, I was like, this is really heavy and dark stuff, but what a story. And he showed me the parang, the machete, that he used.
Ling Yah: Oh, wow.
Morgan Then: And- there were blood stains on it. Really old, like. Decades old, super dirty. I didn't want to touch it too.
They attach the hairs of the victims at the end of the parang. It's apparently to respect the dead as well. Like you were enemies in war, but then you should respect that and they can protect your future too.
It's kind of like this weird some sort of relationship they have with the dead and their enemies that like, I've taken your life. Now you protect me and I'll protect you. And because at the time they're very spiritual.
Ling Yah: Perhaps we should clarify some of that not every Sarawakian is like this-
Morgan Then: Yeah I know. When I tell these stories to people, they go like, really that's your family. I was like, no, no.
I was like, it's just because we live in a very eclectic place. Sarawak is very eclectic. you have. The rich, rich kids and that you have the tribal kids, and everything in between.
Ling Yah: And how did Fletch find all this? It must have been quite a shock since it's the first time.
Morgan Then: Yeah he thought it was pretty weird. But he's a germaphobe and he's also a hypochondriac. And I remember every experience. I was actually pretty impressed. He braved through it. You know, we went to Jangkar Falls and it was snake season. There were a lot of snakes at the time, but I didn't tell him, I lied to him, kind of funny because if I did.
We wouldn't have got there and he wouldn't have, and it would have ruined the documentary. So I told him it was fine. We were caught in torrential rain. There was like a flash flood, I think a week after our shoot, someone died at Jangkar as well. Yeah.
It was a terrible time to be there, but I didn't know why I thought it was a great idea to go shooting there.
And then he had sago worms with dinner, we had anaconda meat and wild boar. We had turtles like the freshwater turtles, snapping turtles, and just a bunch of wild stuff. The long house and floods just ate it. I was very impressed.
Ling Yah: And you also participated in the tattooing as well. Tattooing practice. What was that like?
Morgan Then: I did, the idea was, from our videographer, he was like, I realized a lot of the men had tattoos. Why don't you do it? I was like, Aw, I never had a tattoo until that moment. I never wanted one. My mom always asked me to do it. She thought it was a cool idea.
And I was like, no, I don't want to be, this is again me disassociating myself as Sarawakian. I'm like, why do I need the tattoo when I don't want to be here? Anyway, I was like a pretty young kid. And then I realized like, well, maybe it's a good thing. Maybe I'll try it. So I got traditionally done as well, like hand tapped.
It took five hours for both the bunga terung to be put into my shoulders. And since then I've got a bunch more. So it kind of started like a little thing that I like to do now.
I got a new tattoo and almost like a new country.
Ling Yah: And I think the bunga terung has a specific meaning behind you as well.
Morgan Then: Yeah. So the meaning is berjalai.
Basically just means that it protects the bearer of the tattoo and it gives us strength to venture away from our home.
So the reason why it's on the shoulders is because a backpack, the straps are on those things. So that will give you strength to hold the weight of whatever life throws at you. So that kind of meaningful to me and almost in a way that like, I've come to terms with who I am just a ceramic and boy trying to make it out in all the way.
So why not? I did it.
Ling Yah: So after that experience, how did you feel and how do you get back into the real world?
Morgan Then: After that I just kind of reinvigorated, really.
We went back to America. We started touring again. We taught with Eklai and then we had our own North American leg. We announced that as well. We came back to Australia.
We did five Upgraded shows. We basically doubled our capacity from our last sold out show and the Fracture tour. And then, from there on, went back out to back out to LA again and try again. After that tour we wrote the, black and blue EDP.
Ling Yah: And that's something that you did with Corey Enemy, who is a producer & songwriter for like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. How did that happen?
Morgan Then: Corey enemy has been a fan of us since our 2014 days on SoundCloud too. We just never hear about it. Then I got into his music in 2016 and this was before LA I started playing his music and we made sets and put it on radio shows.
And then I realized like when I came to LA, we got a tweet and he was like, I just saw that you guys are in LA on Instagram or Twitter, want to come and meet me? I was like, Oh, okay, sure. I'm a big fan of your work. We took an Uber. It was like an hour and 30 minute drive from LA to Malibu.
And remember the band that used to be really big. Lighthouse. Yes. Yeah. I went to his house. That was where I met. In a studio. So Jason, he was actually gardening out in his own mansion and I was there and he's like, you guys are Slumberjack, right?
I was like, what? Yeah. And I thought he was a gardener and he's like, yeah, man, uhm come, go in. Cory's inside.
And I talked to Corey, not knowing who Jason Day was again, and I'll start talking to Corey. I was like, dude, like, this is awesome, man. This is your house. He's like, no, no, no. It's Jason's house.
The guy you met outside, I was like, Oh shit. I thought I was a gardener. He's like no, no, no, you know the band lighthouse. And I realized that the entire studio was plastered with platinum records.
Ling Yah: Wow.
Morgan Then: And to this day we know the song Cause it's you and me? You know that song.
He wanted us to convert that on audio so he can reprint that on vinyl to give to his wife. And that's what he wrote it for. And so we had a relationship there briefly and yeah, it's pretty crazy. That was like my first touch with actual, Hollywood stardom.
Ling Yah: Because you have done all that and it's really incredible. And then we soon proceeded into the whole COVID situation.
So how has that transition been like? Cause I understand you were going to go on a North American tour and the world, we got slapped with this, right?
Morgan Then: At first it was kind of a shock. I was like, ah, shit. Like, I don't know when we're going to recover from this. And then I realized, It's kind of like a blessing in disguise
I thought I was stuck in Australia, but I'm really lucky to be here because we had our first post-COVID show last weekend in Perth, and we're pretty good with our finances too.
I wasn't really worried about, you know, not playing shows, not having money, but right now I kind of feel like this is like a forced vacation for me. I get to live my life as a normal person. I couldn't really have like a relationship with, you know, girls or like, my girlfriend at the time we had to break up after seven years because that's when it got to us, you know?
So basically like now it sort of gives me a chance to sort of glimpse at life like a normal person again. I was so nomadic. I couldn't form deep, meaningful relationships with people because I would see someone for two days and then I'm off, I'll see someone in New York and I'm going to Shanghai.
And I'm in Singapore, like when does this end? So now it kind of gives me the chance to sort of meet people again and actually connect with my friends and family and call them, have time, have a routine. And now again, after four months, I think in quarantine, I'm starting to feel like the kid who just wanted to write music again.
So I'm really ready for the next chapter. And I think the next chapter could be an album.
Ling Yah: And do you feel that COVID's impact will have a permanent influence over what you're going to be doing just in terms of perhaps relationships and otherwise?
Morgan Then: I think so, as scary as it sounds, I think so, but what can we do? You know, I think the best skill anybody can have is adaptability and survive.
And then from there you can thrive. So I tend not to think about the future too much now, but we have safety measurements in place. I mean, worst comes to worst, right? My dad could be right. I could just go back to doing banking, you know, but you know, I had a good run with music. But, at the same time, things could look better.
I'm obviously hopeful for the vaccine and if I can write an album that's compelling enough, it could launch 2021 into a better year. So this is almost like a good meditative year for me.
Ling Yah: You talking about an album. So how do you find like producing music with Fletch while in quarantine? Is it very different from how you were doing it before?
Morgan Then: No, actually, so we don't live together in Perth, which I think was the key to reconnecting with our past beginner's mind. When we started touring, we started living together, I guess, because we're flying together and same hotels. And eventually as we got more money and we got more prominent in the music industry, the only upgrade was we get two separate rooms, you know, and then we moved in together so we can have more work.
We can do more work. And then we've been living with each other for like four years now. And it's stressful. Like, we have a good relationship. We have a very. Healthy balanced work ethic with each other. He understands that a certain personal things I want to do. when he takes vacation, I'm not like, Hey man, I'm the one working here. it's unspoken and I'm so grateful for that.
But for Perth, which is like, you know what, maybe let's try living apart. It's kind of like breaking up with someone isn't it, but it's not, it's just been a mature conversation and we just meet up in a studio. So we got a studio in Perth and that's where the slumber headquarters is.
So we go in probably like four to five times a week. And the rest of the time we worked from home because solo time is important too, for what we consider true, meaningful, deep work . to get into flow, you can't have someone else in the room. You just need to be in solitude. insulated from the world.
Ling Yah: Not just creating music, but how are you keeping in touch with your fans? Because your work is very much about being in a crowd and creating that big crowd.
Morgan Then: We started streaming for, I think the last three or four months we started doing virtual festivals. We actually set up the live show and have like five or six cameras around and then broadcast that to the world.
I think we've done I think it's like 10 or 12 since. So it's pretty good. Considering we've been locked out for four months. That's about 16 weeks. We've done 10, one every two weeks almost, so we're still keeping in touch. We have formed a discord group and a private Facebook group for what we call the Slumberjack sleepers, which is our fandom.
And we talk to our fans there personally, people upload stuff and go like, this is the artwork I made for you, you know, Morgan and Fletch, and it will comment on it and we'll give them some sort of a life behind the curtain.
Ling Yah: Yeah. That's the demo submission stream that you guys were doing?
Morgan Then: Yeah. Yeah. So musicians can also submit a demo and let us listen to it and we'll give them feedback. Also they are the first ones to get the news, like, Hey guys, we're actually thinking about maybe writing an album. That's an idea we're toying.
And everyone's like, Oh my God. but you know, they're the first ones to hear. We want to kind of give back to them because they supported us in this time. So it's a great little thing that we have.
Ling Yah: And I wonder for those who are very interested in doing what you guys do. Like if you had advice for them, if they want to start today, what should they do?
Morgan Then: For budding musicians that want to break into the mainstream. Like it's really difficult. At first I used to be a big proponent of following your dreams. Cause it to a lot of people who listen to this podcast would look at my trajectory that would think Morgan followed his dreams, right?
Because you play music in high school, he bartered with his dad to do music, and then he just kept doing music. But I think it is ever increasingly important to know that it's more complex than that. I could have been an accountant, I could have been a filmmaker.
I read this book, called Cole Newport, so good they can't ignore you, that book. And I firmly believe in what he says. It's about career capital. So if you want to do music, you have to be very honest with yourself that you really want to do this, you know? First of all, I have to ask yourself, are you good at it, genuinely?
It's not enough to just want to be, but are you willing to put in the work. Many people want to be rock stars. Many people want to be professional athletes, right? I mean, the idea is great, but are you willing to put in the eight hours of training Ronaldo put through? Are you willing to go through 14 hours of busting your ass, playing piano, producing music late into the night while sustaining a day job?
The idea is sweet. But the work is not. It's far from that. It's grotesque, it's ugly. It's a lot of sweat, a lot of self doubt, a lot of anxiety that I think people just need to ask themselves the hard questions first. Because it would be wildly irresponsible for me to tell people to choose the dreams, screw yourself over, because it could have gone differently for me.
What if Felon never came out?
What if I never met Mr Carmack?
It's a bunch of luck and trading off time for valuable knowledge. And then hopefully I can work on that and work on something that people like. I think it's important to improve on the skill. If you really want to do it, you commit it to it.
Ling Yah: But then, surely there's a point where you're not finding that success and you need to turn back and just give up. Do you have advice in terms of how you decide when that moment is?
Morgan Then: Well, I mean, it's hard because Fletch and I realized for the past seven years, that moment is ever so clear all the time.
You can just quit and have a normal routine in life. That seems very, very sweet for me right now. A lot of people go like, it's so good, man. You work for yourself, you stick it to the man. You are not part of the rat race. But then I look at them and I go, I want to be part of the rat race. How nice it is to wake up to a routine and be home at five and have dinner at six.
And you have a family, you have people you can come home to. we don't have that. The point I'm trying to make is that it's good to check in with himself. And maybe the idea that you've constructed in your head, it's not all that. like right now, if I really think about it, I can quit, but I'm not going to really shed a tear about it.
I just get good at the next stuff I'm doing. So it's really important if you're not where you are, where you want to be now, then maybe it's time to reassess. But then if you still like you have a little bit more puzzah new to try to get the next milestone, fuck it. Try it. I would say gamble for it because if you are responsible, you can always bounce back, you know?
And for me, thank Christ. My dad made me do and finish and graduate. That is always my fallback and stuff.
Ling Yah: And so for those who know that they want to give this a shot. Are there any practical steps that you would advise them to do in terms of like maybe lessons they should take or equipment they should buy?
Morgan Then: Absolutely.
So the most important thing is YouTube will be your best friend. YouTube is the best teacher because you're learning from actual people that have done it. I don't really believe in going to music schools. I have friends who run music schools, but you can go to music schools to some sort of give you like a foundation.
But I would say it's a tiny foundation. It's like a really thin piece of glass. And then your real skill comes from you finding your own sound, which means you need to start copying. All the artists that you want to be first, literally outright plagiarize their shit. And you find it's not possible because you always inject your own flavor.
You're not a robot, you're a human. And from there, your skills would start skyrocketing because he will start asking the right questions while you're copying. Because when you're copying, you realize you can't sound like them. So then you ask the question, like, why is my music not as loud, not as punchy.
Why is my bass not as firm? You know, why are my synth lines not as epic? And these are the questions that are very important to ask yourself and not ask the teacher because the teacher has his own flavour, right? The mentor, the school has their own syllabus and music and art cannot be confined into a syllabus.
I think it's important to just start now and don't procrastinate every waking hour that you have that are free . You need to put it to music now. Accumulate those 10,000 hours. That's what I'm saying.
Ling Yah: And is there any common misconception about what you do that you would like to clear?
Morgan Then: I think my parents still think, well, not anymore, but you used to just think, I just press buttons on stage. Not knowing that I write my own records. There's a big difference between touring DJs and electronic musicians, then your club DJs.
We don't play clubs. Club DJs have like, it's called a residency. You get like a contract for the next six months for a fee four or five hours every night in the same club or three or four nights a week. But for me, ours is more fan based work. I'm not like a jukebox. People come to see me.
To listen to my music. So for our live shows, we played 90% original Slumberjack music now. And the final goal is to play a hundred percent, some of that music, because I want to be a band. I want to be known for my music and not- like we're not DJs. We're only made to DJ because it was the only medium at the time to perform electronic music.
Ling Yah: And is there anyone you happen to look up to that you aspire to be,
Morgan Then: Oh, tons, you know, they went from idols to friends, to colleagues, to people.We work with collaborators, you know, there's Alison Wonderland from Australia. What's So Noz is a good friend of ours. Scrillex obviously, like we met him a couple times.
He actually gave us the support on his blog years ago as well. And just like these guys, we look up to a lot and actually we started going into sort of dabbling in the world of film. So doing game composition and, you know, film composition doing work on pro bono just to get our foot through the door. Han Zimmer, you know, Ramin Djawadi who did the Westworld, Game of Thrones.
That's another guy called Brian Tyler, who's a composer for F1. He did Avengers, but is also a DJ. And electronic music producer. Yeah. He plays under the name Masonic. Yeah. But he's buying Tyler. So like, it's crazy to see that. So I kinda like, I want to do that, but he's doing this for years.
Ling Yah: So it sounds very much like collaboration is something that's very, very important for you guys. So how do you normally make those connections?
Morgan Then: You either could cold email people and hopefully they've heard of you before, or you can meet them at a party. I think that's usually what happens with us is that it's a small step at a time as your music gets more popular, you get invited to more prominent parties.
You get to meet better people and people kind of trust that we can benefit off each other. It's like synergy. That you have your fans and I have mine and we can merge that and it has the bigger fandom and be more successful. So I think it's important to just write good music.
First other musicians need to hear your stuff. And also like you like your work, to be impressed with your work. And then your opportunities will be pretty abundant at that stage.
Ling Yah: And I normally close my interviews with three questions. So the first question is, do you think you've found your why?
Morgan Then: I think I have, but I think I have multiple whys. Why I'm doing music is because I want to leave earth when I die with a legacy. It's my form of a whole crux. It Is my immortality token. That is why I want to make sure that I am remembered as narcissistic as it sounds, I feel like everybody wants to have an impact on the world. And I think this is my little contribution. Just good music. I hope.
Ling Yah: So that kind of ties into my second question, which is what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Morgan Then: Good music, great work ethic and just a hardworking musician. Great art.
Ling Yah: What are the most important qualities you think people should have to succeed in your field?
Morgan Then: Wow. Being able to filter out what's not important and what really is, that's a skill. To have also the skill to be able to learn.
I think we're not taught that enough in school. We're taught to study and remember stuff, but we're not taught the skill to learn. Like how to learn as an important skill that people should have in any field that they want to be in, because true life starts after university .
You know, at the time SPM, I thought it was the biggest thing, but it's not. If that stresses you out right now, and you're listening.
Don't worry. Really. It's not really that big of a deal because your life can get better. It is a C in biology doesn't mean you can't be a biologist. It just means you're not doing good in standardized biology.
Ling Yah: And what is the best way for people to connect with you and follow what Slumberjack is doing?
Morgan Then: Instagram, at SlumberJackmusic and Twitter is just Slumberjack and I'm sure if you Google Slumberjack Dance music or just Slumberjack, you'll see us apart from the Canadian camping company, so annoying. But apart from them, we are the second one.
Ling Yah: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much, Morgan for your time.
Morgan Then: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It was great.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 11.
The show notes can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/11. Which includes the transcripts and links to everything we just talked about.
Let me know what you have learned by going to Apple Podcasts to leave a review and a subscribe. Andalso take a screenshot of today's episode on Instagram and tag me at @sothisismywhy and Morgan at @slumberjackmusic with the hashtag sothisismywhy.
If you want to hang out, we also have a private Facebook group to keep the conversation going. And some of our previous podcast guests will be showing up for a limited time to answer any of your burning questions.
To join, just head over to Facebook and look for So This Is My Why.
And stay tuned for episode 12 with drops next Sunday, because we will be chatting with an Olympian.
And she has quite the incredible story. From being someone who is always on the reserve, never in the top 100 rankings and even horribly concussed when she had an opportunity to quit the university, travel halfway around the world to a place where she knew no one to fight for a chance to be on the Australian Olympics synchronized swimming team.
We talked about the entire journey, the realities of training and paying her own way to the Olympics. What it's like to perform at such a high level and where she is currently at. It's a fantastic journey. And I can't wait to share it with you. So stay tuned and see you next Sunday.