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An interview with Non Chalant - Musician/ Music Teacher

July 8, 2019

Tell us about yourself in your own words.

I go by Non Chalant most of the time, and I am also known as Flower Boy - although that is potentially soon to be changed. I’m from Sydney and my parents are Lebanese and Chinese so I’ve kind of grown up with a weird assortment of cultural influences. I make music, I also DJ and in my everyday life I am a piano teacher. I spend a lot of time on instagram... I post a lot in my stories and I also watch a lot of other people’s stories.

 

What is your handle?

__flowerboy

 

You’re a classically trained musician - is it just piano that you played?

Yes, though I was also in choir in high school. I’m not really a singer but I have a really low register and I went to an all girls school. I can sing in tune, which is the most important thing, so myself and another girl who also had a really low register would sing the tenor line in a lot of songs. We were in this acapella choir in school and our teacher really loved that because it was a girls school but we still had 2 tenors.

 

When did you start playing the piano and what attracted you to it?

When I was about 5. My Mum made that decision for me. The only time I know I definitely didn’t want to do it, I was maybe 10 or 11, entering that rebellious stage of life. I think there were 2 years where I really resented it and it was such a chore. Then the year that I turned 12, High School Musical came out and I was a High School Musical fiend! I watched that first movie 150 times - no exaggeration. I remember the movie came out in the school holidays on a Wednesday and I made my Dad drive me to Big W to buy the DVD. It was the first DVD I’d ever owned that was mine. I watched it twice a day for the rest of the holidays.

 

Which is your favourite High School Musical film?

Probably 3. If I had to describe them, 1 is the classic. If they’re siblings, 1 is the first child - the eldest. 2 I think is the youngest - the wacky child. They are related but could just be from a different family and I think it’s because the parents have already been through 2 kids, so the youngest has just been allowed to run wild if they want to. If you watch the extended edition, it includes that song called ‘Humu humu nuku nuku apua’a’. What is that? It makes no sense, in the best possible way. Movie number 3 is the middle child who has had to deal with a bit of everything and is a bit more well rounded - and it was made for a cinema release, not straight to Disney channel.

 

So what does High School Musical have to do with your interest in music?

The first thing I ever really bought with my own money was the sheet music from High School Musical. I had a little money box where I saved up all these random coins and it was so expensive in my mind - adding 20 cent pieces up to get to $35 or however much it was. I remember my Mum asking if I was sure I wanted it. That’s when I realised music was a skill I could use in other parts of my life. It’s a result of your upbringing but also your personality. I was always the kind of person who waited for permission to do something, and I also think girls are taught to do that often. We’re told we should be a certain way, whereas it’s more acceptable for boys to make mistakes. I just never thought to actually do other things in music. I didn’t even think electronic music was an achievable thing in my life until my friends told me to do it - so I did it.

 

Can you tell us about the migration from classical music over to electronic music and the kind of stuff you’re producing now? What attracted you to that style?

Stylistically, it sounds weird but it’s just what came out. I can’t explain that. I downloaded the Ableton trial and within a couple of hours I made the first track - you can listen to it if you scroll all the way down to the first record I ever posted on my soundcloud. I made it in a couple of hours and I remember thinking how easy it was... Then I tried to make another one and it was suddenly much harder. I’m inspired by harmonies and melodies. I’m not a techno person because most techno is very - this is rude of me to say - but just boring. I genuinely just find it boring but obviously some people find it interesting and that’s fine. For me, music needs to have rhythmic, melodic and harmonic interest, and so that’s what I make because that’s what interests me. I was talking to a friend the other night about space operas and how that’s actually a genre I have been subconsciously attracted to. I kind of went from loving High School Musical and went straight into listening to things like Muse and that was really scary for my parents. There was a particular song called Shrinking Universe where the ending is just screeching and guitars. I remember my parents walking in on me listening to it and it kinda shocked them. I think that I’ve always been interested in semi sci-fi/futuristic things, but I’m also a huge romantic so for me, I guess that’s where the harmony and melodies come in because that’s what makes you feel more than anything else. The right sort of chord can just twist your heart and you don’t even realise and that’s what that was doing.

 

Have you found that your background as a classically trained musician has helped with your approach to making electronic music?

It’s definitely affected it, and I would say it helped as well. I think, for a classically trained musician, I am really bad with theory - if you ask me to explain the theory of things sometimes I don’t actually know what’s going on, but I know what works, and I guess that’s just from years and years of playing music and listening to music. You intrinsically learn what harmonies work and what doesn’t. If you know where something should go and you want to subvert that - your ear tells you where it should go and you make a conscious decision not to do that. I think it’s also affected the way that I write music - I use Ableton and I used to always write in session view which is kind of almost like sheet music in that you read it across. Then I went through this phase of making everything in clip view (because I thought that’s what you’re “supposed” to do) but I felt like it was limiting in that you just end up using a lot of loops - which is sort of the beauty of Ableton - but I got bored of it because there was not enough development in the harmony or melody for me so I went back to session view.

 

What would you say to people with no musical background who want to make electronic music?

I say just do it - play around and trust your ear, because regardless of whether or not we think we have any musical training, we have been listening to aural content our entire lives. From when you’re a kid watching Sesame Street to now. We are constantly being bombarded with sounds and we know what sounds are pleasant and which are unpleasant. We listen to music voluntarily and we know what we like and what we don’t like, so it doesn’t make any sense to me for someone to say they can’t make music. I guess it’s different if you can’t make what you hear in your mind into a sound because you have to learn to do that, but then I also had to learn to do that because no one is born intrinsically knowing how to use Ableton. It’s more just about familiarising yourself with the software and the program. Anyone can make music! The people who told me to make electronic music didn’t have a musical background - they just said “you understand music, so you should just make music.” 

 

What sort of themes do you explore through your music?

Lyrically, it’s mostly very emotional. Mostly about love. But I can’t really deal with very simple lyrics. I don’t like lyrics that are fake deep but I also don’t like lyrics that are not deep - if that makes any sense. I’m currently writing a song with a couple of friends and it’s about the world ending and everyone is leaving the planet in these rockets but I’ve decided to stay behind and I’m just watching the world burn - but it’s almost like a love song. That’s how I got on the topic of space opera with the other friend because I played it to her. It’s weird because I watched The Umbrella Academy on Netflix the other day and I was reminded so strongly of the song we are working on. I’m very inspired by timelessness. A lot of things on Netflix now are not really set in a time and I think that is exactly how the world is at the moment… like if you go out west into one of those old shopping malls it’s almost like you’re in the 90’s again - nothing has changed and no one has bothered to put money into redeveloping. Then you come here [Zetland] where it’s bonkers. And that contrast is so beautiful. The first time a friend of mine visited, they told me I was living 50 years in the future, but I’m not because it’s 2019 and we’re here right now. I’m just really into that kind of timelessness. I’m into the future but also the future that is now that we don’t admit is now. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

 

How do you find the use of the internet factors into your art and creativity?

I think it’s huge. For me, I started making music mid 2015 and then at the end of 2015 I went to China. It was really weird because I had been making this music for a few months and then when I went to China I suddenly understood the context of my music. Which is just bizarre because I’d only been there twice as a kid. Before I went to China I connected with some artists in China via the internet. I was in Beijing mostly and then Shanghai after. I think just being able to connect with people, especially with the music that I make - it’s not popular music by any means and even in the alternative realm it’s still on the more alternative side… so I think the internet helps provide validation. Sometimes you need that, even though you mostly make art for yourself. It’s nice to know that somebody out there gets it or appreciates it. For me, personally, my Mum and whole family is very concerned with me having a life that is sustainable - and music is not a sustainable job by any means - so it’s kinda nice that online engagement translates into real life. It’s like proof that what you’re doing is worth something, even if we shouldn’t really be putting a price on art in that way. But at least you feel kind of supported, as opposed to just making stuff and throwing it into the void.

 

Can you tell us about your instagram polls and the dating service?

Funnily enough I actually deleted the dating service off my story highlights yesterday. The polls were the catalyst for the dating service because I did a poll one day and it was ‘are you single or seeing someone?’ The majority of the followers that responded were single and I was like ‘Cute! Let me just set all of you guys up with each other’. A couple of people said that would be really cool, so I asked if they wanted me to start a matchmaking service and a few people were all for it. So then I started it. I think it’s funny though because I applied my perspective on dating to everyone else who was in the dating service and so for me it was whether or not I could be friends with this person first and foremost and if so, maybe something else can happen. I think it’s interesting because on instagram it’s so easy to judge someone else’s instagram feed… and knowing that if that person posted the exact same content but they had 1000 more followers, you probably would have thought again about your opinion on the person with that many people engaging! 

 

How did the dating service work?

So I had all these questions that they answered and then I had an excel spreadsheet. I put everyone’s information into the spreadsheet and then I would go through and read each person’s responses and match people based on that. I had tabs for guys who are into girls and guys who are into guys and then I had a tab for non binary people and so on. So if a girl was straight I would look in the guys who are into girls tab and then go through and decide who I thought would get along.

 

How would you match them up?

I had another column for people that I’d match them with. I just did that and then I would individually message each person and tell them who their matches were and each person I would give them their instagram handles with a little profile. I had a little bio written for every person. If you only got one match you got one but some people had six matches so then they would get six mini bios of these people.

 

Has anyone met up as a result of the service or has any relationship progressed from there?

Funnily enough the most successful match up that I have, they don’t live in the same city. But both parties messaged me and told me their person was so cute.

 

That sounds like an intense amount of work - were those two people worth all the hard work?

Yes absolutely, and it was absolutely a reflection on their character. I had a friend who went on a couple of dates with one of the people that I set them up with and then that person had also been seeing someone on the side but then they decided to become exclusive so that kind of just ended. Obviously I did this for nothing other than just to do this, and the people who took a chance on the people that I matched them with and at least tried... that’s all that I really asked for - I’m grateful and appreciate that.

 

Was it entertainment?

I thought it would be kind of cute. I teach piano, which is almost like freelance work - I’m self employed, I organise my own times and teach privately, so in some part of my brain I think I do nothing with my life... so I tell myself I should find more things to fill up my time. And then when I have a lot on my plate I wonder why I do this to myself.

 

Did they all have to respond to the poll or did they have to privately message you with answers?

Privately message me with all the responses.

 

How many people were there?

Maybe 60 something.

 

Do you have all the polls still?

They are in the archive but I post so much in my stories that to go through my archive to try and find my very first poll would be a fucking nightmare.

 

Do you keep the data anywhere?

No. A part of me wishes I did, but then I think what would I use it for? The thing with the dating service that really interested me though was that I had people who I genuinely had never met in my life being extremely open with me. I had a girl message me who had never dated anyone before and she told me all this stuff about herself and I was so surprised and I almost felt like I loved her like she was a little sister. I couldn’t find her the person she was deserving of, so I felt really bad, but I sent her some people she might like to be friends with. It’s just phenomenal... the internet is just so weird like that.

 

Can you tell us about Milk Teeth?

Milk Teeth is just a name - I actually had the name saved three years ago, like I already had an email made and a soundcloud made and I was going to start making more heavy club music and release it under Milk Teeth. I had this master plan - I was just never going to tell anyone who Milk Teeth was and just make all these bangers, and then one day when I was at 10k followers or something, I’d reveal it was me! But then I couldn’t be bothered because the amount of work that would go into that and the secret PR stuff you’d have to do was too much. So now Milk Teeth is me and Kilimi and we’re basically like a little club night/party thing. Our first event will be on June 28 at The Red Rattler! Everyone should come! It’s so important to me to throw parties, because I’m actually just a huge nerd, and I don’t really feel like I necessarily fit in with how DJs are expected to look or be. I think the club scene can be really exclusionary on so many different levels, and you kind of have to know people to know where to go to begin with. Everyone wants to look cool, and when I started going clubbing I felt like there were so many gatekeepers and I was constantly being judged and watched. The people I was hanging out with made me feel looked after, but to everyone else I was just this random nobody, and I remember being treated that way by a lot of people. I think Sydney is not very friendly in that way because you kind of have to be somebody for people to want to talk to you, and that’s really stupid because everyone has something to say. Though it’s probably like that in many places. Everyone has lived a life and everyone has experienced so many different things. With Milk Teeth, we essentially want to have the vibe of a really comfortable house party, but in a club. When you go to a house party no one is really that dressed up - you just want to be comfy, so that’s sort of the goal.

 

What do you as an artist stand for?

I think for me, it’s important that nobody feels left behind, and that’s because I sometimes still feel left behind. You know when you read success stories of other artists, particularly in the media where it’s all sensationalised, and they say things like “only 18 years old and they were #discovered” - but the reality is a lot of people who ‘make it’ don’t make it until they are in their 30s or 40s when they’ve been slogging away at it for 20 years. When I first started making music I just felt really anxious that I was so behind. Slowly I’m coming to terms with the fact that it doesn’t really matter. I also think diversity in every and any art scene is very important. I was at an International Women’s Day breakfast for emerging women in the music industry and there was only one person of colour per table and I don’t know if that was intentional or not. I walked in a bit late so I had to wait for one of the speeches to finish before I sat down and it was just a sea of blonde. It was actually interesting because it was almost a specific look that all these women had that I hadn’t taken note of before, but also a look I would never have. I know that I don’t need to look that way, but when you’re in that kind of situation you do think “will I ever be able to really do what I want to do when I so obviously do not fit this norm?” I just think everyone should not be a fucking dickhead, which unfortunately is the music scene a lot of the time. I think in Sydney it’s really common for people to try and step over each other to get somewhere, as if there is a limited amount of space available to us on this planet, which is not the case. As long as what you’re making and doing is worth something - which it likely is because everyone has something to say - then there will be space for you.

 

What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

Probably myself. I think it’s really easy to doubt yourself and what you do and it’s really easy to look at what someone else is doing - someone who is successful in your eyes - and think you should try doing something like that. I think I’m the kind of person who likes to do everything - I’m into photography and internet content, I’m into doing other random stuff like cooking. Like I’ve been trying to start a comedy cooking show on youtube for almost two years now. I just want to do everything, but the reality is I don’t have the means - whether that’s time or money or just access to resources to do all of that. I also kinda feel the pressure of time on my back, which is related to family expectations of having children one day and all that sort of stuff, so I often think about how long can I do what I’m doing now before I have to face the ‘real world’. There’s a lot that can hold me back, but I guess the thing that pushes me forward would be friends and support networks and things like that - so as long as you surround yourself with good people then you should be okay!

 

What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

I think finding a support network is so underrated but so important. When you have people around you who validate what you’re doing - whether or not they do things that are like what you’re doing - but who are supportive of that, it gives you space to grow into yourself. Often when you first start making art you don’t necessarily know what it is you’re doing and if you’re not given the chance to make mistakes and figure it out then it’s really easy to stop. So for me, I lived in a cooperative where I just saw all these people making all sorts of different things and that gave me permission to do my own thing as well. It was nice to just show people something - because often it’s quite scary showing your art to other people, especially when you first start making things. I think just trying to find a support network - whether that’s in real life or online or anything. The thing with the internet is you can find any community anywhere. I was a huge Tumblr user in 2009/2010 and that’s what sort of exposed me to alternative ideas and ways of thinking and people. I went to a really academic high school where everyone was extremely sheltered and there was no way that I could have been exposed to concepts like queerness without the internet. Finding a support network or finding your niche is so important because if you’re into something, chances are someone else in the world is also into that thing and you can reach out to them. Most people are nice enough to respond and have a chat to you about it and tell you their experiences in making that kind of art or doing whatever it is that they do. I think we need to utilise the resources that we have because they’re often underutilised. We underestimate how powerful the internet really is and how much access we’re given to information. Another piece of advice I would give is to find a mentor type figure. I think that can be really helpful - someone that you trust to give you advice and information and just to mentally hug you when you’re struggling.

 

 

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