Around two years ago, Austyn Gillette decided to drop his band name, Part Friend, and embrace the life of a self-titled musician.
‘It’s a scary thing to do,’ he says, ‘but I think I’d be lying otherwise.’ Flash forward to 2019, and the release of the three-track EP, Most Kids Were Us, has revealed a newfound sense of optimism. That scary hesitation is now a distant memory. ‘Singing (leaves you) extremely vulnerable,’ he says as we sit down to talk about the video for his single ‘Karaoke’. And yet the pro skateboarder seems completely at home behind a $200K Steinway piano, spinning out a song with ease. Seems like the exposure suits him well.
Tell me about the video for ‘Karaoke.’ That’s a track from your new EP, right?
That song’s on the album. But it’s not even played like that. It’s completely different. I transposed it to the original version [for the video].
That’s how I originally wrote it. I wanted to go back to how I wrote it because that was the most comfortable way of playing it.
So why did you change the song for the album version?
Because there are drums, and I don’t know if the punchy guitar would work with the piano. Matching the hi-hat to the rhythm of the piano, it can get so repetitive and predictable, and I wanted to take it to another place with an ambient organ sound. There’s space in that. Too much piano can be pretty abrasive. That’s subjective I guess, personal taste.
When did you start playing piano?
45 minutes ago.
Really though, was it something you just picked up?
I had a friend who taught me a little bit in high school.
Tell me about the Steinway that you played?
The guy who runs that studio, Nest Recorders, he’s the sound engineer for—and I believe he plays sometimes on stage with—Rufus Wainwright. So that’s the piano Rufus plays on.
Shut the fuck up.
That he’s been playing on, for a long time. And it’s MIDI as well. It’s one of the few Steinways that’s a MIDI.
What’s a MIDI?
It has a plug where it’s direct-in, so that when you play live it doesn’t blow out. It’s really hard to get levels on pianos played live. I think it’s MIDI. That goes to show how much I know. But I’m pretty sure that’s how he’s able to balance the audio and can control it digitally.
It’s a hybrid, basically. It’s a two-hundred-thousand-dollar piano. It’s really futuristic.
How did that feel, playing the piano of the future?
It was an honour to play that. It felt a little weird, knowing that Rufus had played it.
Were you nervous?
Of course. I’m nervous about all of this even coming out. I really am. But it has to happen.
How many times did you play the song for the video?
I think five times? They wanted to get different angles. But that take, everything is live.
That’s a pretty long song to play all the way through while singing and being filmed.
I’d get to the end and I’d fuck up. Or something would happen because I’d get the anticipation of it ending, and I’d fuck up on the last note. It’s four and a half minutes. And with two people sitting in the room, with a hot mic on, with friends filming you a foot away with a camera…
Sounds low stress.
It was easy, it was just weird to play. Singing into a mic, if you’re in that room, my voice is not that loud. The piano maybe.
Especially if it’s a MIDI.
I don’t even know what that means now. I never played a piano like that. Playing on that thing was just perfect.