With their enigmatic blend of electronica, RnB and soul, Huntly have swept into the Melbourne music scene with grace and subtlety. As a bustling inner-city café acted as the backdrop to our conversation, I spoke with lead vocalist Elly Scrine about how the band fosters their unique sound and the values that Huntly actively promote within the local music scene.
Huntly's foundations began as Elly’s SoundCloud project in Brisbane where she toyed with harmony, melody and wordplay. Inspired by the world of jazz music, Elly crafted her skills at the piano desk.
‘My favourite thing to do is to sit, work out chord progressions and sing along to it.’ Elly said.
Whilst travelling in India, Elly met Andy McEwan. The two quickly struck up a friendship founded on a shared love of music and began jamming together. During this time, Elly had moved down to Melbourne and eventually met Charlie Teitelbaum. Charlie tagged along with Elly to one of the aforementioned jams and Huntly soon became a certified band.
‘All 3 of us have really strong individual passions to get our music out there,’ Elly explained, ‘Huntly is the synergy of all 3 of those energies put together.’
Soon, Huntly developed a quasi-democratic process for their song-writing formula. For the majority of songs, Elly comes to band practice with a song written in terms of chords, melody and lyrics. But from there into becoming a Huntly song that is released, the core bones of the song is shaped, melded and transformed into what can almost be called a different song entirely. Band members write their own part. Andy focuses on beats and production. Elly focuses on vocal melody, lyrics and chord progression. Charlie focuses on synths, keys and further live instrumentation.
For some bands this form of creative participative democracy can be the key to success. For others, it can be the road to ruin. For Huntly, it’s been a mixed bag so far.
‘Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I definitely wouldn’t say we’re the perfect model,’ Elly said, ‘We all have strong personalities and ideas and can struggle to know when to give each other space, and when to own our own space. It’s more about agreeing on what your part is and knowing that other members respect that equally.’
Whatever the results, Elly believes that the band grows stronger as a consequence.
‘We’ve come so far and we’re very close, the 3 of us. It’s family, we’re really deeply connected to each other.’
‘That comes from all of the love and reliance on each other. As well as the constant battles you have with siblings. Sometimes it feels like one of us is the parent and the other two are the children and that role is constantly changing,’ said Elly.
‘Also as the woman in the band, that definitely comes into it as we all figure out where we each take up space, trying to figure out each other’s emotions and how we support each other musically and personally.’
Huntly just released their first EP, Feel Better or Stop Trying, six months ago and are now quickly following up with their second EP behind latest single, ‘Please’.
‘We’ve had the material for the first EP for a few years. It was just a matter of getting our shit together, getting it recorded and mixed. As well as building the momentum so it would actually go anywhere,’ Elly explained.
To capitalise on momentum, Huntly aimed to deliver a quick follow up. Still, Elly asserts that the band could do even more if they wanted to.
‘Even now, after we’ve finished those songs we have another couple of new songs, so if we had the deadline, we could be churning out EP’s.’
‘We constantly toss up about when to let things relax and when to keep pushing. We go back and forth between that constantly. It’s a stressful and draining process, but at the moment we’re just keen to get this EP out and hope that we get a bit more exposure so that people hear it, so that we don’t have to keep pushing everything so hard independently.’
The independent process is a fundamental part of Huntly’s aspirations. With self-imposed deadlines, budgets and schedules, Elly credits the experience as a giant learning curve that has taught the band how to thrive creatively and professionally.
‘The music industry is just bullshit really. I’ve kind of worked out how to do everything myself.’
As far as their self-advertisement goes, Huntly describes their music as ‘doof you can cry to’. An interesting tagline to say the least, but this underpins their adhered philosophies of vulnerability and inclusivity mixed with the satisfaction of dance music. Naturally, a significant part of Huntly shows are the connections built between the band and the audience, as well as amongst audience members themselves.
‘I’m a very emotional person; I just try to be as vulnerable as I will allow myself to be,’ Elly said, ‘and that is a way of connection with an audience. Just dropping the façade of ‘I’m a performer in control of my music and my emotions’. Instead it’s more ‘I’m not at all in control of any of those things’. I hope that creates some sense of shared emotion.’
Elly’s day job is working in music therapy where she is a PhD researcher at the University of Melbourne. Perhaps as good a testament as any to her belief in music’s power to forge exceptionally powerful emotional connections.
‘Song writing for me is like a way of processing an event or a feeling. And I do that in my work with other people,’ Elly said.
‘But it’s a very different thing doing that in a band, with big crowds. I really hope that Huntly allows people to share in that emotion, and whatever a song is for someone, I hope that Huntly spurs some kind of connection.’
In addition to Huntly, Elly is also a part of the LISTEN organisation which focuses on gender diversity within the music industry. Speaking at events such as BIGSOUND and FacetheMusic, Elly is striving to not only increase the conversation about gender inclusivity in the music industry, but make sure real change actually happens.
Elly credits her start in public speaking to her dual interest of music and feminism from a young age. Her experiences opened her eyes to the male dominance, sexism and misogyny throughout the industry whilst her journey as a feminist progressed.
‘I feel I’ve had many experiences that a lot of women have had. Feeling inferior, unconfident and like I have the need to rely on boys to validate me as a musician,’ Elly said, ‘having other women and other gender non-conforming people start to echo those experiences for over 5 years really led to an interest in how we can change things.’
‘Being around other people from marginalised communities who feel like the music industry hasn’t been for them has really sparked a passion in me to change that. Being involved in LISTEN has been a great space to do so. Given me a really supportive environment to continue doing things, as well as just the conversations that I have with people around who actually don’t have access to the level of privilege that I do. I have to recognise my privilege as a white middle-class woman puts me in an easier position to have this fight, because I will be listened to more than say a trans-woman of colour.’
However, Elly’s experience speaking has only proven to her how far away mainstream audiences are in engaging with social change.
‘I think one of the things I always notice is how empty those rooms are and that really exasperates me,’ Elly explained, ‘I think it’s become cooler to be involved in these conversations but when comes to actually attending an event or putting in emotional labour to talk to someone about their experiences, it still doesn’t feel like we’re there.’
‘I think there needs to be more diverse conversations around marginalised communities in music. I don’t think they should be one-off talks at a conference to tick a box. Like ‘Oh yes, we’ve addressed gender equality’. But in saying that, I’m always stoked to be given a platform to speak, I’m just always conscious of when is it my role to take up that space to speak. Could a panel of women talking about music be more inclusive, be more diverse than just a bunch of white middle class women talking about their experiences?’
As we continue to speak, I can’t help but notice Elly’s previously vibrant, infectious nature shift to more sombre tone. In many ways, my conversation with Elly served as a poignant reminder over how deeply these issues affect artists and fans alike. Whilst music is meant to be an all-inclusive form of art that celebrates the human experience, the fact that a significant number of people continue to feel elements of despondency, exclusion and rejection through music highlights the flawed state of the industry. We can hold ourselves proud for gender diverse line-ups and panels, but how are we working to ensure these actions address systemic root issues? If they even do?
Or are we just doing these things to make ourselves feel good and wash our hands of any guilt when tensions flare?
Well, to Elly, there has been some change.
‘There is definitely change. It’s so important, just for your own mental health, to celebrate that change. I think there has been huge change through organisations such as LISTEN gaining more and more momentum and space, and opportunities.’
Elly listed organisations such as Alterity Collective who work with queer people of colour in music and art, or the TRANSGENRE event run by June Jones from Two Steps on Water as examples of active instances of increased visibility of gender diversity in music.
‘I think it’s really important to celebrate those successes. But also to think about the echo chamber,’ Elly said.
‘These events and collective need to move outside the nest bubble of progressives. The mainstream needs to take notice these and book more inclusively, make the venues more accessible, all sorts of things and notice these pockets and what they’re trying to do.’
As we wrap up our chat and thank Elly for her time, I quickly remember to ask if there’s anything in the works that Huntly fans can get excited for.
‘Well, if I don’t have a panic attack on the plane, we will hopefully be in a few cities around Australia in early 2017. I guess we’re going to go on our first little tour.’
You heard it here first folks.
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.