Sydney electro-soul-poppers Sneaky Sound System are celebrating album number three and Angus Mcdonald tells Cyclone, while they’re as pumped as ever, there’s a lot going on outside the group as well.
Was Sneaky Sound System's From Here To Anywhere 2011's most underrated album? With its euphoric, melodic and soulful house songs (yes, songs), From Here To Anywhere would seem to provide a magic remedy to all of that monotonous trancey electro in the charts. Angus McDonald, preparing for Sneaky's upcoming tour, is philosophical about its comparatively modest crossover fortunes (it did get to #11). “There's so much stuff out there, isn't there?” he sighs. “People have such short attention spans.”
McDonald and charismatic singer and songwriting partner Connie Mitchell are plugging the album's third single, Really Want To See You Again. They've shot another filmclip, albeit one less controversial than the one for cheeky first single, We Love. “It's our ode to an early '90s dance video.” And the Sydney combo's shows are going off. They've appeared at Mardi Gras and, oddly, the Australian Open Of Surfing. “We've got such a loyal, great fun fanbase out there,” McDonald extols. “You feel it when you're out there playing live, that's for sure.” It could all be worse. “Look at every guy in a rock band – think about them for a second,” he quips. “At least we get played on the radio and we get to keep touring relentlessly and get to play in clubs and all that kinda thing. Go and try to find a rock song on the radio!”
Sneaky may yet be ahead of their time. As with their labelmates Azari & III, who've remixed Really Want To See You Again, they're reformulating '80s techno and '90s dance just as classic (deep) house is making a resurgence in the underground. “I think you've just gotta be a little bit patient and stick to your guns and not keep chasing every trend, because if you do that you can go around in circles. We've got our own thing going on – and we certainly have no shortage of shows. Sure, we're probably not selling multi-platinum albums like we used to do, but who is?”
Sneaky Sound System has its origins in Sydney's long-standing house club Sneaky Sundays. McDonald, a DJ, and MC Daimon Downey formed the group with Mitchell, who they stumbled upon strumming a guitar in Hyde Park. The rock chick had fronted the '90s outfit Primary. In 2006 Sneaky presented an eponymous debut, led by I Love It, on their own label, a runaway hit, striking double-platinum – that won ARIAs. Sneaky consolidated with the chart-topping 2 – home to Kansas City – a couple of years later. But Downey, chiefly involved in Sneaky's live show, began to drift away. He's now a visual artist in Bondi. “[We] don't see him as much as we used to,” McDonald admits.
Sneaky released From Here To Anywhere internationally last October. This year the duo, who've long joined elite European festivals like Glastonbury, will be touring solidly abroad on it – whetting American appetites with gigs during the Miami Winter Music Conference. Sneaky do have connections. McDonald met Kanye West on his first Australian tour – and Mitchell has lain down vocals for him, most famously on Flashing Lights. Sneaky supported the Chicago MC at his recent Big Day Out sideshows, McDonald wondering why 'Ye didn't think to have Mitchell guest with him on stage. “Look, where do you start with that guy?” McDonald asks laconically. “He's a tripper. He's just done his second fashion collection in Paris – I mean, he kinda cares about Kanye… He thinks about himself and what he wants. He's got an incredibly busy schedule, he's trying to conquer the world – fashion, music, you name it. So I don't know. I think at their shows here when they were doing BDO they dropped one of our tracks and gave it a big shout-out, so there's some love there. But whether he sits there and listens to the album from start to finish is another question.” Mitchell has had other overtures from MCs – not always welcome. Obie Trice invited her to the US, purportedly for a collab. “He just wanted her as his love interest,” McDonald rues. “In the end she went, 'You know what? Maybe not.'”
Both Sneaky members have diversified, even teaming with Dutch trance superstar Tiësto for I Will Be Here – something, McDonald admits, they initially “resisted”. Mitchell has hinted at a solo project. McDonald might potentially pursue production work (he nearly wrote material for Kylie). In fact, it was “always part of the plan” for Sneaky to moonlight, McDonald says. “Once we did this record, we felt like we both wanted to do some other things. But, at this stage of the game, we'll keep doing it together. There's a very natural draw between the two of us – we enjoy working together, we bounce off each other very well, we know how each other works… But I also think it's very important for us to separate and go and do our own thing for a little bit, just to explore other ways of doing things and get inspired to do things a little bit different to Sneaky – because, unwittingly, we've developed such a unique sound. So I guess it'd be good to go and do something different. [Mitchell has] been working on a bunch of stuff and I have been, too – so who knows how that's gonna turn out? And then, on the other side, we're doing a whole bunch of collaborations with lots of big dance people, just to see where that goes.”
Sneaky have cut two songs with cred Brit DJ Riton. Erick Morillo is sitting on a tune finished at his “mate” Craig David's home studio in London. As for future Sneaky albums? “The reason we called the album From Here To Anywhere is that we don't want it to be a bookend. We want to continue, just keep going. We wanna keep putting out singles – and singles beyond this – but there's no plans to release albums in the immediate future. We wanna focus on our own stuff and then be putting out one-off things – 'cause I just don't think the market or the people or the kids or the clubs or anyone really gives too much of a stuff about albums these days [laughs].”
Sneaky unveil a 'mischievous' new show this tour, promising to dip into their entire catalogue. “We're really excited about it. We've got some dancers and all sorts of special things coming along with us this time. It's gonna be a pretty bangin', in-your-face hour-and-a-bit of power. It's not for the faint-hearted.”
This week's new sets include tunes from Wavves (our Album Of The Week), Mercury Rev and Trivium, plus releases from locals Cold Chisel and Philadelphia Grand Jury.