To Anywhere And Beyond!

20 June 2012 | 5:32 am | Chris Yates

Sneaky Sound System’s Connie Mitchell says that, despite becoming one of the go-to singers for the international hip hop elite, she’s still not really into that sort of thing.

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Connie Mitchell has been a significant figure in the Australian music scene for more than a decade now, starting out in the post-Caligula, post Def-FX electro-goth-rock outfit Primary, and crossing over into the mainstream as the main (and now only) voice for the massively successful Sneaky Sound System, now a duo featuring herself and producer Angus McDonald.

The first single from their 2011 third album From Here To Anywhere was We Love, and there's pretty much zero chance you missed it at the time. With a video that breaks the record for the most sexual innuendos ever crammed into four minutes (probably) and minimalist production, it was obvious that this album was going to go into some different territory, as the title suggests.

“We kind of thought it was a bit brave to do that song actually,” she says. “It's so sparse. On the radio you're just bombarded, so we just wanted to make something that would stand out because it was so sparse. We put it out first, and we felt a bit braver because of that fact.”

The minimalism inherit in the production leaves a lot of space for Mitchell's vocals, which are always going to be the focal point for the tracks anyway. She says that it gave her the opportunity to do something different with her performance, which she's always wanted to do.

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“The whole album, I tried to create some kind of different character for each track,” she explains. “To be quite honest with you, I love buying albums but I get a bit bored – my attention span's not that great, you know? So I thought of it like being a listener and wanted to give the album a bit of light and shade by creating different characters for each track. It makes it more interesting for the listener, I hope. Angus would play me different tracks and I would come up with different ideas for each song – it was very natural. It makes it more interesting for me as a writer and a singer, you know? I don't think I could still be doing this without that kind of process.”

Mitchell remembers the days of starting out in Primary fondly and as a really unique time for creating music in Australia.

“Back then you had a lot more room to do things,” she reflects. “You could push different genres and there wasn't really any pressure to make 'something'. It was just for the love of making music. I find the travesty of today is that because we're so limited and the genres have refined themselves down so much – you've basically just got pop and rock, you know? Even rock is getting squeezed out. I was watching something on TV the other night, Queens Of The Stone Age live at The Enmore or something like that, and I thought, 'Wow, how is this going to happen now? How are we going to get another band like that again?' Everything on the radio seems to be a dance-pop hybrid with an R&B vocal over the top – that's the majority of what you hear. It's a real shame because there's some really beautiful genres of music that are kind of getting squeezed out.”

This may seem like a hypocritical perspective coming from Mitchell, especially considering that her group attracts the level of mainstream attention that they do. They have however achieved this status by always thinking outside the traditional ideas of mainstream pop, from the very beginnings of how the group formed out of the Sneaky Sundays club night in Sydney. Their recent signing to Modular Records (home of Cut Copy, The Presets, Architecture In Helsinki, The Avalanches etc) is proof positive once again that they are determined to keep pushing the envelope of what's expected from what is primarily a dance-pop outfit.

Mitchell says the group really didn't want to tread the same water and coast along on previous successes.“We were very aware of not fitting into any kind of format when we did the album,” she says. “I also think it took a lot of courage of not going down that path. We wanted to make a record that we would want to listen to, and that there was a high level of quality, you know?”

Fittingly for this weekend's performance, Sneaky Sound System were also one of the first acts to really take dance-oriented pop music to the outdoor rock festival scene, something that is taken for granted these days. Mitchell says that she initially felt very nervous about how the band would be received by festival audiences. “That's very true, and I would be like, 'Oh my god, this is not going to fly'!” she laughs. “It was such an establishment. It's a credit to Australian audiences that they were so into it, and it's really become the norm these days.”

In her downtime from the group, Mitchell has done some pretty full-on extra-curricular activities. Even though she still insists she is not really a fan of hip hop, this hasn't stopped her playing special guest for the big names in rap such as Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross, not to mention her ongoing involvement with the ever-expanding epic projects of Kanye West. West himself has sung her praises on many occasions, saying he was awestruck with her talent and originality on first hearing her tunes. She most recently contributed to the massive Jay-Z/Kanye epic Watch The Throne but her first appearance was on Kanye's third album Graduation, and she insists that before she was asked to go into the studio she had absolutely no idea who he was.

“That's not my world,” she says of the bright lights and bling that is the world of Mr West and hip hop in general. “I knew he was some kind of big act from America but I just didn't know who he was, which I think kind of worked in my favour, because I just got down to business. I was really out of my genre and comfort zone – it was not the kind of music that I listen to. Maybe that's why he kept calling me back. When I went to New York to meet him there was some big power-players in the room: there was 50 Cent, Common, Jay-Z and Kanye, and all of those guys, what I love about them is that they really give you kudos. Like, whenever anyone walked in the room, Kanye would introduce me and talk about my work, and they would always be like, 'Wow, credit to you.' It was really refreshing to see that's how that world operates.”