Photos by Jake Ollett.
Zac Olsen’s recording project Traffik Island culminated in a full-length album on Flightless earlier this year, but his first release using that name actually dates back to 2012 (a split-tape with his former bandmate Nik from Frowning Clouds). Nature Strip is one of our favourite records of the year, so while in Melbourne I sat down with Zac in a café in Thornbury and had a chat.
When did you get the idea to do Traffik Island?
It happened sort of naturally. A friend of mine, he used to run a record label called Moontown (which I think is maybe starting up again). He called me up on the phone and said that another one of my friends was doing a cassette of home recordings and that maybe I could do the other side of the tape. He called up assuming that I would have a bunch of home demos lying around. I said “yes, I definitely do”, but I didn’t at the time. So I though well, I’d better get to work. I was living at my mum’s at the time, so I would have been 19 or so at the time. So I went out to the garage and just recorded my half of the tape and then, yeah put a name to it, which was literally a road sign out the front of my house. I thought “is that a really stupid name?”, yeah I don’t really know why I chose it. And that was that. It’s sort of been the name that I’ve put to anything that’s been a bit too weird I guess, or a bit too lo-fi or something. You know, stuff that doesn’t really suit a band. It’s kind of just like a scrapbook really, of all of my home stuff. It jumps all over the place and there’s no specific focus or even a specific style. But the official album that came out earlier this year is kinda like a style of album that I’ve been wanting to do since I was 15 or 16, but I’d never gotten around to doing it. So it’s good to get that off my chest.
Did you record all of it yourself?
No, some of it was – there are maybe three or four tracks that are just me, and then there are ones with drums. Those was recorded by Jesse, who plays piano on the album. It kind of gets a bit foggy though cause it was recorded over three different houses, and a bunch of my friends helped out. Some of the overdubs I did at like 4am.
So it’s been in the making for a while?
Yeah, I guess technically it has. I started trying to make some kind of album three years ago or something, but the group of songs that ended up on Nature Strip turned out to be completely different from the original ones. Because I kept recording new ones and bumping one off. I still have the original 12 songs that were supposed to be the album, they’re still on my computer.
So none of them are on the album?
There’s one, an instrumental called “One Tenth of a Second”. That one is quite old. The rest of them are just still sitting on my computer, yeah. They’re quite rough around the edges though. A lot noisier, and not easy on the ears. I tried to make something a bit more hifi, but it still turned out quite messy.
I really like it! I played it to a friend who said it sounded a lot like this Donovan album.
Yeah there was this one Donovan album that was a really big influence and that was Wear Your Love Like Heaven. I heard that album and the songs were all so simple, and I realized it’s ok to be simple. When you try to write songs you always make yourself think you have to put in 20 chords and do all these crazy things, but usually that stuff ends up being too conceited. And you know, you can’t really remember it. Even though the song’s over you can’t remember how it goes. So yeah, I did get right into Donovan again before I started writing these songs. It reminded me it’s ok to just use three chords. I love that record, super simple arrangements and just two or three instruments.
Do you have any plans to continue using the Traffik Island name?
Yeah yeah, I mean there is another one, that’s finished, but it’s absolutely nothing at all the same. It’s so different I was thinking I should call it a different name, but stuff it, I’m just gonna call it Traffik Island and see what happens. There’s no singing on it or anything like that. There’s no real instruments, a lot of it is synthesizers and electronic stuff.
This particular project or yours seems kind of anonymous, there’s not much info around. Is that intentional?
No it’s not intentional at all. I do my part which I’m supposed to do, which is to make the music. Luckily, I’ve had Flightless put it out, and it still sort of shocks me because compared to the rest of the stuff on the label my stuff is quite rough around the edges. It’s not as lush and nice as some of the Gizzard stuff – that stuff you can play it on the radio and it doesn’t sound out of place. Whereas my stuff might sound a bit weird on the radio. Up against the rest of the Flightless catalogue, I dunno, but I’m thankful they released it. I’m not trying to be anonymous, if people ask to do interviews I’ll say yes!