It’s been quite a ride for Dom Simper aka bambi to get to this point. 10 years deep into his musical career and a life time of playing music, he’s finally graced the world with his first solo release. Many will recognise him as the guitar and synthesiser maestro extraordinaire of Tame Impala. He’s toured the world many times over with a headline slot at Coachella thrown in, but now he’s here to make his full statement as an artist in the shape of unfolding, his debut EP released via Spinning Top Music.
This EP is an expression of not only Simper’s talents as a musician but his ability to capture feelings and moments within time and perfectly represent them with a wide sonic palette. The sound of unfolding takes influence from cinematic soundtracks, Japanese new age music and 20th century classical minimalism. But the ideas fused to the songs relate to the ever shifting and changing motion of life; that everything is in constant flux. Throughout the songs the melodies twirl and dance around each other, never becoming dormant; a representation of many aspects of life.
We spoke to Dom about the EP, why now was the time to release it and his love of geometry.
So I wanted to ask about the name bambi, is there any special meaning behind it or is there any particular reason you chose to release under that name?
I didn’t really want to use my real name, but it’s kind of redundant becuase everyone knows its me, but I don’t like the idea of having my actual name printed around the world. And then I just find the idea of a name kind of arbitrary, you need one so you have one. And it’s just a nickname that I had from more than 10 years ago. I like the childish naivety behind the name bambi, it sort of represents nature and innocence.
How long has this music been in the works?
I recorded it all in the second half of 2018. I’ve loved the music of Eric Satie, for 15 years or so and I’ve always kind of enjoyed Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works and more minimal ambient music. And then in that period I got kind of obsessed with the idea of environmental music and music that works perfectly with a physical space. Like a moment in nature or the synergy that a perfect environment can have with music.
Was there a particular environment that influenced this work? Or was it all different places?
There was no single particular environment, but lots of kind of individual moments. Whether its architecture, the forest or the ocean. I find both nature and architecture, a human design space can also work with music just as well. It wasn’t this singular moment where everything coalesced. It was a long process of working with these ideas.
Has this style of music been a style you’ve been playing for a while then?
It’s something i’ve been playing around with for quite some time.
So is this what you wanted your music to sound like?
Yeah but at the same time I don’t like to impose a narrow boundary for the future, or anything that boxes you in. You want to have the ability to go wherever you are. Whether you call it your muse or whatever interests you at the time. I like the idea that you’re always exploring an element of the unknown or something thats no so familiar with you. So I don’t really like the idea of going down a singular path.
Yeah definitely and this is what felt right for this particular project
Yeah exactly 100%.
What does the title ‘unfolding’ mean to you?
I just think it works on multiple levels. It’s almost a metaphor for life, everything’s just constantly unfolding around us. Our relationships with people, our dreams and it kind of applies to the music as well. I like the way that the melodic fragments unfold throughout the songs. I really like geometry, almost like origami, I find there’s something elegant about angles.
I heard quite a lot of that in ‘weber-fechner’, which I’ve researched quickly and it’s related to human perception if i’m correct?
Yeah its like a minimalist manifesto. The less stimulus there is, the less sensitive we are to a change in that stimulus. And you can’t really grow your perception if there’s less going on. I feel we’re often just bombarded with sensory input which kind of dumbs down our perceptive apparatus, if that makes any sense?
Yeah definitely. Was the concept what you had in mind when you were creating the track or was a title that fit with it after you’d made it?
I was thinking about that metaphysical stuff in parallel to when I was making the music, but not when I was making the music. But the ideas are constantly jumping around your subconscious and so it comes out in the music. But it’s never an intentional thing of I’m going to write a song about this idea. It just comes together at a certain point.
With the song ‘first snow of winter’ it feels as though it captures a certain moment in time. Is there a particular moment that you relate that song to?
Yeah definitely. It was the feeling you get, as an Australian, I was living over in the Netherlands during that period and as the title says it was the first snow fall of winter. Just staring out the window feeling completely mesmerised, it was the most magical moment of stillness and beauty. I don’t know if it translates if you’re from there and you’re used to it but it was kind of like the same way we see rain, it was just magical.
Do you feel being originally from Australia and then living there changed your perception of how you’d see it?
I think so, it took me to almost this kind of childhood, being lost in the moment and not having concept for everything where you just give it a name and that’s it. Rather you just get lost within the senses of it all.
Listening to the EP as well, there’s also quite a cinematic sound to it like a soundtrack almost. Is that something you’d ever want to create?
I think so yeah, I like the idea of having something to work with visually to create the music to. And also the fact that you can kind of do it behind the scenes. Having the visual there already is almost like a starting point, it can trigger ideas or a path to go down instead of just a blank canvas.
Do you feel creating these instrumental cinematic sounding tracks gives you more freedom as an artist to express yourself?
Yeah but at the same time I feel like if you’re an artist and you don’t have that sense of freedom then it’s almost like you’re doing it wrong. I don’t like the idea of, whether they’re internal or external having borders placed on what you can do. Obviously if there’s lyrics attached then there’s a new level of meaning to them with interpretation. But you could also keep them quite ambiguous. It’s really up to the artist how much of a defined narrative they want to give to their work. But I always think there’s beauty to ambiguity more so than a strict narrative.
Have there been any soundtracks in particular that have influenced you?
Definitely, a few movies from Europe in the 60’s. Some (Jean-Luc) Godard movies. Le Mépris that’s got Brigitte Bardot in it, that soundtrack was done by Georges de Beauregard, which is a very beautiful sweeping string soundtrack. I love how it’s almost a super saturated emotional feeling that transcends the mundane. If that makes any sense?
Have you seen the movie Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders?
I haven’t actually no!
That’s also got a beautiful soundtrack, yeah definitely those kinds of films. Also the soundtracks of Francis Lai, he does a lot or orchestral sounds mixed with synthesisers which I really like.
Do you feel soundtracks have more of an influence on your sound? Or as you mentioned artists like Aphex Twin? Or does it all come together?
It’s hard to prescribe a certain percentage of how a particular artist or genre has influenced my sound. I also really like a lot of the electronic old Japanese new age composers. Suzanne Ciani and Pauline Anna Strom have these really warm synthesiser records.
Listening to ‘garden’ I heard some elements of Haroumi Hosono in there.
Yeah potentially, I do love Hosono. It’s funny the references people say when they’ve heard it. They’re some of my favourite artists but I wouldn’t necessarily draw those links either but it’s almost complimentary to hear that.
Most of the EP was created on synthesisers, what draws you to this instrument over say the guitar?
I like the idea of making an electronic instrument sound organic, I feel that does something with your brain that you’ve got this thing that’s almost not real and you’re almost trying to bring it to life and make it breathe. I like the feeling that that gives you, more so than just acoustic instruments I guess. I think synthesisers have this amazing ability to always sound modern, almost nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.
I think working with synthesisers gives you a lot of freedom if that makes sense?
Well definitely you kind of just design your own sound. You work with sound the same way you work with clay in that you can shape it. Whereas you’re kind of stuck with the palette you’re given with other instruments. I mean that’s not necessarily true with guitars, but a lot of instruments really restrain how much you can shape them in terms of their envelopes or timbre.
And was designing those an important part of the process for you?
Yes and no. I’m not like a super nerd in that sense but you’re kind of just experimenting until you find something that gives you the feeling you’re chasing. I’d love to be more trained in that element, I think i’m getting better at it but it’s just experimentation and exploration until you find the right note.
The EP was mixed by James Ireland, who’s someone you’ve known for quite a while. Do you feel having someone you’ve known for a long time helped complete your vision rather than just going to an engineer you haven’t met before?
I think you’re starting from a position of trust and understanding rather than someone from the outside. You can trust what you ask of them and what you communicate will translate and it’s very natural. And it makes the process just that much more easier I think.
With this project being finished in 2018, why did you feel now was the right time to release it?
I decided to release it early to mid last year, but then last year was pretty busy touring with Tame Impala. And then I moved back to Australia. Also working with the artist for the artwork, working with the label to bring it out takes its own time frame. There’s all these bottlenecks that you’re waiting to be ticked off, like the vinyl production. So it’s relatively arbitrary to the face that it came out last week. It takes longer than you’d think, it’s not just like you finish it and then it’s out in the world as I discovered.
I wanted to ask about the artwork actually, who designed it and why did you choose that image in particular?
I just asked my friend in the Netherlands, she’d already done a few of these abstract cubic geometric paintings. And the palette in particular is supposed to capture a warm European sunrise, almost like a winters sunrise, very soft and hazy. And I just like that stained glass window effect, like I said i like shapes and angles. And then I worked with an artist over here in Perth to clean it up get it so the whole package was how I wanted it.
I think it really fits well with the whole atheistic over the EP.
Yeah cool thank you.
As you said before you usually spend most of the year touring the world, has this time of an extended break allowed you to do anything you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to?
Yeah just in terms of having months at a time to focus on something, like i’m trying to get better at playing the piano, so i’ve been playing that everyday. And I’ve never had such an intense period of being able to focus on something without being whisked off on a plane. So in that sense it has, and just being home for so long. I haven’t really been in one place for more than a few months since 2010. It’s been interesting.
With live shows as well, obviously at the moment no one knows when they’ll happen again but have you thought about what that could look like for your music?
Yeah i’ve been wrestling with the idea. I think it’s hard at this point because I’m trying to reconcile that as music the EP is quite passive. The intention was that it’s not necessarily background music in that sense, but the idea of having a guy on stage performing it doesn’t quite seem to feel right at this point, so wether I try to make it a bit more engaging. I would also be interested in creating an instillation or bringing some sort of visual element in to it to make it more of an immersive experience rather than just the traditional set up of some guy with some gear on stage.
Yeah of course, something in a gallery could work really well.
Have you got any visual pieces to go with the songs?
Not really, i’ve never really worked myself with the visual medium. I’m definitely open to the idea of collaborating with someone, but at the same time I’d want to happen rather organically.
Yeah definitely rather than just looking for someone to create a piece. I believe that’s everything from me, thank you so much for your time!
No problem, thanks very much for the interview!
unfolding is available to stream now and available on vinyl here.