Sirak isn’t a traditional emcee. Taking elements from a variety of sources, his free-form lyrical style, super hype live show and organic production make for something different from the norm in Australian hip-hop. The 28 year old came into hip-hop late but has been playing the drums since he was 13. He dropped his debut EP Heavy Flow last year and Ozhiphop caught up with him as he begins work on his next release and evolving his live show.
Dylan T: Where did the name Sirak actually come from?
Sirak: It was actually the name of an African refugee that I used to look after when I used to work at Albert Park Primary School as an after-care teacher – I used to look after about like 40 kids and one of them was named Sirak Keegan. He was just on my roll and it just looked good as a written name and it sounded awesome. That was about 8 years ago and about 8 years ago I was like “I’m gonna name a band that – I’m gonna form a band and name a band that” *laughs*
So when I finally did I was like “yep” – it was a bit long so I just called it Sirak.
That’s a cool story. Last year you dropped your debut EP, your first proper project under the Sirak name – Heavy Flow – when did you decide you were actually going to put something together? How long did it take from start to finish?
I made one little video which was my first foray into it, about 18 months ago and I got a really good reaction from it. I was really happy with the reaction I got from myself, it was really important for me and that spurred me on to properly record it and jump in a studio with some live players. We did Consciousness, then that really took off a lot more than I thought it would and came together a lot better than I thought it would so that prompted us to make another clip for that.
It all came together and I just realised it was something I really wanted to pursue. I had about 8 months worth of recording then that I’d just done in my bedroom, getting mates to help out when they could. I had about…8 or so demos? That I wanted to put together properly – I was heading overseas at the beginning of last year so I just put the limit on it.
It was only about a month before I went overseas that I was like “yep, I’m getting that out before I go overseas” and it just clicked one day. So we did it, it took about 3 weeks taking it from the demo stage to having it properly recorded and then we spent a week mixing it. I watched it the day before I left. It was awesome.
Drop the bomb and then jump on the plane kinda thing?
That’s it, just deal with the aftermath overseas. I did the online release when I was overseas – it was pretty minimal, I didn’t do any promo or anything, just chucked it on bandcamp and that was it.
At the beginning it was a real private mission that I was doing as much for myself as anything. I’ve always treated it as a project, a piece more than anything, I didn’t treat it like the bands I’d been in before.
They had regular rehearsals, were always writing and thinking about the next thing, but this has been really personal, a piece I can craft exactly how I want to and just take it really slowly. It’s been really different for me.
When there’s nobody else dictating the flow you have a lot more focus and a lot more control on where it could go. I’ve never felt real ownership over things I’ve produced in other bands before, I’ve always enjoyed it but I’ve always played drums in the past so I’ve always been in the back a bit and never felt that real intellectual ownership over it.
It’s been a totally different experience just putting out my own thoughts and my own opinions directly onto the page.
I’m not even playing an instrument (with hip-hop), it’s just my voice and just my thoughts. It’s really taken me by storm.
As you said, you used to play drums in a few bands. Is your background more metal and prog-rock than hip-hop?
Yeah, yeah, definitely was. People often say I have an interesting vocabulary but it’s just because I listen to heaps of Tool. To be honest that’s all I’ve done for the past 12 years *laughs*.
People hear that I’m a rapper and they start reeling off all these hip-hop names that I’ve never heard of, I just really haven’t listened to a ton of it. When I was younger the only real hip-hop influences I had were the Black Eyed Peas – strictly their Bridging the Gap album, Linkin Park and a shitload of Eminem. I used to listen to a lot of Rage Against the Machine too so that probably comes through.
I’m really happy to have a different background to come from into making music nowadays and I really appreciate all the influences I have from when I was younger.
You’re not really bound to that traditional kind of hip-hop upbringing…
Yeah! And I don’t really feel bound to traditional hip-hop structures or anything. I mean everyone’s influenced by everything in the end but I feel that it works really well for me. I’ve had people come up after shows saying they don’t usually like hip-hop or they don’t usually like Aussie hip-hop but they like what I do which is cool, I like having a slightly different voice and maybe producing some music that might be refreshing to some people.
You obviously love hip-hop as an artform but you don’t take influence from it – I think it works well.
Definitely, the energy behind hip-hop and freestyling, even if my freestyle game has dropped off hard, but just the energy it produces…like being in a room or outside with any amount of people, around a fire or down a back alleyway and everyone’s way too pissed and you egg someone on to just lay a beat and go for it. It’s just that much fun and you can’t go past that energy. That’s what pulled me in originally.
Doing that in people’s backyards and people’s bedrooms and feeding off that intense co-performance kind of energy. It was just so clear and so strong and I did it until I pissed off all my friends and had to start writing it down and getting it out how I am now. It’s just cool to not feel stuck to the standard verse structure or couplets or anything.
You’re definitely not a 16 bar verse, 8 bar chorus kind of rapper.
Definitely, I listen to a shitload of stuff where there’s no structure to it or it has it’s own structure and I go off that.
So what is your writing process? I listen to something like Consciousness and there’s a vague structure but it feels organic and free-form. I’m just interested as to how a track like that would come together.
It was like the second song that I ever wrote and the subject matter reflected exactly where I was at the time. There was absolutely no regard whatsoever given to structure. I can’t even really remember it coming out, it just fell out of me and was totally emotionally driven. I didn’t give any thought as to what it would be, it just came out because it had to come out.
I didn’t edit it at all, it just came out how it was. I was just riding the energy and things surface naturally when you’re in that state and I thought it was really positive to just let it all exist as it arose. You’re really in tune with your own emotion and things come to the surface anyways like that.
For a lot of the other songs it’s normally pretty structureless, but sometimes I’ll have say, a hook in my head that I sing for a little bit and that’ll end up being the chorus or whatever. Then I’ll sit down and know the sentiment and idea behind that hook and flesh it out into verses.
I had a few really good writing sessions, I’ve always been a bit lazy, never liked homework, but I could actually sit down and push through the fidgety-ness
and get the ideas clearly out. It was really good in the lead-up to working on the EP that I could work on getting things out and forming verses.
Although I played drums for ages I have no tonal teaching or any real musical training so I don’t even really grasp chorus and bridge structures or anything like that, so I just write whatever comes out and as long as I’ve said what I need to say, I don’t mind how it ends up in the recording.
Sometimes some of my friends I play with will pull me up on it and will say “nah, this has to change” and I’ll say “okay”, but about 80% of the time I’ll stick to my guns.
For some of the other tracks on the EP, like Talk Show Ghost, that started as a remix, that came up as a structure on a computer screen before I started writing to it and they helped each other along. I had a friend, BenAtWork come along to work on that and we went back on forth on that.
That was really different again and rewarding.
A lot of the time I’ll just sit down and play an acoustic drumkit and just record it in my bedroom, then I just pass them on to my drummer and he plays it 10 million times better than I can. Then we layer the other instruments over that, guitar and so on. I’m very, very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing musicians – it’s very easy to give them my bedroom pieces of shit and they just polish it up to make it sound amazing.
Just to finish up, your live performance. It’s so energetic and you bring in so many outside elements, I love that you mix anecdotal humour with the music and really put your personality on the stage. Do you take a lot of pride in your live show?
Yeah, for sure. That’s probably what drove it the most, that original energy, even just freestyling with a mate you’re still performing. I kinda moved that over to the stage, I used to do a lot of theatre work and some on-screen acting and it helps to see the band as a piece…as like…
Yeah, I don’t want to say it’s a work of art because that’s wanky but just to see the whole thing as a performance piece that you craft and build is definitely a huge part of it for me. It’s in its infancy at the moment but I’ve definitely got dreams to make it bigger and more coherent, to have resonance with a lot more. That idea of performance is so strong to me and I wanted to be an actor for a lot of my adolescent life…it’s just a different form of that same energy. It’s really, really important to me and very strong inside me so it’s good to let it out again. People seem to vibe off it which is great.
All you have to do is turn yourself on, turn on the people around you and everything else will work itself out. All you really need to focus on is making yourself happy – it’s pretty obvious if you’re happy on stage – and hopefully people get to vibe off that. It’s great to hear that it’s pretty obvious that I’m having a good time.
And that’s the most important thing.
Sirak’s currently working on his as of yet untitled second project.
You can download Sirak’s debut EP, Heavy Flow here: https://sirak.bandcamp.com/