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Interview: Michael Cross On Sinclaire's Evolution, The Importance Of Visuals And Social Media

Photo: Sinclaire | Supplied

When you think of Sinclaire, what comes to mind? Heavy synth lines? Atmospheric beats? Radiant cover art? It's hard to imagine what a band looks like when you combine all three of those things together. Yet, that's exactly what Sinclaire has done successfully by bringing their own flair to a space that often feels crowded.

Consisting of vocalist Michael Cross, keyboard/synth player Jake Sheath and guitarist Aiden Turner, the Sydney trio are self-described as 'anthemic anti-pop group you can dance to.' Given the line of tracks they've released this year so far, it's definitely an accurate description. Their most recent singles 'coolman' and 'let's fly to rome' have had significant traction across the airwaves and it looks like they're set to continue that trajectory.

This week, I was lucky to have a chat with front man Michael Cross about 'coolman', the band's evolution and the important correlation between visuals and music.

Can you tell me a bit about Sinclaire and how you guys came together as a band?

We were in a previous band called Undercast and in that band, there was me and Aiden and our drummer Lockie, who just stepped down from Sinclaire recently.

We all progressed in our music tastes and matured to kind of leave the whole pop punk thing behind. Then we started Sinclaire. Me and Aiden are the only ones still remaining from Undercast in Sinclaire. We also have Jake, our synth player, and he’s actually my cousin.

Basically Jake had moved to Sydney and we were looking for a synth player. I knew he played so I just hit him up and asked, “Do you want to play in a band? Do you have gear?” And we found out he had $15,000 dollars worth of gear just lying around. It was all this stuff that wasn’t being used and we said, ‘Bro, come play in our band.” That’s how it started and we just went from there.

[coolman]’s kind of shallow in a way but also, it has a deeper meaning in the sense that everyone needs that confidence boost.

I really love ‘coolman’, your recent single. I think that synth is so addicting. Can you tell me what the creative process was like when creating the song?

‘coolman’ is an interesting one. We wrote our previous EP with Stevie Knight of Electric Sun and after that we moved on to a new producer, Nat Sherwood, who does all of our songs now. We had done a few writing sessions and we knew that we wanted to change our sound a bit and go more synth heavy.

We had a few songs in the middle that were half done and ‘coolman’ was actually the first song we ever finished and were happy with since the EP. It was the turning point for the band where we found this new synth driven direction. So we had gone to the studio one weekend, and we came out with ‘coolman’ after that weekend.

Jake and Nat were the masterminds behind the synth and how the song came out sounding in that area. With the vocals, I came in with a concept for a song that I wanted to be uplifting and I wanted it to relate to anyone. The whole premise of ‘coolman’ is that you’re good enough to do whatever you want and everyone is cool. It’s kind of shallow in a way but also, it has a deeper meaning in the sense that everyone needs that confidence boost.

I definitely agree. I think it has this really good message but at the same time, I feel like it would be such a great song to hear live because it has that festival feeling.

Yeah that’s what we really wanted. When we wrote it, around 13 months ago, we really wanted to write something that was like a huge, summer festival hit and we could pitch it to play festivals. Once we finished it, we thought we should wait a year to release it but then obviously COVID hit and it kind of changed everything in the live music scene.

So that’s why we released our last two singles before ‘coolman’, even though we wrote it first, because we wanted to wait until festivals were a thing again. But the longer it went on, we just thought we really needed to release it because we were sitting on it for so long. For me, I really hate sitting on music because when you first write a song, you’re so emotionally attached to it and when you just let it sit for over a year, you lose the spark for pushing that song.

Speaking of COVID and lockdown, how has it affected your creative process as a band?

I honestly think it’s probably been the best period this band has ever had. When we came from the pop punk scene, we kind of fell into the sphere of ticking the boxes of what every local band was doing. During COVID, we knew we couldn’t play live anymore and we couldn’t do music videos really. So all we did during that time was focus on writing and we still focus on that now.

It’s the backbone of the band at the moment where we just write every weekend. Even just being in the studio, it’s kind of like band practice where you take it seriously but instead of practicing, we turned those days into writing days. The product that comes from writing is so much more beneficial to us right now as a band in its infancy because we’re coming up with new songs every week. It was such a good learning process for us even if a lot of those songs don’t get released.

It’s definitely been a period where the band has evolved faster than it ever has before.

Judging from your recent singles and the way they have evolved, I would say that Sinclaire is hard to pigeonhole into one genre. Would you agree?

Yeah. I think the next few songs we release will make that even more evident. I don’t want to make it seem as if we’re just doing random shit. But as a band, we have such a diverse range of influences. Not many people listen to artists because they are one genre. I think a lot of people are open to different styles and if they want to listen to rap, then they’ll listen to rap and if they want to listen to pop, then they will.

An artist can branch to so many different areas these days and acquire so many different fans. If you say you’re only an indie rock band and you focus on writing that for a whole album, I think that’s so limiting. Sure, we might release a song where fans of ‘coolman’ don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever listen to Sinclaire again.

I definitely think it’s an interesting thing for a band to be unpredictable and that’s what we want to do.

It kind of reminds me of The 1975 and the way they’ve changed so many times throughout their different eras.

Yeah for sure. They have jazz, electronic, pop and punk influences. Some people probably don’t like their song ‘People’ because it’s so edgy. It’s heavy for a pop listener, but for me, coming from a metal and punk background, listening to that song when it first came out, I thought it was so sick.

I have so much respect for a band that can release a song even though 80% of their listeners might not like it.

Even though your music is constantly evolving, I feel like you have a very honed-in aesthetic visually. Are you guys a visual band when it comes to music? Do you think that correlation is important?

I’m actually a graphic designer and content creator full-time which is good for us because I can do a large majority of the visuals myself. My friend Max did the artwork for ‘coolman’ but for all our previous ones, I did the branding and the concept design. For the photoshoot we did for ‘coolman’, it was my direction and our friend Brandon took the photos, while I edited them.

For me, the image that is attached to the music is really important. They kind of go hand-in-hand with each other because you can have a really great song, but if the artwork or imagery that surrounds it isn’t strong, then a lot of people might not click with it. There’s so much good imagery out there now and you’re competing for that first impression with people.

When you scroll through Instagram and you see the artwork or promo for a song, that’s the first initial ping for the song, and if it’s shit, then people won’t listen to the song because they think the artwork is shit. If they think it’s cool, then they’ll probably think the song is too.

I definitely think the photoshoot for ‘coolman’ and the artwork helped the traction for the song.

For sure. It’s hard because since we’re churning out singles so frequently, coming up with visuals that’s not too expensive but still professional is really challenging. In promos, one of the key things is editing them so they look unique and that’s one of the hardest things for the band at the moment.

I honestly struggle with thinking of ideas for promo shoots more than we do with writing songs. We have so many songs in the back, just waiting to go, and there’s so many different art directions they could all take. It’s quite a lot to think about.

Speaking of your content creation, I’ve seen you do a few covers on Instagram. They’re really good! What inspired you to start doing those?

Having a forward facing personality on Instagram is such an important thing in this day and age. For me, being the front man of the band, people want to have someone they can relate to in some form. I try to be more active on my Instagram stories and I post TikToks to try and get a personality out there so people think there’s actually people behind this band and not just three white dudes who have no personality.

In time, I want it to be more but it has to be a slow lead in. Especially for me, it’s hard. Seeing into a camera and posting covers, it’s really putting yourself out there and I’ve always been a person who’s very aware of judgment and what people think of you. This year, I’ve kind of said fuck it. If people want to judge me, then they will. So I’m just going post covers anyway. If you lose followers, then you lose followers. At the end of the day, you’re being yourself and that’s why I started doing the covers because it’s an easy way into that.

Who would be a dream collaboration for you?

All things considered, I honestly would love to do something with Charlie Puth. He’s an incredibly talented musician and as a producer, he’s insane. I look up to him in a lot of ways in the sense that he really grinded to get to where he is.

He has a similar stance to music that I have. I was into metal and I really loved the intricacies of guitar and I used to hate pop because I thought it was so easy. But as I grew up, I started listening to more pop and my music expanded to what it is now. Pop music is so much more because when you try to write a pop song, it’s really fucking hard. That was his perspective as well and that's why I really look up to him.

What is something fans and listeners should take away from Sinclaire and your music?

You should listen to a band or an artist not just because of their music, but because of everything that artist represents like their personality, their imagery and the fact they can diversify themselves even if you don’t like all their music. Ultimately, we would love to have a fanbase that can take us as a band and feel that we can release whatever we want. We would want them to look at all artists like that and not feel like they’re entitled to determine what the artist has to do.

As we ended our chat, Michael hinted that Sinclaire fans can expect more music within the coming months. Until then, we can keep jamming out to 'coolman', the ultimate synth anthem.

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