Identity Politics and Counting Troye Sivan as a Fan: Hanging with Lonelyspeck in the Adelaide Suburbs

Identity Politics and Counting Troye Sivan as a Fan: Hanging with Lonelyspeck in the Adelaide Suburbs

Meet Sione Teumogenga, the 24-year-old producer behind all the hype.
September 15, 2016, 2:30am

All photos by Jonno Revanche

Initial encounters with the online presence of Sione Teumohenga's project Lonelyspeck seem as elusive in personhood and gender identity as they do in musicality. There are almost no photos of him online, and in whatever ones there are, he's always floating somewhere in the background, shrouded by layers of pink cloud.

The odd interview that he does take, reveals a distinctly honest vocalist and producer, who may have one of those hearts that's a bit too big for this world. The music reflects this too—the sounds drift to you from across a distant plain, cataclysmic and calming all at once. The many layers are encoded with meaning, drawing influence from R'n'B, commercial pop, shoegaze, electronica and harsh noise, that become revealed upon multiple listens.

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The softly spoken Adelaidean—whose music has gotten the attention of Troye Sivan and Japanese Wallpaper—speaks to a more romantic idea of a "bedroom producer". Instead of an image of a pale boy in a snapback hunched over a computer, imagine instead someone untouched by the harshness of the outside world—someone who functions in a world of their own, relying only on their own most innermost desires and instincts to drive their process.

It's good then that Lonelyspeck exists, as someone who occupies an ambiguous space in what could be assumed to be a very white, hetero universe. And it's comforting to know how they have become so adept at their craft by staying true to their childhood influences. We met Sione on the edge of the Adelaide cityscape and spoke about becoming more comfortable with musical ambiguity, islander identity and the unspeakable power of My Chemical Romance.

It's been a while since you've released new music, when you do, though, it often feels like an event. What does your process of music making look like and how do you decide what you'd like to release?

I think it's continuing to change over time. For the most recent songs I've been working on, I've had them all for a while, some of them for almost like two years, and I've just been continually restructuring and reworking and fine-tuning everything over that time which I've enjoyed. I like to start with something that comes instinctively like a hook or a sound that I've been hearing in my head, and then once I find it I can sort of follow it and it becomes quite an intuitive, flowy process. I basically release the tracks that maintain my faith and interest enough for me to actually finish them.

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Do you feel like you've become more confident as a vocalist over time?

Definitely! Like, a thousand percent. I was extremely scared of singing for a long time and didn't sing in front of literally anyone until I was like 20. I still don't think I'm completely over that fear yet and I still don't feel like I'm a 'real singer', but I do love it now, it's become quite important to me I think. It's probably helped me to become more comfortable with my voice in general.

Your presence and persona often come off as being very ambiguous, as are the subjects of your songs, and the many layers of sound and lyricism bleed into each other and often can't be defined on their own. Do you think it's apt to interpret those sounds as another form of ambiguity?

I think it's apt for the music I currently have out there… lyrically it's something I've been trying to move away from though. I used to bury all the meaning in metaphors but I've been trying to embrace directness more and use metaphors to add materiality to my feelings rather than hide them.

Totally! How does it feel like when people like Troye Sivan notice what you're doing? I know you're quite reserved, so I often wonder how you respond to huge gestures like that.

I thought that was really sweet of Troye, both because he apparently felt the need to show my music to an audience which he knows is large, and also just that he took the time to let me know he was into it. It means a lot to me when anyone sincerely tells me how my music makes them feel, or like they listen to it to go to sleep, or it makes them feel better when they're down or something like that. I much prefer that to being told I'm amazing or talented or whatever. I never know how to respond to those kinds of compliments that are just like, putting adjectives on me.

How do you feel like you fit into the sphere of independent Australian music, which often markets itself as diverse and interesting… But is mainly made up of white, ex-private school boys?

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Not to get too intense but I think for me this question sort of becomes about how I fit into Australia overall… I feel like I've spent most of my life trying to understand my own narrative by comparing it to the ones I'm surrounded by—largely middle-class, white, cis and heteronormative, two parents at home, etc.—which left me feeling conflicted and incomplete because of all the aspects of my life that didn't line up with that. It's just how my life has happened and I wouldn't change anything, but with no other points of reference I wasn't able to start unpacking those feelings until relatively recently. The idea of actually fitting in somewhere, of finding a space where I feel comfortable growing into myself and working through these feelings with people who relate is something I've only come to understand for myself and seek recently.

Going to Sydney to play a show earlier this year was a very special and warming experience and I felt more at home in the scene I encountered there than I generally have in Adelaide. I felt an emphasis on love and caring that I've only found in small ways here, and I also actually met other Pacific Islanders which was really heartening just because we're so rare in Adelaide. Not sure if any of this answers your question…

I've noticed that there's a strong visual narrative in your visuals—how important is this to your music? You've maintained quite a consistent vibe over the years.

It's very important and it's all part of the same creative process as the music, especially with what I've been working on most recently. Visual art was what I always did before music, since I was very young, and I've always been inspired by musicians who also work on the visual side of things, going back to being captivated by the art direction of bands like Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance when I was younger. Even as a kid I was really observant of visual branding and loved creating consistent aesthetics for different things I made. Paying attention that stuff is still really satisfying to me.

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Do you work on much outside of Lonelyspeck? Or is it your main project?

Occasionally I dabble in other things, like I'm working on some little pieces for a friend's short film, and doing some production for another artist which is fun. I used to play guitar in a band although that's kinda on hiatus for now. And last year I made a little ambient EP just for me. I'd love to make film scores and write and produce for other artists in the future. But Lonelyspeck is my priority and at the core of what I do and who I am creatively. It's really just based in what I like and what I feel; it's not inherently conceptual or anything, it's just me. And I would say at its heart it isn't a collaborative project. I feel most free working on my own and I want Lonelyspeck to always provide that for me.

Do you have anything coming out soon?

I have something new almost ready but there's no timeline or plan yet so there's not much I can say. But I'm excited! I want it out there as soon as possible because I think it's way better than what I've put out so far. And I feel like I can't move onto the next thing until this one is out.

Are there many musicians or artists working around you that you feel are inspiring or underrated?

Hummingbird are probably my favourite Adelaide band, to me they feel like one of those iconic timeless melancholy bands. I hope they make an album. I love what Tracy Chen does and it's exciting to see her getting more and more recognition for it.