Sometimes when the industry doesn’t work fast enough for you, you need to take control. Take Gilli Moon for instance. When it didn’t happen fast enough for her in Australia, she hopped a plane to Los Angeles and has had a thriving career ever since. Interview by Paul Cashmere
Sometimes when the industry doesn’t work fast enough for you, you need to take control. Take Gilli Moon for instance. When it didn’t happen fast enough for her in Australia, she hopped a plane to Los Angeles and has had a thriving career ever since.
For Gilli, being a singer and songwriter is only part of it. She is also an artist and actor and managers herself. She has a story of being in total control of her career.
Hearing the Gilli Moon story is an inspiration to new acts who might take no for an answer. Gilli never listened to the word ‘no’. When it popped into conversation she walked away from it until she found a ‘yes’.
These days she produces her own records and has complete ownership of her creative work. It is a career option she will advise.
She spoke to Undercover Media’s Paul Cashmere.
Paul Cashmere: Well let’s start off by talking about when you first started out and where you got that initial inspiration. Did it come from family? Did it come from friends? Where did it come from?
Gilli Moon: Well I’m the only musician in the family, and I think that maybe a great great great great uncle was a violinist in Italy. I’m the only musician. I was always creative, always wanted to be on stage since I was like four, as far as I can remember, and my parents encouraged it. So I started playing piano, and then at school I was in musicals, with leads as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and things like that. I started writing songs when I was 15 or 16, and realized then that I wanted to get more into writing songs and playing with a band, but it took me quite a while to do that, I was doing a lot of other creative things.
PC: Where did the encouragement come for doing that kind of creative thing? Did it come from within the family?
GM: Oh absolutely, my parents were very supportive of me, they are the kind of people that said “Whatever you want to do Gilli, go for it, you can make it happen”. They’re creative. They’re not musical, but they built their house so they’re very creative individuals so I was inspired by the way they brought me up and then my own imagination. No one really said “Gilli, why don’t you go and do this…”. I was self-motivated.
PC: Where did you grow up?
GM: I grew up in Sydney, in the eastern suburbs until I was about 11 or 12. Then we moved to the bush, to the Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney. From the age of 12 to 18 it was very pioneering. We had no running water, solar power, Mum and Dad built the house. I went to school in Gosford, which is about an hour away on a dirt road, so yeah I went to school in the middle of nowhere.
STARTING THE CAREER
PC: When did you decide that this was going to be the career? When did you decide “I’m going to work in the music industry?”
GM: It took me a little while. I first decided that I wanted to be on Broadway, so I even went to New York and did all the cattle calls, and that was really hard. I decided that I didn’t want to go that route, even though I loved to act. I wanted to do it all, music, dancing, everything on stage, and because I’d written these songs, I decided to come back to Australia in ’92, having been in New York and Italy for a while. I was looking for an agent, so I could get gigs so to speak, but I knew nothing about playing live with a band, and the reality was that I couldn’t just go out and play my own songs and everyone would just love them. I had to do cover gigs, and I didn’t know a lot of the cover songs, having been brought up in the bush. I didn’t listen to the radio, I didn’t have a lot of the latest CD’s, didn’t know who was who really, so I had to learn a lot. The reality was I had to have a cover band to go out and play the pubs. It’s pretty cruel for any musician to have to do that.
PC: So what sort of songs were you learning, and were they based on friends recommendations?
GM: Based on the agents recommendation, I had finally got an agent who said “I can give you a gig this Friday night, you have to know four sets of covers” He said there was a house band and I had to give them my charts. I thought “What are charts?” So he gave me a tip and said “Why don’t you think of 40 great songs that you can find chords for”. I had a friend who was working the RSL scene and she had all the charts, so I started off singing a lot of Aretha Franklin songs, and songs like “I Can See Clearly Now” and “I Love A Rainy Night” and even back to some jazz standards like “Summertime” and “Georgia”. I was doing some piano bar gigs with a piano player. Even though I played piano I didn’t like to sing and play piano at the same time, I wasn’t comfortable back then. I do that now all the time, it’s part of my act, but then I worked with a band and was completely bluffing my way through. I got to learn a lot of the songs and I got to do a lot of corporate gigs as a singer, and playing with a lot of session muso’s so that gave me a leg up to get myself thrown into the deep end, but of course I just got so sick of it. I really wanted to play my own music, so I tried to find some songwriting circles where I could do acoustic and get myself behind the piano and play with musicians who wanted to do originals, but you know they all wanted to get paid. Original gigs don’t pay, so it was like “I’ll do this covers gig with you but please come and play with me Thursday night at the songwriting thing”. It was bartering, and “I’ll do this for you if you do this for me…”
PC: Those days of being out there and performing covers, is that the inspiration for the new album recording the cover of an INXS song?
GM: No, it’s nothing to do with it. I have left the cover scene, but I do know that going to LA I only do originals, because they love original music over there. Now coming back I’m noticing Australia is changing and they’re open to original music and it’s great. Even conferences like Australian music week are encouraging original music. The reason I chose the INXS cover was because I was actually in the hotel at the time that Michael Hutchence died, and it was my ode to him. I never knew him, but it was just a coincidence in timing. I was very saddened by his death. Being an Australian in LA, often homesick, INXS is one of the bands that still brings people together over there and so it was my way of just acknowledging him. If I was going to do a rendition of a cover, it would’ve been his song, because ‘Need You Tonight’ was very honest and open and it fitted in with the theme of the album, which is being very honest and open and telling people how you feel, and then I wanted to do it my own way, so I took it back and made it solitary and groove oriented.
PC: Have you actually bypassed the Australian music industry in deciding to relocate to Los Angeles?
GM: Yes. At the beginning I felt very disheartened, nobody wanted to know about me, being an original artist, and L.A. at the time was like this Mecca. Everyone was going to L.A. so for whatever reason I just packed my bags and went, and as soon as I landed, the day I arrived people were encouraging me. It was “wow, I’ve found people who like what I do” so that’s what’s kept me staying there. Instead of the tall poppy syndrome in America it’s “Yes you can do it, yes you can go for it, yes you can make it happen” so I was surrounded by yes people. It’s only by what I’ve done overseas, people are paying attention to what I’m doing back home, but ultimately it’s because I’ve evolved as an artist and the music that I’m doing, people are actually taking note, because the music’s got to sell itself.
PC: When did you move over there?
GM: ’96 and then I came back at the end of the year and ’97 I moved over there full time.
PC: What sort of gigs do you do over there?
GM: Various. Festivals, I’ll do rock shows at the Whiskey in Hollywood with the band, I’ll even play organic folk style cafe’s when I’m touring, I just opened for Simple Minds in Phoenix with a 1000 seater amphitheatre with a revolving stage and everything.
PC: Tell me about the equipment you had when you were first starting out to capture your voice. What actually did you own at home?
GM: Just the piano and Mum and Dad’s tape recorder. Then I moved up to a Fostex 4 track tape deck, before digital came out of course. I’d use that to do my 4 track demo’s. In fact a lot of my songs were on this, and I’d come up with the groove, the bass, the drums, everything, and put this on this little Fostex. I also had a little PSR16 Yamaha keyboard, which had 16 tracks, so my demo’s were full on orchestrated, but not very good. I got all the ideas and they were the things that I was sending around to all the labels. I moved on to a TASCAM digital 4 track when I got to LA, and I’ve just had a Korg 8 track digital. Now I’m working on Akai 12 track, but I want to go back, because I’m traveling, I want to go straight into the studio and produce everything with the band. I use ProTools now, but for me traveling, I’ve sold all my personal recording equipment and I want this thing called the little Zoom 4 track digital. It fits into a tiny little box and you can just plug it in and record, on the plane if you want! It’s like what the original four tracks were, but it’s all digital using those little chips for the phone and you can stick it in your computer and see it on the screen.
PC: When did you get your first manager?
GM: The agent that I was working for in Sydney became my first manager because he was very interested in what I was doing, but it was very limited to the Sydney region. For all intentions, he did his best, but I had grandiose ambitions and one of them was that I eventually wanted to go to America and his area was Australia. He also wanted me to work in the world music field, but I wanted to do my own thing, so I said goodbye and we went our separate ways and then I went to America. I had a manager there who was African American who thought I would be great in the R&B scene, but I am very white musically. She thought there was a whole potential there, so we worked together for a year or so, then we went our separate ways. Then I had another manager, who was an Australian who had been there for eight years, and we worked together for a while. Then the fourth manager, we went our separate ways when I signed a label deal there because the label had a manager organized for me. Then the label deal went awry, so I severed ties with them, and I suddenly realized that I have to be self-managed. I have been self-managed now for two and a half years, almost three. Very happy, I’m taking control of my own destiny. I have people who work with me and I have a girl who works for me, with a lot of management responsibilities, but ultimately I’m self-managed.
PC: That must be very difficult to have that business side of things that you have to concentrate on all day long, as well as a creative side…
GM: I am left and right brain. I like the organizing side of it. I like the business side, and really I haven’t found anyone yet who has been able to do anything better than I can do for myself. Because I’ve gone through a lot of situations where I’ve given the control over to someone else and they’ve said “I’m going to make you a star” I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt a lot about what not to do and how to say no to a lot of situations. Right now I’m very comfortable with running my own independent label with my own management. In fact I’m taking care of other artists, so I split myself in two directions.
PC: How many albums down the track are you now?
GM: Just brought out my third, Woman.
PC: Are you getting pretty excited when you get the finished project in your hand?
GM: Yeah, always, because albums for me are a project that is not just about the music, it’s about packaging. I do all my own artwork for the album, and I have a lot of my painting art in amongst the artwork. I design my own website, it’s very much a creative process. I go through the process, create the album, come out of it, to promote it. It’s an era, and it’s all about the woman. It’s all about that, and what I mean by that, growing up as a woman and what my feelings are in relationships and myself in the world and that’s what the album’s about, so I live it. It’s like a 24 hour theatre experience, it’s my life.
PC: So from the actual start of this album, to actually winding up the finished product in your hand, what’s the time frame?
GM: Very quick on this one, in fact even ‘Temperamental Angel’. This year I recorded from January to March on ProTools in two studios actually, some in North Hollywood for the band stuff, and then for the solo stuff a small home studio. So January, February, March, April was mastering and packaging, by May it was done, but I didn’t bring it out until August. I sat on it for a little while, because I actually went on a tour up north to San Francisco and Seattle promoting ‘Temperamental Angel’ and by the time I got back from there I did a little conference at UCLA called ‘Songs Live Expo’, which is pretty much like Australian music week and by October I brought it out.
PC: So who will we be hearing from in the future?
GM: There’s a Finnish composer who writes a little like Bjork without any vocals, instrumentalist, very ambient, new age, meets punk almost, called Ari Inkilainen, and then Dina Gathe, who’s a Warrior Girl artist from California, she’s very much like Chrissie Hynde. They are all on www.Warriorgirlmusic.com. You can go on there and check out their music.
PC: Obviously then because of what you’ve just told us being self managed, you’re very involved with the contracts and the dealings.
GM: Actually I write my own contracts, and then I get my attorney to take a look at them. In fact when I do a song for a film, I’ll always dish them back my contract. I’ll add what they want, but it’s always for me.
PC: So what are some of the pit falls for artists?
GM: Signing away your publishing. Don’t! “In perpetuity”: very bad word. “You can use my songs for ever and ever”. Uhhh… no. I love the “Most favored nations” idea which is making sure I’m getting paid the same as anybody else who’s getting the same deal. Just giving the power away, watch that. Always have a second person overlook a contract; never just sign something on your own. It could even be your parents, I don’t care. Just someone with an extra eye to look for ‘things’. Contracts are always one sided, even though it’s supposed to be two sided. You can always change a contract so everyone is happy.
PC: How negotiable is changing a contract when you’re an unsigned artist and haven’t really got a lot of bargaining power?
GM: It depends on who you’re playing with or dealing with. Say a big management agency or record company wants to give you a big deal, sometimes it’s hard to negotiate what you want to do especially if they’re paying a lot of money and you’re just providing the talent. No matter what you should always have an attorney to look at it. You can negotiate, even if it’s the small aspects. I think when it comes to signing a record deal, if you can’t negotiate the financial side of it, definitely negotiate the creative side of it, and make sure you have creative control. They are also people, their objective is to make money because they’re a business, and you are an artist that wants to be fulfilled as an artist, but you’ve also got to think about it as a business as well. You’ve got two things at stake and they’ve only got one, making money.
PC: What about some words of advice for somebody starting out. You said you made a lot of mistakes in your early days, what is the one thing that you could say to somebody, “This is the thing you should most be aware of.”?
GM: Firstly I don’t know if they were mistakes, I was naïve, but all my experiences have fulfilled me and brought me to where I am today, so I don’t think I could say “I don’t think I should’ve done that” but the best thing to look out for are people who think that they can take you somewhere. Don’t ask for anyone else’s authority for you to be able to do what you want to do. So many people are looking for wisdom from other people thinking they’re going to make it happen, you think you need a manager, you need an agent, you need a record company; you don’t. You need yourself. The rest will come if it’s necessary.
GILLI'S DAY OFF
PC: Finally describe the Gilli Moon day off?
GM: I go rollerblading down the Santa Monica Promenade, go to the markets, watch T.V. My favorite pastime, which I never get to do, is lying on the couch and channel surfing, not finding anything there, but I love going through and being a zombie.
PC: What shows do you stop at?
GM: Stupid ones like ‘Friends’.
PC: Maybe when we’re watching Baywatch we should look out for you? We might see you rollerblading past!
GM: That’s right. It is made at Santa Monica.
Gilli Moon’s new album ‘Woman’ is an indie out through all music stores
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