Electro-pop duo, Electric Fields, open the Perth International Arts Festival’s Chevron Gardens on Friday, February 9, with a serve of their transcendent and mesmerising modern soul. Appearing along with the duo will be Arnhem Land beat poets Skinnyfish Sound System, remixing their tunes with live didgeridoo.
Since the release of debut EP, Inma, in 2016, singer Zaachariaha Fielding and producer Michael Ross have taken their blend of stunning vocals and emotionally powerful electronica – often featuring Fielding’s native Anangu languages – around the world, having been invited to play at festivals as far as China and Scotland, as well as in Indonesia and at Womadelaide.
The international attention hasn’t phased the duo, though, Fielding declaring that, “I think ‘cause we’re just so caught up in our craft at the moment, we keep forgetting that that exists. It’s just these interviews that remind us that they exist.”
Ross quickly adds, “we definitely get a buzz when – every now and then it’ll be like, ‘oh, are you guys interested in coming to China?’, or ‘are you guys interested in coming to Washington DC?’, or ‘do you guys want to come over to Poland?’ I just… how do they know who we are?” he half-jokes.
Making intensely personal music and finding it touching people on the other side of the world, the young duo are doing a great job balancing their self-belief and their obvious awe.
“It’s amazing,” Fielding says. “In a sense, the shows we get invited to, the people that are in the audience are spreading the word as well. So it’s like, the people are also helping us get there as well… helping us get heard.”
“I think they’re also getting something different,” adds Ross, esoterically. “It’s not just a music performance, there is something else going on – and I think that will become more and more clear as we keep growing. Maybe there’s something that people in the audience are resonating with. It’s not just that they like the music, it’s also that it’s opening something up inside of them. Like, someone even said, ‘it was like going to a queer first nations church!’
“Has it been a steep learning curve?” he ponders thoughtfully about the past 18 months of touring massive stages around the world. “Well, yeah definitely, in the sense that if you’re alive, and you’re living your truth, you’re going to be learning. But at the same time, when music gives you life and is your favourite thing, it doesn’t feel like you’re in school. It doesn’t feel like you’re being taught something. It just feels like you’re growing.”
Spirituality is close to both Ross and Fielding’s hearts and pulses through their music and our discussion. Having become collaborators after Fielding’s somewhat nervous 2011 appearance on X-Factor, they share a comfortable rapport and a deep spiritual connection that is obvious even over the phone, the singer describing them as “spirit siblings.”
“I think we come from the same custom, I think, maybe,” he declares, garnering an enthusiastic, “totally” from Ross.
“It’s very spiritual,” Fielding continues. “We’ve both got different stories and come from different religious backgrounds, as well. And then we found our souls out of that… for me, I just found what I speak to, or what understands me.”
“What actually is very interesting,” Ross interjects, “is that Zaachariaha is very, very, very naturally in touch with unseen energy. Whereas basically, my religion is ‘I Don’t Know’. And if someone told me they do know, then I am incredibly sceptical. So if you do know something, I’m interested, but I’m not just going to believe you just ‘cause you said it.”
Ross baulks at declaring their journey a ‘search for knowledge’, in the process giving a startling example of how he and Fielding work together.
“’Search for knowledge’ sounds a bit earnest,” he dismisses. “What we actually do is literally go with whatever energy is in the room when we’re creating. So sometimes the energy – if you were to put it into English words – would be, ‘relax, have fun, you’re great, you’re awesome, you’re worthy’. Like, that’s just the feeling – but then sometimes the energy is, ‘holy crap, is there a dead person’s spirit in this room right now that Zaachariaha is channelling? Because she’s singing gibberish, but actually it sounds like a murdered woman coming back to confront her killer!’… and then we have a new track.”
“Like a summoning of non-fiction and a fiction, created with so many different layers and processed in the song,” Fielding summarises.
The positivity in their music is undeniable, no matter how you choose to explain it. Fielding’s voice – often compared to the legendary Nina Simone – soars majestically over Ross’s uplifting music, the two entwined and even greater than the sum of their impressive parts.
“I think that comes down to the fact that light is more powerful than darkness,” Ross says, before going on to reference their biggest single to date. “When you are seeking to engage in the deepest truths, the light – or the ‘dilly’, which means light in the Pitjantjara language – will throw the shade away. Hence why we are throwing some Shade Away.”
Singing in the Anunga Pitjantjara language hasn’t been an impediment to people around the country and the world enjoying Electric Fields’ tunes, says Fielding.
“They don’t understand it, but they can feel it. That’s what’s so good about music: they just feel it ‘cos of the way the melody is and [with] certain words I’ll try my best to give [them] that accurate feeling. Then when people from China and Scotland and all those others hear it they will sense that’s what it’s about – and they usually do.”
The message seems simple: positivity triumphs yet again. But it’s a little deeper than that…
“Yeah, it’s positive and it’s also dark as well,” Fielding adds. “Like Michael said, the light is very powerful, but the dark is very powerful as well. And what we do with them is we get them both together and find the balance and a middle to it.”
“I also think that the heavy, dark energy doesn’t necessarily mean bad energy,” adds Ross. “And the light, positive energy… it can mean good, but the last thing you want is to eat too much dessert, or pretend like there’s only day time, because half of everything is night. And night time is arguably the most beautiful time. Sometimes you have to literally be at the very, very bottom of the barrel to actually find truth, and then bring that up to the top.
“So, even though a song like Shade Away is very positive, it’s just like the most beautiful flower is grown in… let’s just say fertiliser, which does not have a beautiful fragrance, yet it is full of truth and nutrients. It just all works together. It is a balance. And to actually have a final product, which does bring positivity, I think we can be very proud of that.”
Fielding says that his earliest musical influences were via ABC TV’s Rage.
“That ‘90s sound. That’s what I can remember,” he recollects. “Where I’m at now with Electric Fields, with the Deep Forest, and then the whole Britney Spears thing, and then the whole soul, Whitney Houston, R&B vibes, all of that I connect from Rage, which sort of gave me a sense of music.”
“For me, when I was growing up, I was only allowed to listen to gospel music,” Ross explains. “Secular music wasn’t actually allowed in our home. We drove in a gospel bus which was covered in Jesus stickers. And of course, that’s the very church that told me that who I am naturally was wrong… so, interestingly, the music that I grew up with, was the very music that persecuted me for being gay.
“It’s still something I’m getting my head around, but there were a few people that managed to get through. I don’t know how, but Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Tracy Chapman, The Cranberries got through. And Deep Forrest got through. And interestingly, Deep Forest, even though Zaachariaha grew up in a different year, and a totally different culture, albeit on the same land mass, we both still found ourselves listening to Deep Forest. And now, some of our music references that feeling of the deepest human cultures with the most current of music.”
Despite all their impressive achievements to date, Electric Fields only have the one EP available. Fans rejoice: there is new music coming.
“We do have music on its way,” Fielding shares with an excited squeal. “We’re excited to hopefully release a single or two this year, and then an album. We have candy for the kids!”
As Fielding and Ross try to create new tracks and find time to record that album, they have a busy schedule to work around.
“Well, in the next six months,” explains Ross, “we’re playing Melbourne and Canberra. Then the fortnight after that we play Brisbane and Sydney. And then in the month after that there’s New Zealand, the Gold Coast, Poland, Germany and Canada, but we’re still finding out about Scotland, London, China and Washington DC.”
Electric Fields open the Chevron Festival Gardens on Friday, February 9, with Skinnyfish Sound System.