On His Third Album, Allday Grows Up
"I've certainly looked back on things I've done, and been like 'oh God, that was so bogan'."
“I’ve certainly looked back on things I’ve done, and been like ‘oh God, that was so bogan’,” Allday says. “But I also don’t want to try escaping who I am, just to sit up in an ivory tower. That’s not useful for me or listeners.”
Allday, aka Tomas Gaynor, is a self-professed bogan, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to Australia’s favourite past-time: cultural cringe. Growing up in Adelaide (“the hills, but not those Hills”), Gaynor says he was always distinctly aware of his class standing, the small divides between him and the kids at school. “I have struggled with that a bit,” he says. “By the time I was a teenager, I was very aware of my class.”
Humour’s one way to ease that inner tension; and you find it throughout Allday’s music, which pokes fun at himself. Ever since his first mixtapes in 2011, Gaynor’s played with being a bit of a dirtbag — lyrics like ‘eating pussy like a pelican‘ are a piss-take, especially in his distinctly Australian-flecked flow. Hell, even one of his sweetest love songs is called ‘Send Nudes’.
Musically closer to the likes of Yung Lean and other early low-fi Soundcloud rappers than the juggernauts of Australian hip-hop, Allday’s always been somewhat of an outsider to the scene. But where rappers thought the joke was on them, he says he was just speaking in the language he knew, a combination of what he heard — the hip-hop he listened to and the ratbag jokes he and friends made.
“Australian culture is very self-deprecating, whereas hip-hop is very self-aggrandising, but not for the reasons an outsider to hip-hop might think,” he says. “When people are bragging in hip-hop it serves a purpose — it comes from an oppressed culture and people in America — and that’s the purpose it served for me growing up.”
His third album, released this July, is called Starry Night Over The Phone. Sonically, it’s smoother — a lean into atmospheric pop (largely produced by Kllo’s Simon Lam, a master of moody synths), with lead trop-pop esque single ‘Restless’ even featuring The Veronicas. But the biggest change is the weight of it; you won’t find much bragging across Gaynor’s verses (well, there is a song called ‘Best Life’), and he jokingly calls it “pretty emo, hey?”. Again, Gaynor’s being self-deprecating: a better word than ’emo’ for Starry Night…is honest.
‘I Was Like Nemo, I Was In The Fucking Deep Blue’
Written and recorded in LA, where Gaynor’s lived since 2016, Starry Night…‘s an album coloured by moving to a city famously hard to feel at home in. Homesickness runs throughout; if not directly, in the way it tonally feels.
“I was hoping other people would feel it — this sort of suburban dreamy thing was definitely something that I tried to cultivate, because that at the moment was what I’m enjoying trying to create,” he says. “LA just made me think about the first time I moved house which was Adelaide to Melbourne and then I was in this space alone and I didn’t really make friends — and then I did the same thing again.”
“And LA is such a place of ambition and dreams — and broken dreams, half the time people are going after their goals and half the time people who have had their dreams crushed, which makes for a weird dynamic.”
Starry Night can be a little melancholic, then. Songs like ‘See You When I See You’ establish that sense of distance, where Gaynor can’t help but make vague promises to friends over a reverb-heavy melody — a trademark of Lonelyspeck, the fellow Adeladian who features and produced the track. It began as a ‘mini poem’ about Adelaide, which was a new process for Gaynor. As was the whole album, really.
“Between the first and the second album I was going through a huge identity crisis,” he says. “[But] by the time I released [Speeding] I was in a very happy place. Then with the move to Los Angeles, I didn’t want it to be another two years. But [it took time] just because maybe of the practical elements — getting adjusted and meeting the right people to work with — but it was a lot of growing up, I think.”
Specifically, it was working out what Gaynor wanted to say. He tells me he wanted to avoid clichés, those bars he’d previously used because they fit in the flow and sounded right, if not particularly him.
“I didn’t want to repeat the same sort of things that I had in the past, like what some would say are the tropes of rap music,” he says. “Maybe I didn’t beat all the tropes of rap music but I’ve removed a few. [Just] some of the earlier stuff where I’d be like ‘Girls girls girls, weed weed weed’.”‘
“I mean there’s definitely a lot of girl stuff but it’s more like feelings, rather than girls for the sake of girls.”
“I mean there’s definitely a lot of girl stuff but it’s more like feelings, rather than girls for the sake of girls….You don’t do it to objectify women, you do it as a script of rap music. And I found myself doing that, and I don’t as much relate to that [anymore].”
At the same time, he doesn’t want to be the melancholy rapper. As you’d know if you follow him on Insta or Facebook, Allday is funny — he was a stand-up before his rap career took him in a new direction — and for him, it’s important to balance that.
“I mean honestly, [when I wrote Starry Night] I was in a really sticky relationship, and one of my best friends had passed away,” he says. “I was dealing with a really difficult year. I feel like now I want to make a celebration album, I don’t know if I can, I don’t if it’s in me. Maybe my music is just dark.”
“To do happy stuff is hard, but you don’t want to rely on sadness just because you think it makes you cool, because it doesn’t. If you can do uplifting stuff or all the other moods between happy and sad — and you do it well — that makes you good.”
Allday’s third album, Starry Night Over The Phone, is out now. He’ll play shows in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne this August, supported by Mallrat, E^ST and JXN.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.