Single Gun Theory's Jacqui Hunt returns with CiiVe, a new collaboration with Brian Conolly

By Bob Gourley | Published on February 11, 2018
Jacqui Hunt of CiiVE

Best known as lead singer of pioneering Australian electronic band Single Gun Theory, Jacqui Hunt is back with a new project, CiiVE. It is a collaboration with Brian Conolly, whose background includes co-founding the digital audio company Lake Technology (now Dolby Australia). Ciive’s debut album, “My Giraffe,” showcases a laid-back, yet sophisticated style that fuses together digital and analog sounds. It provides the perfect foundation for Hunt’s always-powerful vocals. In the email interview, the duo discussed the origins and future of CiiVe.

How did you come to start working together?

Jacqui – “The first band I joined at age 17 was before Single Gun Theory, a four-piece pop punk band, and Brian was the guitarist. Much to my disappointment, he left the band to pursue his University studies and we went our separate ways. That band folded shortly afterward. After Brian left, Pete Carnac from SGT was in the loop for a short while, and then the band just disappeared like magic. Brian and I reconnected through social media many moons later. Brian was interested in building a studio, and I was looking for people to collaborate with, and keen to work with a guitarist/bass player, so eventually we reconnected with the view of seeing if we might like to collaborate on something. “

Brian – “Jacqui and I were Guinea Pigs. I was really stupid and left the band. It turned me into a computer scientist and it has taken a long time to recover.”

To what degree does the other work/projects that you’ve both been involved with influence this collaboration?

Jacqui – “As far as previous projects being an influence on CiiVE, I would say that for me, I was interested in producing a more traditional sounding album for our first project. IE : the use of guitars and live drums etc, because for me that was different since my work with SGT was 98% electronic and sample-based as far as the music side went, and also for my solo work, so I wanted a more organic backing track to my voice this time. To differentiate between my past. I think this is also true for Brian since he had been playing in punk-influenced bands. CIIVE is keen to produce a more electronic experimental work in the future, but I think we needed to start here, with voice and guitar or piano. Life was quite complicated at the time for us both, and perhaps this approach felt somewhat less complicated, to make something very simple and pure in sound. As honest as possible, not too tricked up. We are enjoying having some Dj’s remix some tracks, and we love having different versions of the same song available, it also gives us different options for how we might like to perform the tracks in a live situation….. although that’s not in the next few months, but on the “to do “list. We would both love to do that. …………It’s a bit like eating potato 3 ways i.e.: mashed, baked or fried. Chances are you have a favourite, and yet appreciate the other forms ! 🙂

Brian – “As with anything new, you take influences from your past and bring it in. In our case, while we met very young, we also had a massive gap in our lives where we never saw each other. This makes for a very interesting re-combination of initial familiarity yet also a completely different history. We synchronize now, with a great mix of organic and synthetic, analogue and digital.

Making ‘My Giraffe,’ what was the creative process and working relationship like?

Jacqui – “As far as the making of “my Giraffe “ goes, it was 90% pleasure. I leave a 10% for our flawed personalities and insecurities that we managed to contain between the two of us ( haha … well at least we hope so ) as Brian and I develop our working relationship, we are not as considered to each other as when we first began, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, to me it’s a more direct approach and it works both ways. We have a huge appreciation for each other’s abilities. We had fascinating time recording some elements of the album in Berlin, over the course of a couple of weeks. We worked with some incredible musicians, and engineers, so it was a great time for us, without distractions, being able to absorb the wonders of Berlin and interact with a variety of fellow artists, from different musical backgrounds. Ranging from electronic experimental to jazz to classical.

Brian took the iMac and we were able to fiddle on a few things from our airbnb apartment when we were not in the studio. We also needed some time out to eat spargel ….and get over the jet lag that flying from Sydney to Europe is fairly reliable for.

We then repeated the process in Sydney, recording and writing at a beach house, and also at the QUSP studio, and then handing the reigns over to Daniel Denholm to mix in Sydney. By this time we knew we were spent. It was now time to let go.

Brian – “It has been an intense poetic journey. We would travel and literally write lyrics on the fly together. Marking what we saw and felt. Reading them back is better than a photograph. I never knew how powerful that could be.”

What was the overall timeframe, from starting to collaborate to the finished album?

Jacqui – “Ciive formed about 5 years ago, and started writing with the view of creating an ep, then an album. We have many sketches and rough versions of tracks we have co-written. So in some ways, it took us five years to create this album, although the actual recording process and mixing took a couple of months. It means the next project will be a lot faster as we have some material we are both still very attached to that didn’t feel like the direction of this album, that didn’t match our emotional state I guess, so we decided we would hold them for another time. We knew we wanted to cut vinyl, make an album in the old sense of Side A to B listening experience…….we wanted to create that story, that was an important part of our expression. So that’s why some tracks we liked were pulled, probably the more commercial tracks! haha. The interesting thing is, the album sort of started to form itself, there was a sound coming through in the pace of the songs and the mood. It felt more organic, even though the album is probably 50 % analogue/ 50 % digital. For me, I am aware that it is not a joyous sounding record, more reflective, more internal, more of a private space. There are a couple of larger moments on the album, like the track BLEED YOUR LOVE, but overall it feels chilled to me.There had been some massive things to deal with on a personal level with my own relationship and family health, and I guess it didn’t feel like “party time”, and while I may have even longed for that, it was not coming out. So in the end, you know you are not entirely in control, these things have a life of their own, and I like that. I respect that. It’s mysterious. It’s a way of seeing that is is a collaboration, beyond yourself. In the end, the album is detaching from you, it has a life of its own.

Are there any major ways you feel the overall concept and music changed or evolved along the way?

Brian – “I think finishing the first record opens up a breathing space that allows you to look in new perspective. Definitely inspires more evolution to come.”

What made you choose the name CiiVE? What is the significance of the ii being lowercase while the rest uppercase?

“CiiVE sounded good. The two lower case I’s are like two people in a duo trademark”.

‘‘My Giraffe” is an interesting title. Is there a story behind that?

Jacqui – “The title…… actually, It was Daniel Denholm who said we should call the album “My Giraffe” and at the time we were happy to hear a suggestion since we were tossing around a few ideas and couldn’t settle, so we were quite happy for the input. We had the track “My Giraffe “ which has so many layers for us i.e. : a significant birthday of mine fell on Easter Sunday in 2016, and I decided I wanted to go to the zoo. Taronga  Zoo in Sydney gives you free entry on your birthday, so I thought this is as good a time as any. Eight of us headed to the zoo on a rainy day, and there was nothing to see as all the animals had headed to their shelters we discovered as we walked around the Sydney zoo, with our large umbrellas on that wet Sunday morning. I was feeling like this was not a great omen then much to our delight we came to the location of the Giraffes. They were the first animals we saw that day.There they stood, a family in their tall cave, peeking their heads out and then sauntering in their unusual smooth rhythm, made their way over to where the people stood, through a lovely fine mist of rain. We saw their extended eyelashes blink slowly, and they had this incredible otherworldly evolved serenity. We were all captivated. There is a symbolism in the giraffe that was fitting and healing to me, plus the symbolism of Easter Sunday, it seemed rather appropriate that the new project, could be titled “ My Giraffe “.

Brian – “These are the last two words on the fourth track “Giraffe”. The song stems from an experience at Taronga Zoo, where we visited on Jacqui’s birthday. Jacqui got in free. It was raining, and all the animals were hiding. Until we reached the tall cave of the Giraffe, where they elegantly and slowly walked out as we approached. Their lashing eyes made me melt. Now, visiting a zoo again after so much time, I was struck hard by their beauty. How was it possible that such a thing even exists? I know you see them in pictures but… are they real? Immediate inspiration for the song. Recorded live in Berlin and one of my favourite tracks for this album.”

You mentioned that the album is best listened to from start to finish. Could you discuss the process and importance of putting the track order together?

Jacqui – “The order of songs was constructed with what we considered to be the most upbeat and more accessible track i.e. track 1 side A, to last track side B the ending , the “goodnight”, “ I understand” ,” I love you” “ let it go “, “peace” “ breathe “. The end. Without saying those exact words, this was the feeling for me conveyed in the last track . IT”S OVER. We also considered the track length and how vinyl is cut, and the way the placement of tracks on the actual vinyl effects the sound as well as the duration. Also having it mastered by Mandy Parnell made us feel confident that we were in great hands for the vinyl production. Brian really was the one to manage this process, visiting and liasing with the pressing plant in the UK. It was an exciting process.”

Could you describe the studio set-up used in creating the album?

Brian – “We have a recording and rehearsal studio we call “Qusp”. It resides in a space that was once a photographic studio. The old darkroom that let in no light very conveniently transformed into a space that lets no sound out. With dampened, non-parallel walls, there are no odd resonances or nodes in this room, making it great for recording. Together with an oversized 80’s drum kit, guitar and bass amps, vocal PA, etc, it allows a garage band to play loud if they want. Something I do from time to time with some friends in my musical past. Great inspiration for other projects.

In a separate space, there is a lovely old Bechstein piano called ‘Albert’, named after Jacqui’s Grandfather. This beautiful grand is turning 100 next year, so something special will most likely come from that. This larger room is quieter than the dark room, in a more open, echoic space. I have some smaller practice amps in this room so I can play along with Jacqui, and it is here that we often seed interesting chord progressions to begin a new song. I play either guitar or bass, however, my favourite at present is the baritone tenor.

Both Jacqui and I have workstations to edit and create. We have identical audio software and plug ins, and share files as we build and record the songs. This process can go back and forth and change and evolve a song tirelessly, almost infinitely…. At some point, we have to hand it to someone like Daniel Denholm to finish. Bringing the third person in at the end has worked very well indeed. Working with Daniel has been brilliant.

It is also good to be out of the studio. This album had a period of recording in Berlin, with some wonderful local talent brought in. We also set up a simple recording system in a house on Pearl Beach. We literally recorded the waves from the house (!) in “Pearl of Love”. We plan to continue to do more writing like this, getting outside of the Qusp rooms.”

I see that you’re selling other items on your website. So CiiVE is a creative project that goes beyond music?

Brian – “Yes indeed. While music is at the core of what we are about, there are no rules in what we do. While Qusp is a music studio, and it is the name of our record label… I prefer to think of Qusp as a design label. CiiVE is the music and the brand, and Qusp is equivalent to a record label for design. CiiVE is a design duo. Anything could happen next.”

Our passion leads us, as we travel we discover new contributors to our design creations. We are developing new fragrances in France, porcelain in Spain. Each project inspired by fine art, beauty and quality.”

Now that the album is out, what is in the future for CiiVE?

Brian – “In future recordings I aim to experiment with some new audio technology, bringing in some of my digital signal processing background, from when I ran a business called Lake, that is now called Dolby Australia.”

The expansion of a CiiVE world as we explore new ventures. Experimenting as we go and hopefully bringing something into the world that others find a new experience.

Lots of ‘ex’s there… expansion, explore, experiment, experience… maybe I could add a few more … exasperating, extensive, exaggerating, exemplifying, executing, extra-terrestrialising, excuse me! Ha ha”

For more info on CiiVe, visit their official website at ciive.com.

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