Harvey Sutherland: “I’m not on TikTok talking into my phone, I’m just trying to make songs that resonate with people”

The Melbourne producer talks “neurotic funk”, his long-gestating debut album ‘Boy’, the federal election and more

“Everything feels so fucking turbo right now,” says Harvey Sutherland, reclining with a beer in a sunny Melbourne courtyard, a blissfully un-turbo setting to talk about his debut album ‘Boy’. Melbourne’s lanky, wiry-haired, jazz-doof overlord has the air of a man who has arrived at his destination in just about one piece.

“I don’t know about you but I’m still a bit shell-shocked; things have irrevocably changed.”

Harvey Sutherland is the dance music project of Mike Katz, a self-confessed over-thinker who made his 10-track record in a “circular loop between myself, my studio and my psychotherapist”. It’s made for a genre Katz has coined “neurotic funk”; the sly nod to Krautrock pioneers Neu! is the cherry on top of the jittery cake.

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Katz is reflecting on the hectic nature of 2022 through the prism of his track ‘Age of Acceleration’. “It feels even more pertinent now than when I wrote it during lockdown. Is a jaunty jazz funk track the soundtrack to the pointy end of capitalism? Is that my contribution?” Over-thinker indeed.

“I’ve had more gigs cancelled due to climate change than the pandemic”

Katz became Harvey Sutherland in 2013 and quickly became the name on everyone’s hips after his squelchy, vibey ‘Bermuda’ release on MCDE Recordings was supported by Jamie xx, Bradley Zero and Gilles Peterson. He convened an unconventional live band with Tamil Rogeon (electric violin), Graeme Pogson (drums) and Katz himself on keys, synths and torso-twisting. They slayed Meredith Music Festival, Glastonbury Festival, Nuits Sonores and London’s Jazz Café, and while in Old Blighty they recorded a career-making live set for Resident Advisor. Then Katz busted up the band to start something different.

After lying low for a year Katz released the exceptional ‘Superego’ single through his own Clarity Recordings label. This resumed another hot streak with remixes for artists like Tycho and The Lazy Eyes and then work on Genesis Owusu’s multi-award winning album ‘Smiling With No Teeth’. Meanwhile, Katz was chipping away at his own Serious Artist Album™, that itch electronic musicians long to scratch.

‘Boy’ was recorded between London, Los Angeles and Katz’s own Swimming Pool Studios in Fitzroy. There are plenty of mood swings over 10 tracks, which speak to the environments it was recorded in. On ‘Feeling of Love’ you can feel the LA heat and collaborator Dâm-Funk’s positive energy coursing through. “It was nice to have that kind of foil. He is undeniable,” Katz says, before busting out into a sing-song of Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters’ ‘Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive’.

Conversely, ‘Type A’ combines rock’n’roll and dance music (often a fraught proposition) with sos – the lead singer of Melbourne’s CLAMM – snarling “My ingenuity all adrenaline / My insecurity is all genuine.” Katz explains it further: “It’s an anthem to over-achievement.”

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And speaking of overachievement – first single and opening track ‘Jouissance’ is chameleonic, the song people will still be talking about in decades’ time. It works equally in discotheques, fields and loungerooms, scurrying along on a 141bpm Motorik beat, guided by the Korg MS-20. The song is about eked-out ecstasy, a tantric banger.

“Your words, not mine,” Katz sniggers, beverage nearly spouting out his nostrils.

“It’s not showy. I was listening to Cluster and Krautrock things. The process of making it was actually the most natural and strangely easy, because it’s a one-take noodle and then I worked out those melodies. It felt very holistic,” he says.

‘Jouissance’ is inspired by underappreciated Melbourne producer and composer Kirkis.

“I was obsessed with his wavy pop songs, I wanted to make stuff like that,” Katz admits. “I captured in four minutes [on ‘Jouissance’] what I was getting at in my head, what I was talking about in therapy – the delayed gratification. There was something in the arrangement and something in the sort of the tension that just felt right.”

‘Slackers’ has a similar impetus with a goofier vibe, sounding like The Wiseguys kicking the doors down at Heavenly Social club in London circa 1997 and offering Liam Howlett a bump.

“I wanted to make a Fatboy Slim, big beat record which is really antithetical to the kind of house music I usually make,” he says.

“’Slackers’ was a bit of a lockdown thing, I was just in the studio just stuffing around with my distortion pedals and looking for some fucking serotonin,” he sniffs. “It was the depths of winter and I was trying to find a pleasure centre.”

‘Holding Pattern’ stretches him even further, is that a lead vocal we can hear?

“Yes. Bjenny Montero was meant to sing on it but he fucked off to Paris or something.”

“[The Federal Government] didn’t want to fund the arts and the latest budget shows that they do not plan to fund the arts”

While it may feel like a leap, Sutherland points out he’s been doing “‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ on stage for a while. I’ve been hiding in plain sight.” ‘Holding Pattern’ is a loungey, sax-sprinkled number, very Boz Scaggs. “We actually do a cover of ‘Lowdown’ in the live show,” he says, raising a flirty eyebrow.

“I was in a very [Todd] Rundgren mindset at that moment. I wanted to make a little bit of a whiny beta male pop song which was to a degree some self-examination of my behaviour, y’know, how I had treated girlfriends,” he says. “It’s as much as I’m ever gonna overshare. I’m not on TikTok talking into my phone, I’m just trying to make songs that resonate with people and maybe advance progressive thought.”

Katz also takes lead vocals on the passive aggressively titled ‘Michael Was Right About You.’ He pauses, then comes clean: “That’s something my girlfriend said to me. And she was right.”

“I’ve been singing that song in our show too,” he says, artfully turning the conversation towards the imminent album tour.

Harvey Sutherland Boy album interview
Harvey Sutherland. Credit: Daniel Topete

Shows are back, even if Katz has had more issues with Mother Nature than COVID:“I’ve had more gigs cancelled due to climate change than the pandemic. We didn’t get to play Houghton Festival in the UK in 2019 due to a typhoon. It was gonna be this great moment between Floating Points and Four Tet on the main stage on the last day.”

Katz is vocal on his social media about the ineptitude of the Federal Government and their lack of policy tackling environmental issues – and is open about “trying to sort of reckon with” the fact that the Harvey Sutherland project received $55,600 from the Federal Government for an autumn tour via the RISE Fund.

“I decided I’m going to use that [platform] to tell people not to vote for this government anymore. It’s very important we get rid of these cunts,” he says, reserving the only c-bomb in our hour-long chat for ScoMo and his cronies.

“They didn’t want to fund the arts and the latest budget shows that they do not plan to fund the arts. So y’know, what, is it really? It’s just funnelling money into swing seats! It’s the neoliberal agenda. It’s a real ‘fuck you’ energy, very Trumpy, they’re gaslighting us.”

Harvey Sutherland has six shows in the lead-up to the election where he can soapbox, including one on the actual night Australia decides, May 21, at The Lab in Adelaide. With any luck he’ll be able to announce a new government during the encore.

He’ll follow that with two special home-town sets at Melbourne Recital Centre for RISING Festival, where he insisted they build a dancefloor over existing seats. Tickets sold out in days.

Sutherland is feeling the turbo-ness of an industry trying to make up for two lost years by working at double speed – and he’s down for the ride. “I want to be able to play live at festivals, I want to DJ in clubs,” he declares, dropping his neurosis and embracing the funk. “I want to do it all.”

Harvey Sutherland’s ‘Boy’ is out April 29 through Clarity Recordings/Virgin Music Australia. He tours Australia from May 6 – find dates and info here

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