“I’m kind of a Sydney scene apologist…”
Papaya Tree are a fresh offering in Sydney’s music scene. Despite the fruity connotations, the name Papaya Tree is actually a play on the legal term ‘Proprietary Limited’.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had Papaya in my life,” says lead singer, Lee McDermott.
The sextet squeezes together their own genre mix of rock-jazz-funk-alternative fusion, and despite all the buzzwords it absolutely works.
We wrangled half of the band, Jack Johnston (guitar), Zac Olsen (saxophone) Lee McDermott (vocals/guitar), to have a chat. As we waited for the latter two to join, I commented to Jack how enjoyable this hold music was.
“That’s the best feedback I’ve had,” he told me. He had just re-strung his guitar and was tuning it. Oops.
Having just wrapped up as support for the East Coast leg of Melbourne jazz-attack, Sex On Toast’s national EP tour, Papaya Tree are rolling on with this momentum, releasing their third single Youth today (surprisingly, it has nothing to do with phone hold music).
It’s no newsflash that Sydney’s live music receives a lot of negative press. It’s an industry that, despite many efforts, often seems exclusive. How do emerging bands even start to break into it?
“Getting out there and trying to play as many venues as possible,” was Zac’s answer, after having joined the band just over a year ago.
“Before that [joining the band] there was no recorded music… there was this little… cult gig kind of following,” Zac added. Papaya Tree’s perseverance and philosophy in establishing themselves as Sydney-venue regulars is as interesting as their soundscape, and clearly, both are working.
Lee jumps in to back Zac up, “I’m kind of a Sydney scene apologist, a lot of people give it a lot of slack and say ‘oh lockout laws this is shit,’
“The negative attitude, it doesn’t help anything…
“You’ve just got to know where to find it,” Lee went on, “…it still exists and I think it’s a really good community and I’m pretty stoked to be a part of it.
“I know a lot of people are too.”
This is exactly what’s most exciting about the challenge for musicians in Sydney at the moment – it encourages the creative to become more creative.
“Because of like this whole movement…more people have banded together to create things…more of a DIY sort of scene.
“I feel like there are bands who have tightened together and are really helping each other out,” Lee surmised, with Zac and Jack in total agreement.
Papaya Tree are a mix of formally trained musicians with self-taught lead, Lee.
Zac explained that, “Lee being the lyricist it’s really cool to have…We all live different lives but we’re all a part of this unique Con [the Conservatorium of Music] circle, whereas Lee’s like done his law degree but he’s also a mortician…”
Yep, a mortician.
“The band members have the musicality to figure out what emotion that is and then put that into a part,” Lee added.
Zac’s insight into transforming Lee’s lyrics into music reflects the camaraderie amongst the band.
“It feels way more personal. All the lyrics are more reflective of your life which also has an impact on how we perceive them.
“I found it really interesting hearing the lyrics to all the songs, and all the different stories behind the songs, I really dig it.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, we should have interviews more often,” Lee responded – although this was a conference call, I was happy to facilitate this bromance.
Lee’s lyrics aren’t typical either. They’re off-beat in subject but catchy as hell.
“I look for the weirdness and the niches of my life and write about that as opposed to really broad and general themes of love and forgiveness and happiness… I try and go for weird shit…” he explained.
Their single Radar is case in point.
“Radar is about the homeless people outside Downing Centre Courts.
“I used to be a court reporter and I’d see the homeless people down there…I’d have conversations with them…” Lee recalled, “they’d be really appreciative of me having a conversation…
“The song is kind of a reflection on that we’re all people, we’re all on different paths but we’re in the same race.”
Jazzy, catchy and insightful. Does Papaya Tree not tick all the boxes?
Lee has me pretty sold, to be honest: “Life’s too short and money’s too tight to watch a boring band… A visually stimulating band, that’s what makes a night out.”
“Having six occupies the stage a bit more,” Jack added, “we’re all kind of everywhere on stage, we move around and dance… I think that’s part of the whole thing.”
“I’m not going to let them down, I kind of feel like it’s our duty,” Lee mused finally.
I can confirm that Papaya Tree delivers in their duty to a live performance, but there is something they’d like you to know…
“People bring fruit to our shows, it’s really weird,” Zac confessed.
So, keep your eyes peeled to see Papaya Tree at their Youth launch parties.
Just don’t bring the fruit, people.
Friday 30 November, Three Eight Six @ Chasers, Melbourne
Saturday 1 December, Waywards Newtown, Sydney