Same Vibe, New Sounds: Jamie MacDowell interview

Fest chats to Jamie MacDowell about making music with friends.

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Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum
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Published 08 Feb 2019

One of Australia’s most successful touring musical duos met in a circus troupe where Jamie MacDowell was an acrobat and Tom Thum was a breakdancer and beatboxer. "We toured for five years together in the Tom Tom Crew," says MacDowell, "it was an organic move to working together."

This extensive touring history allowed the duo to build up some powerful industry connections. "Our first proper tour was in Edinburgh, because we were lucky to have plenty of connections from the Tom Tom Crew." Seven years after that first tour, their sound has evolved, but their spirit hasn’t.

"I started as a boy who only played acoustic and sang songs about girlfriends," laughs MacDowell. "Now I’ve started to move into using an electric [guitar] sometimes, and Tom has started singing more, and moving away from his bass-heavy beatboxing." The shift in style and gravitation towards each other is a testament to the collaborative nature of their craft.

"A big part of our shows always has been ad libbing on stage. I think this is a huge part of the reason why we grew closer in our output," MacDowell says. "We have the same rhythm in our heads and bodies, but a different way of getting it out." So what exactly is their style? "It’s not easy to describe, but it’s kind of an organic, hip-hop, funk, acoustic, lyrical mess," says MacDowell. "It’s an odd yet successful collaboration."

Although MacDowell and Thum have always had different ways of expressing themselves musically, their influences have a great amount of crossover. "We both love old soul; Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack, and neo soul too, stuff like Allen Stone," MacDowell says. "We both grew up listening to rap, and Tom’s beatboxing came from there. I listened to a lot of Jason Mraz and John Mayer on guitar, too."

This year, MacDowell and Thum are bringing two other friends to the Fringe for As Yet Unheard. From the UK, singer Billy Boothroyd is "an absolute powerhouse; his voice is almost alien," states MacDowell. Beatboxer Ball-Zee, also from the UK, rounds off this quartet. "The four of us are close mates, and have been for ages," MacDowell says of the new collaboration, "there are possibilities to build bigger sounds and also much softer music. There’s so much more potential for variation, but with the same attitude, philosophy and energy."

The duo will also be performing regularly at the late night rave Alex Rossi & Friends: The After Party, with a range of other artists across the season.