Sye McRitchie is a surfer, an actor, a model and a singer-songwriter. He is an eccentric looking, one-of-a-kind rocker. And, according to him, he’s made it.
But what is “making it”? For starters, it’s one of the most terrifying combination of words you can throw at a musician. It’s synonymous with success. Is it, therefore, the ultimate goal? The reason they do what they do? Do things get real only at this point? Does everything that came before suddenly disappear?
We all have a talent, it’s just that some people choose to ignore it while others choose to embrace and own it.
Sye McRitchie is the latter.
Sye is a quirky, make-up wearing creative from Sydney’s Bondi. He doesn’t seem to care about “making it”, but he does things well. You can sense his devotion to music. He is not the only artist worth an ear, in fact, there are a lot of amazing artists out there. But not a lot of artists can say that they live off their art. This is exactly why Sye remains a rarity in the ever-shifting micro-environment of the Sydney music scene. “I usually play about three to four gigs a week, from Thursday to Sunday,” he said with a little grin on his face, as if he feels like he is part of an elite crew. Which he almost is, given the closure of so many iconic live venues – the latest victim last month was the Lansdowne Hotel, which closed after 90 years of gigs. Consequently, the other artists who are still trying to make it are moving to Melbourne or, if the climate there isn’t appreciated, Byron Bay, which will hide them for years as well as provide them with the pleasure and vices of the hippy crowd.
Some might assume that four gigs a week is enough to live a comfortable life, but it’s a constant struggle. A 30 to 45 minute set is days of preparation and organisation, with determination and passion driving every bit of detail to complete what needs to be done on stage and in studio.
Tonight is gig night. We are in Sye’s car on our way to Beams Festival in Sydney. He recalls some of the good gigs and good vibes that he feels honoured to have been a part of. He’s played in a few bands in the last two decades, but his most famous was Kill The Capitol, which although no longer exists, was big in 2006. Today, his sound barely resembles the hard rock style of those days.
We drive into the carpark and stop the car near the main stage to unload the gear. Once we’ve finished, Sye decides to pull his favourite trick. He takes off the plates of the car and parks it almost in the middle of a nearby one-way street. He isn’t remotely stressed when getting out of his car that sits on a random piece of concrete, and barely checks for the police.
The security guard is watching. “Ballsy,” he said. There is definitely a kind of freedom to Sye’s lifestyle as if he decided long ago that he wouldn’t acknowledge the rules people usually live by.
“Artists don’t always play by the rules, and neither does Sye,” said his friend, 70-year-old Jack Hannan. Jack met Sye 17-years-ago, and since then, the two have developed a father/son type relationship, because of the age difference. “The kid is an act. He sings, acts and also paints interesting things,” he said with a fatherly pride.
Back at the festival, Sye drifts around, figuring out where he has to perform, chatting softly with the crew, reminding them of what was to happen in a few hours.
“I’m playing at 6pm, come, see me if you want!” he said to a bunch of people I assumed were randoms, until I realised they were his friends who he has made while being on the road and in the music circuit.
According to Jack, Sye could be seen as your archetypal rock’n’roll lad, but he’s not. “He’s really good at managing money – very few artists and musicians are good at managing money,” Jack said. As a musician myself, I know that it’s true – musicians don’t deal with money very well. It’s not cool to even acknowledge it.
Jack, who is also a singer and worked as a music publicist way before digital technology dominated the music scene, sees Sye as a poet, more than a singer. “Us singer/songwriters are the poets of the 21st century,” he said. It’s true that Sye is lyrical and has good diction, but it is also conveyed uniquely with his classically trained voice mixed in with his quirky, mature and charmingly chaotic nature.
Will he go down the typical singer/songwriter path to write songs; play gigs; get noticed; get a manager; play more gigs; sign a record label deal; record an album; play bigger gigs and repeat?
“He doesn’t seem to be anxious to follow that path,” said Jack.
Six pm has rolled around. Sye is standing on stage with his guitar. And he opens his mouth. Sye has a voice that you can put anywhere. It’s strong, controlled and yet edgy. You would almost expect to hear such a voice on a Saturday night seeing The Phantom Of The Opera at the State Theatre.
The best example of this is in his song Nanoka Noise. Sure, he could sing anywhere, but he remains unique thanks to the way the notes come out of him. Every sound reflects a bit of his innocence, yet has an edge of the rare, colourful and mesmerising chaos that surrounds him.
Ryan Schurman, musician and fan, describes Sye’s music as eclectic. “His music has many different levels, it’s not your typical verse/chorus, solo rock music. Bipolar rock! that’s what it is,” he said.
If you were to see him at Coles, you would probably pause buying your bread and milk to get a better look at this creature, so you didn’t miss the opportunity to feel better about the fact that you feel mentally sane in comparison.
After a 30 minute set, Sye walks off stage. He has one more set to go before he can call it a night and head to the bar. He doesn’t head backstage though, instead he wanders back out into the crowd to talk to more people. As Ryan said, “It’s not about the success, it’s about the people you meet along the way.”
Debriefing after the gig, Sye said he’s happy with how it went. “The future looks bright,” Sye told me. At the end of the day, why wouldn’t it? If you do what you love and things keep coming your way, as small or as big as they are, you’ve made it my friend. – Niuhiti Gerbier
Top image provided by Kim Queen, Sye McRitchie’s manager.