Empty Fish Tank is the manifestation of a musical passion that Anthony Silvestrini describes as being part of his DNA. Given that he was constantly surrounded by music growing up, it is no surprise that he followed this passion. Beginning with the piano, Anthony started song writing 11 years ago. To hone his skills, he completed a Bachelor of Music degree at Western Sydney University. Throughout the degree he learned a lot about recording and performing, but as he described, “being able to talk honestly about music” and having an opportunity to be himself was central to his emerging identity as an artist. Importantly, it was at WSU that he met his bandmates.
Anthony’s first originals band was The Trobes. He explained, “we played pop/rock music and I wrote the songs for that project.” After he finished his degree, The Trobes started developing a heavier sound – “that’s when Empty Fish Tank was born – a project where I could still create pop music.”
Empty Fish Tank’s debut album was “Same Old Same Old” – “drawing from influences such as Wilco and Powderfinger”, and evoking a range of moods – with some songs having “a fun, joyous atmosphere featuring multiple vocal hooks and horn blasts” and others depicting “a warmer, more intimate tone highlighted by gentle acoustic guitar work and string lines to match.”
Anthony describes the new album “Commercial Music” as “an evolution from the debut album”. It was inspired by “that particularly icky strain of Madison Avenue, where instead of paying an artist for a well known song, they’ll write replica versions just different enough to be legally safe to use.”
Commercial Music is 11 varied indie-pop tunes – including the amphetamine hoedown “Good New For No One”, the orchestrated declaration of doubt “True Lies”, the pure-form 60s R & B “Nala”, the impostor rock “Jynx”.
Anthony produced the album with his brother Leonardo, and he involved band members and friends with aspects of the song writing. He reflected that this collaborative process made the songs “completely different to anything I could’ve ever composed”. A number of other musicians were involved in the recording processing, including Christopher Conroy on drums, Zach Manning on saxophones, Anthony’s cousin Michael on trumpet, one of his students on trombone, and a co-worker on strings. His brother Leo played and sang, plus all three members of the rock band Picture Perfect added “their magic and spice as well”.
When I started writing for ‘Commercial Music’, unbeknownst to me, I had written a whole album’s worth of this commercial music. Van Morrison, Wilco, Crowded House, Stephen Malkmus, Augie March, Neutral Milk Hotel, Paul Dempsey, The National – all major influences had been whittled down to their base elements. While working with my producer and brother Leonardo Silvestrini to mould the songs into my own voice, the initial conceptual accident stuck. We made ad jingles remixed from long-forgotten examples of the genuine article, and the album became an exploration of the line between art, commerce and what is considered “commercial” in today’s musical climate.
Anthony also enlisted the skills of Paul McKercher, a well-established and ARIA award-winning producer who has worked with Josh Pyke, Bertie Blackman, Papa Vs Pretty, Sarah Blasko, You Am I, Pete Murray, Motor Ace and Eskimo Joe. Anthony described having Paul McKercher mix the album as an honour.
The outcome is that this is the best of Anthony’s work so far, with “really well written pop/rock songs … expanding into other subgenres more such as folk, indie and film”.
I also got to witness Paul McKercher mixing the album and his entire process, which was a highlight for this album for sure.
As Anthony explained the recording process was “a D.I.Y labour of fun and love. Recording it at home, in my own time, meant there was lots of freedom and it was more casual, organising when it was best to record my bandmates. Also having Leo produce it added another dimension of collaboration I’ve never experienced before.”
Completely finishing songs, and playing them with the band for the first time are great; but my favourite part is easily the recording process. Getting it down and playing it back through the speakers, hearing the songs come to life, is the BEST! Experimenting, talking about sounds, that entire process leading ultimately to having the songs done is such a good feeling
Empty Fish Tank is sometimes a solo act, but Anthony does have musicians that join him when he’s doing a band gig – “Got Christopher on drums who was the drummer in The Trobes, plus other friends that are able to play the gig that I can count on. I like what John Butler does with his trio however, changing it every 2 releases and I plan to do this for the 3rd album I’m writing.”
One of Anthony’s most memorable gigs was supporting The Cockroaches at Rooty Hill RSL. He explained, it was a “sold out concert which is COOL but I’ve looked up to them and been influenced by them, so to play alongside The Cockroaches is a highlight.”
What advice do you have for developing musicians?
- Don’t record the 1st songs you’ve ever written, there are better songs to come!
- Work with a producer – they’ll help mould your songs in a way you wouldn’t have
- Don’t put in too much of your own money into the project, especially PR and advertising early on. If you want to, find a manager to assist you with that
- Less is more – Less gigs a month is better than tonnes
What does Western Sydney offer artists?
It offers beloved fans. Lots of the same awesome faces come along to my gigs and it’s a great feeling. It’s also a lot more relaxed in Western Sydney.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing musicians?
We need more venues! I think it’s STATE wide unfortunately but unless musicians have opportunities/venues, we can’t share our art ever.