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Don’t be fooled – Melbourne Indie Voices is nothing like any choir you’ve ever seen before.
What started out as a meeting of roughly 20 people in Sophia Exiner’s (who makes music under the moniker Phia) Fitzroy loungeroom back in 2016 has, just three years later, grown to become something phenomenal. The roots of Melbourne Indie Voices is sweet and simple – Exiner teamed up with producer/songwriter Joshua Teicher to host a weekly drop-in that focussed on highlighting the work of contemporary songwriters in a community singing environment.
Now the pair welcome singers (and by singers they mean anyone with a voice – no professional training necessary) from all over Melbourne, featuring 140 regular members alongside a steady stream of new arrivals. While the choir has grown and changed, the two founders’ roles have remained – Phia looks after composing new and imaginative choral arrangements based around their favourite indie tunes, and Teicher, or Josh The Cat, accompanies them on electric guitar.
Since forming, Melbourne Indie Voices has performed on radio and TV, during Melbourne Music Week, at the Melbourne Museum for White Night, has collaborated with the likes of Paul Kelly and Paul Dempsey and shared a stage with Ali Barter. Like we said, Melbourne Indie Voices isn’t your regular singing group.
Bridging the gap between professional and amateur musicians while also showcasing the work of incredible contemporary songwriters from Australia and abroad sounds like a whole lot of fun to us.
Fresh from supporting Stella Donnelly at both of her sold-out Corner Hotel shows, selling out one of their own headline shows at Forum Melbourne, and locking in a second date, we sat down with founder and choirmaster Phia to get the inside scoop on the Melbourne Indie Voices phenomenon.
Where did the idea for Melbourne Indie Voices first come from?
It all happened a bit accidentally. When I was living and making music in Berlin with my music project Phia, I was always looking for extra work between being on tour. A friend asked me if I’d be interested in starting a choir because she missed being in one. I’d never led a choir before, but because it was Berlin where you try anything once, I thought ‘Why not!’
I discovered I loved leading choirs. I really enjoyed arranging songs I loved and sharing them with a group. When I moved back to Melbourne I knew I wanted to start another choir. The name came to me while I was still in Berlin. I wanted it to focus on mainly Australian artists and show people it wasn’t about singing pop music – it was about celebrating independent songwriters and left of centre artists.
What can we expect from the upcoming Forum performances?
It’s a celebration of who we are and what we do. Expect luscious harmonies, clap choruses, full-theatre singalongs, and the best of indie and contemporary music, interpreted in choir form.
The song list for The Forum show has us very excited. How does Melbourne Indie Voices approach the material? Are these faithful renditions or is there a new spin on it?
When I arrange a song for MIV, it’s from a place of real love and reverence for the song. I’m stripping the production away so that the lyrics and melody have pride of place. Hearing 100 people sing the lyrics to a contemporary song often gives the lyrics a new resonance or power. I love that some people who may have never heard of some of the artists we sing are introduced to them in this format and then they might go and seek out the artist’s material.
Our co-leader Josh Teicher is an amazing guitarist who accompanies all the songs. He’s a bit of a tech-head with an incredible array of guitar pedals which he uses really imaginatively to support all the voices.
How has Melbourne Indie Voices grown since it first began?
When we got back from Berlin I started a Facebook event for the first rehearsal, I made it free and it was in my front room in Fitzroy. Word spread pretty quickly. Now we are running three regular nights with 240 singers all up.
Melbourne Indie Voices has performed all over the city – from Melbourne Music Week to Melbourne Town Hall. How have you found audiences reacting?
Audiences always have a real smile on their faces when watching Melbourne Indie Voices performances. There’s something so joyous about a huge group of people singing in harmonies. Our song choices always take people by surprise and we’re not afraid to take some risks. We sang ‘Girlie Bits’ by Ali Barter and ‘Pynk’ by Janelle Monaé at an International Women’s Day event which went down a real treat.
Melbourne Indie Voices has teamed up with the likes of Paul Kelly, Paul Dempsey, Jen Cloher, and Ali Barter. We see there are some internationally acclaimed secret guests lined up for The Forum shows. Without giving too much away – what can you tell us?
We really wanted to link up with some artists who have inspired us, and we’re so stoked when they said yes. They’re artists who are killer songwriters and performers, and it’s going to be such a powerful experience to hear them backed by 200+ singers.
For any budding vocalists, how can we get involved? What skills or experience do we need?
No auditions, no experience necessary, just a love of indie music. I run the choir with Josh and we run Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights by the term. If you’re keen, head to our website.
Melbourne Indie Voices will perform two shows at Forum Melbourne on Sunday 27 October – the second show is on sale now via Ticketmaster.com.au.