There are places on this planet – whether mountain range, roaring oceanfront or inner-city mecca – that magnetise creativity. By the hand of fate or otherwise, their landscapes are woven into the fabric of visionary lives, with patterns repeating – artfully connected like bases in a DNA chain.
Sometimes they’re characterised by a gathering of creative souls. Other times they provide respite. The Greek island of Hydra seems to do both. Presided over by Eros, the Greek god of love, idolised by writer Henry Miller in the 30s, a destination for the likes of Mick Jagger, Sophia Loren, Allen Ginsberg and Pink Floyd; this is the culturally and technologically isolated outcrop in the Aegean Sea where Leonard Cohen made his home in the 60s. And it’s here that Mind Gamers, an unassuming supergroup comprised of French pop icon Sébastien Tellier, Midnight Juggernauts drummer and Siberia Records director Dan Stricker, and John Kirby – keyboardist, songwriter, producer and collaborator with the likes of Solange and Blood Orange – found themselves in 2015, laying the foundations of their debut album. Like so many occurrences that seem to slot perfectly into the Grand Plan, it happened by chance: “a gift from life”, in Tellier’s words, the ultimate base for a band that formed in search of freedom. “When you’re there you don’t feel any more the time, it’s so far from the society,” explains Tellier of Hydra. “It’s not against the society but it’s beside the society. It’s a very different rhythm of life.”
“It was like heaven. Going swimming every day, eating good food … hang[ing] out with our families. Sébastien, of course … would kind of exclusively travel on the donkey.” – Daniel Stricker
When I meet Mind Gamers they’re far from Hydra’s pebbled shores, in an industrial studio in Marrickville, Sydney, where they’re rehearsing for their first-ever show with another collaborator, Shags Chamberlain. Rolling papers are strewn across the couch and a fridge in the corner houses cold beer. A white-framed bed sits centre stage, a hint at that characteristic sensuality that flows through the creative output of the band’s frontman, Tellier. “For us there were no goals to the music. It’s just music for pleasure and just – I don’t think that works in English but – music without reflection,” he says.
“Maybe Mind Gamers is a good name because Mind Gamers means exactly the opposite of what we tried to do in terms of music. We are very receptive about our feelings. Feelings in general are the lead of all music.” – Sébastien Tellier
Mind Gamers’ roots were sowed in 2011, the year Stricker served as a drummer for Tellier’s band – of which Kirby is a member – while they were on tour in Australia. Later, Kirby and Stricker would move in together to “this beautiful old wooden cabin about two hours north of New York City” – a “polar vortex” in Kirby’s words, where they took the chance to drop out of society for a while and simply write music. “A year or so later, [Kirby] was touring with Sébastien and said, ‘We’re thinking about this project’, and asked if I wanted to be involved,” says Stricker.“He almost described it as like jazz even though the music doesn’t sound anything like jazz – just real free, super contemporary music.”
Tellier describes it as “liquid sound”, and it’s this fluidity that characterises the Mind Gamers dynamic. All masters of their craft, they read each other’s cues expertly on stage, riffing on energy and riding the songs to their natural conclusion, whether it’s a slamming of keys, a monologue by Tellier or a solo by Kirby. By the same token, each brings a distinctive persona to the band. “We’re all trying to bring something different,” explains Kirby. “We all come from slightly different places. We’re trying to see where that leaves us and see if in the process ... we can come up with something that’s different to what any of us do individually.”
“It’s a long-distance record,” says Tellier, and thus far it’s taken them to Mexico, California, Paris, Sydney, New York and, of course, Hydra. “We’re not going to go somewhere shitty,” says Kirby, “I don’t think it would work.”
“In general we spend a lot of time in really, really wonderful places. It’s the stuff of Mind Gamers. Always luxury.” – Sébastien Tellier