Interview: Skye Polson from Digging Roots.
On Photography, Music & Arnhem Land.
Canadian First Nations powerhouse Digging Roots are currently on their third Australian Tour. Playing Bluesfest, Brunswick Music Festival, Arnhem Land and club venues round the country, Mojo Junction was lucky enough to catch up with their percussionist Skye to hear about their adventures to date. Both world-class musician and photographer, Skye shares a little with us about what inspires his creative process.
You’re a drummer/percussionist in an international touring band and a photographer. Do you find that your two artistic passions satisfy similar or different creative urges for you?
Creativity is a huge part of my life. Having multiple outlets for that creativity has allowed me to really explore and grow as an artist. Photography is a very visually creative way for me to express myself. I feel very satisfied when I’m able to portray the emotion of a moment though an image. Music has the same potential to me. My musical passion is the artistic path I am on. There is something very special about sharing music with other musicians and finding that sweet spot in a band where everything just clicks. That same rush of satisfaction and joy comes out of playing and creating music that way, as it does when I’m taking images. The urge to take a beautiful image is different to the urge to play a groovy drum beat, but the feeling I get from them both is the same.
You visited Arnhem Land during the Canadian winter, aside from the extreme temperature difference did you find any similarities between Canada and Arnhem Land?
Arnhem land was one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. We spent the majority of the time in Yirrkala and Nhulunbuy, and although they were so different from anywhere I’ve been, I still felt very much at home and welcome there. I spend lots of time on my father’s reserve in northern Quebec and the vibe is surprisingly similar. Yes, the climate is drastically different but the smiling faces and welcoming energy is the same and that really stands out in the places we visit!
Did you have a favourite or most memorable moment from the time you spent in Arnhem Land?
The most memorable experience for me was the last day we had there. We had the privilege to go on a road trip to the outback, stopping at some of the most beautiful places in the area. The day started with a visit to the grave of Dr. Mandawuy Yunupingu. It was a very emotional experience for the whole group. We all felt very humbled that we were given the opportunity to pay our respects. Rainbow Cliffs was next on the list. An amazing view of a large cliff overlooking the ocean. There was a very beautiful beach that sat at the foot of the cliff. Unfortunately, we were advised to stay out of the water because of the stingers and giant saltwater crocs! Next stop was at a creek in the middle of this rainforest area, perfect for cooling off. We decided to wander down the creek until someone told us that there are freshwater crocs there too, so we thought it might be best to stay with the group. We visited an amazing white sandy beach next, called Turtle Beach. Another no-swim zone but definitely still worth visiting. At the end of the day we sat at a cliff facing the ocean. We were served up some fresh oysters from the ocean and shucked them on the spot before sending the remaining ones back to the ocean. After the trip we went to The Hog Shed, a local jam spot that everyone was hanging at. The whole band jammed out and spent time with the everyone from the town. It was an extraordinary day and trip. We were hosted so graciously by everyone for the whole time.
Have you been inspired musically by any bands that you’ve come across in Australia? How do they inspire you?
I was very inspired by all the Indigenous bands we saw in Arnhem land! There were so many incredibly talented musicians, everyone could effortlessly play every instrument in the room. It motivated me to expand my horizons musically and perhaps take up more instruments. I was also very inspired by Miss Quincy! I saw them play at the Arnhem Club and it was some of the best rock n’ roll I’ve heard. They are a really solid band and even more solid as people. It was the first time I had ever heard a traditional yidaki (didjeridoo) player and it is really amazing! There is this amazing resonance that not many other instruments can reach. It was amazing to hear. We shared our stories and experiences as Indigenous artists with the local Indigenous bands, it was very powerful and affirming that the connection we have to our music is so similar to the Indigenous peoples on the other side of the world. So far Australia has been full of great music at every turn. The trip as a whole has been very inspiring musically. I have the itch to create music now that’s for sure!
What is your next photography project and what makes you excited about it?
The plan to put together a Best of Australia’ photo set on the last day of the trip. I have so many great shots and I know I’m going to get so many more. We have been visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world and it would be unjust not to share the experience. Australia has been one of the most photogenic places I’ve visited so far! I am going to miss it here when I leave.
Photography © Skye Polson
Interview by Jody Peck