The Sunday Leader

Looper All The Way Back To His Motherland

Pic courtesy indiegogo.com

By Sadhana Senanayake

Larry T Hill is a live looper performer back in Sri Lanka after living in Australia. For those not familiar with the term ‘looper,  he creates musical beats by recording his voice live on stage using a looping pedal, and then layering it with another beat made by his voice. He records layer upon layer until it creates a fun and funky musical piece that could easily be mistaken for a live band.

Born in the Middle East to Sri Lankan parents, he lived most of his life in Sydney after his family moved there.  He lived in western Sydney where he had his first brush with racism, as he was the only dark boy around, “There were some challenging situations that we encountered being first generation migrants.”

He describes himself as a hyper energetic kid, who demanded to go to dance school at the age of 4. The dance school ended up being a ballet school, where he was the only boy. When he finally went to school he ended up being teased for it, “This put a damper on me as a performer at an early age, because it wasn’t considered ‘cool’ by the other kids. But I did find my way to music as I was in the school marching band at 8, which evolved into me getting a drum kit.”

He eventually became a drummer, performing with many bands from Sydney and Blue Mountains for several years. During this time he inadvertently became a music producer, “I became involved in the hands on process of creating music and was getting a feel for forming songs.”

After this he got involved with events and became obsessed with the concept of the music festival and then worked in event management for five years and started his own event company with his friends. “During my time in events, the time I spent playing music dramatically reduced and when you start your own business it starts to take over your life. So I decided to take a step back and start a process of letting go.” He then decided not only to leave his event management life behind; he also decided to leave Sydney for the first time in his life.

Since then he has been a perpetual seasonal traveller for the last four years.  He began with the Otesha Project with was a group of people cycling around Australia engaging with the youth at the time where they are earning their first income, advising them on sustainable consumption. He then moved to Melbourne and lived in different forms of alternate housing models such as WWOOFing (willing workers on organic farms) where a network of agricultural farms with a volunteer workforce that work on the farm in exchange for meals and a place to stay..

“I decided I wanted to see the rest of Australia after having a little taste of Melbourne,” so I continued travelling around Australia, hitchhiking across the country. “I encountered more racial and social stereotypes out there because most people when they saw a tall, dark man standing on the side of the road, they would assume he was an aborigine and wouldn’t pick him up! So I would go for days without getting a ride.” And it was during this time he deeply missed making music, but lacked the instruments or band mates to paint the musical pictures in his head. The only instrument he had access to, was his voice, so he found voice for looping, and circumstance led it developed to a looping app which was his first introduction to looping. He used this app to verbally capture and explore then mental journey he was on, “I started writing and developing songs, which then gave me the idea of doing a solo act.” He first played at a festival called Wide Open Space, “I just started playing to people sitting around a fire, and that’s how it all started!” he continued to hitchhike for the next two years and during which he played at other festivals such as Woodford Folk Festival and Gurruwilling Solar Eclipse Festival.

During his five years of travelling around Australia, he had a vision of journeying back to his homeland, Sri Lanka. “It has been 10 years since I had stepped on a plane, so I made a conscious decision to make the journey overland!” Several things were calling him back to Sri Lanka,

I was searching for a local endemic musical tradition; I need to immerse myself in the language and just learn about my country and who I am

He left Australia on the 9th of October last year, and 6 months and two weeks later, he was back in Sri Lanka! “When people hear about my journey they say, “It would have been easier and cheaper if you just took a plane! But it’s not about the money or the comfort, it was about the experience.”

He started his journey in Darwin where he hovered around marinas and sailor bars, drinking ginger tea and looking for a captain who was making a journey to south East Asia. He eventually found one after about two three months who was making his journey on his sailboat. They travelled to Kupang, West Timor Indonesia. He spent nine days at sea with this captain and it was a testing experience, “I found out that this captain, though he said he had made the journey before, he hadn’t done it as captain! He also wasn’t the calmest character, so I had very challenging nine days with this guy on the ocean!”

He finally arrived and spent 30 days travelling across Indonesia, staying in hostels, making friends and staying with them. He then took a 60 hour bus journey through Sumatra and got a ferry across to Malaysia. “I met some Australian friends there and they were like asking, “Are you here for the festival?” So I ended up at this music festival called Map Fest.” At the festival he made friends with the director, who invited him for a meeting, “At the end of the meeting I came out with a free T-shirt and an artist pass!” This led him to spend a few weeks in Malaysia, then onto Penang where he ended up playing another festival!

Then to Langkawi, where he met Captain Larry Mills through the familiar routine of drinking ginger teas at sailor bars, “I walked up to him and sat with him, showed him my card and for the first time through this whole journey I met someone who said, “Yeah, I’m going to Sri Lanka!’ So he joined Larry and his crew, who he got along with much better than his previous captain, “We bonded over music and storytelling. Larry was calm and he had a sense of humour that lifted the spirit of the crew when things got a bit down.”  With the crew they travelled to Phuket,

Thailand first and it took another three months for the boat to be ready to make the final journey towards Sri Lanka. They finally left Phuket, and made a five day journey to the Andaman Islands. There was some paperwork to complete, so in the meantime, they went snorkelling and explored the neighbouring islands, “There was one island that was off limits though, because the indigenous population there has not had significant contact from the outside world, so to preserve their way of life tourists are not allowed to go there!”

After that, they finally began the journey to Sri Lanka. Larry describes the 11-day journey back as truly magical as dolphins swimming by and everything going very smoothly, “We had great company, I used to perform on the deck and was just inspired by the surroundings. It made me really appreciate the lows of the first journey, this trip was just so chilled and so homely.”

After days at sea, they encountered an interesting phenomena as they entering the Galle harbour, “We could smell the land, I think it may have been the frangipanis but there was just a very powerful smell of flowers, and the Captain said this was the first time he had ever smelled the land like this 50 miles off the coast.”

There was a very nostalgic feeling for both Larry and the Captain, “The boat we were on ‘The Blue Star’ was originally built in Trincomalee in 1982 and the captain wanted to bring it home, and bring me home too!. And this gave us slightly celebrity status with the officials at the port!

The officials were really friendly to you, and we made friends with one official who got us special permission to take the boat back to Trincomalee.”

After spending some time in Trincomalee and exploring the east coast, he said goodbye to his crew as they were going back to Malaysia for a music festival.

To describe his journey in Sri Lanka so far; he says “I feel like a child again, as I’m discovering new things. Trying to get familiar with the language, this is a challenge but I’m learning! I’m also getting to know the country on my own terms and found that there are also flourishing artistic circles happening.”

Now he has started a crowd funding project for his performances, “I’m aware that there aren’t any successful examples of that here, so I am focusing that on my online community. I just want to put myself out there and get people to listen to my music!”

Check out Larry on http://quietbackroad.tumblr.com/ or on search Facebook for Larry T Hill to listen to his music or hear about any of his upcoming performances.

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