BIGSOUND Interview: San Mei (Gold Coast) talks persevering and discovering her sound

Gold Coast artist Emily Hamilton, aka San Mei, has learned a lot about herself recently, including her stage name.

“It’s my Chinese name,” she explains. “I grew up with my parents telling me it means beautiful flower. But recently I asked my aunty, who is Chinese, and she said San means three and Mei means little sister. So, it means I’m the third daughter,” she laughs. “It sounds nice, though. I was a little bit shattered because I thought it meant something like delicate or beautiful.”

While Hamilton’s name doesn’t mean “delicate or beautiful”, the dreamy pop she’s created since 2012 as San Mei perfectly fits that description. It’s been a long journey of self-discovery, and she showed off her new self with astounding performances at BIGSOUND 2018 (including a set at our afterparty), all while nursing a cold.

There are long gaps between each of Hamilton’s releases, beginning with her self-produced 2014 synth-pop single “Brighter”. “I usually take quite a while when I’m writing a song that I feel like is worth working through,” she explains. “I usually labour for weeks or months or something. I come up with a lot of bad ideas when I’m writing; I’m just like, I hate everything! Then something will just stick; it might be a guitar line or a drum beat or a chord progression that sticks with me and I find I can work with it and it starts to flow.”

Recent single “Wonder” is Hamilton’s first release since last year’s Necessary EP. With all of the difficulty she’s faced with songwriting, “Wonder” shocked her with it’s easy development – proving Paul Kelly right when he said during his keynote speech “a song that’s any good will come at you sideways”.

“I started off with that opening riff and it just flowed from there,” she says. “The next thing was the drum beat and the little bass line. Just as I was playing around with melodies these lines were coming to me, and I thought this must be what the song is about.”

The lines that emerged told the simple story of having a crush on a stranger; an approach that’s different for Hamilton. “I’ve always tried to be a bit more cryptic and poetic in my lyrics, but this time I just wrote a poppy song with really transparent lyrics that everyone has felt before,” she says. That simpler approach influenced the rest of Heaven, her upcoming EP recorded with Holy Holy’s Oscar Dawson. “I feel like these songs maybe flowed out more naturally than in the past. I guess I’ve progressed a little bit with my songwriting, or I’m more sure of the direction that I want to go in.”

Having met Dawson before, the pair made plans to collaborate at last year’s BIGSOUND – a daunting prospect due to her admiration for him. “I was a little bit intimidated going into it because I know the kind of genius he is. I was like, I can’t believe I showed him my demos,” she mock wails. “He was just so relaxed and so down-to-earth and he made me feel so comfortable. We just flowed well together. He’s really great at bringing ideas to the table but not just trying to take over, which he so easily could. He really wants to stick with the essence of what we bring him.”

Having had a quiet year, Hamilton will be finishing 2018 with a bang. Now that BIGSOUND is over, she has plans to tour around her upcoming EP, with financial assistance from the City Of Gold Coast’s Regional Arts Development Fund. That, along with a few other accolades, have meant the world to Hamilton and made her pursuit of her music career worthwhile.

“That was hugely encouraging because you can slog away at the music thing and feel like you’re not making any progress, and then something will happen and you’ll get that support.”

“Wonder” is available now. Follow San Mei on Facebook HERE.

Queensland fans can catch San Mei performing at Rainbow Revolution, Miami Marketta on September 28th and at the Crafted Beer & Cider Festival on October 6th at Kurrawa Park, Broadbeach.

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