Sitting at a small round dining table in the inner-western suburbs of Sydney, Callum Sean Maritz – known as Ritzz in the music world – serves me up a glass of cold orange juice and places a slightly burnt cheese and bacon pizza in front of us. Wearing a black hoodie and grey sweatpants, a scruffy-haired casually dressed Callum sits down, ready to tell me his life story: how a young guy who sits at a computer all day is able to make music for a living.
“Hey, what’s up, its Ritzz radio! So dumb, I’m so sorry,” he says in a playful tone as I press record to commence the interview. The smell of the pizza and clothes on the washing line envelopes us as the electronic music producer starts to delve into the pre-Ritzz chapters of his life.
Born in South Africa and having moved to Australia when he was five years old with his parents and younger sister, Callum explains that, “as cliché as it sounds”, he’s been into music ever since he could walk. His small yet efficient home recording studio stands next to us in the corner of the room, revealing how far he’s come since downloading a software called “Virtual DJ” on his school laptop in Year 8. Taking early inspiration from Ed Sheeran’s song writing and One Direction’s performances, Callum depicts his “classic Tumblr aesthetic” as something he kept to himself for a long time.
An extremely friendly, humorous, humble personality, he describes himself as being a private person, but a completely open book around people he knows. Explaining that all he does is sit at his desk and make music, I wondered how it’s possible for him to pay rent in the middle of Sydney’s bustling city. “I work at JB Hi-Fi as the music coordinator. So, still music.”
When his friends April, Dan and Henry come into the apartment, they rush straight to his music corner to see what he has been cooking up. Then they noticed what he had literally been cooking up: the burnt pizza. “Dan must be hungry, Jesus Christ,” Henry laughed as Dan began eating the seared pizza.
“Do you want me to make you eggs?” Callum laughs.
“Nah, we’re going out, remember?”
With Ritzz’s new track playing in the background, April dances around the living-room and looks at him while he explains how he makes his music. “If you were shit, I’d tell you, you know I have no filter,” she says.
According to Dan, Callum has the most “disgusting” drive – “disgusting in a good way”.
“I have never seen him switch it off… like even when he’s not in front of the computer, he’s still drumming along to something,” April divulges. “I think that’s part of what clues us that he’s following what he wants to do.”
His friends collectively describe him as cheeky, with a heart of gold, and quietly talented, as he doesn’t brag a lot about his work. Being friends with Callum means “never a day of boredom” according to Dan, and is incredibly fun.
For Callum’s housemate Henry, it’s easy living with a musician. Then again, with Henry being a drummer himself, he grew up with a lot of noise. “If you want the real take, ask our neighbours upstairs.”
Growing up, Callum’s parents showed him comedic movies such as Wayne’s World, with his father being “quite a big funny guy”, as he describes it.
“That’s kind of where I get my outgoing hilarious personality,” he says to me in an amusing sarcastic tone.
He humbly explains the lessons he’s learnt from his parents, clutching the insides of his hoodie sleeves as he does so. His father taught him to always persist no matter what, and that if you love something, you have to just do it.
“Don’t listen to what other people say, because if you work hard enough, you’ll get through it.”
His mother, for her part, told him to always be compassionate to people and love everyone.
His friends couldn’t agree more that these lessons have really influenced him. “Nothing’s too weird for Cal,” April laughs, as Callum sits quietly with an embarrassed smile on his face. “I love that about him. We’re all able to be ourselves and I think it’s because he sets that precedent of just being unapologetically himself, just all the time.” It’s no surprise Callum’s biggest influences in life are his friends, so much so he named a song after them.
Callum prefers new music because it explores things that haven’t been explored before, which he thinks comes across in his music.
“When he does leave the house, he’s always got to sample random sounds on the street,” Henry reveals. Callum laughs, saying that his friends always bully him about it, because every time he hears a “cool sound”, he pulls out his phone and records it. “I enjoy pushing boundaries,” he says.
He has always wanted to do something creative, and is drawn to music because you can make sounds that no one has ever heard before in a computer. He takes inspiration from those in the electronic music world, namely Porter Robinson and Lido (International Record Producers), as well as a lot of artists such as Jonathan Zawada, who did Flume’s artworks.
“Flume is another obvious one. I’m an Australian electronic musician, of course Flume.”
The music industry has proved a difficult one to be successful in, so one must wonder how someone working in retail who is constantly making music and collaborating with different people maintains the drive to keep going.
“Passion,” he quickly responds, without thinking hard about his answer, like he had been for the rest of the questions.
“If you don’t wake up and love it every single second, then there’s not really a point in doing it. You can go and do something else if you want… Wow, that sounds real mean.” He laughs.
He describes working in music as “exciting”, and reveals that even just earlier today he made a sound he’d never made before. He wakes up every morning and watches videos on producers and how they make songs, or videos on how to better “mix” a song, after he realised that his university friends were trying really hard to enjoy his music, pushing him to recognise he needed to get better.
He tells me that the biggest obstacle he’s ever come across is depression – something he divulges with a laugh, throwing peace signs up in the air, his humour a coping mechanism. He doesn’t want to call it a big thing in his life because he doesn’t want it to hold that type of power over him.
Callum also deals with depression by placing thoughts of failure into perspective, reminding himself that life is short and you’re going to fail at a lot of things, but it is important to look back at your successes and realise there will be more. He doesn’t see the point in worrying about failure, and tells me that he’s never been one to stress, even during his HSC studies.
Thinking about everyone he’s collaborated with, he smiles as he describes the talent in such a small area of Sydney. Among the most notable are Lily D’Adam, as well as another Sydney producer, Bajillionaire. “You listen to his music and you just feel every emotion,” says Callum.
Supporting his friends is the most important thing in Callum’s life, and he encourages everyone to do the same.
Lily describes him as bubbly and goofy, but in a productive way. She says working with Ritzz on his songs is fun but also serious, as making music is a really personal thing. “He always listens to some of the most random ideas, and yet somehow, he makes it work and creates something out of it,” she says.
Callum wishes people knew and understood the effort it takes to create his music. A very informed, tech-savvy producer, he explains that people’s perception that “you just press a button and it happens” is not true at all.
“There’s a lot of little details that go into my music, things that unless you’re listening-listening you’ll never hear.” Struggling to articulate what he means, he passionately tries to explain that people don’t see the hours that go into producing 10 minutes of music, in order to eventually be able to create music in ten minutes.
“Don’t do it! You’ll waste your life away!” he laughs as I ask him what he’d tell someone considering music production. “Love it before you start putting stuff out, love the music you make.”
Where does Ritzz want to be in the future?
“I would love to be playing at Splendour or any big festival in Australia. And I’d just like to be comfortable. Comfortable and happy.”
Written and interviewed by Talya Jacobson