The World As It Is Today

A collection of random scribblings from the 21st Century.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006



October 2002:

Brass Holes

Elephant flatulence: The throaty parping and grunting of a brass band in full flight isn’t exactly the sound of choice for today’s youth. Nor does the comic image of honking tubas and burping euphoniums capture the imagination of the style-obsessed.
Yet there’s something fundamentally cool about brass, and 31-year-old trumpeter/bandleader/composer/label owner Kingsley Melhuish has made it his mission to change the public’s somewhat cranky perception of brass with his band of horny horns, THE BRASSOULS.
No fewer than twenty five musicians pass wind and bang objects on The Brassouls debut long player, ‘Not Your Ordinary Municipal Brass Band’, and like the grouping’s gigs around town these past three years, it takes a hefty dose of respect for tradition… then rewrites it.
The Brassouls may be informed by both the colliery and jazz big band traditions, but they go way beyond that in their funky, New Orleans-derived delivery, covers of Kiwi pop classics (The Swingers’ ‘Counting The Beat’) and the addition of uniquely Pacific elements.
“We like to call it an R&B band: Rhythm and Brass, because that’s what it is,” says Melhuish, who began his love affair with brass instruments as a 10-year-old Napier lad.
“My older brother was a tuba player, and he brought this thing home, and it was just the thrill of making the sound. The great thing about blowing brass is that you ARE the sound, you are the note, because it’s just you and your breath and a reed. It’s a very visceral thing, much like singing.”
Melhuish soon joined Napier’s Technical Memorial Brass Band, “a very stiff and disciplined atmosphere, which I HATED at the time. But when I look back I’m really grateful for it, it’s given me a lot of knowledge that I didn’t know I had until I had to put a band together.”
But the revelation came in the form of mentor Harold Anderson, an African-American free jazz bandleader resident in Auckland in the mid-90s, whose One World Living Art organisation and workshops turned the young trumpeter (and many other Auckland jazzbos) on to a style of music seldom heard and practically unknown in the Antipodes.
“Just the organisation side of the Brassouls is a HUGE thing. All the workshops and performances that One World Living Art did during the 90s really grounded me, and gave me the balls to just give it a go. Anderson was formative on many levels: as a musical and interactive education, and learning to draw inspiration from many different places and people.”
Melhuish was one of many musicians drafted in to perform in Anderson’s outlandish One World Living Arkestra gig at Auckland’s sadly defunct Galaxy venue in 1994: a freewheeling tribute to Duke Ellington and obscure jazz guru Sun Ra. Anderson having planted the benign seed, his tutelage has continues to vibrate through our city’s more forward-thinking musical community.
This revolution in his musical education led Melhuish to his own, inspirational American pilgrimage in 1997, which resulted in the conviction to form The Brassouls, and his label, Pacific Echoes.
The next project on Pacific Echoes will be an EP by the Conchisness Shell Ensemble, whose guest shots on ‘Not Your Ordinary Municipal Brass Band’ add a delightfully beachy flavour to an album that’s already overflowing with variety and humour.
“The common thread of Pacific Echoes artists is that it’s essentially a performance art, and the music you hear on the recording is what you’d hear, had you been there,” says Melhuish. “It’s regenerating that ethos about performance and experiencing live music, and celebrating the experience of witnessing live music. Pacific Echoes philosophy is that the cd is a souvenir of the performance, rather than a performance being a sample of what might be on the cd. Nothing replaces the experience of being in the same room as musicians doing it live, a moment that comes and goes. But the recording is some way of trying to capture that beauty.”
Gargling horns, horny covers of Kiwi classics, shell blowing: this is smiley stuff. Isn’t there a danger that people will view The Brassouls as a passing novelty?
“ I’m quite resolute that it’s not a novelty act. We’ve been together for three years, and where we’ve come so far is an indication of the dedication of the people who are involved. I think there NEEDS to be more humour in music. People take themselves so seriously, to their detriment, I think. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. There’s also a lot of serious shit that goes on as well, it’s not all comedy. Entertainment is part of art as well, it just makes that art stronger, it gives it more scope, and breadth.”

November 2002:


It says here: You are invited to a Press Conference and Performance by Bic Runga. Could even the hardest media hack say no to that? The venue: Cardiac, a groovy High St bar. The time: 10am?!? The perfect strategy to eliminate the usual alcohol consumption, and a great way to limit potential attendance. A motley crew of about 30 nondescript journalists and media flunkies turn up and fight for their right to flat whites. Such functions are dismal affairs at the best of times, and this one is bottom rung. PR bints choke on their croissants while former Citizen Band/Angels drummer turned tour manager Brent Eccles announces Bic Runga’s December tour (13 cities! Her band comprises members of Pluto and Goldenhorse! Boh will appear! Bore will appear! … That’s Australian bore Paul Kelly, to you.) Eccles reels off the stats: Beautiful Collision top 10 for three months! Double Platinum already! Created a stir in all corners of the globe! ‘I’m sure we’ll be savouring every moment of her tour as the international demands on her time increase.’ Never mind the demands at home. There she is, looking fantastic as always, but tired and what a husky little voice. The ‘press conference’ begins, and we’re urged to ask questions. Oh Jeez, are there ANY journalists here? Huge pregnant pause, titters. Three unspeakably dumb questions are asked, each time punctuated by increasingly awkward silences. Bic looks lost in this unecessary ordeal. She’s just arrived from a successful Aussie tour. About to spend some time in the States. Sony head Michael Glading rescues the moment with that old standby, the faked presentation of Platinum awards. Several of them. ‘She’s just sung and talked her way through Australia for the past three weeks, doing absolutely everything that was asked of her. Once we leave here she’s going to go and do the whole process in America. Once she does this tour, she then goes off to Europe and does it all again. Whilst it always appears a glamorous life, it’s also a bloody hard life and she deserves all the thanks that we give her.’ Uh yes, Michael. Polite clapping, then ‘the performance’, comprising just one song. It’s a ragbag rendition of a sing-a-longa Stones-like anthem by the Jayhawks with more of a ‘we’re-all-boys-in-the-band’ feel about it than a lonesome singer-songwriter thing. And suddenly, from looking bored and vulnerable and distressed and ultimately bewildered in this patently absurd situation, Bic is animated briefly lost in the rock’n’roll moment.

December 2002:

Mane Chance

A drunk dwarf with a donkey head barks out the poetry of Edith Sitwell. There is knife dancing. There is belly dancing. And there is an ice statue of a horse spewing an endless stream of vodka. To get a mouthful, you must queue, and submit to a whiplashing from two wanton lesbians.
Somewhere in this debauched scene – not a David Lynch film but a fundraiser for Mothers Against Genetic Engineering (MADGE) – is an acoustic performance by the songwriting core of sparkling Auckland popsters GOLDENHORSE, Kirsten Morelle and Geoff Maddock.
“We looked completely sexless and not in the least exotic”, says Morelle. Independent observers testify that, despite stiff competition, the duo wowed the crowd.
Wowing is something Goldenhorse have been doing a lot of lately, with a luminescent debut album garnering effusive praise from far and wide. And rightly so: produced on a shoestring over an eighteen month period but sounding like a million bucks, ‘Riverhead’ is a record full of ravishingly lovely tunes that echo an era when it was permissable for pop music to have depth and beauty and intelligence.
Heavenly pop flops, or hits? If there’s any justice in this world – and we all know there isn’t – Goldenhorse will set an unswerving course for the world map and international territorial conquest.
They’re a great pair, Kirsten and Geoffrey. She’s gorgeous: partly gregarious, partly studious, intensely focussed, loves Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins, the opera, the National Programme. He’s handsome: vaguely withdrawn, typically Kiwi in his vague cynicism, a dark horse, loves Abba. They both share a taste for Hendrix and Motorhead and they’re both obscenely talented: Kirsten sings like an angel and writes delicate melodies, Geoffrey plays multiple parts and arranges the surreal beauty of the layered composites. It works.
“There are lot of people out there who believe that the legitimacy of music comes at a certain level of deliberately angling yourself away from pop music, that pop music is gross,” says Maddock. “Well it used to be pretty fantastic I reckon, and still could be, it’s just that it’s been hijacked and destroyed.”
Lack of major label interest was an advantage, ultimately. “With (independent label) Siren we’re able to do things our own way, I think that’s the ultimate,” says Morelle. “Would you want to be a little clothesdoll and say ‘yes’ to everything? I’d start stamping my feet and pulling my hair out and screaming at people!”
It’s the creative process itself and writing something ‘real’ that appeals to Goldenhorse.
“Ideally you’d live in a grotto and just be consumed by creativity,” says Kirsten. “But you’d get too f**ed up. You need to have a bit of a balance. There’s this crazy idea at the moment, though, that musicians should have a nine-to-five job as well. Be a graphic designer during the day and be a musician by night. I really resent that, because we don’t do that to our sports stars. We don’t say ‘he’s a nine-to-fiver during the daytime but at night time WOW he’s a rugby player’! With sport we totally admire people who do it full on, who do the most they can to be the best they can. But for some reason we’ve got this attitude with musicians that ‘as long as they’re casual about it it’s cool’, and I just want to SCREAM!”

* Goldenhorse support Bic Runga on tour this month, and play dates through Summer.

January 2003:

Giving lip

“We’re blatantly big-nosed, flat nosed and fat-lipped about it, as much as we don’t want our success to ride on that token Polynesian thing,” says Nesian Mystik word man Te Awanui Pine Reeder. He’s suffering today: last night the former Western Springs College boys celebrated their debut album’s bullet-like ascendancy to the top of the charts with a scoff at Ponsonby Rd restaurant Prego (“Oh Prego pizzas are so good eh! I LOVE them!”) followed by hijinks at their regular haunt the Safari Bar, and his vocal chords are worryingly scratchy.
It’s the ease with which Nesian Mystik live within their respective skins that makes them, along with their part-time patron Che Fu, logical ambassadors for Aotearoa hip-hop.
That chart-scorcher, Polysaturated, is the most well-rounded, all-encompassing statement to date on the local hip-hop scene. Blindingly commercial, yet mercifully free of the contemporary r&b cheese disease, it’s a seemingly effortless blend of well-thought-out rhymes, melodies and beats that perfectly summarises the contemporary Polynesian milieux (the group are of Cook Island, Samoan, Tongan and Maori descent). And all without the pathetic perpetuation of violence so much hip-hop relies on.
“We got hit with a lot of flak about being too soft,” says Reeder, “but at the end of the day before we represent hip-hop we represent ourselves, I think that’s the key. Hip-hop was formed for people who had lost their roots, to express what they wanted to. It’s very similar to any culture.”
With all the vitality of youth (the average age of the Nesian Mystik possee is rumoured to be under 20) they’re a refreshing combination of media savvy and relaxed attitude. Reeder – currently completing a Bachelor Of Business – already seems aware of the potential pitfalls of the entertainment industry, and reckons the group won’t have a hope in hell of getting big-headed about their phenomenal success.
“We’re not naturally big-headed guys. We’re quite humble. It’s the way we’ve been brought up. Our families are really cool with it, like they hate our music. (Laughs). They’re very proud of us, but they know instinctively not to let us get like that.When people start thinking like that, they’re forgetting who’s helping them, where they’ve come from, and start seeing a lot further than they should be. We still catch the bus - we love catching the bus - and we still walk.
“The best thing about this success is being in a position where you can communicate to the masses, and having the power to do it. We all know the money’s not there, and we all know that fame in New Zealand isn’t really anything because it’s such a small country.
We’re kind of taking our time with it, enjoying it. We know that once it’s gone it’s not coming back. We’re looking financially to invest in property and stuff, because we’re realistic about the money side. We’ve got two daddies in the group, so they’ve got to take care of their business.
“We’re just letting it go, running it on island time. It seems to be working really well, except when it comes to family we don’t run on island time because we’d get slapped round the head!
• Nesian Mystik tour New Zealand in February.

February 2003

Mangled tango

Philippe Cohen Solal lifts his French head and chuckles. He has just finished a smattering of dj dates in pubs across the ditch in Melbourne and Sydney, and just can’t comprehend why the locals bothered turning up just to bawl for “Jamiroqui and Kylee Minogee”.
It must be humbling for a chap whose group has been credited with reinventing an artform, who outsells Britney Spears in Europe, and in a week will fly to Russia to play to 10,000 freshly minted and adoring fans.
Solal is co-conspirator and the dj/electronics half of Argentinian/French group the Gotan Project, which has been acclaimed as the singular salvation of an endangered Argentinian national music style: the tango. Together with the man responsible for introducing him to much great Argentinian music - Eduardo Makaroff – Solal embarked on a journey to contemporise a style that was frozen in time.
Not since the legendary Astor Piazzolla rescued the tango from the stuffy parlours of Europe in the 50s by revitalising the form with classical arrangements and improvisational abandon has their been any forward momentum for the form. Gotan Project’s debut album ‘La Revancha Del Tango’ was a subtle and altogether canny blend of authentic acoustic tango – played with soul by Argentinian music legends – and discreet dub and electronic groove. And it’s gone down a storm here in New Zealand amongst the latte set.
Keeping the tango alive might seem like a heavy load to lug, but Solal – with typical French aplomb – is showing nothing but style today on this running visit.
Of the show which is rumoured to tour here early in 2003, Solal says “It looks more like a video installation. We play the first part of the show with the band behind a screen, there are a lot of videos, it is quite poetic I think, and very cinematic I think, and onstage it is more dynamic I think, because it is the Argentinian tango, it grooves.
“The musicians we have onstage play bandoneon, violin, acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, electronic tools like laptop, effects, turntables. It’s a mix of different culture… dub culture, dj culture too because I add some records from other people. Many different elements but hopefully one mood and one sound… it’s like food, if you have too many ingredients you lose the taste”.
But how can a music form atrophy, and then be reborn?
“I had the same conversation with a journalist in Argentina that nothing happened since Piazzolla,” says Solal. “It’s very strange because I don’t understand why. Maybe tango works with the culture. Before Piazolla people were making covers of the old standards, and after Piazolla the people are making covers of Piazzolla. We tried to do something different, with a lot of respect, but in a different way. Filter it. Because if you have too much respect you don’t do anything creative. But we really love this music, and we worked with very good tango musicians.
“Paris is the place to experiment with tango. They can’t do it in Argentina because the tradition’s too heavy there. So when they come to Paris they can do it because they can work with jazz musicians, or do what they want without their parents saying ‘what have you done to our music?’ Eduardo was in Bueno Aires in a taxi talking about djs and the Gotan Project and just before they left the cab, the driver said ‘Tango will be always tango!’ But we’ve had a very good response from the tango scene all around the world. Of course there are some purists who hate us.”

March 2003:


Tom Bailey is on a natural high. In a matter of days, two masters of the East will arrive, and rehearsals will begin for a series of performances the former pop star has been waiting for all his life. “From a young age my two great loves were dub music and Indian music,” says the former Thompson Twins hitman. “But I always felt as if I wasn’t allowed to do those styles, one because I wasn’t black and two because I hadn’t started with Indian music at a young age.”
It was seeing other people doing it badly that convinced Bailey to follow his passions. First came the acclaimed, Kiwi-based electronic dub project, International Observer. Now there’s Holiwater, an East-meets-West, organic-meets-synthetic, age-old tradition meets cutting-edge technology fusion being played out around Auckland and at New Plymouth’s WOMAD festival this month.
The Holiwater musical grouping came out of Andrei Jewel’s Holiwater film project, which is fast assuming much greater ambitions than a mere celluloid entertainment, with the formation of a Holiwater Foundation. Its list of laudable, yet somehow hilarious objectives include: To revive our intuitive connection to the earth and each other; To experience how art informs science through the confluence of music, new media and powerful insights. Uh, if you say so.
The film involves a pilgrimage to the river Ganges by a Kiwi drummer known as ‘Gizmo’, mystic singers known as Bauls, and the massive Maha Kumbh Mela festival, which was attended by over 60 million pilgrims, Bailey amongst them.
The music project “came together because of the film, and it’s still serving the film,” says Bailey. “I was employed as a kind of musical consultant to the film, and during the course of filming, the idea of them doing a performance and bringing something back to New Zealand was almost facetiously tabled. And everyone found themselves agreeing and saying ‘Why not’?”
The upshot is a group featuring Tom Bailey and James Pinker on electronic percussion, Indian masters Vikash Maharaj (sarod) and his son Prabash (tabla), and a fully interactive audio-visual set-up which allows film-maker Jewel and visuals expert Rakai Karaitiana to become participating members.
Whether or not the culture clash gels perfectly, for Bailey the opportunity for people to interact makes a clear statement in this dangerously myopic political climate; an opportunity to make a subtle stand against corporate and cultural hegemony.
“The clash of cultures can be such a fecund thing, a cultural chemistry that you get at no other time. But it can also ironically be a recipe for artistic disaster, where you seem to undermine the qualities of both, and neither gets a chance to speak out.
“But being sufficient unto yourself culturally is actually a recipe for boredom and stasis. We have to infect each other to keep each other alive. Oddly enough the commercial world doesn’t admit that. The metaphors are all there: fast food is essentially a dead ideal, dead produce, production and consumption of a dead activity. And one wants and needs for music to be as far from that as possible. To be alive like live culture on yoghurt.”
• The Holiwater project performs several dates around Auckland during March, and at the WOMAD festival, New Plymouth, March 14-16.

April 2003:


They rehearse in a garage, and piece together their albums in a garage, but TRIP – keyboardist Tom Ludvigson and guitarist Trevor Reekie – might just blow a gasket if you call them a garage band. For a start, they sound nothing like White Stripes or the Datsuns. And although Reekie might straddle his axe on the new Trip album, Pretty Cool, there’s no squawking displays of teen angst. No, the guitar on Pretty Cool is fluid accompaniment to Ludvigson’s jazz-influenced, astronomic keyboard atmospherics, and the Mt Albert garage in question contains a stack of synthesisers and software, Ludvigson’s pride and joy.
“My agenda is to get all the jazz shit out of Tom and merge it into the overall sound,” says Reekie, whose own background is rock oriented.
“At one stage of my life I wasted time collaborating with people who were like myself,” says Ludvigson, “and we duplicated skills. But here it’s the other way round. I get deep into my electronic instruments, which I know make unique and interesting sounds, and Trevor will say ‘that’s crap’. But sometimes he says ‘cool’.”
It’s a complementary, no-bullshit relationship that would probably only be possible with two musicians of their combined experience. Swedish Ludvigson has performed around Auckland as a hired jazz gun for many years, and has recorded a number of albums with Bluespeak and the Inner City Jazz Workshop. Reekie was a member of seminal 80s electro group Car Crash Set, has two ambient solo albums under the name Cosa, recorded four albums with the Greg Johnson Band, and runs two Auckland-based record labels, Pagan and Antenna.
Trip (formerly Trip To The Moon) sounds very electronic, but it’s not airbrushed to death. “There’s always a procedure: plug in and jam”, says Ludvigson about the beginning of every session. At some point of the layering process (after guests like Greg Johnson have put down their parts) “there’s a lot of dragging and dropping of icons on the computer. Ludvigson: “That’s the geek interface.”
Both agree that Trip, though hardly a Top 10 contender, is a key outlet for their creative energy. “In a sense Trip is the core project,” says Ludvigson, “
but that’s because it’s piggybacked on the compulsive composer trying to rationalise his life!”

• Trip’s third album ‘Far Out’ hits the shops in May.

May 2003:


It shredded the minds of a generation of Kiwis. The Beatles self-titled, sprawling 1968 masterpiece known as ‘The White Album’ contained one piece that changed the way the ‘young generation’ thought about music, forever. ‘Revolution #9’ wasn’t a song at all, but an epic collage of weird sounds and tape manipulations. Was it music? Who cared!
Flying Nun’s patron saint and Grey Lynn’s perpetual multi-media man CHRIS KNOX has made an album, 35 years later, that acknowledges his debt to that track. Released under the alias Friend, ‘Inaccuracies & Omissions’ doesn’t sound a jot like anything Knox has released in his already lengthy career of solo and Tall Dwarfs recordings. Describing the ‘musique concrete’ of Friend as “A music made from chunks of 'non-musical' sound, organised in such a way as to
give the listener a certain auditory joy,” he admits that “It had never really occurred to me that I was allowed to be something other
than a purveyor of slightly perverse pop. Sometimes we forget that there are no
Also a kind of hommage to classical experimental rogues and pioneers like John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow (and not forgetting other formative Knox influences like the Goons, Spike Jones, early cartoon soundtracks and the first few Mothers Of Invention albums), Friend’s miraculous genesis owes more to the digital revolution than to the old-fashioned tape-splicing one would expect of the man whose 4-track reel-to-reel defined the early Flying Nun sound. It does, however, involve an analogue-to-digital interface that utilises tape recordings going back as far as the mid-70s.
With the seemingly endless possibilities opened up by digital sound manipulation, Knox devised a working methodology where the weapons of choice were “Discipline! Artificial restrictions! In this field of endeavour the terrain
is infinite, the excursions into that terrain innumerable, and the end nowhere in
sight. There is no point at which you can say, ‘this is finished’ because there's
always another manipulation you can perform that will open up a whole new raft
of possibilities.”
And how would Knox suggest a slightly worried listener might approach this odd record?
“I would guess it'd be good for doing dishes to. I know it's a great soundtrack to my morning exercise routine, and I imagine
some might get a certain amount of pleasure by getting off their trolleys and
putting it on headphones considerably louder than is healthy.” – Gary Steel

* Friend – Inaccuracies & Omissions (Flying Nun) is out now.

June 2003:


Nathan Haines shakes my hand with an odd finger grip, then settles down to talk, voluminously, about his spiffing new album. Meeting the Press is not a favourite activity for this expat Aucklander, who’s day-dreaming about catching the last of the day’s healing Winter sun at Piha beach, a rare retreat from his fast life in West London clubs and studios.
Squire For Hire is an exceptionally slick thing, a progression on his 2001 outing Soundtravels, on which Haines took his horn and shoved it where the sun don’t shine, suppressed his trad jazz leanings, and made a guest-heavy brew of groove infused hip-hop with a jazzy bent. This time, Haines adds the soulful singing of veteran American diva Marlena Shaw, and guests like Blur’s vocalist Damon Albarn.
Pure jazz fans may baulk that Haines – who went to New York at the tender age of 19 to study with a bunch of jazz music greats – has seemingly given up on the music form.
“Jazz is quite solo-driven, quite male as well,” says Haines. “I wanted to get away from that at quite an early age. I felt it wasn’t really connecting with the people so much, so I’ve been really trying for most of my life trying to find a medium… finding songs that have compositional elements that I really love. Steely Dan is obviously a big influence on me as a songwriter in that they were very successful, but their music is very multi-layered and interesting.”
Ah, Steely Dan. One of the key moments on Squire For Hire is Haines’ version of their slick 1970s hit, FM, sung by Albarn. That it’s carried off with panache speaks volumes about where Nathan Haines’ head is at. Where Steely Dan were attuned to the quadrophonic environment of 70s hi-fi nuts, Haines’ interest zones in on production values that translate to the sub-bass demands of a club environment.
Although Haines describes improvised jazz as his Holy Grail, and looks at the work of jazz greats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis with awe, he’s taken a leaf from their more populist activities:
“Jazz was a popular music at one time. Coltrane did a version of My Favourite Things, for instance, which was in The Sound Of Music. That was his most popular song, and it was also available on a three-and-a-half minute jukebox version. So you’re talking about one of the greatest improvisors of 20th Century jazz, and yet his biggest song was a Julie Andrews-sung ballad.
“There’s been so much amazing music over the past 100 years, particularly in jazz, so all I’m doing is putting my slant on it. The greats like the Coltranes and Ellingtons and Monks… they’ll provide me with ideas and inspiration for the rest of my life.”
But where the rest of Haines’ current inspiration is coming from is the community of Nu-Jazz musicians he hangs with in West London, a scene that’s expansive enough to acknowledge jazz and funk history, but irradiates it with contemporary production values from the hip-hop and drum&bass spheres.
“You turn on the radio and listen to commercial r&b and hip-hop, and it’s very slick and very well produced. People’s attention-spans are shorter now. They might hear your song on the radio, and if it doesn’t get them in the first five seconds, they’re gonna switch over. If it’s not coming out of the speaker in the car the right way… they’ll go and buy the Nelly Furtado album or whatever”.

* Squire For Hire (FMR) is released on June 5.

August 2003:


Gerald Philips is an enigma. He goes by the name of Phelps & Munro, but he flies solo. Several of his tracks have spent weeks at the top of 95bFM’s listener-voted charts, but information about the bloke is as scarce as brains on television IQ tests. Witnesses attest to rare live appearances where ‘Phelps & Munro’ have consisted of an empty DJ booth, or two females swaying blankly behind banks of equipment.
The busy but elusive Philips has made a rare appearance to give birth to the debut PHELPS & MUNRO album, a singular piece of genius that boldly furrows a field seldom trampled by Kiwi artists. ‘Slowpoke’ takes just the right kind of taste tips from two opposing worlds, alternative rock and intelligent electronica, and puts them together into a frequently dizzying, madcap yet mood-enhanced selection that deconstructs genre barriers.
We proposed a mini-Q&A, and Philips accepted on behalf of Phelps & Munro.
Metro: I hear rumours you come from the far north. Did
>growing up far from big cities have an impact on the kind of music you absorbed?
P&M: Tis true I hail from Kerikeri, affectionately known as the "fruitbowl of
the north" or the "cradle of the nation". Musically, I guess it seems a little isolated, but my friends and I tended to listen to some slightly unconventional stuff. I found it strange when I moved to Auckland the number of people that hadn't heard of Shellac, or The Jesus Lizard, or Fugazi, yet it seemed fairly normal growing up.
Metro: Your fusion of rock and electronica is unprecedented in these parts. Did you ever do the rock
thing and play in ‘real’ bands?
P&M: I played in a Rockquest band called Mooseface. We got entered into it as a prank - I played bass, we had a ‘saxomaphone’ player, a drummer, and a
Tongan/Canadian half-rapping, half-talking. Surprisingly we ended up winning the National Urban Music Award, and made a shockingly amateur
Video. We weren't very good. By myself I
had always done 4-track recordings, mainly of instrumental guitar noodlings. When I got an MPC2000 (hip hop standard sampler) in 1998, I started making
beats. It just seemed to make sense to combine the two.
Metro: Do you think NZ is ready for P&M? Are you lonely out there?
P&M: I'm not sure. Possibly. I have been surprised at the positive response toward the album. Mind you they're all people I know and are probably just being polite. My Mum thinks it's good. But then again I could have put out 14 tracks of static and she would probably still think that.
Metro: How are you going to tour this record?
P&M: Good grief, I haven't even thought about that yet. Do I need to do a tour? (Getting panicky) I barely play in Auckland as it is.
Metro: It strikes me that you have an incredible way with riffs and melodies, and not just writing good ones, but overlaying several, different ones played
on guitar and synth, within the space of a minute or so in a piece. This is clever. Do you have musical training? And what's the one most important musical element to you?
P&M: Thanks. I don't have musical training. I love it when melodies intertwine and play off one another but I am also a big fan of off-kilter beatwork.
Stuff that lulls you in then slaps you round a little.
Metro: Why do you like those cheap scary evil synth sounds and drum machines?
P&M: No choice in the matter as I didn't have anything else to sample. Some of the synth sounds you may be referring to are probably sampled guitars yet
they end up sounding like a Casiotone anyway.

Slowpoke by Phelps & Munro is available now on Round Trip Mars.

November 2003:

Guitar hero

In a former life, Nigel Gavin was an old-fashioned guitar hero. A single in the US top 100. A group called Relayer. “I was the ‘widdly-widdly’ guy up front,” says the expat American. “It was the 80s, cocaine was at its peak in California, bad music was at its peak. And I was surrounded by people in the music industry who didn’t actually love music. I was so disheartened. At the same time I found out my father was born in New Zealand but left as a child, so I was bold and decided to start my life over again.”
A new country, a year away from a tarnished music scene. Then, Gavin returned to music with fresh ears and a new approach.
Auckland-based Nigel Gavin is celebrating 30 years as a professional musician with the release of his first ‘proper’ solo album, ‘Thrum’. It’s a quiet blinder, and proof that the guitarist is one of our best kept secrets.
Having diligently worked within an impressive number of excellent Kiwi outfits over the past decade, Gavin is happy to step out of the shadows. ‘Thrum’ is a solo, acoustic, seven-string guitar excursion which is half-improvised and half-compositional, and it’s a wonderfully uncompromised exposition of one man’s musical ability and imagination.
Not that his loyal fans expected anything less. It’s just that Gavin hasn’t been on the radar, despite his participation as multi-instrumentalist for the popular Jews Brothers, and his work in a variety of other contexts, including jazz group the Fondue Set.
His work in one of King Crimson legend Robert Fripp’s groups (and participation in his Guitar Craft courses) set Gavin up with an attitude to the discipline of playing, which he further expounded in his all-guitar ensemble Gitbox Rebellion through the 90s.
Just finishing another month-long tour with the ever-popular Jews Brothers, the half-Jewish half-Irish Gavin relishes the experiences this group has given him.
“Our biggest gigs were at Womad in England. We’ve done five Womads now. That was fantastic. But our biggest gig was at Nuremberg, Germany. The festival had 20,000 people. And we had people saying ‘you don’t want to go there, skinheads, the home of the Nazi party, blah blah’, but it was our greatest gig, and we sold 250 cds from one performance. And the town just turned it on for us.”
Back home, one of the highlights for Gavin is a regular Monday improvisation night at Mt Eden café, The Odeon, an ‘anything goes’ performance situation.
“It’s fantastic, because I’ve spent my whole life playing improvised music, ALL my life. And some of these people have too, but Auckland’s never been the place for that. You need to step out of the comfort zone to play something new. Pure spontaneity. I did one night up there playing with a guy who was playing four digital alarm clocks. That was his instrument! And another time a guy was playing an old-fashioned typewriter. The first time I played there, there was a guy playing percussion with a weed eater and saws, and another guy was miking up spinning musical tops. I was staring at the guitar feeling WAY overdressed.”

* ‘Thrum’ is out now through Out There distribution. Its launch is at the Auckland Art Gallery, Sunday November 16, 3pm.

May 2004:

Different Drum

In Dead End Beat's case, necessity was the drummer of invention. Formerly a pleasant little pop band called Breathe - with two pleasant little pop albums behind them and the support of Sony offering a promising future - their drummer spontaneously exploded one night early last year. It was an acrimonious end to a dream gig: Breathe had formed at highschool, and were like an extended family.
Pursuing the third Breathe album proved futile. Without a drummer, they were forced to try out new methods on an antiquated drum machine. Everything had changed.
"We noticed that all our new songs were turning out differently," says keyboardist Steve Gallagher. "Using the drum machine, everything was a lot more regimented, a lot more mechanical. We got to the point where we really liked the machine feel to the songs, and decided that this was the direction we'd like to explore.
"And then half way through the third Breathe album, we realised that the music was different, it felt like a different band, like a new beginning… and we felt that no-one who liked Breathe would recognise the new sound. So we decided to change the name as well."
Dead End Beat's self-titled debut has a cool, grinding groove that will be familiar to fans of bands like The Jesus & The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab and Dunedin legends Snapper: all of them major influences. Apt then, that Dead End Beat was recorded in the Wellington studios formerly habituated by Kiwi noise gods the Skeptics and Bailterspace. But Gallagher's shimmering keyboard work adds a lighter dimension, nodding to the moody 80s synth-pop of Depeche Mode and even Icehouse. With less harmonic development than Breathe, but extra texture to compensate, it's an exploration that also encompasses the blues.
"To me it is a sort of blues record, our take on the blues," says Gallagher, whose outboard musical activities include "working as David Long's assistant composer on a new tv show called The Insider's Guide To Happiness… I also worked with him on The Strip last year. And I'm composing music for theatre and short films."
Having utilised the talent of Trinity Roots' drummer Ricky Gooch for the record - replicating and improving on the machine rhythms - Dead End Beat are happy to announce that they've solved their drummer problems. The new stick man is Rick Cranson ("fantastic, a powerhouse!") who will accompany the group on a European sojourn later this year.
* Dead End Beat is out now on Ning Nong through Sony. GARY STEEL

June 2004:


Their performances are legendary, intense, fiery. They’re consistently cited as the best live act in New Zealand, rivaled only by friends Fat Freddy’s Drop. But Trinity Roots’ 2002 debut, True, was a huge disappointment to their keening fans. Almost acoustic, and as mellow as a bedtime cup of hot cocoa, it failed to ignite. Two years on, the Wellington-based trio return with Home, Land & Sea. Will the group finally deliver what the fans expect? Um, no. That cup of cocoa is a little warmer, with a dash of cinnamon.
Bassist/singer Rio Hemopo sticks by their decision to go against expectations. “We definitely wanted to expand on what was started with True,” he says. “We looked at the recording side of things like it was one of our songs. Not trying to sound too stoner, but we want to make it a journey say, over five albums. True was the intro, this album is the verse.” It’s a brave decision, because Home, Land & Sea is a deceptively challenging work. Like its predecessor, its seemingly slight nature grows into a potent statement when it starts to seep into the listener’s bloodstream. Ultimately, it works as a kind of hymn-like soul and roots-laced elegy to the spiritual energy of Aotearoa and its people. In three-part harmony. With cool grooves. “Something we did that was very effective for this album was to demo the tracks as close to final takes as possible, minus the vocals. This gave us a chance to focus on the rhythm section groove,” says Hemopo. As for the lyric flavours of singer/guitarist Warren Maxwell, “We all share the same Aroha for this country and for this music. There are universal themes in the songs, but home and family are probably the biggest influences.” New Zealand’s most successful independent group (gold sales of True), Trinity Roots will have a second crack at overseas territories later this year. And then, if the fans behave themselves, a live album is promised. – Gary Steel

July 2003:

Ha-ha, death!

“This album has the commitment of a suicide bomber with a smile on his face,” says Jaz Coleman, with a smile on his face, sitting in the offices of Sony Music in Newmarket, Auckland.
Many of us in our late 30s and early 40s hold a special affection for the tense, defining cusp years of 1979 through 81. World affairs were in a shambles; Reagan, Thatcher and Muldoon were firmly wedged in their seats of shame, the Springbok tour and tales of Riot Squad excess were on the horizon; but the post-punk music scene was at its innovative height, and providing youth with bulletins from the battlefront that held more meaning than any front page of the mainstream Press. 1980: Out of nowhere (well, England actually) came the blazing self-titled debut album by KILLING JOKE. Singer Jaz Coleman roared fighting war chants above the belting, powerful din. It was a ritualised washing of our fathers’ sins, and a metaphorical call to arms, and it sounded quite unlike any other heavy rock before or after it. Wagnerian in its scope, in fact. Coleman had cut short a promising classical career to launch his Killing Joke, and its apocalyptic anger kept resounding through numerous rock cultures over decades, proving a pivotal influence on bands from other times and styles, from Metallica to Nirvana to our own Pacifier. 2003: World affairs are in a shambles, wars rage, genocide rules. Time for a Killing Joke album. “You’ve got widespread political corruption, and an illegal president starting an illegal war… it’s dark times, and in those times, THAT’S when we do Killing Joke. I don’t need this shit. I don’t need 150 dates with Killing Joke. It’s hard work. But I HAVE to do it.”
These days, Jaz Coleman is a New Zealand citizen who spends part of the year hiding out on Great Barrier, but is currently Composer In Residence for the Prague Symphony Orchestra. His classical work will go on hold while he rages around, promoting and playing with the current edition of Killing Joke. Mellow? Ha-ha! The self-titled album is not a jot less jolting or splayed with venom and fury than that first one 23 years ago. Featuring Nirvana’s former drummer, David Grohl, it’s a record that illuminates how pointless and narcissistic generations of heavy bands have been, as Jaz gets into a lather about the state of things to a backdrop of bone-crunching heaviosity that makes most ‘heavy’ rock seem like kids banging preserving jar lids. Sitting in the conference room of Sony Music, half-Indian Jaz takes the term ‘self-possessed’ to a new level. Clearly an individual whose focus is on his current, as well as prescient interests, Coleman is a subscriber to arcane belief systems involving magic and geomancy (the study of the dynamic and interwoven relationship between human consciousness and it's subtle energetic matrix with the consciousness and subtle energetic matrix of the earth, apparently). But if you think that’s just a bit mad in these scientific times, it’s worth noting that Coleman is a phenomenally successful individual with many strings to his bow. Right now, however, that bow is angry, it needs unleashing, and it doesn’t scrape, it roars.

Killing Joke is released on Coleman’s own label Zuma, and distributed by Sony Music.

September 2003:

Not Tom Jones

Grim, dull, cold, empty and pointless. A mid-Winter mid-week night in K’Rd, that is. Just around the bend in Galatos St, however, young people queue all the way to East St. Their mission: to gain admission to a secret gig by two-thirds of England’s most popular group, The Stereophonics. It’s the hot ticket, and no-one is disappointed. Kelly and Richard Jones (unrelated) – augmented by a couple of locals – charm the audience stupid with a short ‘unplugged’-style set which shows the core strengths of their songs.
And what songs. Since their last appearance here (Powerstation, 1998), Kelly has firmly taken the reigns, and the Welsh gang has cast off its garage rock inclinations for a more all-encompassing approach to rock songwriting craftsmanship. Culminating in the mature rock brilliance of the new album, You Gotta Go There To Come Back, Kelly’s debt to the Zeps and Faces and other 70s heroes has helped to put their platter at the top of the UK charts.
But it hasn’t improved their relationship with the arbiters of hipness.
“It’s like a competition after awhile”, says Kelly, the tiny, wiry writer/singer/guitarist who sounds tired of the industry circus. “You get a realisation as you get older that what you leave behind is what’s in your catalogue. I read a piece about how Neil Young has done 46 albums, including Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and we’ve done four. I look at my record collection and 46 albums takes up three shelves. So whatever I say to you means ****- all. In ten years time it’s what’s on that shelf in somebody’s house that matters.”
You Gotta Go There To Come Back is a record by a group at the top of its game. The moment their raunchy rock bursts from the speakers, it feels like a pick-axe in the heart of rock’n’roll recycling : it’s full of fat riffs seeded in the early 70s, guitar playing that hasn’t eeled its way out of hi-fi speakers since Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen in the late 60s, and a messy coherence that recalls the Stones at their most energised.
“This record is rich in layers and textures and quite detailed, yet it’s very raw and spontaneous at the same time, which is what we like about it,” says Kelly. “And there’s a good variety on it, which is another thing… I don’t think people make good records anymore, they tend to sound like one song from beginning to end.”
Kelly, who grew up in a small working class town in Wales called Cwmaman (and maintains a house there), says he never learnt to speak the language. “It’s coming back in now which is good. There are a lot of Welsh-speaking schools. Where we were brought up the valleys were basically created from mining towns. So Irish people, Scottish people, English people would come in. Everyone ended up speaking English. And then your parents realise that no-one’s speaking Welsh anymore. And then schools start teaching it again years later and now there are little kids running around speaking Welsh and you can’t understand what the little bastards are saying!”
* You Gotta Go There To Come Back is out now on V2/FMR.

October 2003:


“I don’t have that many principles,” says NITIN SAWHNEY. “I just have an overriding one, which is that any human being should be considered worth the same as any other, regardless of where they come from or who they are.”
And “finding my way to what it is to be a human being” is exactly what Sawhney explores in depth on his extraordinary new album, appropriately titled ‘Human’.
“The problem I’ve felt over the past few years is that just expressing yourself as a human being now is seen as somehow subversive or radical. The world’s become so frigging politicised. People are getting arrested just for wearing t-shirts that say ‘Give Peace A Chance’.”
Sawhney’s fifth platter is an intensely subtle autobiographical outing which allows the Indian-born, England-raised composer to reflect on pressing issues from a personal perspective.
Inevitably, growing up an innocent immigrant in a racist environment is a recurrent thread. But though infamous bigot Enoch Powell is sampled, Sawhney avoids polemic in his lush, graceful musical blend.
Sawhney’s musical universe is a clever, carefully constructed combination of many styles and shades. The warm grainy grooves of Brixton groups like Soul To Soul and Massive Attack complement the luscious orchestral sonorities, precise beat programming, and a global cast of singers emoting so close to the microphone that you can practically hear the oesophagus in action.
It’s a strange place to be for someone who started out studying law, and wound up co-creating the hit comedy ‘Goodness Gracious Me’.
“That was a long time back,” says Sawhney. “I did it more because I was hanging out with a bunch of mates than anything. As soon as I realised it was getting a bit big I left it. It was like a hobby, and also to relieve the stress and intensity of what I normally do.”
What he normally does is write music in a dazzling variety of contexts, including classical commissions and film soundtracks; play a variety of instruments (he specialises in flamenco guitar, keyboards and programming); and construct some of the most lavish albums ever made. Sawhney’s previous album, ‘Prophesy’, involved a world expedition taking in everything from Soweto choirs to philosophising Aborigines to New York cab driver wisdom.
“Music for me is getting across ideas, or emotions, that you want to say or express. I just treat music as an extended vocabulary, or another language. I like to work with quite a diversity of people, with quite a lot of different types of singers and musicians who can get across different types of moods and emotions. It’s like making a film whenever I make an album: there’s lots of different scenes in a film but hopefully there’s a cohesion involved in the idea that bonds everything together.”
Despite a vague Hindu undertow in Sawhney’s attitude, he’s bored with the media’s incessant racial identification: “Everyone has to make a massive deal of the fact I’m Indian. I don’t understand that, to be honest, because I’m just a person who’s making music. It would be great one day to have a situation where I could just put out an album and it would just be treated as an album of good music. I’m not into the concept of nationality. Nationality, I’ve always said, is an excuse for people to be bastards to each other. It’s like, there are 25 million people starving in Ethiopia, but three American or British soldiers die and suddenly it’s headline news.”

* Human is out now on V2/FMR

December 2003:

Harmony sweetener

With hip hop and garage rock ruling the music charts, a revival of the creamy harmonies and wimpy folk-rock stylings of Crosby, Stills & Nash seems like the acid flashback of a hippie lunatic. Introducing: The Thorns.
When lauded singer/songwriters Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge started writing together, it seemed like a side project at best. Within days, they hit on an old-fashioned idea. Why not sing in three-part harmonies? Within a week, they had signed to global giant Sony. Inside a year, The Thorns has superceded the members’ individual careers, and launched them into the big time.
Is it nostalgia, or had the time simply come for a revival of that much reviled early 70s genre of Californian-style folk-rock?
Though several songs on The Thorns’ self-titled debut album are reminiscent in structure to CS&N, it’s a simplistic comparison. There’s a little bit of The Eagles, and a lot of the Beach Boys in their pile-up of influences, but there’s a rougher edge to the singing, and more sinew and muscle on the bones of this music.
“We probably fall into the ‘make people feel good during bad times’ category,” admits Mullins. “We’ve all written dark lyrics and songs, and there are melancholy things on this record, but the sounds are sweet.”
He admits that they’ll never be cool. “It’s more just open and natural. It’s not hip to be a retro folky rock harmony thing. It could be, but I think our thinking about it was on the anti-hip tip. Just let it be what it was.”
Droge admits that the group did come along at the right time for all three of them. Although they all have solo projects on ice, “It’s a time with a lot of frustration, creatively, with a lot of artists trying to find a way to make their voice heard, and they’re just open, trying things they wouldn’t try before.” With more stars waxing and waning like fireflies before our eyes, it’s difficult for the journeyman singer/songwriter to stay on the radar.
“The Thorns started off as a side project,” says Sweet. “But the reaction from the record company to the music escalated the whole thing. Suddenly it was this big priority record at the record company.
“The interesting thing is that at the time we were writing the songs, the idea of trying to make a record that was going to try for the charts would have freaked us all out and we would have run off screaming. But also if we’d tried, I don’t know that we would have made the kind of record that would have gotten anybody excited. It’s almost as if you try to make that thing that’s going to make a record company executive excited, you can’t do it.”

January 2004:


Rumours and lies. Shayne Carter's post-Straitjacket Fits group, Dimmer, released their debut album ('I Believe You Are A Star') a couple of years ago to huge acclaim. But when it failed to rocket up the charts, the negative chatterers couldn't shut their mouths: Dimmer was finished, Dimmer owed their record company heaps of cash, Dimmer had split, Sony had biffed them off the label…
Getting a sneak preview of the rough mix of the new Dimmer album while Carter sits next to me, smiling and toking on some wacky baccy, and demolishing a bottle of strawberry-flavoured Deutz, it seems clear that if he's a broken man he's putting up a convincing front.
A few months ago Festival Mushroom Records had sent out a press release which announced Dimmer's signing. It was full of Carter's dark humour, and hinted at his troubles with Sony:
'The contract may well be signed in his blood but it was already drenched in the sweat of FMR staff as we battled to create an incomprehensible document that will shaft him from the moment we start selling his album.'
Carter won't be drawn on his difficulties with Sony, but they're fairly obvious: this is the (former) King Of Pop's company, the outfit that took Mariah Carey to the top. Their Kiwi successes are all with prefabricated pop nonsense. They have no experience with that parallel universe of alternative rock, and when it's as idiosyncratic and stubborn as Carter's vision for Dimmer…
Yet the new single, 'Getting What You Give' (released exclusively on a 3"cd) and forthcoming album, 'You've Got To Hear The Music' (due in March) are classic pop with a skewed soul/funk perspective that's entirely individualistic, while remaining as accessible as all hell.
Pressed to describe the new tracks, which he "wrote in a golden month last year", he hesitates: "… Um, warmer? Earthier? Emptier? More song based? A lot of the hard yards went into the making of 'I Believe You Are A Star', it taught me so much about the process of recording. All the songs arrived so quickly this time that you couldn't really question them. I think that kind of material is the essence of a soul album… elemental and truthful."
Thankfully, despite having gone through a happy, productive period in his life (this includes his first soundtrack commission, due out on Wellington's Capitol Recordings early in 2004) Carter couldn't resist "adding a sick flavour", which means that the songs have their share of the expected angst.
The simmering yet less introverted sound of 'You've Got To Hear The Music' allows outsiders into the mix, including multi-instrumentalist Shaun Donnelly, members of Fat Freddy's Drop, and two of NZ's hottest singers.
"On one song I've got Anika Moa in the left channel and Bic Runga in the right channel - Shayne and the princesses of pop! It's a pretty good look," he says with a sly wink.

February 2004:


It's an easy assumption: RICKIE LEE JONES, hopelessly marooned in the 70s boho delirium of 'Chuck E's In Love', that girly voice and sloppy enunciation a good gimmick and a moment in time. A time long gone.
Think again. 'The Evening Of My Best Day' is an astonishing 'comeback'.
"I aimed at a piece of hope and caught it," says Jones, whose muse was reactivated by her anger at the shenanigans of the Bush administration. The result: an album immersed in the ghost vapours of popular music history and esoteric modern cultural emblems. Was it a conscious immersion?
"That's the kind of question that makes it worth getting out of bed for. Thank you. Yes, I DID consciously search for the vapours of popular music history. I looked through old clothes up in the attic, boxes of 1964, 65, and the children we were and the fences and the way the grass smelt and the different light in the cool shadows of the day. I found perfect arrangements in old jazz records, and I remembered what it was like to sit in somebody's kitchen you didn't know cos you were a stranger in town. And they would be playing some jazz on their record player, and I was only a teenager looking in on some bent part of an adult world I would never fully understand. I'm always a guest using this old jazz, but I love it and know it well."
Jones doesn't just use old cues, she entangles her eccentric spirit through and through this old jazz and blues; there's nothing old-hat about this second wind of singing, songwriting energy.
"More was gotten out of me because I came with more. We record on Pro-tools because it's cheaper, and it's easier to put a lot of ideas on, and that is what I always have, a lot of ideas. My co-producer spent nine months in the lounge, where he would say 'how's it going in there?' when I came out for a drink. The engineer was the only person I spoke to about what I did."
At a time when many middle-aged pop acts are renewing their commitment to the fame game, Jones has achieved a rare thing: renewed her commitment to the art of song. The singing here is often spine-tingling, the more elegiac numbers are achingly beautiful. How did she find a way back to such exceptional expression, when so much of today's music is fatally distanced?
"Again, a really lovely and insightful question. Well, I searched it out. I kept my nose down and looked for it everywhere. I wanted to speak to the world, to reach out, to be a part. That's where we get lost as we grow older. Youth has this automatic 'wanting to be a part'. They want to define themselves in terms of the world, how it sees them, what it will say about them. And as we get older we give up on that. So… to be a beginner was my only hope. I decided to start again. I did this quietly, inside. But I NEEDED to write. So I kept folding and forming until I was at a place where I could do that again."

March 2004:

High Camp

It's one of the hottest days of the year and I'm leading two-thirds of one of the hottest bands on the planet to a Beresford bar and what do they choose to quench their thirsts? Uh, coffee please. Matthew Bellamy is the insanely talented leader, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist of Muse; Dominic Howard is the trio's drummer. They're downunder to win over new fans to the dramatic sound that took their latest album 'Absolution' to the top of the UK charts in 2003, and saw them performing in arenas to throbbing masses of humanity throughout Europe. And here's Bellamy - looking every inch the stick-thin British pop artist in his Japanese-style shirt and sun-denied skin - waxing rhapsodic about Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky and Piha. And his mate, the typical drummer, prosaic and forthright and concerned more with the day-to-day business of playing music and like every rock drummer since Ringo a bit of a card.
Muse may be popular beyond their wildest expectations, but they're not exactly cool. Their brand of power pop comes laced in the preening histrionics and high camp drama of Queen, fused with the grittier post-grunge intensity of Jeff Buckley. It's an emotionally disarming, refreshingly bare-faced, un-ironic 21st century pop expression, and I try to quizz Bellamy about it. He's a huge Nirvana fan, but even Kurt Cobain hid behind a sneer.
"A lot of the songs are autobiographical and there are a couple that are weird dreams. It's not everyday stuff, it's the otherworldly stuff that goes on in your mind. The otherworldly stuff offends some people. It's a little over the top in places… There are a lot of things that are not very cool to sing about. I think if you are a true artist, it's worthwhile trying to find a way to communicate all those different things you think about and feel."
Ah, feelings. He goes on about those a lot, does Bellamy. Consistently cited - and indicted - for carrying the influence of 70s progressive rock bands, critics of Muse reckon their music is too virtuosic, too pretentious.
" I'm not really a fan of progressive rock from the 70s, you know. I'm not really into it, because I found it difficult to feel anything. Listening to piano music from the 19th century, there's a combination between technical ability and emotion. I hope we do have that balance between being technically difficult and being emotional.
"There's one song with some piano stuff on it, where I experimented with this repetitious, extremely mechanical piano part, and it devolved to the opposite of that, with an emotional closure. It was this weird piano piece I was working on, and I tried to make a song out of it. But that wasn't to demonstrate my piano ability. I think it's about interesting dynamics.
But there's always been an emphasis on SONG. Feeling. Structure. There's a point where you get so good on your instrument, so technical, that the song disappears. And it becomes a demonstration, and you play jazz! It's important that there's an appreciation of human faults. Like Jimi Hendrix was an amazing guitarist, but there were moments where he made mistakes, and they were meaningful mistakes."

April 2004:


"I get annoyed when people talk about reggae," says Toots Hibbert, of Toots & The Maytals. "They just talk about Bob Marley. People should know that I'm the inventor."
Damn right. Hibbert has gone down in history as the man who coined the word 'reggae'. Imagine that! He's been playing ska since the early 60s, and was there at the precise moment the musical form transgressed its boundaries and became the exquisite downbeat flavour of Jamaica.
And it was Hibbert whose reggae broke the new music form through to an international audience with his music for the film The Harder They Come, along with Jimmy Cliff and others.
But Bob? "Heh-heh-heh! They did a lot of promotion with Bob. So a lot of people they believe it's just Bob Marley. They don't know better, they thought reggae was just one group alone, Bob Marley's Wailers, you know?"
If Hibbert is honest in admitting that Marley's iconic status pisses him off, there's not a trace of bitterness in either his rather hazy replies, or in the amiable music assembled on his new album, True Love.
Not an album of new material, True Love is really a way to reiterate Hibbert's importance to a new audience: Toots & The Maytals songs are revisited in collaborations with the likes of Keith Richards, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, The Roots, No Doubt, Jeff Beck, Shaggy, Ryan Adams, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and others.
And in Nelson's case, it's one of the septuagenarian's own songs that gets re-worked, reggae style.
"The song that he wanted to do, some artist did it already," says Hibbert. "So I say a long time I have wanted to do one of his songs, so I go and do the rhythm… I love his songs very much."
Unlike some of reggae's other trailblazers, Hibbert has always expressed a love for soul, and oddly, country music. One of his 1970s hits was a cover version of John Denver's redneck lament, Take Me Home (Country Roads).
Had Denver not topped himself in one of them flying jalopies, would he have been on True Love to re-work this hardy perennial?
"He would, he would. I wanted to do Country Roads. I love it very much," he rasps. "He plays so gently with acoustic guitar."
Another catalogue casualty was the NZ number 1, Beautiful Woman. Trouble is, New Zealand and Nigeria are the only countries that bestowed chart success on the song. "No-one knows that song. Not popular."
Other Toots & The Maytals classics are given run-throughs, including Reggae Got Soul, and Hibbert's groundbreaking protest song 54-46, which comments on his late 60s marijuana bust and subsequent incarceration.
"People tried to frame me," says Hibbert. "I didn't have anything like that. I never smoked. So I wrote the song about it. They tried to stop my career."
It's been a long career with many ups and downs, but Hibbert is gratified that he no longer has to face the ignorance of some of the rock audiences he faced in the 1970s. On one infamous American tour with The Who in 1974, Toots & The Maytals were abused and booed off the stage.
Hibbert chuckles at the memory. "They didn't advertise me. Wherever we went we get great money to sing for about eight seconds! There was no hard feelings. We would go on stage and just run right off!"

* True Love is out now on V2. Toots & The Maytals perform with Burning Spear at the Logan Campbell Centre on April 15. - GARY STEEL

July 2004:


Psychotherapy, isolation, dislocation and reams of self-doubt don't usually qualify as an uplifting experience when wedded to music. In the case of SJD's brilliant Southern Lights, however, dark emotions take beautiful music by the hand, and the two meet in an illuminated, seductive, graceful embrace.
Auckland-based Sean James Donnelly adds his contemporary sensibilities and virtual orchestrations (read: computer) to a style which takes its cue from the more eccentric work of classic 60s and 70s pop geniuses like Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Arthur Lee (Love) and Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield).
SJD's two previous releases were justly acclaimed for their canny combination of clever electronica, loungey grooves and songwriter smarts, but Southern Lights is a fully-fledged collection of serious pop epics, which goes right to the heart of the matter for Donnelly.
"It's got that loser quality that you completely relate to!", he jokes. "In general, the album has a few darker aspects. At the time I was doing psycho-therapy, which was a new experience for me (hence the paranoia of The Place Is Surrounded). I was feeling terribly threatened. You want to come out of your shell and to believe that life can be better, but you don't know if the people who are telling you to come out are really on your side."
Troubling for Donnelly, rich pickings for us, the album is undoubtedly a searching personal document wrapped up in achingly beautiful string sounds and melodies to die for.
Featuring an impressive lineup of guests - Don McGlashan (Muttonbirds), Anika Moa, Paul McLaney, David Kilgour (The Clean), Heather Mansfield (The Brunettes) - it's a record which eschews the typical macho denial of vulnerability.
"I try to maintain a little repression over the songs, so that it's still an inviting thing for the listener to enter into, says Donnelly. "I do battle with that. There were a couple of songs that were too much, and they couldn't go on. But I'm not macho. I'm not cool. And any macho that I add to the music is not self-expression. I'm just trying to get to the heart of the matter in a song, and the macho-ness is another element that ends up getting stripped away, because it's not convincing." GARY STEEL

• Southern Lights is out on July 1 through Round Trip Mars/Universal.

August 2004:

Crap Pastiche

It was the best thing about Back Of The Y Masterpiece Television, the rabid, bone-headed satire created by South Island buddies Matt Heath and Chris Stapp, which shocked the nation and went on to infamy on European MTV. Each half-hour of moronic daredevil hilarity was introduced by a fictional sludge-rock group called Deja Voodoo, playing a monstrously heavy riff that any heirs to the Black Sabbath crown would have slayed and gutted for.
This fictional group now exists, for real, and has a delightfully stupid album - Brown Sabbath - in the racks.
"It's like saying we want to be Black Sabbath but we're a bit shit," says Heath about the title, "but it's an album you can drink beers to, so the 'brown' comes in there as well."
In fact, the group's debut started out as a "beer drinking album of epic proportions", according to Stapp, "but there's only a couple of beer things on there now." Adding variety are Deja Voodoo's Jordan Luck 'tribute', Today Tomorrow Timaru, along with concert favourite Feelings, and the super-contentious P.
"We came back from being on tour, and the paper was full of horror stories. Everything was P: people smashing their houses, New Zealand gone to hell. And then you look around and think 'lots of people smoke P and nothing happens.' So 'I smoke P and I'm alright' is pretty much what it is!'
When I mention the way the mainstream media vilified Ecstacy, Heath says: "I tried it a few years ago and thought it was quite nice. What I didn't like was I lost my cynicism. I felt like saying nice stuff to people. I was watching this band and thinking 'this is brilliant!' It was like, 'hang on, I want to keep my cynicism intact!'"
Stapp maintains the duo are no newcomers to the world of music, having played in crap bands for years. "Matt bought a four-track tape recorder years ago, so we decided to record an album. It was going to be called 25 Years Of Kiwi Misses, a genre piss-take with every kind of Kiwi music. A Peking Man type of thing, a fake heavy metal band from Gore called Jugs Of Lightning."
As the creative team behind Back Of The Y, Stapp and Heath viewed themselves as a "low-rent Goodies, and somehow we just missed the mark and ended up being reality television satire."
As the duo leaders of the four-piece Deja Voodoo, "we started out ironic because we sucked so much. We'd go onstage and we were completely shit, disgustingly drunk, couldn't play at all. Now we've learnt to play. We played at a party the other night, and it was weird because a lot of people hadn't seen us for ages and just thought we were a sloppy pile of shit, and we were laying down our big gnarly riffs and they were a little taken aback."

• Deja Voodoo's Brown Sabbath is out now on Liberation/Warners.

September 2004:


A word of advice to anyone interested in Phil ‘DJ Sir-Vere’ Bell’s Mt Roskill house: check the piles. It’s a warm home, populated by Bell’s graciously tea-making partner Heidi, three of the cutest kids you could wish for… and on every available wall, from floor to ceiling, stretches the mother-load of vinyl records.
It’s immediately obvious that DJ Sirvere – whose profile keeps rocketing along with the rising popularity of his favourite music genre, hip-hop – is no fake. You couldn’t fake the house-wrecking heaviness of so much vinyl.
Lucky for Bell – and his happy home-life – he’s been able to turn his record-collecting obsession into a successful career, and he’s looking for bigger digs. Juggling two radio shows (on Mai FM and Channel Z), a television show (C4’s The Holla Hour), regular DJ gigs, and his integral role in the annual Hip-hop Summit, Bell is about to raise his freak flag even higher with the release of the fifth installment of his fabulously successful mix cd series, Major Flavours.
“I have to admit that this new one is quite commercial,” says Bell. “But the bonus disc is the complete opposite. It’s got a whole bunch of unknown people, like there’s this group called Southgate from Wanganui. They may be not accepted that well, but I thought ‘so what?’ It’s kind of like the Trojan Horse, sneaking it in.”
Bell, who hesitantly admits to being 36 (“I don’t tell ANYBODY that!”), started out listening to his Dad’s Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye records, but by the age of 14 had graduated to the hardcore American punk sounds of bands like Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys. It might come as a shock to Sir Vere’s fan-base, but the DJ doesn’t believe that hip-hop is the be-all and end-all:
“I used to listen to A LOT of other stuff, but I find I don’t have the time anymore. I listen to a lot of old music. I love dancehall (a sub-genre of reggae). But when hip-hop appeared in my life in 1984, it made a whole lot of sense to me.” Turned on to the nascent rap scene by Beat Street (the movie), Style Wars (the tv documentary) and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock, Bell considers himself lucky to have been “born into the golden era of hip-hop. When hip-hop exploded in the late 80s and early 90s, I was right there. And I was clubbing and it was the best time. Musically it was just fantastic. I was real lucky. All those great records. I was bang on the right age.
“Roger Perry, who was my biggest DJ influence in those days, was playing that stuff. That was a great time, when Roger would play anything. I wish I could go back there, because I love all that music but you can’t do that now. You do that now, you lose your job!”
Bell is plainly ecstatic about New Zealand hip-hop’s recent breakthrough hits, and full of optimism for the future of the genre.
“The American stuff is generally pretty bad in topical matter, but aesthetically and in their sound they’ve got it down. We’re kind of the opposite: we have great topical matter, but we haven’t got our sound down. But Scribe… he’s the one who did everything: the big pop song and the real gritty hardcore and the stuff in the middle and the soul stuff and the stuff that’s really Polynesian. He covers all the bases.
“Hip-hop to me in general terms is the culture. More and more the lines are being blurred. I can’t see the boundaries. Hip-hop embodies so much and so many people.”
As for the DJ: “My work ethic is pretty intense, I’m self-motivated. I probably just do it because I love to work hard. I got it from my Mother because she’s just as bad. Maybe I over-commit sometimes, but… The guts of it is that I love dj-ing. And I love hip-hop music a lot. The two radio shows I have are an extension of that.”
And the future? “I’m going to make an album next year. I’ve always wanted to do it and I’ve got a couple of tracks already. And I’ve got great talent to work with, so that’s really exciting. I guess it’s a bit risky, but you’ve gotta take a few risks in life.”

* The Hip-hop Summit, October 1 and 2. Major Flavours 5 released Sept 27 through Universal.

October 2004:

Finny Business

By Gary Steel

Liam Finn is such a chip off the old block that you can’t help wondering if Neil knows him as ‘Mini-Me’. But this is highly impertinent, and the singer/guitarist/songwriter of Betchadupa is at an age (21) when he’s more interested in carving his own slice of creative immortality than wallowing in the legacy and legend of Finn-land.
“It was sort of hard to rebel with my parents,” admits Finn Jnr. “I had to be really straight. ‘I’m not going to drink, I’m not going to smoke pot, and I’m NOT going to play rock music’. I should have been a classical musician, or death metal! Dad would have thought that was really funny”.
Having relocated to Melbourne (“Bitterly cold!”) with his band buddies a few months ago, Liam Finn has returned to the city he was born in, and lived, until the age of nine (“I have vague memories of street corners”). The move follows Betchadupa’s recent deserting of the ailing Flying Nun for Australian record company Liberation, and the recording of their second album. Now young adults, Aiming For Your Head is light years from their first, tentative recording adventures, made when they were still school pals. Having escaped the school gym aroma of Rockquest hatchlings, the new disc finds them developing into a fine, dynamic pop/rock group. It’s full of nimble time changes, hard rock riffs, soaring vocal harmonies, and wry one-liners. And sometimes, all of that occurs in the same song.
Recorded with renowned producer Nick Launay, Betchadupa reverted to positively primeval methods: recording live to analogue tape. “Even if it’s a bit wonky, or the tuning’s out here and there, it gets the spirit of being all in the same room”, says Liam. “If we had a f**kup in a song, if it didn’t get in the way of a song, he wouldn’t let us try and get it better. I’d go ‘I know that note ends a bit early!’ You get meticulous like that. He’d go, no, it doesn’t get in the way, we’re not touching it.
“That’s probably where I have the most fun in the world, when I’m in a room with my mates. You might not get it sounding sonically as professional, but it’s like where you end up liking the demos more than the finished product, because there’s an honesty there. You can hear the excitement in the room and the passion that went into it”.
Having been practically married to his mob since school days, and looking forward to a grueling few years of touring and building the Betchadupa brand in England and America, don’t the guys get sick of the sight of each other?
“We were always such good mates, and that’s been maintained”, says Finn. “We come back from tours when we’ve been together every day for six weeks, and we’ve had our arguments and fights and get totally sick of each other. Then the next day we’re over at each other’s houses having a good laugh. We can’t stay away from each other”.

* Aiming For Your Head is out on October 4. Betchadupa perform at the Kings Arms on October 9.

November 2004:

Babbling Brooke

Brooke Fraser reckons she’s got verbal diarrhea. Stung by a flippant quote in a daily rag, which came out all wrong, she’s considering media coaching. That’s a pity, because the 20-year-old singer/songwriter has a natural spontaneity that deserves to thrive unfettered. “Who knows what will come out of my mouth next?” she says. “Certainly not me! But to learn to listen to myself, and not to be frivolous, to measure the words, is a good thing.” Even more radiant in the flesh than on the telly, Fraser is only showing mild signs of fatigue the morning after her big night out at the New Zealand Music Awards. Managing to pick up the Best Female Solo Artist and Breakthrough Artist awards on the back of her four-times Platinum-plus debut album, What To Do With The Daylight, Fraser tears herself away from a celebratory lunch with her record company’s MD to chat with Metro. Apart from her winning way with words and melodies, thinking with a clarity and wisdom beyond her years may be her greatest talent. At an age when it’s par for the course to be a seething mass of semi-suicidal neuroses, Brooke Fraser has her shit together, effortlessly. What gives? “I remember when the record deal process was happening, and I was aware that this was a big deal, and I was just aware that I had this amazing opportunity that not everyone gets. But I just remember rather than feeling overwhelmed by it or anything, it just felt like the most natural thing in the world. It felt really right, like I was walking in the plan for my life, and it was all meant to be. So I suppose if there’s any confidence it just comes from… I know that I’m in the right place, and I know that every decision I try to make with integrity and with wisdom.”
Born and raised in the Hutt Valley, Fraser started banging out songs on the family piano when she was 12. While her peers were listening to top 40, r&b and hip-hop, “I would go home and listen to these mournful guitar slingers”. James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLaughlin were big influences. “It was important to hear people singing about stuff that mattered, real stuff. I wasn’t interested in hearing about shakin’ it all night long, or getting it on all night on the dance floor. Those never grabbed me.”
Recently re-located to Sydney, the next year is going to be a never-ending grind as she charms foreign territories. Typically, she’s not at all fazed.
“I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I LOVE music so much. But at the same time it’s not my whole life, and my thoughts aren’t consumed by it. So I’m just really enjoying life. I want to enjoy this time. I was talking to my friend the other day about women and body image, and how we’ll never be happy, but this is the time of our lives… it’s pretty much all downhill from here, so we should just be happy right now! I guess that’s how I want to live, go NOW IS GREAT, and just enjoy it. – GARY STEEL

December 2004:


It’s the best New Zealand-made pop album of 2004, but it never troubled the charts, or made it to the music awards roll of merit. Lucid 3’s heavenly pop concoction, All Moments Leading To This, is a swoon-some set of expressive, slightly blues-imbued songs which easily eclipses Goldenhorse’s Riverhead hit in quality, consistency, and depth and breadth of songwriting.
The golden voice fronting this trio belongs to the improbably named Victoria Girling-Butcher, who proves a playful, quirky, yet deceptively sharp interview subject. She’s obviously dealt with the conundrums of survival in our tiny scene and found an acceptable compromise: in lieu of that elusive major record deal, she’s forging a second, fallback career as a journalist.
“I REALLY want to be a musician, but we just haven’t earned enough money. I’m not going to whinge and be bitter about that. It wears you down when you’re not able to earn money from what your whole heart is going into. But I do find journalism stimulating, and I really like reporting. I especially like community news… the small stuff.”
But why aren’t Lucid 3 huge? “It’s a mystery, but there’s a twist to Lucid 3 that doesn’t quite work commercially. We’ve been a completely do-it-yourself band, and I don’t think commercial people trust that at all.”
Lucid 3 certainly straddle the fine line between that damned old rock and a hard place: too emotionally expressive for the cynical bFM brigade, and a little too quirky and original for the commercial industry honchos.
Perhaps songwriting that can encapsulate hope, longing, bitterness, anger, assertive sexuality and existential angst all in one song is just too much for the average jock. Victoria explains something of her mindset while writing the songs for All Moments Leading To This: “When I wrote the songs I wasn’t happy at all, and I thought that I was infusing every song with this positivity. It was my ‘I can see the light’, and each song was trying to cast this spell of good luck to bring me some kind of…” And she trails off, momentarily lost for words.
Marooned in a “weird” area of Birkdale on Auckland’s North Shore while generating those songs, Victoria has since decamped to her home town, New Plymouth. While the other members (Marcus Lawson and Derek Metivier) have remained in Auckland, they’ve managed to remain a productive unit, and she won’t hear of any ideas of a solo career.
“We’re a musical unit of three. Marcus and Derek’s input is HUGE. Because Derek is producer and engineer, he’s a really skilled man, musically, and Marcus has an awesome musicality. And we really make the sound together. Marcus brings his knowledge of antique instruments and amplifiers and makes a huge part of our sound. I couldn’t cope with the ego of being a singer-songwriter. Victoria Girling-Butcher is NOT a good singer-songwriter name! Besides, there’s so many singer-songwriters in this world, who needs another one?”
And what if it doesn’t pan out, even on the back of a great album and a successful round of touring? (The group has just come off a major tour with Brooke Fraser):
“I’m becoming less and less preoccupied with success in music, I actually just want to create,” says Victoria. “And I’m okay with not being world famous. I’m okay with not even being famous in New Zealand! Part of me would love the opportunity to live off it, but it’s a really sad ambition in New Zealand. It’s a bit soul destroying. I just have such an intense desire to make music, be immersed in music, that’s where my satisfaction is.” – Gary Steel

January 2005:


Here’s proof that occasionally, the good guy wins. When the dance music bubble burst a couple of years ago, justifiably killing off a virulent brand of corporatised, generic clubbing franchises, a humble wee chap called Andy Carthy found himself still capable of packing music venues to the gills. And Carthy – or at least, his alter ego Mr Scruff – is now firmly wedged near the top of the DJ hierarchy.
Nabbed for a brief, exclusive natter during a two-date New Zealand stop-over, Carthy revealed something of the thinking that went into the marketing of Mr Scruff.
The typical Mr Scruff gig is more about tea-drinking than Ecstacy or alcohol; in fact, there are tea stalls at his English performances. His hand-drawn cartoons (and the music on his two studio albums) contain numerous references to fish, and the eating of gourmet pies. All his posters, likewise, feature a specific brand of British whimsy that’s as disarming as it is charming.
In fact, you would never imagine that Mr Scruff was just another balding, overweight DJ. And he’s not.
“The visual stuff round the periphery is something to offset what is often quite specialist music,” says Carthy. “If I put ‘Mr Scruff Playing Rare Funk 45s!’ I’d get 20 odd folks with beards going ‘Oh, that’s a re-press, I’m not dancing to that!’ Tonight I was playing records I paid 500 quid for to people who don’t care, they were just appreciating it as a cool piece of music.
“The fact that I put cartoons and the whole tea thing on flyers… When people come into the club I’m playing deep jazz and people go mad to it. I can present it by putting a friendly face on it, without having to water down the music. The humour means I can play a lot of obscure music which people have never heard before, and will never get to hear outside of a very specialist context. And there’s no reason this amazing music should be ghettoized. It needs to be heard.”
Carthy describes what he does – the old-fashioned art of the DJ ‘selector’ rather than a typical beat-matching knob-head – as curating. “If you go to an exhibition, it’s about the lighting, the display, how far apart you space the pictures, and all the things you don’t think about when you go into a gallery, but it’s the difference between going ‘that’s a really good exhibition’ and ‘I didn’t get that!’. It’s all about presentation and selecting and just being aware of the subtleties and the merits and the slight differences between different kinds of music, but also the connections. There are so many connections between music, it could be a key or a tempo or a musical motif or a lyrical theme, or stylistic similarities.”
Like many DJs, Andy Carthy is a vinyl obsessive, and spends much of his time tracking down those elusive, rare grooves around the globe. But this (predominantly male fetishization) of old vinyl records is tempered in Scruff’s case by his healthy delight on the eclectic array of cool stuff always awaiting discovery.
“I’m very curious about music and I realised quite a long time ago that I’m never going to know it all, but that’s not going to stop me trying. Anything creative is like the pursuance of perfection even though you know it doesn’t exist. But it’s getting close. To me the most perfect things are the things that are slightly wrong, anyway; that are maybe quite maddening in their imperfection, but that’s what’s intriguing about them and make them bear repeated listening. There are so many amazing records. Just coming to New Zealand I realised I know nothing about Maori or Polynesian music or anything like that, and I’m hearing a lot of the New Zealand hip-hop that’s using those influences and thinking ‘I claim to know a lot about music but I know nothing about this’. So I definitely need to pull my finger out and explore that.” GARY STEEL

Keep It Solid Steel, the first in a series of Mr Scruff mix CDs, is out now on Ninja Tune/Flavour. Also available: Keep It Unreal, and Trouser Jazz.

February 2005:


It’s the oddest ‘covers’ band you’ve ever seen. Four Paul McCartneys, live on-stage, singing hits from the post-Beatles canon. And doing it with a knowing wink and an elbow in the ribs that strongly suggests these guys are connoisseurs of pop history.
Having whipped out their semi-sacrilegious stuff at a variety of weddings, parties, anything this Summer, we can exclusively reveal that the Disciples Of Macca are the three young men from the Brunettes (Jonathan Bree, Kari Hammond, Mark Hall), with the addition of Scott Mannion from the Tokey Tones.
Not that you’d know it: their visages are hidden by low-rent Paul McCartney masks, as they artfully construct sly homage’s de Paul. It’s a set that’s heavy on McCartney’s early Wings-era material, with a phenomenal version of the epic “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, and later moves through encore-worthy treatments of execrable but unforgettable McCartney ‘classics’ like “Let ‘Em In”, “My Love”, and a few too painful to mention.
“The idea was formed on a Brunettes tour of Australia while in a
tour van listening to McCartney II”, says Scott. Because Paul is just about never anybody’s favourite Beatle, we thought it would be amusing to form a group that supposedly worshipped him.
“We wanted to point out how underrated a lot of PM/Wings songs actually are, and also thought it would be the perfect
opportunity to create an opening band for ourselves, consisting of
Disciples Of Macca – as well as perfectly representing a prevalent knowing attitude to classic pop amongst our younger appreciators of the form – perfectly encapsulates both what makes McCartney a songwriting genius, yet insufferably bland. Was this sublime/ridiculous polarity what attracted DOM to the idea?
“Yes,” says Scott. “The quality of his better songs initially drew us to him as fans, but even the songs that tend to miss the mark and could be considered 'naff', are still endearing in how earnestly he presents them. In short, he's so uncool, he's cool.”
While DOM might appear to have a limited shelf life, Scott admits that the concept is starting to kick up such a storm that it threatens to overwhelm their parent projects the Brunettes and the Tokey Tones. As for the masks (which currently feature a likeness from Paul McCartney’s first solo album), they don’t plan an update, unless the drummer keeps losing his Paul. – GARY STEEL

March 2005:


Finn Andrews is insanely talented, ridiculously blessed in the looks department, and unfeasibly young for a chap with one of the most internationally feted, drooled over and generally accomplished rock debuts of the last year.
The British-based 20-year-old Aucklander is the one permanent fixture of The Veils, whose The Runaway Found release on the respected alternative label Rough Trade sent the UK Press into a feeding frenzy.
Its surging romanticism (capped with sonorous strings and Andrews’ rasping, emotive vocals) and the singer/songwriter’s androgynous beauty made The Veils an ideal fashion spread.
Sitting in his favourite Devonport deli, Finn Andrews comes across as a retiring, somewhat introspective young man, with a quiet determination to do things his own way.
That includes a rare arrangement with his record company allowing some solid time out for the leisurely generation of songs for a much-anticipated sophomore project. And that’s why he’s spending the best part of summer in Auckland.
“It’s a very difficult thing when you have companies staring over your shoulder,” says Andrews. “I never thought it would be quite so restrictive, so terrifying. So much expectation. It came time for another album, and I hadn’t written anything, there was a terminal block, and it felt like a straightjacket. I’ve seen bands in the wake of their first album, and they’re just losing their minds from working like dogs. It’s a horrible thing, and they [Rough Trade] knew from the start that I wanted to do every record as it comes, naturally, and that I didn’t want any money for the second record until I was confident I could do it.”
Of that first album, “A lot of it I’m proud of and a lot of it embarrasses the hell out of me.” As the songs were written by a 17-year-old, he’s already outgrown them, and expects the second – featuring a different set of back-up musicians – to have little in common apart from his voice.
Andrews started out in awe of two sets of Smiths (The Smiths, Patti Smith), David Bowie, Tom Waits and the music he heard down at the Devonport folk club. These days, he’s allowing the influence of his famous Dad – former Shriekback and XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews – into the picture as well.
“I’m scarily seeing more and more similarities. Our tastes are incredibly similar, it’s just the style that’s somewhat different, but the reasons you do it and the reasons you love it are the same.” Andrews Senior is “still going, churning out three or four albums a year. He has an amazing amount of stamina.”
Expect to hear much, much more from The Veils and Finn Andrews. Back in Britain by the time you read this, he will be working on a record he feels he could never make at home.
“I don’t think I could ever make an album over here. There’s a point I get to and I’m approaching it now, where I just feel a little too comfortable. If I made something here I would feel too content to wallow in what it is and not look for anything else. And I’ve done it all my life, frantic uprooting, and there’s a lot of horrible stuff that comes out of that, but a lot of interesting things as well, ripping yourself out and starting something all over again.” GARY STEEL
* The Veils – The Runaway Found (Rough Trade/Rhythmethod)

April 2005:

Pacific Voyager

While the mainstream music industry crashes, burns, and clunkily consolidates in a vain effort to hold onto its shares in a seemingly dwindling market, there’s a worldwide resurgence of a genuine musical culture once considered marginal. A groundswell of young artists like Jodie Holland and the American ‘free folk’ movement are finding their inspiration in American mountain music, raw blues and English folk styles from the 60s and 70s. Occasionally, one of their obscure progenitors is still alive and kicking. This is your life, Mike Cooper. This 63-year-old Rome-based, British-born guitarist, composer and label-owner spends half the year as a performing nomad, culminating in his annual trek through the Pacific Islands, which involves a habitual New Zealand stop off for a series of low-key gigs. Cooper chanced across NZ in 1994. “I played an acoustic slide guitar for a long time, and discovered one day that the way I play it, the lap style, was a Hawaiian invention. So in 1994 I traveled around the Pacific Islands, staying in each place for a few weeks.” One of those destinations was NZ, which he still considers “a Pacific Island with all you white people living on it. Initially there wasn’t a lot here for me, just this strange folk club scene, but over the years it’s been fascinating watching the underground and improvising scenes growing exponentially.” One of Cooper’s mind-altering experiences here was discovering the haunting re-imagined Maori music of Hirini Melbourne (RIP) and Richard Nunns, the latter of whom “eventually came to Rome with Moana & The Moahunters on a tour. While he was there I organised a gig, and we did a live CD together.” This interest in the Pacific culminated in three critically acclaimed releases on which Cooper came up with a bewitching blend of ambient guitar and electronics, mixed in with environmental sounds recorded throughout the islands. But this exceptionally diverse musician, who considers that “sequels are obituaries”, has already moved on. His current performances anywhere and everywhere (in New Zealand at the likes of the Devonport Folk Club, K’Road’s Wine Cellar, the Moving Image Centre and at Wellington’s Happy venue) are beginning to reflect the entirely of his interests, mixing drifting ambient sections with haunting songs. From a starring role in the British blues boom of the mid-60s (his first record release was 1963) to a singer-songwriter career in the 70s and on to free jazz and beyond, Mike Cooper has never seen the point in inhibiting his musical evolution. “The worst possible thing that could happen to you really would be to become popular, because then you’re stuck with it,” says Cooper. “The underground is hope.” See you next year.

* For more information about Mike Cooper, and his record label, visit

May 2005:

Golden Harvest

In the same record company boardroom two-and-a-half years ago Metro interviewed an unknown band about to unleash their debut album to an unknown response. Same band (Goldenhorse), same boardroom (EMI), and an astonishing 50,000 New Zealand sales later (for Riverhead). Second album jitters for a group who must be feeling the weight of expectation like never before? Not likely. Out Of The Moon was a “freeing experience”, says singer/co-writer Kirsten Morelle. “On the first one we were totally underground, but there was this attachment to (co-writer/guitarist Geoffrey’s critically acclaimed early group) Bressa Creeting Cake, and I felt under immense pressure to come up with something pretty shit hot.” Not that Geoff (Maddock) shares those feelings, exactly. In fact, the pair sustain a lively bickering throughout the interview, with Maddock often muttering disapproval of some of Morelle’s more fancifully provocative assertions. And there are quite a few nuttily girly-girl comments, including her desire to perform with the Muppets, and to receive training from David Bowie’s mime mentor Lindsay Kemp. Oh, and her command that her peers stay away from Goldenhorse gigs in the future. Morelle: “These days I don’t want them to be there, because I don’t want them to hear my new songs. I want it to be private. They can go away and write their own songs!” Maddock: “Well then you’d better get another career in that case.” Ouch. Moving right along. Out Of The Moon is a seriously fine album, with Morelle’s almost freakishly fine vocals, and a more consistent approach than the first that manages to be both more rock and roll and invested with the group’s recent orchestral experiences. And having performed their music with the NZSO, Maddock is quietly proud of his intuitive orchestral arrangements. Morelle is openly in awe of her co-writer: “I watched Geoffrey during that process, and he went from a rock and roll musician to a complete freak stuck in his bedroom in front of that computer. It was quite incredible. His ability to write that kind of thing is quite exceptional. It’s bizarre to watch. It is! You turn into a mutant!” So, then, having sculpted their pop confection with the advice of former Underdogs legend Murray Grindley (also famed for the lamentable yet iconic Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop and Life Begins At 40), they’re off to try their luck in London. Let’s just hope Morelle manages to curb her occasional performance paranoia: “Sometimes I have complete paranoid moments on stage where I think someone might shoot me, a little paranoid thing that happens when you’re stressed out, haven’t had much sleep, boom!” – Gary Steel

June 2005:

Freddy’s Revenge

Fat Freddy’s Drop are such perennials of the New Zealand musical landscape that it’s hard to believe that – after four years – their first real album has just seen release.
“We found pretty quickly it’s impossible to replicate that vibe you get from a live gig in the studio,” says Mu, the group’s mixologist and programming beatmeister. “From the outset we wanted it to be slickly produced. We weren’t interested in coming up with a live-sounding record, because we’ve done a live album.”
That album, the now deleted Live At The Matterhorn, is a testament to the group’s large and ardent following: this souvenir of the band playing their epic jamming cocktail of reggae, soul, jazz and funk dribbled onto the market in 2002 and – despite patchy distribution – cranked up over 11,000 sales with absolutely no promotion or advertising.
The phrase ‘highly anticipated’ doesn’t begin to explain the degree of expectation surrounding the release of Based On A True Story, a first stab at studio recording that might have some scratching their heads.
But Mu, who reckons the album is as much for the band as it is for their fans, isn’t too concerned at any likely incomprehension.
“I hope it’s not an album that people work out too quickly. Because a lot of hours went into it, and not just the studio wizardry, but also the arrangements, sitting on them for a couple of weeks, then coming back to them with fresh ears. Maybe people who don’t initially get it will eventually understand where we’re coming from.”
Unlike the live Fat Freddy’s, the album comes across almost like a DJ mix version of the group. Raw musical materials are gathered, arranged with precision, and then Mu has worked his electronic dub-scapes and programming details into the fabric.
Stylistically, it’s a unique melting pot.
“We like reggae basslines,” says Mu, “and those are the ones that give the music a lot of space. And then the natural influences of the musicians themselves kind of take care of the rest. The horn section are jazz school graduates, but also personally love a lot of reggae. Dallas the singer is definitely from a more soul and blues background. My interests are all over the place, really. And the guitarist has got quite a hard rock background, but saw the light some years ago! And the keyboard player has definitely got a bent for reggae.”
Initially a side project for a bunch of seasoned Wellington musicians who wanted to have an outlet for freefalling jam sessions and fun untainted by commercial necessities, Fat Freddy’s Drop has eclipsed the members’ other outfits such as the Black Seeds and Trinity Roots. While Mu aims to keep the ethos of the group alive, Fat Freddy’s has now become a big deal.
With European exposure already under its belt (and star DJs like Gilles Petersen giving them key airplay opportunities) the group is about to embark on its first major incursion of overseas territories. This staunchly independent group with its own record label and its instantly recognisable (and recognisably New Zealand) sound know their gigs rock. Now they just have to back that up with a saleable record.

Based On A True Story (Drop/Rhythmethod) out now.
Fat Freddy’s Drop will tour main centres in support of the new album during July.

July 2005:

King of doom

Rock history is littered with merchants of misery and harbingers of doom: Joy Division’s Ian Curtis took the cake by topping himself, but there’s a long roll call. Nick Drake, Morrissey, ‘Laughing’ Leonard Cohen, on it goes.
The King of doom, however, is singer/songwriter Peter Hammill, whose angst-ridden existential anthems and unique, edgy, semi-operatic vocals have cast a large shadow over fellow artists such as David Bowie, while barely touching the greater public consciousness.
While Hammill has 50-odd solo albums spanning 1968 to the present, it’s the stop-start ten years he spent at the helm Van Der Graaf Generator (1968-1978) that made the most waves. Loosely part of the ‘progressive rock’ underground of the late ‘60s with its tendency towards 20-minute song-suites and fiddly time signatures, VDGG broke the mould. Hammill’s band-mates came up with a unique and dynamic sound to vividly portray their lyricist’s dark preoccupations, featuring the frightening wail of an amplified double sax and wildly modified electric organ. Years later, Hammill and mates would escape ‘dinosaur’ chastisement from the emerging punk firmament. Hey, even Johnny Rotten was a fan.
Now, 25 years after they split, VDGG are back with a stubbornly raucous reunion album, Present, and remastered editions of their oeuvre, all released on EMI’s specially revitalised Charisma imprint.
A fan since the mid-‘70s, there’s one question on my lips: Peter Hammill, are you a miserable bastard?
“I try to keep my spirits up, but on the other hand, writing songs is the serious bit of my life and what I do, so you have a natural tendency, if you’re doing that, to write songs about darker stuff, and just get on and live through the light stuff and enjoy it. I’ve always taken the view that writing and performing is a cathartic activity. So it’s partly through working through this stuff that I’m liberated in a way to be lighter or good humoured, so far as I am (chuckles) in my normal life.”
Right then.
Hammill’s solo work is filled with his literary preoccupations (adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, etc) but despite his lyrical eloquence, VDGG’s biggest audience awaits in Italy, a vindication of the group’s musical strengths.
“In Britain particularly, there can be an element of ‘my God, there’s a bit too much going on with the words here’. People are rebuffed by that. Italy, of all the European countries is the one where people speak English the least. It meant that the first thing they ‘got’ was the music. And of course the sound of the words… obviously a part of writing a decent song is not only to have meaning of the words, but also that they SOUND correct. So effectively the immediate response was emotional rather than intellectual.”
Describing VDGG’s sound as “ugly but natural”, and “force rather than too much filigree or delicacy”, Hammill insists that their reunion has not a whiff of nostalgia. Rather, having suffered a recent heart attack, the reformation was more the realisation “that time is marching on and that if we were ever to do it we had better do it sooner rather than later.”
For one of the least compromised artists to have successfully forged a career out of a heinous industry, however, there’s still no sign of bending for Peter Hammill.
“If they don’t want to look, then that’s fair enough. Everybody’s made up of their own composition; the periodic table of intellectual interests, spiritual interests and what have you. Happily (laughs) that’s what makes us what we are.”

* VDGG’s new CD, Present, is out now. Reissues out now: The Least We Can Do Is Wave, H To He Is The Only One, Pawn Hearts. Out early July: Godbluff, Still Life. All Charisma/EMI.

August 2005:

Mexicali Voodoo

Only someone of Ry Cooder’s stature could pull off a concept as baffling as his new Chavez Ravine project. A re-imagining of life and music in a suburb of Los Angeles in the 1940s, it puts its tentacles around the little-documented enforced evacuation of a Mexican community to make way for commercial interests.
It started out with curiosity and research, and turned into a mammoth four-year marathon, in which Cooder dug out some of the original patriarchs of the community’s musical scene, re-envisaging and re-creating a world that was knocked into submission all those years ago.
“It isn’t right there at the end of your fingertips, you really do have to pluck it out of the air,” says Cooder. “It takes a lot of willpower, a lot of willpower to will this goddamn thing into existence. That’s about the size of it. We invented most of this stuff.”
But then, Ry Cooder has invented quite a bit of stuff in his 58 years, and taken several u-turns, too. This native of Los Angeles had played with cult legends like Captain Beefheart and Taj Mahal by the time he was barely out of his teens, by which time he was already an accomplished and distinctive guitarist. By the mid-‘70s his career as a blues-influenced album artist was garnering much critical acclaim, but perhaps most remember his haunting, wind-blown soundtracks for movies like Paris, Texas. Though that avenue was lucrative, Cooder soon found himself exploring world musics: playing with Okinawan Shoukichi Kina and Senegalese farmer Ali Farka Toure, amongst many others. Cooder’s collaborations had the aroma of respect, and a natural organic quality lacking in certain other world music ambassadors, and when he discovered the septuagenarian masters of Cuban music, it wowed a whole new audience on a number of albums with the Afro-Cuban Allstars and side projects.
“I would never have figured that eight years of Cuban music was what I was heading into. It’s all I did for eight years. Four albums and a film: that’s a lot of work.”
Apart from the slow attrition that’s inevitable with close associations with elderly musicians, Cooder’s fling with Havana ended when the American authorities started cracking down on visits to the time-trapped city.
“The fascist pigs won’t let us off the hook, and they will persecute you if you defy them and go down there,” he says with obvious scorn.
“Havana was heaven to me because it was just like stepping into a time-warp in which the past and the present were all one thing, instead of the frustration you have here where the past is always slipping away from you and being destroyed.
“LA was famous for eccentric architecture like coffee shops that looked like pigs or hats that you walked into, and I loved that stuff more than anything. And then they started chopping ‘em down and they demolished everything. And they made a great error when they did that because this is what people would have liked to have seen… they would have paid money to see it. Money was the objective, as it often is, but they didn’t see the future; these people are stupid. Bad planners, because all they see is the next five years, short dollar. Church of the next dollar, they want to get rid of anything eccentric and homogenise everything, which means repeating everything, so you have only McDonalds and these chain stores.”
While Chavez Ravine is a broad swipe at the oppressive commercialisation that allowed for the desecration of a whole community – and Cooder is full of verbal bile for contemporary American culture and its leaders - it’s also a celebration of community values.
“Music is like a rain gauge. When you measure the life or the health of a community or a culture, what kind of a statement are they making? It’s very instinctive and basic, what they play and sing about. So I like music that shows what people are like and what they do. I don’t like music that’s simply a reflection of cash and power. These are detrimental; these destroy music.”
Chavez Ravine may be a message in a bottle from a lost time, but it’s an insight on the fertility and adaptability of a culture’s music, as it arrives in a new city and absorbs influences from other immigrant cultures in the neighbourhood. It’s also unlikely to be performed live, as two of the elderly legends of the era who contribute to the album, Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti, have already passed on.
As for the present, Cooder cites a recent law change by the Supreme Court, “a momentous decision in favour of commercial development. The law has always said private property is protected, but the court has struck down this notion. So what we’re seeing is this conservative agenda in the true and deepest sense, to dismantle all of the structure of American life.
“I just don’t know what’s the matter with everybody. Unless it’s that they’ve had too many cheeseburgers and they just can’t think straight.”
• Chavez Ravine is out now on Nonesuch/Warner.

September 2005:

Final Bow

During the 1980s, Tom Bailey was one of the biggest pop stars on the planet as one third of British pop group the Thompson Twins. It was a weird twist of fate for a chap who had been raised a child prodigy on classical piano, and who – in his teenage years – had voraciously explored the outer fringes of experimental rock along with the music of other cultures. By the early ‘90s, the pop years were behind him, and Bailey retired to New Zealand with his Mt Roskill-born wife, Allanah Currie. Over the next ten years, Currie and Bailey inevitably became a high profile couple on the local scene, Currie for her involvement in the anti-GE lobby, and Bailey for his behind the scenes work producing for the likes of Stella*.
Bailey’s main music project while ensconced in Freeman’s Bay was International Observer, an electronic dub act which played many low-profile gigs to ecstatic response. Taking its clue from his long-held love of Jamaican roots dub music, Bailey applied his interest in contemporary electronic sounds, together with his brilliant melodic and compositional talents, to forge a kind of ambient dub that was undeniably lovely.
When Bailey announced his departure back to England (his relationship to Allanah having foundered), Auckland DJ and label-owner Stinky Jim began negotiations with Bailey for a CD-length summation of International Observer material. A difficult task, as an IO set was wont to run for over four hours, and there was a bounty of quality material sitting in obscurity. Some months later, however, the IO swansong is finally on the shelves. Ironically titled All Played Out, it’s a judiciously sequenced set of live recordings. “It was even organised into a set because all the material is taken from the last IO gig in Auckland,” says Bailey, “a SAFE charity art auction which took place in Artspace in front of a handful of people, many of whom were more interested in paintings and animal welfare than music. But it was a good gig.”
International Observer was born when Bailey was inspired by the “art meets roots” potential of a few electronic dub explorers in Germany in the late ‘90s. As a non-drug user, Bailey wanted to make the kind of dub music that was mesmerising but “avoided the dope culture fixation which surrounds many dub releases… dub with critical listening in mind. And that was not the contemporary context for NZ dub, which often had more to do with being socially stoned.”
He’s currently working on a project where the working title is ‘Used Correctly’. “That’s short for ‘Used correctly, this CD could save you a fortune you would otherwise spend on drugs’.” “Something I look for in all my work is a transporting effect.” No exterior factors required.
After the pop years, Bailey explains, he turned to dub because it was “hopelessly uncommercial, which allows it to maintain a rebel status. As opposed to endless rock formats which use the iconography or drama of rebellion in order to attract attention on their way to fame, fortune and conservatism.”
Now back living in London with a new partner and his son, Jackson, Bailey admits that he’s spending most of his time “on a long examination of some aspects of Lutheran harmonic theory, especially the chorales written or harmonised by Bach.”
We gather he won’t be joining the ‘80s pop revival, then. GARY STEEL

All Played Out is out now on Round Trip Mars.

October 2005:

What is music?

Noise. It’s a sharp, unlovely word to the conventionally minded musical mainstreamer. But to Sam Hamilton – organiser of the surprisingly successful recent Allelujah Noise Festival – it’s a catch-all word inclusive of a vast range of musical styles. DIY folk song, free jazz, guitar drone-scapes, laptop glitch, traditional indigenous, sinewave symphonies, avant punk, and even modern classical fit within his definition of the term. It’s an underground movement that’s about community, not celebrity; exploration, not cliché. And it’s gathered a surprising head of steam in Auckland over the past year. Hamilton’s noise festival featured 60 musicians over a two-week period in several venues, and many were sell-out events. This no-budget, un-funded, scarcely promoted festival’s success, says Hamilton, came down to the fact that all but two of the musicians involved were from Auckland. “We had no international acts. I had no money for that, and I wanted a large festival. In Auckland everything’s traditionally been really separated, lots of little pockets of things happening, but not much intermingling. I wanted to get that started by having a festival which was an umbrella for all of Auckland’s fringe musical communities.” Hamilton is addressing an endemic problem: while many of our more exploratory musicians are revered in other parts of the world, they’re ignored at home. Internationally regarded underground icons like Dean Roberts and Rosie Parlane command respect, have record contracts, and get decent performance pay packets in America, and throughout Europe. But when they return home, says Hamilton, “the Auckland City Art Gallery pays them a $50 food voucher! The home of modern art!” This glaring status discrimination between the rarefied world of the visual arts and its poor musical cousin is one of the issues noise music’s current facilitators are addressing. While funding is thin on the ground, there’s a cacophony of activity, along with networks and support mechanisms cropping up. K’Rd gallery Artspace mounts its own irregular international festival, and provides a venue space for aspiring music makers; the Wine Cellar in St Kevin’s Arcade hosts a weekly gathering called Vitamin S where odd groupings of musicians perform in spontaneous freeform aggregations; Jim Gardner’s modern classical ensemble 175 East is back on the scene after a year in which its leader was the inaugural Composer-In-Residence at Wellington’s Victoria University; and Zoe Drayton’s Audio Foundation project provides an invaluable resource in a vibrant website with gig guides, forum, artist index and a whole lot more. Ultimately, there may always be a small, brave audience willing to turn up and be accosted by a 20-piece instrumental improvised orchestra one minute, or a 45 minute high-pitched oscillator solo, but it’s good to know it’s happening, and it’s happening here.
For more information, go to:

November 2005:

Flying high

What the heck? Is Fly My Pretties a band, a multi-media show, a good old-fashioned variety extravaganza, or just a grown-up, sensible version of NZ Idol? Maybe all of the above, reckons Mikee Tucker, chief architect behind Wellington’s Loop label and co-conspirator with Barnaby Weir of the Black Seeds. “It’s based on when the wicked witch of the west lets out those flying monkeys, and she goes ‘Fly my pretties! Fly!’ The whole point of it is to let new musicians emerge and to give their songs life. It’s a compilation of musicians and talent and new songs. It’s definitely not a supergroup of something just from the Wellington scene.” Beginning its life with a short run in Bats theatre last year, the Fly My Pretties concept has grown from a cute idea to eclipse Weir’s other projects, and provide Loop with a genuine phenomenon to match the label’s annual compilation CD/DVD/book packages. “It was designed to get New Zealand music out of poky rooms and smoky bars – not that they are anymore! – and to some place where people would sit down and respect the music.” Early October dates in Wellington and Auckland’s Hopetoun Alpha have been laboriously filmed and recorded for unprecedented speedy release: the package will fly the coop this month [November], and will be followed shortly thereafter by a major countrywide tour of larger venues, Australian and maybe even American dates. Basically a platform for the songs of Weir and his handpicked cast (most of the Black Seeds, a Phoenix Foundation member Samuel Scott, Loop act Age Pryor, Hollie Smith, Tessa Rain and others), the music takes in a diverse range of styles, from straight-out pop to funk, reggae and blues. It’s not hard to see why the crowds are wowed: There’s no time to get bored with Nektar studio’s delicious visuals (deftly combining stage shots with historic NZ Film Archive footage), the intimate stage-setting and almost vaudevillian banter, and production values that set new standards for local shows. Pretty good.

* The second Fly My Pretties CD/DVD is due for release on November 8.

December 2005:

Songs In The Key Of Life

“I started writing out of spite,” says singer-songwriter Lorina Harding. “My first husband was French-Canadian songwriter,” she explains, “and I sang with his groups and performed his songs. When the marriage ended I thought if he could do it, then I probably could too! I wrote my first song and thought: that wasn’t too bad, and then another one, and then suddenly I wasn’t writing out of spite anymore.” The perpetrator of Clean Break, a damn fine album of songs etched with the grain and grit of life experience, Harding admits that a lot of the deep-felt emotions on her second release are the concentrated effects of a life that’s not been “a cute, lovely, funny picture.” Several bad marriages and personal tragedies have made the former actress stronger, and capable of a recording like Clean Break, proving conclusively that someone in their middle years has more to say in words and song than all those 20-something songbirds twittering away in their designer threads on big budget, big label excursions. The expatriate Canadian prairie girl landed in Auckland in 1988, and soon settled into Grey Lynn living, playing the roots country/folk circuit still vigorously promoted by Atomic Café owner Chris Priestly. Now happily living in Geraldine on an organic farm with a new husband and her 15-year-old daughter (who is also blessed with a charming singing voice and is a guest on the album), Harding describes herself these days as “happy as a pig in shit”, and says that her new stability has been a boon to her writing. “When I write songs now they’re not usually out of my own angst. I’m in a really fruitful writing period at the moment and I now know that it doesn’t take a bad relationship to nourish your art!” One night in late October, Lorina Harding celebrates the release of Clean Break with a triumphant performance amongst media and friends at Atomic Café, a homecoming that wins us over with songs both drawing from her own experiences (Flight From Murdoch) and less personal but no less emotive observations like Promise (a rumination about a Middle Eastern girl who was stoned to death). Clearly, Harding’s time is now. GARY STEEL

* Clean Break is out now through Global Routes.

January 2006:

Trance paradiso

Pitch Black sell many thousands of every CD they put before the NZ public. They perform to huge crowds. They’ve been pitching their blackness since the late ‘90s, while remaining independent of the mainstream music machine. A classic case of hot band, scant media attention, the duo of Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free reworked the paradigm of electronic music performance by giving their audiences a little more to look at than two laptop-bound geeks. Hodgson (whose other big gig is working the giant video screens at sporting events) designed a visual presentation for the group’s performances where the startling pictures respond to the hypnotic pulses of the music, which combine Free’s beats with Hodgson’s textures. The visual aesthetic is enhanced by Free’s bopping frame and flame-red hair. As electronic gigs go, theirs are hard to beat, as the trance-like ambience combines with danceable beats to carry the audience through on wave after wave of dance nirvana. Ironically, international interest in the group is at an all-time high as the two pull back a little to find time for their individual interests. Last year’s Ape To Angel album has been released in the UK, Europe and USA to rave reviews; they’ve recently undertaken their first tour of USA and Canada; and different versions of their new remix album, Halfway: Between Ape And Angel, will be released in every country. “We approached groups whose music we liked, and our UK manager approached groups he thought would be good, so it was great to get remixes from beyond our pool of knowledge,” says Hodgson. Free describes the group as “a collision of our two tastes in music” – Hodgson’s experimental textures and Free’s pop sensibilities. “We often say that our music is trance with a small ‘t’, in that we like music that slips in under the conscious mind and takes the body away. I think dancing is the necessary re-boot of the conscious mind,” says Free. Catch the band at the Splore multi-cultural festival (February 17), after which they’ll be working on their individual projects for a time: Free is working on a collaboration with Richard Nunns combining traditional Maori instruments with electronics and Te Reo vocals, and Hodgson’s efforts are going into his ambient work under the name Misled Convoy. GARY STEEL
* Halfway: Between Ape & Angel is out now through Rhythmethod.

February 2006:

Great white

By Gary Steel

One of the most notable long-term denizens of Karangahape Rd, the rather extraordinary Brent Hayward greets me at a local bar with a polemic that lasts exactly one hour and 13 minutes. During this impenetrable squall of jet-propelled information - performance art carried through to interview - I slowly understand why Hayward isn’t valued and revered the way he clearly deserves to be: He’s failed to come up with useful sound bites, just like he’s failed to capitulate to the demands of acceptable artistry.
No fancy arts grants for this restless poet, film-maker, singer-songwriter and agent provocateur: For over 25 years Hayward’s art has been such a naked exposition of self that there are none of the usual safety barriers.
Today, Hayward is playing an anti-nostalgia card. He’s tired of hearing about his past. Lately, audiences around the world have begun to discover his first incarnation as the singer in NZ’s seminal post-punk group Shoes This High, and the rare vinyl from his subsequent Smelly Feet and Kiwi Animal projects sells for vast sums.
Hayward’s life and art is one of extremes, could fill a substantial tome, and one that would undoubtedly keep sensitive jaws dropping. After rejecting music in the mid-‘80s, he was for a time a gay prostitute (though he maintains he’s not gay) selling sex for drugs. The following ten years were devoted to bizarre and often obscene experimental film-making and equally odd performance projects, and he’s only returned to music this decade… first as the busking Reverend Stinkfinger, then as the lynchpin of Fats White, his current band.
[replacement par] Hayward’s life and art is one of extremes that could fill a substantial tome, and would keep sensitive jaws dropping. After rejecting music in the mid-‘80s, for a time he sold sex to maintain a drug habit. This, and other real life experiences were explored during the following ten years in his bizarre and sometimes x-rated experimental films, and equally disturbing performance projects, and he’s only returned to music this decade… first as the busking Reverend Stinkfinger, then as the lynchpin of Fats White, his current band.

Fats White – which has seen a vast number of musicians swell and deplete its ranks over the last couple of years – makes a kind of voodoo rockabilly that’s pure Hayward, complete with his King Kong-size lyric sheets to aid memory over the often three or four hour performance marathons.
Still angry after all these years, Hayward’s extreme personality might not endear him to some, but the man and his work are capable of great charm and a very Kiwi sense of humour and unique insight.

Available: Fats White - Open Yr Buck’N’Ears (Powertool)

March 2006:

Worldly wonder

Susheela Raman is gyrating lasciviously and using her enormous Indian eyes to great effect. She’s singing ‘Trust In Me’, a song from the Jungle Book in which she impersonates a snake. It’s a transfixing moment for a tiny media audience crammed into the boardroom of EMI on the 9th floor of a city office block. Accompanied by her guitarist/producer/husband Sam Mills on a promotional stopover to promote her third album, Music For Crocodiles, Raman is sensational. Earlier in the day the Australian-raised, British-based singer patiently explains what makes her fusion of music forms startlingly different. Calling her organic hybrid of Indian, African and Western forms “universal soul music”, she reckons that the tired marketing phrase ‘World Music’ doesn’t get close to capturing what she does. On Music For Crocodiles, Madras musicians play English-language songs, and a racially mixed bag of musicians perform behind Raman’s personalised interpretations of old tunes sung in ancient languages Tamil, Talagu and Sanskrit. Her music represents a new generation of immigrants who have integrated socially and musically, and she has arrived naturally at a fresh, organic style that has, as Mills notes, “a very lush texture from the production point of view, and an open spacey feeling. And the way Susheela sings lends itself to that because she’s got a great ability to sing different Indian scales in the raga system. Every song refers to that system, where you use a particular mode, and use some notes and not others, and it gives a unique atmosphere straight off. The musicians improvise with that, so it creates something that’s its own little eternal present.” Raman’s dusky vocal style is influenced by years of Indian classical music training as a young girl, but also her teenage years soaking up blues and jazz, which left her an eternal fan of Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday. It’s Holiday’s coy, subtle phrasing that has left its mark on Raman’s vocal presence, while the delectable brew that constitutes her music has resulted in numerous critical accolades. Huge in France, where “there’s a huge interest in culture, so more exotic stuff is entertained”, Raman is about to hit the American market before launching an extensive tour which will hopefully bring her back down under.

* Music For Crocodiles is out now on Narada/EMI.

April 2006:

Tears of ice

Ethereal Icelanders Sigur Ros must have to endure a sickly procession of fans laden with their own over-emotional responses to the group’s delicate yet powerful music. So bass guitarist Georg Holm’s response to a question about its ability to induce tears shouldn’t have come as a shock. “What… are you PUSSIES or something? This is music made by men for men!” Yes, Georg, big ol’ girly guys who aren’t averse to a big ol’ cry! He concedes that the group deliberately avoids context in their work “precisely because it allows people free emotional range to interpret it as they wish. If they want to cry I guess we can live with that.” Holm has been with Sigur Ros since their beginnings in 1994, when they set about creating a post-rock sound that - on the release of their first international album Agaetis Byrjun three years later – floored the international critical community. With singer Jon Por Birgisson’s sweetly high-pitched vocals emoted in a made-up language called Hopelandic, and long-form song epics that typically evolved from a melancholy hush to an extended, giant cascading climax, Sigur Ros became a phenomenon of the indie underground. With their latest album, Takk, they’ve signed up to music conglomerate EMI but say the experience is much the same for them. “We loved our last label (hip independent Fat Cat) but so far we are having a good time with EMI. Things haven’t changed for us because we just deliver finished records and that’s that. It’s in our contract that we supply the videos, the sleeves, the music without input or influence from the label.” And what videos, sleeves and music! The group’s videos are artfully constructed and go against the cliched notion of clip as promo; ditto their record covers which typically come in shapes and sizes redolent of an artwork or a book rather than a generic compact disc. As for the music on Takk, it’s infused with an almost classic pop feel (and Icelandic, rather than Hopelandic, lyrics) without sacrificing their unique sound. While they acknowledge the huge debt every Icelandic group pays to Bjork’s groundbreaking work, Holm stops short of claiming a special cultural significance to their sound. “Bjork laid the groundwork for all of us to follow. I guess if you all live in a small place experiencing the same environmental influences there are going to be similarities. The best Icelandic bands are the ones that stay close to the influence of Iceland rather than trying to sound like American or British bands.” It’s this somewhat insular approach to their art that has cultivated the group’s immediately identifiable sound. Loath to analyse it too much, Holm will concede to mentioning a couple of things that identify the Sigur Ros difference. Firstly, they record all their music in “the bottom of an old swimming pool”, which we bought with our publishing advance.” Secondly, the group admits they’re delightedly free of the usual guitar/bass/drums rock’n’roll band paradigm. While they do play these instruments, their records are also buzzing with an antiques roadshow of odd and archaic instrumentation. “We always pick up strange instruments, whenever we see them on the road or on E-Bay. It’s not a case of being brave… who said that rock’n’roll had to be formulaic?” Sigur Ros finally make it to Auckland this month, and Holm is looking forward to checking out a country that’s often compared to his own. What can we expect from the Sigur Ros live experience? “I think the live and studio are definitely different things, but which is more ‘Sigur Ros’ is hard to say. There isn’t so much electronic trickery, and fewer layers… smaller string section, no brass. But hopefully it stands up.” GARY STEEL

Sigur Ros, St James Theatre, April 17. Takk is out now through EMI.

Unpublished final Metro music profile, May 2006:


“I walked in to Sony-BMG this morning with black hair and everybody loved it but they were like, ‘Argghh! It’s going to be a bit of a challenge!’ Like for my first album I had my hair down and wavy and that’s what Sony-BMG wanted to do with this album [Montage] as well, and I had this enormous beehive on the cover and everybody’s like ‘Oh God!’ and now I have black hair and it’s like ‘Oh God!’
This record is based on drama, while the first record [In The West] was based on my personal experiences from when I first arrived in New Zealand from Russia. Montage is a dramatic record, songs like ‘The Actress’, ‘The Show Must Go On’. To be honest, I have been struggling for a while with myself and with my decisions. I didn’t know what I wanted to be and wanted to do and I’m 20 years old, it’s fair enough. Some singers know what they want to be from the start. But I don’t know, because I can, fortunately or unfortunately, do both, classical and pop. I even tried a bit of, um, rock music as well [giggles] but it didn’t really work out that well. I even recorded a demo CD, and played it to [manager] Michael Glading and he said ‘Ah, yeah, you’d better stick to what you’re doing!’ But I do love pop/rock, I’m really intrigued by Kelly Clarkson, you’d call her pop but she does have aspects of rock and soul in her music. And I love Dave Dobbyn, amazing, the type of music I would love to do but I don’t want to be bringing in another style. There are so many pop artists and it isn’t me, jumping around the stage like a mad chicken, and not concentrating on what I’m singing. Eventually the record turned out to be a classical pop crossover, because the two styles they’re just inseparable for me. One of my favourite songs is ‘The Actress’, the one that Carl Doy wrote, and the first line is ‘You left her on an empty stage, took the book and tore out every page’, and it’s like, so me! After the first record I was left thinking, and I couldn’t decide on what I was going to do. Who am I? But eventually I think I’ll graduate as a new Barbara Streisand. At least I now know who my favourite artist is and what I want to be like, and of course Barbara Streisand is retired now so I can just take over. It’s going to take a lot of effort because she’s an amazing singer and she’s my idol. I was originally marketed as a pop classical crossover singer and when I was signed it was basically to create another Charlotte Church because she was finished with Sony and they didn’t have anyone like Hayley, because Hayley was with Universal, and they wanted another pop classical diva. But I think my personality is bigger than the genre. I went to Hayley’s concert in Dunedin, and I’m very happy to say our styles are drifting apart now. She’s more of a classical Enya, and with me I’m more of a classical Barbara. I’m such an old-fashioned soul, I love all the old fashioned songs, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, all those old stars, I love that kind of music. My influence was Russian folk music, Grandma taught me all the folk songs. If there was a gathering at our house, Grandma would start a song and I would sing along. I never did think I could sing, because my Mum used to tell me not to even try to sing, I was so bad. Grandma was nice and supportive, my Mum was the one who said ‘you sound like a Russian bear, you’d better stick to your dancing!’ And that made me feel a bit conscious about my voice. Wing! [laughs]. My boyfriend and I are constantly making fun of her because she’s just so cute and so funny and it’s amazing that in three years I think she released five or six albums and she even has a website and she’s just a cute little lady. But I think she’s more of a comedian than a singer [laughs]. I have had a few singing teachers over the past year, but I find that I am my best coach. I read a lot of books on singing and listen to other singers and study them and look at them and how they perform and that’s how I study. You can go to a lot of teachers, but if you don’t feel your own body yourself there’s no way anyone can teach you how to sing. So I try and read a lot of books on how the body is formed because your voice is part of your body, it’s not a separate thing like a trombone which you pick up and play. When I arrived in New Zealand I felt so terribly homesick for Russia that I started writing songs on guitar and I desperately wanted to do music at school, and my music teacher asked me to do rest homes and libraries and museums, and I really enjoyed the rest homes, because they’re so starved for people to come and see them. I’m very lucky because I’m very critical of myself, and whatever I don’t like I try and improve on.
I think I can handle things pretty easily, but I do think that I need to prepare still. Like New Zealand Music Awards, oh God, did I talk rubbish! I don’t even drink, but I got off the plane that morning from Singapore and I was so tired. I was sitting there dreaming I was so tired, and when they called my name out my manager goes ‘Yulia!’ and I walked on that stage and I’m lucky that I can talk rubbish I guess. It always works, when you pretend to be a dumb blonde it’s all good. [laughs]. It was one of the experiences that I put down in my diary: nothing like that again. As Cher says ‘Everything surprises me and nothing surprises me’. Showbiz is not as easy as getting up on stage and singing, you have to do your homework.”

• Yulia received Tui awards for Highest Selling New Zealand Album [Into The West] and Best Female Singer at the 2005 New Zealand Music Awards. Her second album, Montage (Sony-BMG) is out now.