On Monday, September 15th I saw an innocuous Facebook post by Doo Ragnarok, aka Duane Zarakov, aka Pat Faigan – a fairly typical post by Pat, who spends a great chunk of the day posting excellent youtube clips of classic songs – in this case The Great Unwashed‘s ‘Born in the Wrong Time’, which is one of my all time favorite songs, Kiwi or otherwise.
However the responses to this wonderful song were different than usual – a whole heap of sad comments. This is how I found out Peter Gutteridge – founding member of The Clean, The Chills, The Great Unwashed and his own group Snapper – had passed away that morning.
Pretty soon the rest of the world had caught up on Peter’s passing – Simon Sweetman seemed to have the first story online about his passing, and this interview from Mess and Noise back in April last year seems to be the most informative insight online in to who I believed to be New Zealand’s greatest song-writer.
I took the photo above back in 2012 after catching Peter play a live acoustic set at Christchurch’s Darkroom Bar back in 2012 – Peter was very conscientious about his appearance, making sure I drew as much of the ample character in his face as possible. I got just two shots; the above color shot which seems to portray fire and brimstone, a swaggering but downtrodden character. However the 2nd shot I took (below) seems to show another side of Peter – there is warmth and frailty in his eyes – a complete transformation.
Considering the depth of Peter’s music, this transformation is not surprising. Though known for the huge walls of feedback and straight for the jugular approach of songs like The Clean’s ‘Point That Thing somewhere Else’ (which he was always keen to remind us – he wrote at the age of 17), he also had a deeply emotional, quiet side – Snapper’s ‘Gentle Hour’ and several of the Great Unwashed’s song hint at this.
I managed to catch Peter playing a couple times in the past 2 years, with the reformed Snapper playing at the 2013 Camp A Low Hum being a particular highlight – it was great to see Peter passing the baton to a new generation of Dunedin kids, with a backing band that included Bad Sav‘s Hope Robertson and Though Creature‘s Danny Brady.
So Monday was a very sad day in New Zealand Music. We’ve lot one of our greats, a fantastic song-writer that has just begun to resurface after a long absence from the public eye.
[Interview and Article by Andrew Barry, Photos by Christopher Andrews]
Meeting with the members of Christian Rock at their spiritual (and in some cases literal) home of All Plastics Recording it is immediately clear that the band is no marriage of convenience, or mere side project.
The three musicians in Christian Rock are all at ease with each other as coffee, cigarettes, easy banter and self-deprecating wit flows. Rhett Copland, Jamie Larson and Brian Feary are all well-established members of Christchurch’s Indie scene, and despite busy musical schedules they get plenty from this latest endeavor.
I’m with them, ostensibly to discuss the lack of music venues in Christchurch but conversation jumps from left to right with ease and a sense of fun.
Topics covered include;
Withering (and deserved) put-downs of sacred local music cows [for names of whom, send me a fiver].
The ups and downs of the internet for musicians.
The horror that is Nelson, (“It’s shit, and too many people hate me” – Copland)
The merits of various member’s potential careers as gigolos, and broadcasters, Rhett not so great – (“I’d be a shit gigolo, id care about myself, not her needs”) and Jamie, pretty good (he’s a student at the New Zealand Broadcasting School).
This is before concluding finally in a revealing run through of the inside the actors studio 10 questions. That might just come later, and it’s a superb little pop psychology quiz.
This many paragraphs in is probably a few too late, but it’s perhaps about time to explain quite who and what Christian Rock are. They’re good friends, music obsessives, and to boot (as Copland says); “Everyone’s having fun playing.”
This sense of fun, and slightly warped humour is evident from the off, the band’s name and song titles have been described as Brilliant by Russell Brown, and I’m not about to pick a fight on such a clear-cut issue, he’s right, plus, regardless who am I to argue with the doyen of New Zealand’s blogosphere.
Rhett says the name partially comes from memories I’m sure we all share of Rockquest days where “When you’re 16, anything rock or from out of town is legit” and the inherent humour which surrounds everything in that competition,
Call me cynical or a pushover but once again I’m not going to argue that point, because for all its good, there’s something adorably and endearingly witty about Rockquest, even if it’s often by accident. Furthermore it’s hard to take issue with Copland when he says “I found Christian Rock (The genre) really funny then, and I do now”.
Christian Rock the band though, are funnily enough, a Rock n Roll group made up of atheists, described by their drummer as basically “Being more of a child-like form” than the member’s collective and numerous other projects, and “A return to guitars after the Sonics of the likes of Phobos Eros” by their vocalist.
These quotes aren’t meant to imply the band isn’t taken seriously, but rather that it opens up avenues for three talented guys to scratch musical itches they otherwise might not be able to reach.
Punk, psycho-Billy and garage rock feature on the menu, with Bob Log III cited as a key influence. All of the above can be heard in the strident ‘We’ll meet at Riccarton Mall to fuck” some would argue the band’s legacy is safe already, just through having had a song of such a name grace the airwaves of National Radio.
But there’s more in store, the irreverent sensibilities of the band saw the first practice yield three songs from the ether, with multi-instrumentalists Copland and Feary enjoying the challenges and excitement of (surprisingly after so many band’s each) playing as a duo of guitarists for the first time.
The band is featured on [Joe Sampson’s new Christchurch-based label] Melted Ice Cream’s brilliant recent compilation, Sickest Smashes from Arson City. Sampson sums things up perfectly by stating of Copland “It’s the most energetic I’ve heard him”
Rhett Copland, self-described as musically skitzo, but better known for languid psychedelica, superb shoegaze and introspective soundscapes is firmly in more of a rowdy mode here, backed up by the equal parts perfect time keeping and machine gunning of Larson’s drumming, not to mention the versatility and force of Feary’s guitar playing.
The aesthetic of the band at this stage in their early development is just as tightly formed and well-rounded as the lack of fat on the bones of their tunes -pieces that are more missives than songs really.
Christian Rock themselves claim that it’s simply “Been fucking fun, and it’s too early (for the band) to be anything” but the early songs and presentation hint at a manifesto, and plenty more incendiary musical nuggets ahead.
Artwork features the takes of several celebrity fans about the group and the knowing touch of ‘Professional band’ is added to their official Facebook handle.
This band is simply three guys having a good time making music together; and that is about as pure a motivation as there is left in contemporary music (which on the whole is just “There to sell cars”). However, because of the intelligence and passion of the members it transcends what in lesser hands could be a cliché.
Rhett’s right in saying Its unusual to be this invested – especially in a time where the general public aren’t and so much music is simply there (as Feary puts it); merely “Written to be played to a crowd”, this is not to mention Copland’s point that “No one in New Zealand music’s made money except Dave Dobbyn”.
However, we should be thankful for the trio’s investment, as short, sharp, fun but fiery bursts of Rock n Roll courtesy of Christian Rock might just be the kick up the ass a willing, but still broken and tired Christchurch City needs.
Copland says that listening to music “You can tell when there’s genuine intent.” Those who have taken to Christian Rock so far know that intent is unmistakable, but Garden City listeners’ best make the most of this, at least in the live arena while they can; a move to Auckland, for greater access to festivals, and a more receptive audience is pencilled in for 2014.
Click here for more images from the Sickest Smashes from Arson City compilation album release party.
There’s a short film from 1981 by prominent Christchurch multi-dimensional artist Ronnie van Hout that’s been well-circulated on Youtube recently.
The film opens with an evocative poem by (Pin Group contributor and early member) Desmond Brice, backed by guitarist Jon Segovia. The footage eventually cuts away to the equally evocative bass playing of the Pin Group’s Ross Humphries, running through the opening rumble of the brilliant ‘Ambivalence’, which is of particular note as it was the very first single distributed by Flying Nun Records.
In a general sense I think it was the accumulation of hard-to-get DYI punk, post-punk and obscure 60s vinyl coming from the UK and the US shared amongst a handful of folk committed enough to fork out large amounts of cash to pay for imports that led to a realisation that if no-one else was going to back the equivalent energy and garage aesthetic here then we had better put up or shut up.
– Roy Montgomery
A young Roy Montgomery bites his lips as he builds the intensity in his guitar playing, carefully looking over his shoulder at Humphries as drummer Peter Stapleton brings the song to full velocity. The sound is muffled, but Montgomeries husky baritone still powers through the murk – “I don’t know how to react to you, or even if I should” goes the opening line.
I think the lyrical content from Peter Stapleton and Desmond Brice was very filmic and atmospheric albeit rather bleak and fraught in a psychological sense. Desmond made no secret of his lyrics as recriminations or self-recriminations and used to refer to himself as Jim Despondent at the time – a not-too-subtle Doors reference.
– Roy Montgomery
The film gives a glimpse of a defining era in Christchurch music; free from the hype that would be thrust upon the Dunedin scene within the next few years.
Montgomery had been a keen purveyor of British and American Rock’n’Roll since his teenage years, avoiding the “oompah, thigh-slapping ‘schmaltz’ music” of Germany (he lived in Cologne with his British Mother and German father till the age of 5) and formed his first, in-name-only band – the Psychedeliks.
The only one with an actual instrument was me. I had a Diplomat six-string electric bought from Sedley Wells as a package with an amplifier that dated back to the late 1940s and which took about a week to warm up. I couldn’t play guitar at all at the time but I did come up with the band name and the spelling of it and I decorated the drum kit made out of crates with “crazy” lettering. We were as influenced by the Monkees as we were by anything really countercultural.
– Roy Montgomery
However at this stage in his live Montgomery was more music fan than musician, a regular at local non-pub gigs at venues like the Caledonian Hall and English Park where he can remember “an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck”. The Pin Group didn’t start taking shape until around 1980, pre-cursor groups ‘Compulsory Fun’ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink’ uniting Montgomery with Ross Humphries.
I was still learning to play guitar so three-chords/three minutes/buzzsaw music was the norm. The Saints were a big influence for me at that time. But we had a few atmospheric, brooding, plodders that anticipated the Pin Group modus operandi a year or two later.
– Roy Montgomery
The early Pin Group recordings were not particularly well received – mostly due to the crude murky quality of the recordings and pressing, a teething issue of the fledgling label. To add to that their live shows ended up a little odd, to say the least.
Typical audience reception to the Pin Group was bemusement as far as I could tell. I remember Bill Direen doing headstands on the dancefloor of the Gladstone to one of our songs but I think he was making some sort of Dada anti-art statement. On another night two women in bondage gear whipped one another for another number while a vibrator buzzed happily on a nearby beer-soaked table. Dancing and other expressive audience participation was not common for us so we had to be grateful for what we got.
– Roy Montgomery
However over the past 30 years the group’s reputation has grown substantially, partly due to the later success of the groups members (Peter Stapleton and Ross Humphries with the Terminals, and Roy Montgomery in a solo capacity), but also the powerful nature of the songs themselves. When Roger Sheppard was reunited with the Flying Nun label in 2010, creating a definitive Pin Group release was high on the labels list of priorities. Packaged with artwork by van Hout and mastered by Montgomery and engineer Arnie van Bussel, the release (named ‘Ambivalence’ after the terrific debut single) lays bare the gloomy, dark and dynamic sound of the Pin Group.
Over the course of the double-albums 20 songs (compiling all previous releases plus a live recording rescued from Montgomeries Earthquake damaged home) the listener is treated to gloomy, powerful songs that not only evoke a certain vision of Christchurch but indeed New Zealand at it’s darkest.
Tell me about your early exposure to music (both listening and playing). I understand your mother worked for the British Forces Network radio station and that you were in a teenage group called the Psychedeliks?
I lived in Cologne, Germany until shortly before my fifth birthday. Although the “Allied occupation” was more or less over the Anglo-American cultural colonisation of Germany, the condition that many German filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s used as a launching point for their work, was still in full swing. I don’t remember the oompah, thigh-slapping “schmaltz” music that bedevilled popular local music. I remember Elvis and rock and roll when I try to recall Germany. The Psychedeliks were a band in name only and I think I was pre-teen, technically speaking. The only one with an actual instrument was me. I had a Diplomat six-string electric bought from Sedley Wells as a package with an amplifier that dated back to the late 1940s and which took about a week to warm up). I couldn’t play guitar at all at the time but I did come up with the band name and the spelling of it and I decorated the drum kit made out of crates with “crazy” lettering. We were as influenced by the Monkees as we were by anything really countercultural.
What was your perception of Christchurch as a teenager in the 1970s?
It depends a little on which part of the 1970s you are talking about. The early ‘70s felt very exciting. I was a regular, albeit slightly-out-of-place, attendee at local non-pub gigs at places like the Caledonian Hall or English Park. Bands like Butler played regularly and it was like having Hendrix’s cousins living in the same town. I barely noticed the drug culture and was a source of amusement to the core stoners who followed various bands around. I remember an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck. That was the happy hippie period for me. Things got weirder as the decade wore on. I remember sitting in the Christchurch Town Hall in what I thought I was a pretty adventurous pin-stripe suit from an op shot waiting for Lou Reed to come in the mid-70s when he was touring Rock and Roll Animal and looking behind me to see several people dressed so outrageously that it made Lou Reed look like an accountant when he finally took the stage. I distinctly remember one Maori gentleman who was dressed in a Hussar’s uniform with an Afro and white make-up. Not long after that I found The Gladstone and the denizens there who seemed bent on carrying on the tradition of Andy Warhol’s Factory irrespective of the bands who played the three-nighters.
What can you recall about the time spent in (Pin Group pre-cursors) ‘Compulsory Fun‘ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink‘? Did these groups have a different sound from the Pin Group?
These were “precursor” bands. I was still learning to play guitar so three-chords/three minutes/buzzsaw music was the norm. The Saints were a big influence for me at that time. But we had a few atmospheric, brooding, plodders that anticipated the Pin Group modus operandi a year or two later. There were also the seminal hangovers from the glamrock and hippy era: Compulsory Fun opened their one and only show in 1980 at the England Street Hall with a cover of Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain, much faster of course than the original, and ended with The Byrds Eight Miles High done in manic overdrive well before Husker Du had experienced their own epiphany on that tune. Murder Strikes Pink used an image of Franz Kafka in posters for its handful of gigs at the Gladstone. Need I say more?
Can you lead me through the events that bought about the very first Flying Nun single? Tell me about the recording and your relationship with Roger in the early days.
In a general sense I think it was the accumulation of hard-to-get DYI punk, post-punk and obscure 60s vinyl coming from the UK and the US shared amongst a handful of folk committed enough to fork out large amounts of cash to pay for imports that led to a realisation that if no-one else was going to back the equivalent energy and garage aesthetic here then we had better put up or shut up. The first Pin Group recording was technically a Flying Nun distribution deal rather than an in-house recording i.e., the Pin Group paid for the recording, paid for the pressings, paid for the screenprinting and sleeves and Roger marketed it outside of Christchurch. You’ll have to ask Roger but I think he got to starting a label by a process of elimination. If you were not going to be in a band but you were not content to just stand there and watch your friends embarrass themselves in bands what else could you usefully do which no-one was doing? Band “managers” were rated about as highly as car-dealers. Label owner in the mould of Rough Trade seemed worthy to all and sundry at the time.
Peter Stepleton was playing in the Victor Dimisich at the same time as the Pin Group – do you remember other notable groups from the era? Did the Pin Group play at pubs or parties, or other locations, and what was the typical audience reception for the Pin Group?
The Pin Group played all of their ten or so shows bar one at the Gladstone. The other was at a Dada Cabaret night in the Arts Centre. Just prior to formation of the Pin Group the Vacuum Blue Ladder Band, the Vauxhalls, Vapor and the Trails and Stanley Wrench and the Monkey Brothers and were notable groups who played regularly in the late 1970’s. 25 Cents, the Volkswagens, Hey Clint, Mainly Spaniards, Ritchie Venus were local contemporaries of the Pin Group. The first wave of Dunedin bands were making their tentative sorties to Christchurch at this time as well. Typical audience reception to the Pin Group was bemusement as far as I could tell. I remember Bill Direen doing headstands on the dancefloor of the Gladstone to one of our songs but I think he was making some sort of Dada anti-art statement. On another night two women in bondage gear whipped one another for another number while a vibrator buzzed happily on a nearby beer-soaked table. Dancing and other expressive audience participation was not common for us so we had to be grateful for what we got.
Were the groups songs trying to evoke a certain mood, feeling, etc? Your later solo releases often contain a cinematic or landscape type feel, and you’ve been involved with theatre.
I think the lyrical content from Peter Stapleton and Desmond Brice was very filmic and atmospheric albeit rather bleak and fraught in a psychological sense. Desmond made no secret of his lyrics as recriminations or self-recriminations and used to refer to himself as Jim Despondent at the time – a not-too-subtle Doors reference. I think both of them were writing words in a film noir style but it took the music that I was coming up with at the time a while to catch up. I think I was getting there about the time of Pin Group Go To Town and it went off more or less on its own after that. Often black and white but also technicolour or at least glorious Sovkino colour. My work with the Free Theatre in the mid-1980s which involved doing sound and lighting design for theatre before straying acting was to begin with less a deliberate choice about honing a particular scene-making or scene-evoking craft than it was about worrying that my girlfriend was going to make off with bohemian members of the theatre group and having to justify my presence at rehearsals and shows. The fascination with working in experimental theatre, which very few people seemed to understand at the time, and the creative scope afforded by its enforced minimalist aesthetic came a little later.
How did the new ‘Ambivalence’ release come about? I understand you worked with Arnie van Bussell on mastering the release – but where did you source the live recording?
I don’t know how much “pre-loading” or seed-sowing was done by Bruce Russell in this matter but Roger Shepherd rang me at some point in 2010 to announce that having reclaimed Flying Nun one of the prime re-release projects he had in mind was the Pin Group. I thought that this was a chance to correct a minor error on the Siltbreeze compilation of 1997 where a Coat demo had been accidentally substituted for the Flying Nun 003 track. The idea of doing a decent Ronnie van Hout artwork package was part of Roger’s pitch but I thought that it could do with an extra dimension if possible. As it happened our house got turned upside down in the September 2010 earthquake including the attic in which a daunting quantity of old cassettes had been carelessly stored. Some poorly labelled but vaguely familiar tapes had floated to the top of the mound of debris. I recognised these as various Pin Group live mixing desk tapes from the Gladstone which were only really meant at the time as working documentation to learn from for future improvement. I took it as a sign that something would have to be done to tidy up these loose ends. Hence the live recording.
Have you ever considered a reunion?
That ship has probably sailed. It was hard enough to get me on stage the first time around which frustrated Peter and Ross, understandably. And although I have mellowed a little in the ensuing decades and I believe that Peter, at some very and genuine fundamental level just loves making music with others I think that Ross, in particular, would struggle to see the point in it. I don’t think the old songs would be too complicated to reprise and our stage act was hardly athletic so we could probably do a reasonable impression of ourselves but it was more about the recordings than the shows back then so it is not an easy case to make.
This interview was conducted with Simon McLaren via email in late 2003; on the eve of the launch of his terrific ‘Giant Spheres’ album, released under the then-new moniker of Sleepers Union.
First of all, we know you’re well inclined to try out different styles with your different bands, from the loud and brash approach of Loves Ugly Children, to the driving, charismatic approach of The Subliminals. How do you describe your current album to fans of your previous work?
I guess an uncomplicated answer to that is that this has turned out to be a psychedelic pop / psychedelic soft rock record. If you’re a fan of that genre in any way then you should like the Giant Spheres record. In terms of my history, it kinda carries along from The Subliminals vibe, which had a definite psychedelic quality, or perhaps some form of psychedelic anxiety about itself anyway.
A major difference is that Sleepers Union is about the vocals as well as the music, as I enjoyed the writing process, using language haphazardly by blending bunches of lines together until I could see symmetries or juxtapositions arise.
What was the song-writing process for the album?
Basically I had a mini-disc and an acoustic guitar – some tuning variations and some spare time. It’s a process of capturing ides or snippets of song possibilities and then deciding later which ones fit the current project. I love the simplicity and smallness of the mini-disc, it’s so easy just to capture ideas off the cuff- unlike having a four-track or computer set up which is less portable. A good example is ‘Waking From The Dream’ which was written and demoed very quickly at 2 in the morning one night when I couldn’t sleep. I managed to capture a moment, with just a snapshot of the sleepy melody, lyrics and chords before I returned to bed. Later on that song got recorded onto my pc and then transferred and worked on again on Dales mac.
But it’s really a very normal songwriting process in that I just write songs and then keep the ones I like. If I happen to write and record a good one it seems to inspire more.. Which is what happened with this record starting with the song silver cloud, the first finished tune. It was a song I had written while in The Subliminals, and the subs played it a few times. Anyway it kinda set the agenda for the rest of the record.
Sounds like the old Keith Richard’s legend of him writing the riff for ‘Satisfaction’ in his sleep! With this kind of immediate idea-capturing, was the production studio based, or did you flesh out full songs first before committing it to pc?
Well there was no band, so there was no flesh, so to speak of, that we could record. The songs had only been demoed with me playing acoustic, accompanied by Mark Anderson playing bass. When we recorded the drums with Matthew Heine and with Brendan Moran, neither of them had heard the songs before that day.
I guess that was the point of not starting a band, so that nobody else could really have early control of the textures or structures: I could build my tunes completely from the basement up for a change. It’s definitely a better record for escaping the trap that many NZ bands fall into; that is, the territorial possessiveness that members unconsciously yield in terms of their instruments frequency range. Like a guitarist in a band who thinks that he should play on every track on a record, because that’s how the tunes were conceived (with him playing along).
It’s harder in that instance to avoid a big cloggy mid range guitar (for instance) filling up the frequencies of a bunch of tunes on a record, when those frequencies may not even be needed. All of a sudden your not making a record anymore, your actually in the process of allowing a bunch of your friends to trample over some songs.. And I guess if you are at a point when these kind of doubts crop up, then its definitely time to make a solo record!
Did you go looking for lyrical inspiration, or did it come to you?, I always find the hardest thing about writing lyrics is not making it seem forced.
Well, lyrically speaking, there was some kinda blueprint that I was consciously writing towards, which meant that I could begin tunes with either chords that fitted in to the concept or with lyrics that fitted. Either could trigger a new song, so different songs appeared lyrically via different processes. The most labored song lyrically doesn’t actually have that many lyrics. Which is ‘Collect My Particles’. Originally it was called ‘Silhouette Notebook’ but when we recorded the music we extended it quite a bit naturally, as we were enjoying playing it- so it seemed like another song by the time I got around to doing the vocals.
I had doubt whether a song called ‘Silhouette Notebook’ would actually be on the kind of record I wanted to produce, and so a new title ‘Catch My Particles’ got attached to the tune. Then of course, I had to rewrite the melody and lyrics to match the new title. While it had no lyrics I heard the opportunity for a kinda Beatles style ‘Ooo-Wah-La-La-La-La’ to garnish the descending riff, so I recorded that first; and then I tried to write the main vocals comfortably around it. Anyway by the end of it the song was ‘Collect My Particles’ instead of ‘Catch My Particles’.
‘Giant Spheres’ was another song that I had the title of first, and then I tried to write a song around the title. ‘She Seems Fluorescent’ is the same.
With Shayne Carter’s Dimmer project we heard about him going in to seclusion and learning to play music again, outside the band environment. Did you find yourself in a foreign predicament when creating this album?
Yeah it seemed kinda foreign to have total control of the project, total freedom to do anything I was capable of, and also to have enough time and support on my hands to develop the project. Because of this, it is less rushed and more thought out then any of the records I have made for Flying Nun. Turbine told me I could record an album of processed static if I wanted too and that they would still release it. Which is funny at hindsight, as I was actually messing around with a more computer generated, less organic sound – not song orientated at all. The fact that I had no ideological record company pressure on me just lightened the whole situation, which in turn meant that it was way more plausible for me to actually feel comfortable enough to write some pop music.
It seems kind of fitting then that you’ve finished with perhaps a more ‘pop’ result than your efforts under Flying Nun. Do you think this freedom had an impact on the overall direction of the album?
Yeah the freedom to do what the hell I wanted was exhilarating. Even if it was a bluff, it was a great bluff, as it got me writing without any boundaries. I felt relaxed.. I worked on a bunch of weirdo tunes on my pc (‘My Dream Of Cygnus The Swan’ being the one that made it onto ‘Giant Spheres’) until I had a bunch of these anti-songs together, enough to expand into an album. After that I kinda just relaxed into writing some pop tunes, which in turn became the actual basis for the record.
The Subliminals were such a fresh and invigorating band – possibly yet to reach their peak, what made the band decide to call it quits?
Uhhh, to be honest the band just imploded, it just happened that way.. The goodwill left the building and it just wasn’t going to come back. The band would have had to have developed musically to continue, but that would have meant rewriting some of the rules that we had set ourselves to start off with. Basically it got complicated just at the time when we had all run out of goodwill, and that just stopped it all dead in its tracks.
And do you regret the conclusion of any of your previous projects?
Yeah, i’m still pissed about the Subliminals. It was a cool band. But y’know, as they say: as one door shuts, a window opens in the back.
Any plans to put together a touring support band?
The Sleepers Union band is just materializing as we speak. It looks at this stage as if its gonna be me, Francis Hunt(Fang / Stereobus) on extra gat, Dave Yetton (Stereobus) on bass, and Simon Reid (Stayfree-Carefree) on drums.
Sounds like one-hell of a great band you’re putting together, is Dave looking forward to taking the support role?
Yeah, the bands just started, its sounding great already, its quite exciting.
With a psychedelic sound on the album, can we expect any electric jugs (ala The 13th Floor Elevators), heavy tremolo, or crazy mid-song freak-outs?
Well its early days in the band room yet. Tremelo will definitely feature. Weirdness of some description will be sought and hopefully attained. The few practices so far have sounded to me like really messed up, but at the same time really melodic, rock music. It’s very raw compared to the record, but it seems good like that. Uh yeah, and i’m still considering keyboards, to throw some extra loopiness into the mix.
New Zealand music seems to be in a transitional phase at the moment, with the memories of older bands starting to fade, and an emphasis on new, audience-focused bands coming to play. What direction do you see the (perhaps more underground) rock scene taking in the next few years?
I don’t really understand this question. Do you mean to say that bands, back in the day, used to focus on their music, but that now instead they are focusing on the audience (which is in turn, focusing on them)? Like narcissus frozen staring at his own reflection, the band members, overcome by spectacle, forget to actually listen to the sound that they make?
Uhhh- anyways-. As for seeing a direction for NZ underground bands-. Isn’t it meant to be going post-punk, hard edged new-wave? That crossover period, like Gang Of Four (except that that influence has still been felt all along via shellac, hasn’t it?). I’m not sure.
In terms of guitar bands, there may be apparent to some a pathway clear between two certain extremes: the dominant culture of new-old-rock, and its quiet nemesis, those of the purposefully-twee-brigade. In between somewhere there’s kind of a huge gap for alternative rock bands to arrive that aren’t entirely retrospective in focus.
Maybe the New Zealand nameless-lost-guitar-band-fraternity could all ‘accidentally’ embrace psychedelic at the same, as they discover that its y’know, like one of our really cool heritages – these bands could support and help each other, to play on spitefully and determinedly in total indifference to world trends.
Will Edmonds is eager, passionate and luckily for Christchurch, one of the founders of Out of Kilter, an all ages orientated community that focuses on promoting bands and events. Out of Kilter is just about to put out their first proper release- by Wellington band The Henderson, so I asked Will how Out of Kilter came about:
A few years ago I started a website where I could host the reviews I was writing about local shows and CD’s as well as have and interviews with bands I liked. A year or so after I began the webzine, a friend of mine, Josh, asked me if I wanted to start a record label with him to help put out the music of some of the local bands that were beginning to flourish here in Christchurch. We decided to take the name from the webzine just because it was easier and we thought it sounded cool.
About a month after getting together to start up the label we started putting on all ages shows. I think it was mainly because there was nobody else was putting on the type of rock shows we wanted in Christchurch…we were pretty much just filling the gap.
Will recalled the start of Out of Kilter’s foray into putting on events as being a huge learning curve for the enthusiastic pair.
The first shows we organized through Out of Kilter were kind of hit-or-miss. The very first one was awesome – there was a big turnout, the bands were cool, and costs were easily covered. The second gig though, was a bit of a shambles.
We were bringing down our friends from Wellington- [the] band The Red Carpet Murder to play a show here in Christchurch. In the end we lost a few hundred dollars, and had a small turnout. That show was probably one of the most important for me though, because it taught me a lot about how NOT to run a show!
When asked about what Out of Kilter really does he admits it’s a bit ambiguous, now days Will spreads what OOK does much beyond the initial idea for a record label.
It started with the intent of being a record label but kind of morphed into a bit of an all ages community. At first we started putting on AA shows with bands that we were friends with, but word kind of spread that there was this burgeoning all ages scene happening in Christchurch and we had quite a few bands from up north asking for help with all ages gigs.
Out of Kilter may have become seasoned pros at putting on live shows now, but they’re about to embark on a new adventure by putting out The Henderson’s In Miracle World EP. But the question begs how did a guy from Christchurch hook up with a band from Wellington and eventually agree to put out and promote an EP for them?
I met Mark (the Henderson’s front man) over the internet ages ago when I was like 14 and posting on NZMusic.com as DJ Will. We didn’t really talk all that much until he sent me some mp3s of his band via email a year or two ago and which I ended up loving. It pretty much just developed from there.
For Will, being involved with putting out The Henderson’s EP has been a bit of a waiting game, and as he knows, good things come to those who wait, and by the sounds of things good things are what he’s got.
Originally the Henderson EP was actually meant to be released in April this year. The artwork was completed ages ago by Hadley [AKA Wellington graphic artist, Autistk] and we were all pretty excited to be getting the EP out as fast as possible…
I loved the recordings and was looking forward to releasing them, but with the band’s line-up changing [and with] their style of music evolving quite drastically, they decided to completely re-recorded the EP as a three piece with Tim Shann – who had recorded the original EP – taking over on bass.
The new EP took about two months to be recorded [again by Tim] and at first I was slightly wary about a whole new EP [Because] I lived in a different city to the band and hadn’t had a chance to check them out live as a three-piece.
However, I did get a chance to hear some recorded band practices and was stoked! The new material and dynamics in the band was incredible.
Once the final version of the EP arrived in my mailbox to be sent off to the printers I was fully in love with the band. The new recordings were more powerful, more interesting and just generally in a completely different league to the original recordings and I was over the moon.’
So, Out of Kilter’s first big release will be from a Wellington band, but what does Will, think of the scene in his hometown?
The level of talent in Christchurch in terms of high school bands is fucking incredible! There has always been something in the water down here – I think Out of Kilter has probably helped bring kids out to shows that normally wouldn’t go – but in terms of great bands – they’ve always been here, although right now does seem like a bit of an AA revolution with cool new bands appearing out of the woodwork pretty frequently.
I’d say the best part for me as far as all ages shows go is the feeling of community at the gigs and on the Out of Kilter web forum…and getting to see great bands so early in their career is definitely exciting too.
Out of Kilter has been treated well by the all age’s scene but what about the R 18 crowd?
It’s almost like a 50/50 split between R18 cats who think what we’re doing is stupid or ‘cute’, and people who are genuinely excited about what’s going on.
When I first started putting on shows it definitely seemed like a LOT of the R18 bands weren’t interested at all in being involved with us. I remember approaching a couple of bands early on and getting some pretty rude responses which turned out to be good for me because it gave me the resolve to show them up.
On the other hand there have been some R18 bands who have been really involved in all ages shows. The first show we ever put on had The Leper Ballet onboard which was excellent. There are also bands like House of Dolls, A Flight to Blackout and Frase+Bri who are really active in the AA scene.
This experience has allowed Will to also connect with people who are involved with the Christchurch live scene outside of All Ages events, proving themselves to be worthy allies for Out of Kilter. He cites Joe Veale [of the defunct Creation, now manager of the Jetset Lounge] and Chris Andrews [thebigcity.co.nz] as driving influences.
I met them at the first and second [Out of Kilter] shows I put on respectively…and they’ve both been really instrumental in making Out of Kilter a success, and getting more good shows happening here. I’d say that the best part of all of this for me has definitely been meeting great people. That’s what keeps me going most of the time.
Although Will has been a focused on the all age’s scene, essentially his peer group, he’s about to come of age, could this mean Out of Kilter will change its direction, and move away from putting on shows for kids at high school?
â€œI’m hoping to keep doing what I’m doing. I might put on more R18 shows since I’ll be spending most of my time at uni and going to gigs but I’ll definitely keep up the all ages thing. I know how boring it is to be a kid in Christchurch, and to deny kids the chance to see amazing bands play just because I’m like a year older than them would be ridiculous.
The one thing that I think will drastically change will be releasing records! We’ve been very slow putting out stuff, so I think I want to do 2 or 3 releases next year!
The Henderson EP will be out in Christchurch at the end of the month with a couple of release shows, but should be in stores around the country very soon. If you want to see what goes on in the world of OOK check out www.outofkilter.net
Skittery percussion, ethereal drones with metallic resonance, a disturbingly atmospheric sound counter-balanced by human, emotive vocals The Enright House sounds like a dramatic balancing act; much like the crumbling architectural images that adorn his website. But The Enright House’s songs aren’t falling apart at the seams; they’ve been meticulously composed using computer manipulation and display a great depth of ideas and incredible texture.
So who is The Enright House? I wasn’t quite sure myself my exposure to Mark Roberts project had previously been limited to his MySpace recordings and a brief introduction at the last Low Hum show so I asked Mark to give me a little background.
The dry bit: I was born and raised in a small village on the Rhein River in Germany. After finishing school, I moved to Chicago, where I studied music composition, guitar and philosophy. In 2004 I came to New Zealand (where I also have family) to sit for a masters degree in philosophy (aesthetics), which, if all goes well, should be completed by February next year.
Mark’s love and involvement with music was forged at a very early age thanks to a musical family, and carried through his adolescent and teenage years in Germany; where he trained to become a concert performer after taking up classical guitar at the age of just 12.
My mother is an opera singer, and my father, too, had studied music. Mom never believed much in babysitters, so, from the earliest ages on, she would take me with her anywhere she sung. In fact, I think she was singing right through her pregnancy, so I guess that means I kind of got my start in music before I was even properly born.
So far Mark has avoided performing the material in a live environment, as he feels more comfortable presenting the work as a labor-of-love composition; though with a modified approach on more recent recordings, that may change. Recently he has been involved with Tristen and Simon from 5 1/2 Minutes – a local live electronic duo that has grown out of the dark and eclectic Locking Cycle; and writing with Tristen as Off Loving Memories.
The first thing to point out is that, were I planning on playing music off the Broken Hands EP, I would quite possibly hang myself out of sheer frustration. I cannot see how most of those songs would work on stage without the help of other musicians, and I just cannot see having other people involved in such a personal way as to be part of my music. So, for the longest time, I simply shied away from the idea of bringing The Enright House to live audiences.
However, since I started work on the new album about half a year ago, I started realizing that the kind of textures I was using could quite plausibly be reproduced by a single performer and a fair chunk of modern technology, without losing the sense of spontaneity and virtuosity on stage, which, to me, is paramount to the notion of performance. My guitar, for example, is fed through a series of pedals and loop stations, bearing closer resemblance to the console of the challenger space ship (although, hopefully, more reliable than that poor vessel), than it does to a traditional pedal board. I will be using two huge guitar amps running in stereo, radios, cassette players, a synth, and possibly a laptop (though I am still undecided on the latter).
Though noticeably abstract, the material is still very song-orientated. His songs are spiked with poetry and manipulated samples; often with great affect. The cryptic and mysteriously devious ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ relays the interview of a promiscuous young girl; removing the actual sexual overtones of her speech, only the tone and feeling of her voice reveals this context yet her intentions seem almost obvious. It’s this masking that makes The Enright House so special nothing is obvious; yet context seems implied.
A compositional background lies at the heart of The Enright House. With grounding in aesthetics and educated theories on what defines art Mark has a very strong vision for how he can present his music and his architectural photography and artwork reflects this.
If I had to sum up the goal of my music, it would be “the beautification of the derelict.” I carry around with me the same kind of conflict I think many of us do: on the one hand, I despise this world and the people that inhabit it, on the other hand, I adore life and find myself enchanted by how wonderful people can be. For a long time (i.e. during the Broken Hands EP) I thought I could just go about writing pretty indie-pop music – I wanted quite desperately to believe that the world needed music born out of kindness and sweet memories, but after a while, I really felt like a coward for failing to probe beyond the layers of sentiment and nostalgia.
I love this world, yes, but not despite the shit and the piss, the idiocy and irrationality, but because even the basest elements of life are ultimately part of this one unstoppable wave of existence that ever-so-often fills us with appreciation and a sense of awe. I want my music to reflect in a microcosm the way I perceive this world, and thus, despite moments of tenderness and beauty, to find solace also in dissonance and ugliness, noise and desperation. In a way, we are self-destructive creatures that too often end up sabotaging our lives through trivial pursuits and trivial thinking, and, my music, too, is turning out to be ever more self-destructing and auto-sabotaging. Thus, I’ve started using more destructive effects in my music, resorting to extended techniques on my guitar, singing in lower registers than I’m used to, incorporating field recordings of the outside world, and so forth. The goal being to reach an ever greater degree of emotional and sonic complexity, which, however, also leaves space enough for a delicate and traditional moments of beauty.
With a new determined outlook to perform in a live capacity, and talk of interest from an established US independent label; Roberts is looking to the future. With completion of the album now imminent; plans are afoot for it to be released locally, plus nation-wide distribution through Amplifier.co.nz. Look out for The Enright House on independent radio stations across New Zealand.
Alec Bathgate isn’t a household name in New Zealand. Though his most famous group (Tall Dwarfs) and his subsequent partner-in-crime (Chris Knox) may have achieved a level of recognition slightly beyond the typical indie-rock crowd, Bathgate remains one of New Zealand’s best and lowest profile song-writers. I spoke with Alec on the eve of releasing just his 2nd solo LP, ‘The Indifferent Velvet Void‘, due to be released in November 2004.
So it’s been a clear 8 years since [debut solo release] Gold Lame came out. Have you gotten sick and tired of people telling you to release another album yet?
Well, actually, not many people have been hanging out for another album! I occasionally have someone tell me how much they like gold lame, which is nice, but not many people seem to have discovered it.
What was the inspiration for the Indifferent Velvet Void?
Lyrically there seem to be some deep issues being thrown around.
There’s a few themes that run through the songs on the album (death, loss, self-doubt, confusion… All that good stuff). So, yeah, it’s a bit dark, but quite poppy as well, which hopefully offsets what the lyrics are saying.
Is your writing and recording methodology different from the way the tall dwarfs work? Has much changed from the early days of Chris’s 4-track?
Tall Dwarf songs are recorded pretty quickly as we don’t normally have long together. The songs tend to then evolve over a period of time (whenever we can get together to do further work on them). Generally we don’t know when we begin how they will end up. With the solo album i would completely write a song before recording it and would have a fairly clear idea of how i wanted the final track to sound. My album was recorded on computer which has sort of replaced the 4-track as the preferred recording medium for the home recordist (even though tape is still better). Having 24 tracks is pretty insane after years of struggling away with a 4 track, plus there’s lots of effects built into pro-tools that you couldn’t possibly afford to buy as outboard gear.
The album is coming out on Auckland label Lil’ Chief. How did you connect with them? Do you still feel part of the Flying Nun roster?
Chris Knox gave them a CDr of the album late last year (after Flying Nun had turned it down). I really liked the records they had put out and their enthusiasm for what they were doing, so was really happy that they wanted to release it. I’m still signed to F.Nun for Tall Dwarf releases and they’re reissuing the Toy Love album (early next year i believe).
Scott Mannion from Lil’ Chief / the Tokey Tones appeared as a Tall Dwarf [along with Pumice‘s Stefan Neville] for a recent Helen Young Studios session. Are there any plans to release the material?
I was impressed by the re-takes of ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ and ‘Nothings Going To Happen’. We were really happy with how the Helen Young session worked out, particularly as we only had a short time to learn the songs with the other people (we hadn’t played with any of them before and only had two days to practice). We’ll possibly do a short-run pressing of them sometime in the future to sell at gigs.
What’s your most proud moment on the album?, I guess your aware I’ve been thrashing ‘Should I Wake Up?’
Most people who hear the album seem to mention ‘Should I Wake Up?’ ‘Slow Fuzz’ and ‘Broken Cup’ are probably my favorite songs on the album.
Are you a picky song-writing?, do you think taking such a long-time between releases has worked well for your albums?
I never intended to do another solo album. It just requires soooo much work, so i guess it took 8 years to muster up the enthusiasm to go through it again (plus we did three tall dwarf albums in that time)…All the songs were written over the 18 months i was making the album, i didn’t have any songs hoarded away, and in the year since i finished it i haven’t written anything. I think it’s good to have a break from writing (and playing music) to keep it interesting and enjoyable.
Any plans on any live performances or videos for the album?
I did the Wunderbar gig in Lyttelton a few weeks back and also did two shows with Pine in Auckland last weekend. I’ve always been reluctant to play solo, but I’ve actually been enjoying it! I ‘d actually really like to play some more. As for videos there’s a plan to do a video for ‘Slow Fuzz’, so hoping that works out.
On the eve of the Wellington fringe festival i spoke with [band organizer] Dave Edwards and [composer / conductor] Nigel Patterson, two of the main culprits behind the ascension band, a ‘Chamber-Orchestra’ ensemble pushing electronic and standard instrumentation in usual avant garde directions with their performance ‘electric symphony’. Firstly we have Dave Edwards introducing the ensemble and how things came together.
Dave: I’d played solo at the 2002 Meatwaters festival, doing my songs/spoken-word/guitar/weirdo thing, and Kieran Monaghan (Meatwaters organizer and Mr Sterile frontman) invited me to do something for the 2003 event. i’d always wanted to play with a big group so that was my opportunity.
I wanted to get a mixture of people from different backgrounds, with and without musical training, and tried to think of something that everyone would be able to get behind. John Coltrane seemed like a good reference point since most of the local people into ‘interesting music’ (Kieran’s preferred term) get into Coltrane on some level. Some people have a grasp on the amazing harmonic structures he’s using, while self-taught punks like myself can just enjoy the visceral kick. And there’s the whole thing of Coltrane as a beacon of artistic integrity, always pushing forwards etc.
So the idea I came up with was to play something based on his big-band piece ‘Ascension’, since that was kind of his inter-generational summit meeting. we took the opening melody as a reference point for people to throw in here and there, and used his structure of alternating sections of everyone playing at once with solo sections where each person could make their own individual statement. Except it didn’t quite work like that on the night; we didn’t have a rehearsal and so it was a bit chaotic and didn’t reach as high a level of energy as it could have. definitely good in parts though. We had about 12 people in the band, including a conductor. one interesting phenomenon was that some people who said they’d be in couldn’t make it on the night, but others joined in at the last minute. We got Campbell Kneale (aka Birchville Cat Motel) on drums and Clayton Thomas from Sydney on double bass, so they were great surprise additions.
So with that performance standing as an odd curio or interesting failure rather than a brilliant masterpiece, when Meatwaters 2004 came around i was keen to give it another try. I kept the ascension band name but came up with a different piece, which was a loose structure in three movements: first movement everyone improvises together, second movement just one or two people at a time, third movement big monster rock riff that i’d come up with years before on a nylon-string acoustic guitar. I’d been meaning to write a song using it but never did. so we had a rehearsal this time and played the gig, with about half the band from the previous year and half new people. Nigel asked to take over as conductor which was fine by me as he’s got a lot more ensemble experience than I – I’m not really a musician as such, more a writer/artist with a guitar, and there are big gaps in my technical knowledge.
We were lucky enough to have Ian Goldsmith catch that performance on video, and there was a good sound mix from the desk so it became the ‘Live 2004’ album on DVD. I’ve been making on average an album a year since i was 19 (i’m 26 now), and I try to make each one a reaction to & development on from the last one. My previous album, ‘Loose autumn moans’ was mostly acoustic guitar with a bit of cello, violin and harmonica, deliberately sparse, so going into electricity & bigness (and adding the visual dimension) was the logical reaction to that. it’s going from sepia tones to full color. But everyone in the band has their own idea of what it all means, that’s just my particular angle.
From there it seemed like something worth keeping going so we’ve been jamming semi-regularly since and played another gig in December at the Newtown Community Centre which is kind of our home base. there’s always someone who can’t make it on a given night but then someone else joins in – it’s never had the same lineup twice. and now we’re in the fringe festival.
You’ve mentioned the Meatwaters festival quite a bit – can you give our readers a little detail?
Dave: Meatwaters is an annual event organized by Kieran Monaghan who leads the punk/cabaret ensemble Mr Sterile. it’s a real mix of stuff – punk bands, electronica, alt-country, death metal, free improvisation etc, usually over about three nights. it’s hard to say what they all have in common but the festival always has a definite ‘feel’ to it. it’s been going since 2001.
How you actually go about physically performing?
Dave: Everyone’s got their own performance style. It can be anywhere from a full theatrical presentation with costumes and stage moves down to someone sitting completely still. Personally i like to move around a bit, I do get slightly annoyed at a gig when the performers turn their back to the audience or sit in front of a laptop and their only movement is the occasional swig of beer. But that’s just personal preference.
One good thing with Ascension Band is that there’s such a range of different approaches and individual styles, in movement as well as sound. We should also have some video projections to illustrate the piece we’re doing for these shows (which Nigel can tell you more about).
Nigel: “Evolution” is a five-movement symphonic piece tracking the history of evolution, and combining a macro classical form with modern orchestration. It’s basically a symphony in the standard form – but instead of using violins and woodwinds etc, we use two electric guitars, two keyboards, two bass guitars, two vocalists, two trumpets, computer, tone generator, piano and drums. “Evolution” draws its sonic palette from experimental, free-jazz, noise, industrial, punk and contemporary classical musics. It’s less free-improvised than our previous performances – it’s an attempt to compose a piece allowing for improvisation within a macro structure.
Often with modern improvised music the listener is almost totally reliant on the absolute properties of the music: E.g. the new weird and wonderful noises that you never knew that instrument could make. But by utilizing a programmatic approach we hope to create a piece of music that is both stimulating in an absolute context – I.e. sounds and textures – as well as realizable in a programmatic context, by telling the story of evolution. our main objective: A realizable statement of modern music.
How you see the Wellington fringe festival (and the musicians involved in the ‘Happy’ scene) fitting in domestically and in an international scope? creation are actually planning a Christchurch fringe festival for later in the year, so i guess in general the New Zealand underground seems to be pushing towards consolidating our fringe cultures at the moment.
Dave: The fringe seems to be mostly theatre events but there’s always music in it too. it’s up to anyone who wants to do a show to make something happen. i’m just hoping we can get a bit of an audience along – our tickets are cheaper than most other shows so people will definitely get their money’s worth. it’s also going to be my last project in NZ for a while as i’m heading over to Melbourne after the shows, then hopefully further afield to do my OE. trying to go out with a bang maybe.
One of the ideas with a big band is that there are so many interesting musicians in wellington it would take months or years to collaborate with all of them, so why not get them all together at once? Having said that, Ascension Band contains only a small fraction of the interesting players in town, and it’s also partly about bringing some new faces onto the scene (which can look a bit incestuous at times).
As far as the international scene goes, getting the music out around the world has to be the goal – NZ’s just too small in terms of number of people who enjoy ‘Weird shit’. It’s something i’m just starting to get into, and it’s not really any harder than finding an audience locally. The internet’s a great tool. and there’s bound to be a good album from these fringe shows.
On the other hand playing live is where the most fun is, and that has to be for the locals & visitors. it would be great to take ascension band on tour later in the year if we could get some funding for it. A three or four piece band on tour can find couches to stay on, but a ten or twelve piece would need some outside help.
Touring would be great though – I do feel it’s easy to get blase in Wellington since there is a lot of good stuff happening on a regular basis. The best live venue I’ve come across is the Kaponga Backgammon Club in South Taranaki. But that’s another story.
Ascension Band plays on Friday 25th of February, 10pm at happy, and Friday 4th and saturday 5th of march at Newtown Community Centre, 7.30pm. Admission $6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 fringe card holders.
The band also has a DVD available, ‘Live 2004’, of their performance at the Meatwaters festival last September.
When I remember Barnard’s Star what comes to mind are the places I saw this wonderful Christchurch group perform and how the venues added to the overall experience. I think my initial exposure to the group was at the Venus Cafe, a long since departed coffee shop – one of the first ‘hip’ such joints to hit the scene in the mid 90s. Located on Lichfield street above what was for a period the Liquor Lounge and also a gay bar whose name escapes me; Venus was often filled with University and late High School types, wasting away half a day sipping on a huge hot chocolate, along with a scattered few yuppies apparently ‘slumming it’ – I distinctly remember seeing a press review of the place which noted that half the crowd couldn’t afford to order anything.
Still, the Venus Cafe put on some wonderful shows; from the table-climbing antics of The Black Panthers to the reserved but eclectic sounds of the Dialtones and Barnard’s Star themselves. I can remember bassist Helen Greenfield wrapped in a big woollen coat, plunked on the floor playing bass guitar whilst surrounded by band mates – guitarists Nick Guy and Marcus Winstanley, and original drummer Frazer Talbot. The idea of Barnard’s Star was formed by Nick and Marcus during a music lecture at Canterbury University in 1996. The band became more that just an idea at a party a few months later. Although only two members (guitarists) at their first jam session, the band soon acquired a bass player (Helen) who couldn’t play but informed them that she was joining anyway.
That’s how Barnard’s Star was Started. (The name Barnard’s Star was only supposed to be a working title, too) we soon realised that we needed a drummer and Started looking. That’s where Frazer came in. Frazer Talbot, an enthusiastic young drummer, joined us after we’d auditioned him in a garage out at Nick’s parents’ place in Marshlands. With a drummer on board we started to write new songs and think about playing live.
– Helen Greenfield
Barnard’s Star was an ever-evolving outfit, who made some huge strides over the course of their short life-span. From Nick and Marcus’s original idea in 1996 the group mutated through mellow but rather sonic walls of guitar to more ethereal sounds – with the electronic input of Talbot’s successor Tyrone Thorne allowing the group to become more production-orientated. This diversity is quite present in their recordings as the sparse, minimalist early singles differ quite dramatically from the polished, free-flowing later EP – which was self-recorded, mixed and remixed by the group, eventually surfacing on the Beat Atlas imprint in 1999.
We planned to record an album but that never eventuated it has a very cool working title Sonoluminesence. Not sure what happened with the band; we dissolved very slowly. Tyrone went overseas and is now working in London. Marcus, Nick, and I are still in Christchurch doing our separate things. It’s a shame really. I was listening to the EP recently and thinking (a) how great it is and (b) how it hasn’t dated (which, in my opinion, is the sign of a great record) – even though it is getting on to 7 years since it was recorded.
– Helen Greenfield
The second show I recall (which Helen also noted as one of their best) was supporting Dunedinites HDU and Cloudboy at the Lumiere Theatre – one of the most bizarre and sorely missed features of Christchurch cultural make-up. A compact movie theatre with a trippy lobby area filled with strange memorabilia and oddities (not to mention some great pinball machines and stacks of Spaceman Candy), the Lumiere was known for its bizarre feature events. They put on events like the ‘Incredibly Strange Film Festival’ and shows such as this which left the audience stuck in two minds whether they wanted to sit in the back and watch the bands play whilst ‘The Brave Little Toaster’ was projected behind them, or somehow squeeze up the aisles and attempt to dance somewhere near the front. What a wonderful place – one of my other exposures to the venue was a movie double header of ‘Microcosmos’ and ‘Baraka’ with Christchurch stars The Puffins creating their own live soundtrack to the features.
Making a superb support choice, Barnard’s Star outshone their southern counterparts at this show, incorporating all the articulate guitar-work of HDU with the whimsy and warmth of Cloudboy to really show what Canterbury is capable of (apparently the groups soundcheck was delayed by the HDU boys watching the finale of the rugby – another event in which the Cantab’s trumped their southern counterparts). Marcus Winstanley related that the band were a lot louder than most people anticipated – as he would mix the shows from the stage and had a tendency to push the levels. They would take on a bombastic, sonic nature; in fact Chris (from defunct local popsters Degrees K) related that their Harbor Light EP release alongside Roy Montgomery was something of a religious experience due to their shear volume.
[We played with] The Puffins, Bailter Space, Roy Montgomery, The Verlaines and Bilge Festival, Kate In The Lemon Tree, HDU and Cloudboy, Le Mot Cafe and Sea Worlde [a group who would later evolve a little, move north and change their name to the Nouveau Riche].
– Helen Greenfield
The primary recorded artifact of the band is an involving, pulsing self-titled EP, recorded at The Research Center with help from Mike Richardson (who also helped set up the groups Beat Atlas label) and mastered at Kog. The Research Center was the Former Rotherham District Hospital; a bizarre converted rural hospital manor which also served as the studio for The Puffins unreleased album sessions, and set in a secluded farmlet in North Canterbury.
It’s a top notch recording that connects as a single entity, flowing through 5 glorious, long and eclectic textural tracks, rich with tone and character. Using vocals as just another layer in a dense mix of pulsing synths, shoe-gazer guitar, digitally manipulated sounds and robotic bass. Unfortunately the EP never really had a chance as a radio favorite, with songs like the magnum opus ‘Jupiter Spirals‘ and the My Bloody Valentine reminiscent ‘Arc Infinity‘ clocking in at ten and a half and 8 minutes a piece.
After the group eventually faded away to their own pursuits, a handful of tracks surfaced on a variety of compilations – the last of which ‘(Terabytes, Terawatts) And Terra Incognita‘ is probably the most removed recording in their output, having gone through a great deal of revisions and remixes in its life-time it’s an ebbing electronic creation; drastically different from the material the group produced just a couple years earlier. In fact, Tyrone is currently working on a couple further remixes, though whether they finally see the light of day remains to be seen (and heard).
These days Helen Greenfield and Nick Guy perform on the fringe of Christchurch music circles as part of the Southern Oscillations collective and in solo guises as Mela and Lytteltronics, Helen has also recently joined synth and guitar duo Thomas:Parkes, and Nick is one half of the Torlesse Supergroup alongside legendary guitarist Roy Montgomery. Though Tyrone has moved to London after a spell with the Sydney-based ‘Swingingingtastybag’, Marcus Winstanley has continued to be a feature of the Christchurch music community, currently performing with Mini-Snap, The Dialtones and The Undercurrents, whilst also finding time for production sound work.
So a genuine Christchurch group who made a dramatic impact both as a live outfit and with their outstanding recordings and production work who expanded the limits of what a local band could be. I thoroughly recommend tracking down their EP if you’re interested in the outer limits of guitar, melodic electronics, or just plain great, involving music.