When a band’s been around a scene a long time, they start to develop a certain aura about them. Into The Void were always something of a notable band, with a vested interest in the local music and art scenes, they rose to national attention in the late 1980’s, released an unrepresentative debut album, then returned to the Christchurch underground.
An Into The Void show is an experience. Over the course of their lengthy existence, the void have crafted sturdy, rhythm driven songs that can explode with tremendous shards of guitar and machine-gun drumming, based on an atmospheric mix of heavy, repetitive bass-guitar and scratchy, scattered gramophone projections and often fronted by a frantic, free-roaming showman of a vocalist.
Approaching twenty years on the live scene and 10 years since their last line-up change, i spoke with newest member, bassist Dave Imlay and gramophone operator / sound manipulator Paul Sutherland, shortly after the release of their 2nd album from their practice space in central Christchurch.
Paul: Jason [Greig] and Mark [Whyte] went to art school together, and they bought a guitar together and they used to come up here. I don’t know what they did
Dave: They must have taken turns [laughs].
Paul: They called themselves the Deaf Mutants. I think at that stage Hamish Kilgour’s drum-kit was up here, as Bailter Space practiced at this space, back when they were called Nelsh Bailter Space (1986-7 maybe). And then at one stage i ended up doing something with them, playing electric recorder or something. At that stage Jason was playing guitar; somehow Ronnie [Van Hout] turned up.
(Dave interjects) Art school…
Paul: Ronnie was just part of the scene, and so he just turned up, but it was pretty obvious he couldn’t play an instrument, so he became a singer and we were a band.
Paul: I was conned into buying an amp and a bass guitar ’cause the others didn’t think an electric recorder would go down in public.
Paul: They bought me a ‘how to play bass guitar’ book by Geezer Butler [laughs]. I was so serious about it – trying to play a riff; it came with this flexi-disc of Geezer Butler playing bass, which made it into a Flying Nun Records exhibition.
As with vocalist Van Hout’s rise to prominence on local and international art scenes in the early 1990’s, the band themselves started getting attention. The recently Auckland-based Flying Nun Records committed to the band, though it would take around 2 years for their debut to finally be released (after initially appearing on the ‘Freak the Sheep‘ compilation).
Paul Sutherland quit the bass to play the gramophone full-time. James Greig joined as bass-player but he gave the bassists’ slot to Dave Imlay, so he could work on the guitar. Ronnie Van Hout and James Greig both headed overseas but still continue to work with the band when back in the country.
Thankfully, the band has kept going throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. With an expanding and retracting line-up, the Void have always had an eclectic and variable sound but one thing has always been constant; volume.
Paul: James Greig’s experience as being our bass player was he managed to make a speaker burst into flames. That was pretty impressive. He tried blowing on the speaker to fan the flames, but that made it worse. Actually we blew up a PA at Warner’s once as well.
Paul: The volume thing is an interesting thing, (in the early days) we had a gig at the Subway were nobody stayed in the room, everyone had to leave the room because it was so loud. That was because our sound-person had just taken some drugs and didn’t know what he was doing.
Dave: I was there at the time; i think i went off to the poolroom.
In the late 1990s the Provincial Lounge on Cashel Street was an active and eclectic place to be. Thanks to Chris ‘The Hippy’ Wilson’s huge PA stacks, this tiny, decrepit venue was able to generate a fair racket, especially when a band so inclined to explode as the Void took the stage.
I have very fond memories of the Provincial, but standing in front of Into The Void, consumed by a wall of guitar, bass, and tom drums is probably what first comes to mind. Already pushed to the limits of volume, with my ears starting to feel every tonal change directly, their drummer unleashed his trump card – an apocalyptic assault of double-kick, heavily amplified through these giant wooden speaker stacks. My ears were ringing for almost 4 days.
Paul: When we started practicing we had like 10-15 watt amps. We definitely were not loud then. Mark was playing Hamish’s drum-kit, which is basically a folk-rock kit. But then a few other things changed, Jason bought a real guitar and amp, i got a proper bass amp.
Dave: Mark bought that drum-kit, which is the loudest drum-kit in the world
Paul: Ex The Androidss
Dave: I think we’re quieter now than we were a couple years ago.
Paul: I think it’s an internal tension thing, too. But i think we’re more intense, the last 2 times we’ve played the sound’s been better, i don’t think we’ve been as physically loud, it’s just more intense. Like Mark’s drums – it’s just a physical element.
There were times like when the Void played on the roof of Dave Imlay’s High Street store, confusing many passers-by. Or the time their full line-up packed the Dux de Lux, with Ronnie spouting his own off-hand take at the Fall‘s ‘L.A.’ to the jeers of the crowd. And of course there was the phenomenal Media Club gig that saw an entire room of normally restrained scensters take to the dance-floor, grooving down to a tight and engrossing Into The Void ripping out ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and familiar Black Sabbath-like riffs, a truly visceral release.
Dave: I think it was because i could never follow what the others were doing. When Jason starts playing something, he changes it all the time, so i decided to come up with a bass-line that just repeated over and over. Repetitive riffing, though not all the songs are like that. I play it like a guitar, play chords and use an overdrive and that. Though i guess as time’s gone on i’ve become more like a bass player, more by accident. I’ll play something and (Jason and Mark) will say ‘that sounds like Geezer Butler!’ [laughs]
How does the band get it together with the overseas members when they’re away so often?
Paul: There’s two parts to that. When James visits, it’s pretty intense. He comes and lies on the floor and plays really loud and doesn’t listen [laughs].
Dave: I think we’ve gotten used to playing (with a smaller line-up), but when James comes along it takes a few practices for him to get back into it.
Paul: Where as Ronnie; it’s interesting you read – in the art world of Ronnie referred to as ‘collaborating’ with Into The Void, i don’t know what that means. Ronnie snaps in pretty well.
Dave: We had 3 or 4 practices with Ronnie last year though we didn’t play live, and we seemed to get something out of each one that was pretty good. Still, maybe it’s easier to add vocals to music that’s already figured out than to add new guitar parts.
Some time ago a date was scheduled for a recording session. The then Melbourne-based Ronnie was going to be in town for a few days (James still lived in Christchurch at the time). The album was put together from a 4 day session at John Kelcher’s National Grid studio – which had been recommended by friends, with opening track ‘John Hore’ coming from a much earlier session at Arnie Van Bussel’s Nightshift studio, after initially being discarded.
Dave: It was before i joined. ‘John Hore’ – with Ronnie playing bass.
Paul: I was sick or something, but i went to the mix down and that was really weird.
Dave: Arnie thought it was a kind of 70s prog-rock thing or something, he was trying to make it sound like yes or something.
Later Rob Buick (of the Black Panthers) turned up for a session at Nightshift, found and recovered the tape, giving the band a mix down for a song the band thought they had lost. The National Grid sessions were significantly more productive, as the band were well aware of their time limitations and were aiming for a completed album inside of 4 days of recording.
Dave: The one with John – it was done in a tiny little studio. And there were all sorts of things that weren’t supposed to happen, Ronnie doing vocal backups with himself (due to tape spillage) – it sounds great, but it was just an accident, so there were all sorts of incidents that happened with the equipment at the time. Ronnie was there dancing around for the first 3 days when we laid down the music, he would write things down at the session and work on lyrics overnight. It all came together on the last day when he added his vocals.
In time-honored void tradition, there was a long period before the album finally saw the light of day. Searching for a label proved fruitless, so the band has released it themselves on their A.Void music label.
I can say without any reserve that it’s the best thing they’ve committed to tape. Though no longer connected to a more commercially-orientated Flying Nun, you should be able to find ‘2’ in most record stores in New Zealand – i thoroughly recommend it.