‘they’re new, and they’re original’.
– Janus currie [lead singer of the leper ballet]
the first time i saw the new originals, supporting solo bravo at the jetset lounge – i thought they were crap. Talented – but crap. Still, you’ve gotta admire a band named in the spinal tap tradition.
Tim moore (guitar and vocals) formed the group in 2002 with his former shirley boys schoolmates matt oram (drums) and louis dudson (bass), by the time they started performing in christchurch’s bar scene, they were boosted by a couple of exchange students – anne ito (keyboards) and per warberg (acoustic guitar), with clare mclennan-kissell (percussion) completing the lineup.
I couldn’t understand how a huge group (by my recollection there must have been at least a half-dozen on stage) of what were presumably under-aged kids (and i use the term fiercely – lousy high school brats, how dare they be in my local, etc), could clamber up the stage of the jetset lounge with keyboards and classical style percussive instruments. I was definitely stuck in a drums, bass and guitar mindset.
Of course i was completely wrong – the group’s only fault is that they possibly hadn’t yet found their feet. And over the next couple of years that would change as they developed their own distinctive sound, perhaps hastened by their reduction in numbers. See around two years later i caught these feller’s once more and found that; they’d been reduced to a slender 4-piece, the twee overbearing-ness i’d imagined had given way to lovely heartfelt melody mixed with glorious noise and lastly (and possibly most importantly) they were now all above the legal drinking age. They’d become one of these groups were you could endless name some points of reference in their sound, but never name a group that sounds quite like them; a reflection of influences harmonized into something, well – original.
In the last couple of years i’ve gotten to know them and their songs quite well, sharing a number of bills with everybody’s favorite erstwhile maniacs the leper ballet meant i saw them more and more, and their quirky approach had more than grown on me – they’d become one of my most beloved local groups.
The group plays a sharp blend of pop-rock, infused by over-the-top drumming; driven by this overwhelming chugga-chugga rhythm, much like the best bats songs – though they can drag on a bit you don’t really want each song to stop.
Tim sings in a kind of almost-embarrassed-by-himself-but-enthusiastic kind of way, plays a mean guitar with a little bit of finger-plucking/tapping style (thanks to a long few months with a couple broken fingers), is simply frightening behind the keyboard and has a pretty swish theremin that the group never really over-use. Ann ito is the cutesy keyboardist and backing vocalist who always seems to be too low in the mix. Louie dudson is the ‘lead’ bassist (ala peter hook) and resident fan favorite pretty-boy – his high-register runs are often pivotal points in their best songs. And of course matt oram -probably the one member of the group that draws the most undeserved critical flak, he’s simply a fire-cracker of a drummer – making the group burst at the seams with tom-heavy drum rolls, feeding that indulgent streak.
So now the end result is a chameleon of a group; from their recordings you might expect the new originals to be a timid, mellow live act – but on witnessing the ferocity and chaotic nature of their performance (especially oram’s full-tilt drumming) you’d be hard-pressed to imagine the group recording at all.
[debut ep] ‘ya stal’ was recorded at the end of 2003 with jules marchant at the desk, and we released it in august 2004 with the party at the dux with leper ballet supporting. It was the first proper recording any of us had done, so it was a real learning curve. The name came from a history textbook at shirley, which said that as a child, stalin’s favorite game was to have the other kids carry him on their shoulders in a mock victory rally, while he shouted “ya stal!” which means “i am steel” and this is also why he later changed his name to stalin, which means “man of steel”.
– Tim moore
a particular point of reference is that tim and i share a mutual love of all things jeff mangum -the crazy bastard behind neutral milk hotel. Of course he’s one of those overblown obsessive types though, with the dozen’s of bogus quality mp3’s and demo recordings – all that crap. You can hear a bit of that in their sound, along with the new order approach to rhythm, and what i see as a velvet underground-esque pulsating drive; i’ve been trying to get him in to the microphones – now there’s a crazy loon i’m obsessive about.
Disappointingly they’re currently on hiatus at the moment as a live group, though it still looks like there’s a future for the new original’s wonderfully comical songs: since then, we did some recordings with nick harte, and more with jules, which became the [excellent] ‘jump on the wagon’ promo cd. We are planning to record an album, as there is at least an albums worth of material we played but never recorded…
there’s no definite timeframe at the moment, because for now at least the band is sort of on hold. We’re going to call it “none dare call it a conspiracy” whenever we do get around to doing it.’ ‘for now, i have recorded an ep “in miracle world” which is 6 tracks, 3 recorded with marcus [winstanley] at the undercurrents studio, and 3 i recorded by myself (i’m going under the name cold war babies). I played every instrument on the ep, drums, bass, guitar, keys, vox, theremin and jews harp.’
– tim moore
look out for their future release and track down the ‘ya stal’ ep – if you can find it. It’s a little old and a little crinkly round the edges, but contains some cracker tunes from the groups substantial back catalogue – ‘and today’ should by right be a hit single, and is always a thrill live. On first impression the cold war babies material varies quite markedly both from the new originals and from song to song. Featuring drum-heavy lo-fi meshed with accomplished guitar and keyboards, sonic experiments and some genuine pop numbers – keep an eye and ear out.