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Interviews

Simon McLaren on Sleepers Union [August 2003]

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.

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Skeptics

Hugely popular and influential New Zealand industrial rock act. Known for their grinding sound and one particularly visual music video – the incredible and universally banned ‘Affco’. The video shows some rather graphic freezing-works footage, and was directed by Stuart Page – also known for his band the Axemen. The video has since had several one-off showings, and is actually available directly from page – but it is far too graphic to ever receive any kind of commercial release.

David D’Ath (vocals / keyboards) and Robin Gauld (guitar) formed The Skeptics in Palmerston North way back in 1979, with Don White (drums, percussion and samples) and Ian Reiddy (bass) soon joining to complete their original line-up, heavily influenced by the first wave of British punk. After a few fruitless practice sessions and recording efforts in their high school, Gauld’s old friend Nick Roughan (who was considerably more technically adept) was brought in as a new bassist and things started to gel.

The Skeptics are set apart by the transcendent intensity of their performance. It’s uplifting by way of the band’s sheer force of will. Punishing and cathartic in the extreme, the skeptic’s noise is demanding and confrontational

– Paul Mckesser, taken from a live review in Rip It Up, 1990

Support slots and eventually their own headline slots soon showed a quickly rising fan-base – the band were growing very popular. The Pyronnists Selections EP was recorded for Ripper recordings, but a stolen master tape delayed their debut release (though the track ‘Last Orders’ was included on the Three Piece Pack compilation). After a close finish in the Auckland battle of the bands (finishing 2nd to the short-lived Gurlz) they finally made their debut with the EP Chowder Over Wisconsin, a distinctly collaborative album.

The band continued to build a strong following, running the Palmerston North venue ‘Snail Clamps’ – and started releasing material through Paul Lurkers Industrial Tapes , including a release from spin-off act the Amazing Charlton Heston. Once palmy had been conquered the band relocated to Wellington, losing Gauld to overseas study and gaining the Gordons / Bailter Space‘s John Halvorsen as his replacement, and Brent McLauchlin lent a hand as mixer (and eventually a part-time 2nd drummer).

2nd album Skeptic III and the subsequent ‘Affco’ video were produced in 1987, cementing the bands notoriety, but TVNZ refused the piece, even with digital editing to mask the gore:

The graphic scenes of animal slaughter are unnecessarily detailed and prolonged, and despite the fact that they may be everyday scenes at freezing works, this does not imply that visuals of this nature may be screened on television
– Gerry Ryan, ‘Radio With Pictures’ producer

Come 1989, work on the third album Amalgam was disrupted by D’Ath’s health. It was quickly apparent that D’Ath had leukemia, but despite rushing the albums production, D’Ath never saw it completed. He died on Tuesday, September 4th 1990, dissolving the band. Post D’Ath’s death, the band released archival and live material and compiled their work on a Flying Nun released boxed-set, though Roughan, White and Gauld’s attempt at a reunion (as hub) never really got off the ground.

The focal point was david with his slight stature, his hooked nose and his deep-set eyes. He looked like some strange, punch drunk bird and the veins in his neck bulged as he forced mysterious words and noises from his throat
Chris Matthews, taken from D’Ath’s obituary in Rip It Up, 1990

Discography (picks in bold)

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s artists

Nick Smith

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Flanker Ep [1986 Real Groovy Rgr003]
  • Skin 12″ Ep [1987 Flying Nun Fn082]

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s artists

Snapper

Biography

After several false starts as a founding member of (get this) the Clean, the Chills and then the Great Unwashed, Peter Gutteridge was struggling to find an outlet for the sounds pent up inside him. Recording at home with a 4-track recording unit, he formed a new sound quite removed from the loose acoustic ramble of the Great Unwashed.

These recordings were created primarily solo, but with the occassional assitance of Alan Haig (Drums) and Ex-Bird Nest Roy Dominic Stones (Guitar) – culminating in a live support show for the Delawares featuring Gutteridge on Keyboards. Delawares guitarist Christine Voice was impressed and soon replaced Gutteridge on keyboards (and backing vocals), leaving Gutteridge free to lead the band (now officially named Snapper) on guitar.

The sound of Snapper grew and grew – Gutteridge began experimenting heavily with distortion and layering voices keyboard, adding thick, dense drones to their live and recorded sound. the debut self-titled ep was released and garnished critical acclaim, as the outside world was by now discovering the delights of the new zealand underground. the concept for their releases were to treat each instrumental passage as a layer of sound, songs rolled on and coalesced into a continious amalgam of sound. this continued on 1992’s Shotgun Blossom – the bands first full-length release (after the best part of 5 years).

With the band taking their time between releases they eventually lost Haig (to be replaced by former Toy Love Drummer Mike Dooley) and Stones (who went on to form the 3Ds) in the process. ADM finally surfaced in 1996 to pretty much universal adoration – whilst some critics compared them to the departed art-punk (and synth pioneers) duo Suicide, others cited them as the inspiration for the new wave of drone-popsters such as Stereolab.

ADM was recorded with something of a revolving support line-up – Stones was replaced by Gutteridge’s old pal David Kilgour, whilst a young Demarnia Lloyd (yet to make her name with Mink or Cloudboy), Celia Pavlova (Aka Mancini – of King Loser) and Voice provided backing vocals, with Dooley staying on as drummer.

Since then, not much has been heard from Gutteridge – despite Snappers reputation growing in retrospect. In the late 90’s he played tribute to his old band the Clean, playing guitar on High Dependency Unit‘s excellent cover of the Gutteridge-penned Clean classic ‘Point That Thing Somewhere Else’, and occasionally ventured out with some live performances, now reportedly focusing on keyboard based songs.

Members

  • Peter Gutteridge (Guitar/Vocals/Keyboards, 1985? – 2014)
  • Christine Voice (Keyboards/Guitar/Vocals, 1985? – 2000?)
  • Alan Haig (Drums, 1985? – 1992)
  • Dominic Stones (Guitar/Vocals, 1985? – 1992)
  • David Kilgour (Guitar, 1992 – 1993?)
  • Mike Dooley (Drums, 1992 – 2000?)
  • Martin Phillips (1992)
  • Chris Heazlewood (Guitar, 1993?)
  • Celia Patel (Keyboards/Vocals, 1993? – 1995?)
  • Maxine Funk (2000?)
  • Demarnia Lloyd (Vocals, 1996)
  • Thomas Bell (2000?)
  • Roddy Pain (Guitar, 1997?)
  • Tristan Dingermans (1997?)
  • Danny Brady (Keyboards, 2012? – 2014)
  • Hope Robertson (Drums, 2012? – 2014)
  • Jack Reid (Guitar, 2012? – 2014)

Discography

  • Snapper EP (1988, Flying Nun Records, FN110)
  • Dark Sensation 7″ Single (1990, Avalanche, AGAP010)
  • Shotgun Blossom (1992, Flying Nun Records, FN216)
  • Vadar 7″ Single (1993, Flying Nun Records, FN264)
  • ADM (1996, Flying Nun Records, FN294)
  • Hammerhead Live 7″ Single (2002, Crawlspace, SPACE010)

Links

 

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Solid Gold Hell

Brash Auckland rock outfit from the mid 90s featuring Glen Campbell, (former Jean-Paul Sartre Experience Member) Gary Sullivan, Matthew Heine, Colleen Brennan and Simon Cummings.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Sugar Bag’/’Evil Cabaret’ 7″ Single [1994 Flying Nun Fn289]
  • Swingin’ Hot Murder [1994 Flying Nun Fn298] Rn
  • The Blood And The Pity [1996 Flying Nun Fn346]

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Sneaky Feelings

The Sneakies were a young and naive pop band discovering the world of music from a distinctly dunedin perspective. In original member Matthew Bannisters’ Positively George Street book, which describes their experience and neglectance to accept the ‘Dunedin Sound’ that had been labelled around them, he was quick to point out how they differed from other bands.

Whilst the clean and the Chills were indulging in Toy Love inspired post-punk, raised on a diet of the Velvet Underground and West-Coast psychedelia, the Sneakies were more accessibility orientated troubadores, attempting to ingulf pop, country, folk and blues influences into their simple, gritty rock – and with some success. ‘Theres A Chance’ is one of the landmark tracks from the brilliant Dunedin Double album that brought together the Sneakies with fellow Dunedin City up-and-comers the Chills, the Stones, and the Sneakies eternal brother band, the Verlaines.

Though Bannisters book tries to say elseward, the Sneakies would never quite raise to the level of Graeme Downes talented troupe, but through-out the years (they eventually broke up in the late 80s, Bannister going on to form the Dribbling Darts Of Love) they did produce the odd great pop track (the hit single ‘Husband House’ being another stand-out), and some solid releases. Unlike their contemporaries, the Sneakies went through few line-up changes, original bassist Kat Tyrie leaving as the band started to gain speed, but Bannister, Martin Durrant, John Kelcher and David Pine survived the majority of their existance.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Dunedin Double 4xep [1982 W/ The Stones, The Chills, The Verlaines Flying Nun Dun1/2] Rn
  • Better Than Before 7″ Single [1982 Flying Nun Fnfeed1]
  • ‘Be My Friend’/’Amnesia’ 7″ Single [1983 Flying Nun Fn015]
  • Send You 12″ Mini-Lp [1983 Flying Nun Fnfeel1] Rn
  • Live At Windsor Castle Cassette [1984 Industrial Tapes Industrial017]
  • Take Sides Cassette [1985 Compilation Flying Nun Fnmcfeel001]
  • Husband House 12″ Ep [1985 Flying Nun Fnfeel2] Rn
  • ‘Better Than Before’/’Wouldn’T Cry’/’Here’S To The Other Six’ 12″ Single [1986 Flying Nun Fnfeel3]
  • ‘Better Than Before’/’Wouldn’T Cry’ 7″ Single [1986 Flying Nun Fnfeel3]
  • ‘Coming True’/’Wasted Time’ 7″ Single [1986 Flying Nun Fnfeel5]
  • Sentimental Education [1987 Flying Nun Fnfeel6 / Fne14]
  • ‘Trouble With Kay’/’Its So Easy’ 7″ Single [1987 Flying Nun Fnfeel7]
  • Waiting For Touchdown [1987 Au Go Go / Flying Nun Fn Anda / Fnuk2]
  • Hard Love Stories [1988 Flying Nun Fn112 / Fne26]
  • Long Time Gone 7″ Single [1988 Included W/ Fn1192Flying Nun Fn119]
  • Send You [1992 Reissue Flying Nun Fn205]
  • Positively George Street [2000 Compilation Flying Nun Fn441]

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Sombretones

Craig Mason, Russel Hoffman, Graeme Jefferies, Dave Wishart and Robert Key.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • The Sombretones 12″ EP [1990 Flying Nun Fn149]

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Spacious

Short-lived Dave Saunders (The 3Ds) and Alan Haig (The Chills, Chug, Snapper etc) group that produced the Vector 27 7″ EP, later included on the 3Ds swan-song Strange News From The Angels. This was all the result of the Flying Nun‘s mid 90s side-project series (which also spawned Ghost Club, SF, and Chris Heazlewood’s solo recordings).

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘Vector 27’/’Riding The Whale’/’I Believe In You’ 7″ Single [1996 Flying Nun Fn355]

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The Spines

Wellington group who had a sort of angular approach to some of their music, ska like, but also had an appealing dark edge. They released the impressive fishing 7″ EP on Ripper records. This was followed by another couple of singles then a lack lustre album on Flying Nun. The bands main man was guitarist/singer John Mcleary who wrote all the songs (along with Ross Elliot, Wendy Margaret Calder, Neill John Duncan, Gregory Brice and Ross Burge).

In their early stages the band featured the brilliant drumming skills of Caroline Easther who was later replaced and the band became more technical and less moody in their songs and delivery. Live the band had an intensity about them, but there was something very wellington about them that surfaced every once in a while. that quirky ska thing perhaps.
-Rob Mayes

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Fishing Ep [1982 Ripper Rip021]
  • ‘Punch’/’Your Body Stays’ 12″ Single [1982 Ripper Rpi025]
  • Act Your Age Ep [1984 Jayrem Jay116]
  • The Moon [1984 Jayrem Jay316]
  • Idiot Sun 12″ Ep [1986 Flying Nun Fn072]
  • The Spines [Unissued]

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Squirm

Biography

Brilliant 90’s Christchurch sludge-rock outfit comprised of Brett Lupton, Daryl Kirk and Mike Brassell (Hiss Explosion).

Released a series of warped, discordant guitar albums, based around Brassell’s excellent guitar-work and an inventive, lo-fi and somewhat sloppy (in a good way) approach to recording songs.

The group was formed by Brassell, Lupton and Original Drummer Andrew Meier (aka ‘Hat’ – who would go on to have an involvement with Flying Nun and as station manager for Christchurch’s RDU radio station), with the original line-up recording and releasing a cassette on Peter Mitchell’s Flat City label.

After Hat’s departure in 1993, Darryl Kirk joined the line-up – the line-up that would record the bulk of the bands output. In their last line-up Pete Mitchell became the new drummer, whilst Vaughen Watson (The Undercurrents, Pumpkinhead) joined as bassist.

Members

  • Michael Brassell (Guitar/Vocals/Bass, 1992 -1996)
  • Brett Lupton (Guitar/Vocals/Sampler, 1992 – 1996)
  • Andrew Meier (Drums, 1992)
  • Darryl Kirk (Drums/Keyboards, 1993)
  • Peter Mitchell (Drums, 1993 – 1996)
  • Vaughen Watson (Bass, 1993 – 1996)

Discography

  • Feeding The Cround Cassette (1992, Flat City)
  • Whip Me Honey EP [1994, Failsafe Records, SAFE027)
  • Mastermistakemaker [1995, Failsafe Records, SAFE028)
  • Spastic Sarcastic [1996, Noseflute)

Links