I N T E R V I E W
Bridge City Beat Down 2021: A Q&A with festival organiser Ayman Kysten
With Ian Duggan
‘Bridge City Beat Down 2021’ is not your usual festival. Happening this year on 29 May at The Meteor, it features not only music, but Pro-wrestling, Medieval cage fighting and retro games! We caught up with organiser Ayman from ‘Mad Arab Industries’ to get a better understanding of the concept, find out about the bands playing, and more!
HUP: The flyer for ‘Bridge City Beat Down 2021’ fascinates me. It includes Pro-wrestling and Medieval Cage Fighting, and features a bunch of bands. How exactly does the concept work? Are these things happening simultaneously?
Ayman: The idea is, the spotlight moves across three separate stages in The Meteor. When a band finishes playing, the fighters or the wrestlers start going at it, giving attendees something to enjoy while bands swap over. If a band or wrestling isn’t your cup of tea, you can go out into the lobby and smash some dude at Tekken 3.
HUP: Is this a concept that has been done elsewhere?
Ayman: So there’s a thing in Gizzy every year called ‘Smash Fest’ that features sword fighting and in Europe the [combination of] metal and swords is pretty regular. I wasn’t planning on doing either fighting or Pro-wrestling. I was originally planning my 30th and I just planned on putting on a gig with some video and lawn games for a laugh, then someone said “can we get a wrestling ring?”, though the exact words were a bit more “colourful”. Then I found out one of New Zealand’s biggest Pro-wrestling organisers was in Hamilton, so I pitched the idea to him. I also used to do a bit of medieval re-enactment when I was younger, and figured why not include that? And the idea ran away with me.
HUP: Tell me a little about some of the bands involved.
Ayman: Originally, the plan was to pick acts that my band, Mega Maw, has played with - to repay the favour and to hang out with our homies. Since Mega Maw is a bit of a weird, genre fluid band, we've had the pleasure of playing with hardcore bands, metal bands, stoner rock bands, prog bands and punk bands. So the Bridge City Beat Down line up has a bit of everything.
Maybe it's because I'm getting old, or I'm not 'metal enough', but I really hate going to a show and hearing nothing but death metal for four hours. And I think most non-extreme metal fans feel the same way. There's a massive group of 'white collar' / 'closet' metal-heads that like heavy music but aren't into late nights, drinking or four straight hours of unyielding riffs and blast beats.
For years I've really wanted to create a day where an uninitiated punter could show up to an accessible gig and check out a diverse strata of what the New Zealand alternative metal and punk scene has to offer, because metal to me isn't Slayer, Metallica or Cannibal Corpse. Secondly, I've wanted to set up Hamilton as the spot for a regular gathering of oddballs as we've got that big pool of quiet, closet metal-heads and we're a central location with good parking, easy flowing traffic and stunning river views.
But some particularly interesting highlights: We've got a progressive metal band with a slam poet for a vocalist (Freaky Meat), a melodic hardcore band that sings about giant robots and anime (the First Child), a groove metal act from Whanganui that I'm super excited about (Pull Down the Sun), a bizarre keyboard based 'metal' band called Threat.Meet.Protocol that sound like a funeral dirge wacked out on horse tranqs. Some bands that contrast beautiful harmonies with brutal riffs such as Achilles Complex, Pale Flag and Downfall of Humanity. It's a broad line up of talented and inventive musicians that I personally enjoy and admire.
The full line up can be found at: https://bridgecitybeatdown.nz/lineup [continued below]
HUP: Is it your birthday on the 29th?
Ayman: My birthday was actually two weeks ago. As planning went on and the ideas got added, Bridge City Beat Down outgrew the original plan and became more important. I've always wanted to put a gig like this on - an accessible, fun, alternative music festival. My 30th was the excuse to do it and eventually, the idea of 'Ayman's 30th birthday party' fell by the wayside to make room for this big, multidisciplinary, genre fluid, intercity event and I couldn't be happier about it.
HUP: Where do people get tickets?
Ayman: Tickets are currently $40 each and they're available on our website (https://bridgecitybeatdown.nz). Due to the size of The Meteor and our crew, we're limited to 200 tickets and we're almost through half of them. While there might be door sales on the 29th - those will be $50 - I wouldn't count on us actually having any on the day.
I N T E R V I E W
Lost Orbits: An Interview with Scott Brodie from GROK
with Ian Duggan
You might have heard a bit of GROK over the last year or so, having donated tracks to the ‘No Sound: A Nivara Lounge Fundraiser’ and ‘In Thrust We Trust’ compilations. The former New Zealand band, now based in the UK, have released a new six track EP tiled ‘Lost Orbits’. We spoke with Scott Brodie about the inspiration for the songs on the current EP, how the band have been affected by the pandemic in the UK, and more!
HUP: In your last two releases, 2011s ‘Create a Diversion’ featured songs that were improvised live in response to visual artworks submitted to the group, while 2019s ‘Screen Variations’ arose from improvisations of soundtracks to silent films while on a residency at a movie theatre in London. How have the songs on the current EP arisen?
Scott: These are a very old collection of songs. They were improvised from a range of objects providing the inspiration for the songs back in 2013 at Soup Studios in Limehouse. We worked on them slooowwly and I think there were about 20 in total. So, there's just 6 here finished. Maybe some more will see the light of day at some stage. Lockdown in the UK provided the impetus to finish the ones that were the most complete. They are quite a nice snapshot of where our heads were at 8 years ago. I think we are maybe a bit more 'cinematic' in our improvisations now - possibly because of all the soundtrack work. But then again in our recent treatment of these 2013 songs we have had this broader approach anyway I think...
HUP: What is the meaning of the title, ‘Lost Orbits’?
Scott: I guess the songs could have been lost if we had done nothing with them. And the songs orbit us maybe. It's just quite a nice phrase that has some possibilities. All our album/EP titles can be taken two ways. 'GROK, Lost Orbits' or 'GROK lost orbits'. That's just one of the little games that we have when naming things.
HUP: Many will be familiar with some of the tracks already, which should provide some motivation to hear more! You kindly donated ‘Modern Hazard’ to ‘No Sound: A Nivara Lounge Fundraiser’ and ‘Think of the Beach’ to ‘In Thrust We Trust’, both released last year. Also, the amazing opening track, ‘A Hero of our Time’, was released previously as ‘The Thrill of the Caucasus’ on the 2016 HUP compilation, ‘Life Beneath A Gravel Streak’. Are the recordings identical to what appeared on those releases, and what is behind the name change on ‘Hero’?
Scott: No, these are new mixes and masters. We did a lot more work and made them tighter. Yes, we renamed the Caucasus. The object we improvised from was a very nice edition of Lermontov's 'A Hero of our Time'. Incidentally it is the same edition that is seen in a couple of Bergman movies: 'Silence' and 'Persona'. I think we thought the name 'A Hero of our Time' was just a bit better and more open to interpretation.
HUP: Last we spoke, you were talking about releasing an album called ‘GROK Make Music With Friends Vol 1’. Is this release still planned? I assume this was collaborations with others?
Scott: Yes, that's planned. There are two songs that are about finished. There's maybe 8 more. It takes us a while to mess around with recordings on our computers - as Lost Orbits taking 8 years to pull together testifies to. We all work on screens so it is an effort of will to go back to screens in the evening. This is probably why we have got into hardware synths, samplers and drum machines rather than the virtual ones.
HUP: Are GROK making new music? How has the handling of COVID19 in the UK affected your progress?
Scott: We are very definitely making new music. We have a rehearsal space now and we will be starting back shortly with the regular weekly rehearsal that was interrupted by Covid in November. The new songs will be quite different - we are eschewing our traditional instruments for electronic ones. So we have all been building and testing our electronic improvisation setups. There will be no analog guitar, bass or drums. This means we can record improvisations with direct lines in when in the rehearsal space. Then we take the 'wavs' away and work on them in our DAWs. Chris (guitar) has a plethora of electronic toys, synths pedals, sequencers, things he has made, and is always adding to them. I (bass) have a nice bass synth I can improvise on quickly as well as a sampler, sequencer and vocals. For the last 3 years I have made a whole lot of sounds and loops from scratch on my modular synth. I have been loading these into the sampler to use. So, these sounds are all made from the ground up and unique. Rob (drums) uses drum pads, and samplers, sequencers for drums. We also plan to move to a non-album release schedule where we release more singles and EPs based on what we improvise in the rehearsal space. So, yes, Covid has affected things - but we got Lost Orbits out. We might do a few normal improvised gigs with guitar, bass, drums when things open up. And some soundtracks too. It's kind of crazy we are still making music. Rob and I have been playing together for 28 years, and with Chris for 21. We are all still enthused and get excited about things despite the almost universal indifference to what we do.
The EP is available on Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify and more.
R E V I E W
Francisca Griffin and the Bus Shelter Boys / Bitter Defeat / The Biscuits
Nivara Lounge - Kirikiriroa Hamilton Sat 24th April 2021
By Dean Ballinger
A small but appreciative crowd for some quality NZ indie-rock. First up was long-serving Auckland 3-piece The Biscuits, whose two guitar and drums line-up was in fine form, powering through distortion-soaked garage and spiky punk numbers, the two guitarists barking mantra-like phrases over the top, the lead guitar and drums often evoking the Asheton brothers from The Stooges. While most of the Biscuits songs are pretty short and repetitive structure-wise, they performed some longer numbers where they played with dynamics and feel – more of these please!
Second was Kirikiriroa’s own Bitter Defeat, who are on a roll at the moment, having recently released their debut EP to good reviews and warming up to play support slots for The Chills in May. The band gave typically tight and energetic performances of their now established indie-rock repertoire, concluding with their signature tune ‘Long Lash’, although the vocals often got drowned out by the guitars. They also debuted a new number, presumably called ‘Falling Down’ based on the chorus, which sounded like it had been part of their set for a while. Hopefully more new songs are forthcoming.
Francisca Griffin and the Bus Shelter Boys (drums, bass, violin, saxophone) had meant to tour nationally last year to promote the 2019 album 'The Spaces Between', but this was deferred due to Covid lockdowns. The set began with one of her more well-known songs, the melancholy Ghost Boy, on acoustic guitar accompanied by violin, which sounded great – I would have liked to hear a couple more songs in this format.
The songs on 'The Spaces Between' album are largely in the classic Dunedin folk-jangle style (yes, you can hear echoes of Look Blue Go Purple songwriting), so it was surprising to hear them played live as raucous indie-rock numbers, with driving punk bass and drums that often relied on the floor tom and surf beats instead of more typical indie drumming. The songs were further endowed with interesting textures and rock gusto courtesy of violin and saxophone on different numbers, the sax mingling very effectively with the guitar – why isn’t this combination used more often? Unfortunately Griffin’s poignant lyrics and expressive vocals on record didn’t really translate to the stage, coming across as flat and murky – a common issue that may be related to the acoustics of Nivara Lounge.
The relatively small crowd may have been due to local punters checking out The Veils in Raglan (or, god forbid, Six60 at Eden Park). An esteemed musical colleague seated next to me was most absorbed in Griffin and co’s performance, which is a fitting image summing up the gig overall.
I N T E R V I E W
Theia & Vayne
Interviewing someone about their art is interviewing them about their life. That can lead down some wild roads or it can end up in cul-de-sac’s talking about technique. I’ve blown plenty of interviews where I get to talk to someone inspirational and all we do is talk about form or key changes or the “scene”. Speaking with Theia and Vayne following the release of their single Creep, could have gone down that way had these two women not been the incredibly strong and brave people they are.
Theia (Waikato/Tainui) grew up in Christchurch while Vayne (Waikato/Tainui) was born and raised in Kirikiriroa. Despite common iwi, the pair did not begin working together until a chance meeting at a te reo Māori APRA Songwriting programme in the Hawkes Bay. While artists in these programmes are placed together to collaborate musically, what happened for Theia and Vayne were conversations about life. Those conversations delved into sexual predators and how their victims were treated in the music industry and in society. From a place of shared pain and parallel but never straight lines of healing, Theia and Vayne found in each other ways of expressing their story that is both unique to them and universal.
Vayne explained that once it came to the work, the writing and recording sessions were easy. The artists may not be a likely pairing on paper; Theia an ex-major label experimental pop artist with a wealth of experience and Vayne a new and grungy hip hop artist, but the collaboration was seamless.
Fortuitous timing helped as well. Vayne has only been taking music seriously the last few years and Theia is newly independent, but also the pair had come to a place within themselves where they could discuss and in the song Creep, address, the abuse. Theia explained it was great to be able to come at the subject matter from a place of strength and a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible for her.
Strength comes from many places, but it was the power of language and in particular the differences between English and te reo Māori that allowed a blossoming within these wāhine. Theia explained that some of the most derisive swear words in English come from slandering the female anatomy which screams of misogyny and using a woman’s body as a means to insult another. Its words like this she had no intention on wasting on the creeps she points to in the song, yet te reo Māori has kupu that holds the power, the anger, the frustration that survivors have towards abusers and that is 'pokokōhua', meaning 'I will boil your head'. The head in te ao Māori is tapu and to boil it is the ultimate insult. Theia sought guidance about using the kupu in the song and was ultimately empowered to use it to describe these creeps.
Vayne found her strength in music and from a young age, its healing properties have allowed her to not only survive, but flourish. She saw whānau not speak out for her, she saw a society continuing to ostracize and oppress her people and yet here she is telling abusers and those who stay silent to protect abusers, “go boil your head.”
Theia opens the track by using her native language, one so beautiful it belies the aggression behind her words. The translation is, “My muzzle has been loosened and I will never sit in silence again”. That is what these women want, or at least hope for – that rangatahi Māori, that wāhine Māori are not silenced. Theia strikingly puts it like this; “The modus operandi of abuse is to suppress you and to make you feel helpless and ashamed so you feel like you can’t go and get help and enables cycles of abuse and trauma to continue.”
And this is speaking out. This is not remaining silent and it is adding to the collective voice that is calling for change in our communities where sexual violence is called it for what it is and stopped.
Theia and Vayne are touring the North Island throughout May including a date at Nivara Lounge Kirikiriroa on Friday May 7. Tickets are $25 and available at undertheradar.co.nz
For support on these and other matters raised in the interview, please utilize services such as
Women’s Refuge 0800 REFUGE, Lifeline 0800 54 33 54 and http://www.rapecrisisnz.org.nz/
R E V I E W
Wurld Series – What’s Growing LP (Melted Icecream/Osborne Again/Meritorio)
It’s a gloriously autumnal Saturday morning in Kirikiriroa, the sun is shining, it’s warm, and absolutely pissing down. Ootautahi Christchurch’s Wurld Series latest offering, ‘What’s Growing’ has been slapped on the turntable, its forest green vinyl glistening in the half-light through the window. The needle hits, and opening track ‘Harvester’ floats out of the speakers and transports me back in time not to mention half way across the globe, straight into the first ten rows of the crowd for Pavement’s 1994 Reading Festival set when, aged 21, their perfect sound changed me forever.
It’s nothing specific that takes me there, but at the same time it’s everything. Take recent single and second track, ‘Nap Gate’, for example – main songwriter Luke Towart’s droll vocal delivery, his and/or Adam Hattaway’s Malkmus-esque guitar lines, the Steve West beats of Brian Feary, (who also produced the record), the Iboldian basslines of Emma Hattaway…the whole package just soars and crashes at the right times and is very close to perfection.
However, while there are undoubtedly Stockton vibes throughout this LP - Wurld Series wear their influences proudly on their sleeve - there is no doubt that they are a band in their own right carving their own way with an array of songs that just sound really really, really good.
Take, for example, ‘Supplication’, ‘World Beating System’ and ‘To The Recruiting Officer’, there is a gentler flow rather than a song of typical verse-chorus-verse nature, which conjure up memories of Dayton’s Guided By Voices, The Beatles and even Tall Dwarfs, with instruments such as mellotron, slide guitar and even a xaphoon! Tremendous stuff.
The rain outside has stopped and now there is just sunshine, which fits perfectly with the first song on side two, unquestionable banger ‘Grey Men’. I decide it’s time for a coffee and in doing so it hits me that I’ve been banging on about what these songs sound like, (to me), rather than what they are singing about. Then I realise I haven’t got a clue, and while it might be nice to find out at some stage, I’m not too bothered.
The lyrics are definitely interesting and some of them stick in your head easier than others. Take ‘They will hover above/Look down with benevolent love’ on ‘Grey Men’. That got stuck in my head sometime ago now, like a large shipping, um ship, in an Egyptian canal, but I couldn’t tell you what it’s about and that’s just fine. Sometimes it’s nice just to listen and wonder and sing along and imagine what on earth lines like ‘Fresh-ly saturated and watched by eyes that can’t be sated’, from the album’s penultimate song ‘Moat’, actually mean. Apart from being the second song on the album to feature the word ‘sated’ – it’s a great first line and while I think I might have an idea of what it’s about, I like not actually knowing.
Side two draws to a close with ‘Eighteenth Giant Brother’ declaring ‘Heading into autumn now’ and fittingly the rain returns outside – proper rain this time, loud, crooked rain, freshly saturating the sour earth and I wonder what’s growing out there.
I N T E R V I E W
By Indira Neville
Francisca Griffin, known as Kathy Bull until the mid 1990s, was bass player, guitarist and vocalist for 80s Flying Nun band Look Blue Go Purple. She was bass player, guitarist and vocalist in 80s - 90s band Cyclops, and in January 2019 she released a fantastic album as Francisca Griffin entitled 'The Spaces Between.'
Her current band, the fantastic 'Francisca Griffin and The Bus Shelter Boys', are currently on a tour of Aotearoa NZ, including a show on April 24th Kirikiriroa Hamilton's Nivara Lounge, with Bitter Defeat and The Biscuits. HUP thought it would be a good idea to ask Indira Neville of The Biscuits if she was up for interviewing Francisca. Happily she was! Over to you, Indira...
I am interviewing Francisca Griffin and trying desperately to ask her things that she’s never been asked before. It’s tricky given her long and legendary music career and the numerous interviews she’s done, but I give it a go. I inquire into what song she’d sing if she was on American Idol. She responds, “Ghost Boy, and then I’d just win”.
That out of all the songs in the Universe, she chooses one of her own, reflects Francisca’s confidence and comfort with herself and with her music, “I’ve always done it” she says, ”It’s just part of who I am”.
“What do you think Katy Perry would think of Ghost Boy?” I ask next. With the same self assurance she states, “Katy Perry would say ‘how much do you want? Let me record this song! I’d say ‘sure’ and then my awesome publisher Songbroker would make sure I got 100% of the royalties”.
I dare to hope that maybe she hasn’t been asked about American Idol before and so stay on the topic. I wonder her if she likes the show? She likes the audition rounds, before “…they get polished. The rejected ones are the ones I like”.
Francisca’s ‘pre-polishing preference’ comes from her solid punk background; the music she’s made, the DIY process of making it and the Dunedin music community she has long been part of. She talks emphatically about the unequivocal support Look Blue Go Purple got from the “blokes” and that there was absolutely no culture of sexism within the 80’s Dunedin scene. This meant that when the band went on tour and did experience, “The odd fella…” they didn’t take it, “We just shut them down”.
Obviously then I ask her about the sexist and abusive male behaviour currently bubbling to the surface within Aotearoa NZ music. She believes it’s part of an ‘industry’ that just wasn’t around in her early career, that just like on American Idol, young women musicians and performers now get ‘polished’ because, “They all want something; managers, publicists, venue owners, and so there’s abuse of all kinds. They abuse your creativity, your body, your potential, your bank account…”. She says, “It’s a no brainer…”that if there’s one thing she could change about the Aotearoa NZ music scene it would be this, “I’d disappear all that bullshit and also this idea that for some reason a man is better than I am”.
I assume this is in-part why she says shape-changer when I ask her what superpower she’d choose. She says she’d transform into all kinds of things including a man, so she could experience what it’s like to have privilege and power by default. But also she wonders what, “…those dangly bits…” would feel like. It’s something I’ve always wondered too.
Probably hoping to impress her with my feminist insightfulness, I follow up this discussion with a rant about the name of her current band, ‘Francisca Griffin and the Bus Shelter Boys’. I wonder out loud if putting her name up front and the fact that it’s in bigger letters on the current tour poster is a statement about ‘female power’ but with a ‘nurturing aspect’ yada yada yada… She looks thoughtful and tells me that no, the name comes from a blogger who reviewed a performance and said, “She looks like she found her band in a bus shelter” and they all thought it was funny and decided to adopt it.
Francisca insists they’re not a backing band. She describes the band’s process; she writes something on guitar and takes it to them, and then because they’re “experts in jamming” it morphs and continues to be written as they play it. And so the final version is something they’ve made together. She does laugh however, and say “I am the ‘band boss’. That’s just the way it is”.
The songs Francisca takes to the Bus Shelter Boys are written in her own way. When she comes up with a tune she plays it over and over and over until it’s “…glued into being”. For the lyrics she consults her pile of notebooks, playing with the words she’s constantly collecting from books and matchboxes and her head and heart and anywhere.
She loves playing live, describes it as “buzzy” but points out she’s a musician not a performer, because, “I want to do it. It’s not really for the audience. I’ll happily play for lots of people or six people and either can be amazing”. I don’t doubt this is true but when I’ve been an audience member, I’ve never noticed that Francisca was not playing for me. Instead it feels like she is sharing her music and that I’m really lucky she’s doing so.
I do agree though that she is amazing.
Grab yourself a ticket to see Francisca Griffin and The Bus Shelter Boys on tour around the country, (see poster below), by clicking through to Under The Radar HERE.
I N T E R V I E W
VGB: The Giver and the Gift
with Trevor Faville
VGB recently released ‘The Giver and The Gift’, and it’s a fitting return for ex-Lucid 3 front-woman Victoria Girling-Butcher, in collaboration with Tom Healy (Tiny Ruins/Terrible Sons/Finn Andrews/Julia Jacklin and more). Trevor talked to Victoria about the release, songwriting, what she has been doing between Lucid 3 and now, and more!
HUP: You describe your new song ‘The Giver and The Gift’ as a song about 'polarity'. Could you expand on that?
VGB: Well, I co-wrote it with Tom Healy, and what we did was we had a Google document. I’d had some of the lyrics - I think the chorus lyrics were written for another song. Then we expanded some themes, and while we both wrote into this document, we could see what the other person was writing. That “word association” process started happening, and we ended up writing these couplets that were kind of contradictions. The song was being made up of couplets of opposites - 'polarity' - swinging from one to the other.
It was a new way of songwriting for me. I haven't in the past done a lot of co-writing - certainly not in that way. I don't usually trust people lyrically. I feel pretty fond of words and am quite critical of lyricists. Tom was a good one to write with because he's got a good eye for that sort of thing. So that's how ‘Polarity’ came into the press release - because of the opposites in there.
HUP: One line jumps out is “there are two songs to be sung/ each undoes the other one”, which seems to be a summary of what you have just said.
VGB: Exactly! It's almost self explanatory, in a way. That is my favourite line from the song.
HUP: Can we talk a bit about the people involved with recording this song?
VGB: We had Tom and Adam Tobeck on drums; he was extraordinary - really, really good. Its the first time I have worked with session musicians, too. Most of the track is Tom and I. Tom spent a lot of time with it.
HUP: You can always tell when there is a real drummer!
VGB: Live drums are so important in music I feel. I love playing with them. I love the infectious nature of the feel that comes from them.
HUP: Working with Tom, and with the ‘back and forth’ process of the words, was that easy for you to do?’
VGB: Yeah, I had done a few songwriting sessions a couple of year ago with various different people. Some people I knew really well and had worked with before, and others were like ‘dipping my toe in’; Tom was one of those. What I like is that his background is classical music, and I think there's a point of difference in his musicality - his general music personality. There's just something very appealing about that. So I enjoyed working with him on those songwriting sessions.
HUP: Reviews are all about ‘the adjectives’ these days. When listening, the adjectives I was getting were ‘Crafted, Detailed, Melodic, Considered and Intelligent...so was it an easy write?
VGB: Good words! There were moments of difficulty because I think I was out of my comfort zone... which is a good place to be, but... it's a really personal thing, songwriting, which is why I've always done it alone. In my former band, Lucid 3, I would write everything on my own. Literally where no one would hear; it was like someone finding out a dirty secret or something. So that was a bit hard for me to relax into the space to open enough for creativity to happen. But, I think that served a good purpose in a way, too, because I was really happy with the outcome.
HUP: Almost a sense of letting go... to a certain extent.
VGB: Yes! Musically I have always loved collaborating, and the back-and-forth working with people on musical ideas, but when it comes to the core songwriting part, that isn't always as easy.
HUP: Veering off into ‘history’, if that's okay? So ,starting from the end of Lucid 3 to now, could you give us a couple of key 'plot points’ along that way?
VGB: On the timeline?
HUP: Yeah-from ‘there to here’- plot twists- if you will!
VGB: So, I did an album, ‘Victoria Girling-Butcher', which I love. I love that album. I ended up releasing that one and moving to France, where I lived for a little while... and I taught at a music school, and collaborated on some music with a New Yorker, who came to Paris and started this Rock School for the rich and famous types. With him I did a few early VGB things. I got pregnant and came home to New Zealand. [It] took a few years to get through the early days of parenting and then back to music when I started working in Dave Dobbyn's band regularly again. I had done it on-and-off for 10 years. Getting back on stage and getting my music chops going, that's helped lead into me being able to consider being a composer again. [continued below]
HUP: Hearing you talk about parenthood, and then getting back into it - there are people who will look at that as a barrier, or a time to give up. That doesn't make any sense to me so it's interesting to hear someone who has said “it's time get back into it now”.
VGB: Well I just don't feel complete without it. I was very lucky to be asked to go and join Dave’s band after my daughter was born. That just reminded me that I could. It's a thoroughly enjoyable thing. People love him and love his songs. So it was a positive experience.
HUP: And that's a particularly tight band isn't it. I think of Ross Burge... that's a good drummer. it would be pleasure playing with that for sure.
VGB: Such a joy! There is something about it. So often I hear people reflect back to me how joyous his playing is. Just something really unique and special.
HUP: Here's something of a deeper question, and I am curious for your insight on this as you are an experienced musician. What do you think the relationship is between experience and wisdom when it comes to music?
VGB: My perspective would be: there is a liberation that I feel about the music that I am making now that I didn't when I was in my twenties. I don't really care what people think. I’m not out to please people. When you are younger there's a real sense of needing to get approval. And a lot of that has just disappeared from my motivation. Sometimes that's to my disadvantage because I'm not pushing as hard - not as ambitious, in a way... that vanity doesn't appeal to me. Maybe I didn't realise it at the time, in my twenties, but it probably did. Ego is different. And that's good! It's also liberating because what comes with that sense of needing approval, there's often a huge amount of disappointment because not everyone is gonna love your music. And I'm okay with that now. I just want to make it and enjoy it!
HUP: I work in music education, and I believe that's a really valuable perspective for younger musicians to be aware of. Maybe by not worrying about approval, the quality of your music goes up.
VGB: I agree. I observed that with Reb Fountain. I think what's made a huge difference. She is very unapologetically ‘her’. I interviewed her for Audioculture and she was touching on this at the time - about a year ago, and I was thinking... ’Yes!’ I am very pleased for her that it has gone so well.
HUP: How are people adapting to ‘VGB?’
VGB: Had a few messages last week... and they tended to find it... those who already knew me as Victoria Girling Butcher were really struggling to go with ‘VGB’. Those who don't know who I am are finding it much easier to swallow. I hope to reinforce the VGB thing!
HUP: Is there a ‘new music industry’ now - or is it very much the same?
VGB: It's different. Many of the same faces are still around, but I released my last album a good ten years ago. It wasn't streamed. It didn't get uploaded to Spotify. I sold hard copies! The last ten years has sort of been like fifty in terms of the progression of how the music industry works. It's a different process. I am learning, for example, the need to be extremely active on social media. I took a vow that I would do my best, but that was last week and I am already flailing! I don't identify with it as much as you need to. You need to have a good presence online with social media. So I am coming to terms with that.
HUP: Do you have a favourite piece of gear?
VGB: I would have to say it's my ‘76 slimline Tele’. Such a faithful and beautiful instrument. I love my Rhodes piano - my Fender Rhodes suitcase - and I quite like my Steinway upright... all of it very analogue! Those are my three ‘go to’s’ for songwriting.
HUP: final question then... what's next?
VGB: More songs. I am producing, in my crappy home studio, song after song after song. I will do some work with Tom when he is not so busy, but I love collaborating so I am in the process of working out who else I want to work with on the next songs. Of which there are so many! Hopefully a new release really soon.
HUP: Any live work planned?
VGB: Not for VGB. I did do the last 6 months on the road with Th’Dudes and with Dave. There's only so much you can sustain and I am loving being at home with my family. There's two sides to the ‘touring musician’ coin!
I N T E R V I E W
Martin Phillips of The Chills
By Dean Ballinger
HUP was fortunate enough to put some questions to a true legend of New Zealand music, Martin Phillips of The Chills, ahead of the release of the band's new album and forthcoming tour of Aotearoa. Dean Ballinger posed the questions and Martin responded with some revealing answers, which, amongst other things, remind us of the incredible and often dramatic history of the band as well as shining a light on what lies behind The Chills existence and modus operandi in 2021. A fascinating read awaits...
HUP: The 2010s witnessed a Chills renaissance of sorts – regular album releases and the release in 2019 of the well-regarded documentary The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps. To what extent was this renewed activity planned or fortuitous?
MP: Very fortuitous! Although The Chills had never stopped writing, recording and touring it was not until we played at a combined New Year’s Eve / 50th Birthday party in Queenstown in 2011 that someone entered the picture who, of course, turned out to be a peaceful hippie art dealer U.S. millionaire who was determined to see our fortunes improve. A long story followed but this lead to our connection with Fire Records in London who have handled us since.
HUP: What are your hopes and ambitions for the new album Scatterbrain?
MP: Hopes are so uncertain in the Covid era but I guess I have two hopes: the first is the obvious one that this new album reaches a much bigger appreciative audience in these times - when achieving that has become so much more problematic for “legacy” artists. We know we have produced an album of exceptional quality but that is no guarantee. The second hope is that, after three recent quality albums in a row, it finally puts to bed the perception that The Chills were a band who had some hits and near hits in the eighties and then more or less faded away. I think we have proven that the story is still unfolding and that the new music, although different to the early years, is by no means lacking that individual quality.
HUP: Silver Bullets (2015) appeared to have a loose theme in terms of several songs dealing with environmental and political issues: similarly, Snowbound (2018) came across as an album dealing with middle-aged reflections on the self, the world, and mortality. Is there a similar thematic focus to the songs on Scatterbrain?
MP: There is an overall theme on ‘Scatterbrain’ of confronting aspects of mortality. The album did not start out that way - with me (once again) perhaps dwelling too strongly on concepts of environment and consumerism etc, but it was pointed out to me that the material I wrote which was the most personal was also that which connected with persons of my own era who were maybe going through similar issues. The loss of parents and loved ones, acceptance of probable solitude until death etc.
HUP: The lyrics on the recent Chills albums come across as more direct and mature engagements with society and the self, rather than the more abstract and romantic lyrics of early Chills material. Do you think your approach to musical factors such as composition and style has also changed or developed over the recent Chills albums?
MP: When I first discovered that I even had a talent for music I began experimenting with a weird mixture of my formative influences - Dr Seuss, Ray Bradbury, ‘60s pop and TV etc - but also trying to find something with a bit of darkness and depth within that. At the moment I am trying to tap directly into my own experiences but then I tend to strip away the references which might not relate as much to other peoples’ experiences because I believe that the material will then connect more directly with them and be of more help to those trying to put words and background to their own situations.
HUP: In terms of songwriting, do you tend to write a lot of material specifically for each new album, or select songs from a pool of material you may have had in the works for some time which you decide ‘suits’ the feel you are going for?
MP: This is, perhaps, the first album where I have not drawn upon at least a few riffs going back many years - in some cases from as far back as the early eighties. I found I had enough new material coming through that I did not even have to search through the archives this time around or also have the need to finally complete songs which have been hovering around for decades. Having said that there are hundreds of riffs and songs I have begun since 1980 and I believe we are getting close to having those in an accessible digitised format where I can start to attempt completing as many as I can of the better ones.
HUP: The current incarnation of The Chills has been consistently stable for many years (although long-term bassist James Dickson has been replaced with Callum Hampton for Scatterbrain). How did you meet and enlist the current line-up?
MP: Yes - I’ve only lost two members in the last twenty-one years - and that’s longer than the early Chills years with the notorious ongoing line-up changes. I have met all of the current line-up through previous musical encounters or from recommendations. I don’t think it’s wise for me to advertise a vacancy too much anymore.
HUP: What prompted The Chills to sign with UK indie label Fire Records for the recent albums? How do you find the label by comparison with past record companies the Chills have been involved with (Flying Nun & Slash/Warners)?
MP: A remarkable chain of events lead us to linking with Fire Records and we have found them to be an excellent and dedicated label who believe in The Chills on an international level. With great respect to Flying Nun we were not always a practical option for a New Zealand-based label and there have historically been times when I totally understood that investing in The Chills as an ongoing international act had backfired and taken funding away from more deserving contemporary acts. Now we are working happily with both labels as Flying Nun are still working our back-catalogue.
HUP: The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps was a rather intimate look at yourself and the band. Now that the documentary has been out for a couple of years, how do you feel about it? How have you found the audience and critical responses to the film?
MP: Initially I wasn’t even sure that I would live to see the release of the film. Now I realise that I revealed more about myself than I might have chosen to do. We were determined to be honest because of the serious nature of the health message within the movie. I had not seen quite how eccentric I was until I watched the film with a full cinema of other people at various premieres around the world. But I stand by the film for its sheer honesty and the extraordinary quality of its production. In preparation for the documentary I had watched a lot of “rockumentaries” and I still believe that this one is up there with some of the best.
HUP: Digital media and the internet are often portrayed as deleterious for musicians, e.g. fostering audience expectations that music should be ‘free’; miserly royalty rates from music platforms such as Spotify. However, they can also have more positive dimensions, for instance bands being able to perform for audiences ‘live’ online in relation to Covid lockdowns. As a professional musician, what are your opinions on the pros and cons of our current digital era?
MP: Largely it is disastrous for older artists as, like any dedicated career, we have invested years and many thousands of dollars only to find that the whole product has been devalued [read - profits diverted!] and you are being told to just keep touring and selling merchandise. That doesn’t work on a practical level within New Zealand. The bright side is that the desperation is bringing out the best in people’s creativity and the imagining of new and different business models.
HUP: The Chills have been around for over 40 years now. What might be one career highlight and one career lowlight that come to mind?
MP: Because of Prime Minister David Lange’s Labour government’s ongoing stance in the eighties against American warships visiting New Zealand, The Chills were, apparently, seen favourably by Moscow and we were only the fourth Western band to be allowed entrance to perform in East Berlin - some years prior to the Wall coming down. We watched the KGB, shivering in their little Trabant, follow us around the cafes and bookshops on our morning off. But then, because of our visit to the Eastern Block, when we next toured the USA, we were informed that we were very likely now on a CIA watch-list. Our statement in the ‘Submarine Bells’ album liner notes about America’s Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy on nuclear weapons on warships had not helped. Also around that time we toured Italy (in the late eighties) and two gigs into the tour a Mafia underling took over tour management to ensure that the payments were made promptly and correctly. He said “My name is Angelo, I am from Sicily - but it is no problem!”. We have many stories…
Big thanks to Martin for taking the time to talk to us! The new album, 'Scatterbrain', is out May 14 on Fire Records, and The Chills tour Aotearoa in April and May, catch them at a town near you:
April 16 Oamaru Club, Oamaru with ASTA RANGU
April 17 Larnach Castle, Dunedin Arts Festival SOLD OUT
April 18 Festival of Colour, Wanaka SOLD OUT
April 30 Cassels Blue Smoke, Christchurch with MOUSEY
May 1 Wakatu Hotel, Nelson with MOUSEY (solo)
May 6 St. Peter's Hall, Paekākāriki with LUKE BUDA
May 7 Meow, Wellington with LUKE BUDA
May 8 The Cabana, Napier with DEVIL'S ELBOW
May 9 The Dome, Gisborne with BITTER DEFEAT
May 13 Totara St, Mount Maunganui with BITTER DEFEAT
May 14 THE CHILLS & THE BATS Powerstation, Auckland with PURPLE PILGRIMS
May 15 Town Hall, Raglan with BITTER DEFEAT
I N T E R V I E W
Throbbing Pink Boudoir of My Heart: A Q&A with Tobermorie
Among all the bad that’s come from the COVID pandemic, some good has also resulted. Tobermorie, active in Hamilton in the late-‘90s, have unexpectedly released an album of old recordings via Bandcamp, titled ‘Throbbing Pink Boudoir of My Heart’. We caught up with Jo (vocals), Sarah (guitar, backing vocals), Louisa (bass, backing vocals) and Rob (drums, backing vocals) to vaguely reminisce about the band, their career highlights, and hear about the recordings; how did they come to be released in 2021, and which songs have best passed the test of time?
HUP: I remember Tobermorie winning the 1997 ‘Contact FM Busking Competition’ and playing quite a bit around that time. The recordings on this album were made about this time also. Had any of these recordings been utilised prior to today, and what has led you to releasing the songs digitally after all these years?
Sarah: I don’t think we ever released the recordings at the time and I’m not even sure why we recorded them in the first place. The reason for putting the songs online now was because I’d been meaning to do it for ages, but didn’t get around to it until I found myself locked down in incompetent pandemic Britain and had nothing better to do.
HUP: How did the recordings survive, and what kind of a state were they in? How did you get it digitised, and what kind of special treatment did they need?
Rob: We did some recording on a four-track, so I'm assuming these are all from that. We did a live-to-air on Contact 89FM, so some of those might be included but, on reflection, none of the songs end with me saying something stupid, so perhaps not.
Sarah: I found an old blank cassette with the four-track recordings on it, but the tape was about to disintegrate. Luckily I’m married to someone who enjoys noodling around with recording and production, so he did the digitising and cleaned up the sound a bit.
HUP: Of the songs on the album, I still remember ‘Hanging Darling’ pretty clearly from those performances from 20-plus years ago. How do you think the songs have stood the test of time, and what are your favourites?
Jo: My favourites were probably the uber-folksy numbers like 'Dry Air' and 'My Caravan'. As far as standing the test of time, I can listen to them over twenty years later without my toes curling up and a few of them definitely make me smile. I think we were great to watch live... I just remember having a lot of fun.
Louisa: I love ‘Charmed’ [found on the 1997 Green Eggs and Hamilton compilation]; that is still so good too!
Rob: I really like ‘Hanging Darling’ too! I'm a sucker for melancholy. ‘Last Man on Earth’ is a great pop gem, I think. The bridge lyrics are great!
Sarah: ‘Hanging Darling’ is a favourite for me as well, and so is ‘Pieces of You’. ‘Plankton Boy’ is still as repulsively creepy as it ever was.
HUP: ‘Tobermorie’ appears to be a unique spelling, different from the ‘Tobermory’ of the Wombles or the Canadian village of the same spelling. How did you end up with the name?
Louisa: I think we had a love for Wombles at the time? It was definitely a Womble reference! [Nobody could remember why they changed the spelling.]
HUP: What do you consider to be the highlights of Tobermorie’s short existence?
Rob: Did we come second in the Wailing Bongo Battle of the Bands? I seem to have that memory. If that happened, that was definitely a highlight. [HUP: Yes you did Rob! Coming 2nd in the 1997 Contact 89FM Battle of the Bands, beating by one place a band called Trinket, who in 2000 became The Datsuns]. Most rehearsals were interesting; a tenuous balance between dogged determination not to break up and good laughs.
Louisa: We opened for The Chills once. One highlight was making 75 smackaroos whilst busking for 30 minutes one New Year’s Eve.
Jo: I remember opening for The Chills, and the Headless Chickens too... And vaguely Chris Knox one O-week? Bit blurred! My highlight was an interview at a supermarket in Hillcrest... [HUP: this was published in Nexus under the title ‘Stars in their Aisles’, where Rob was described as “Sexy. Gorgeous. Spunky. The very epitome of the nineties pop star”]. I think they gave us a bit of shopping money, which I was particularly impressed with, having lived on two-minute noodles for several weeks prior! Did we play in Raglan... or did we just get drunk on the beach there? Or was that just me?
Sarah: We had some brilliant gigs – not because they were good or professional but just because they were fun and chaotic, and it was always great playing with the other bands around Hamilton at the time. I thought we supported Tanya Donnelly in 1998, but nobody else remembers this, so now I think I must have made it up.
Rob: I think maybe I was not in this band. I don't remember any of this. My sum total of Tobermorie memories are as follows: busking in Garden Place, coming second at something at the Wailing Bongo, practising at The Datsuns’ practise hall in Cambridge, drumming too loud at a ‘Youth for Christ’ Teen Convention and hence not getting 'recalled', recording at the Queens Ave flat and accidentally baring butt-crack at practise one time. Oh, and one time I hissed 'Stop bickering!' or something similar. But both Scott [Brodie] and Justin [Harris; both, with Rob, from Inchworm] were the drummer at some points, right, so maybe a lot of this other stuff happened then…
Sarah: I don't think Justin or Scott ever played any gigs though. I'm pretty sure all live performances were only ever Jo, Lou, Rob and me.
HUP: What led to the demise of the band, and who has continued with music since the breakup of the band?
Louisa: Jo moved to Christchurch to pursue a career in media, so Sarah, Rob and I found new meaning to life with Grant Brodie on keys as Inspector Moog.
Rob: I don't remember; as the drummer, someone probably just told me it wasn't happening any more. I don't actually remember anything acrimonious, which itself seems amazing and unlikely.
Sarah: We’ve all continued with music one way or another. Louisa’s in Raglan working on a solo mini-album right now, and Jo’s been working as a musician for years in Kerikeri. Rob and I have been in various bands together in London since 2000 (Girlinky and Dobra Robota), and he’s still playing in Grok.
Any proceeds from Bandcamp sales will go to Phone Credit for Refugees.
Sarah and Rob in Girlinky
R E V I E W / I N T E R V I E W
Fruit Juice Parade
By Barnaby Greebles
Barnaby reviews the wonderful new EP from Fruit Juice Parade, 'the more you question, the further you get from the answer', before putting some questions to the band to discover what makes the Papaioea two-piece tick.
A sucker for a bit of novelty in my listening environment, I’m instantly captivated deciphering the oblique drum hooks driving the delicate opening tones of Fruit Juice Parade’s new EP and single. As the collection of vignettes unfolds, their indie-pop roots splay out, but more subtly than in previous releases, tempered by a succession of non-standard chords, almost post-rock-esque crescendos, edgy beats, and roving instrumental segments.
Describing themselves as emo (more a reference to the importance of emotional intelligence than to My Chemical Romance) seems more apt for their latest offering, in which Petersen’s voice wafts and soars with a haunting quality, and in which the songs build to soulful caterwauls with cymbals and guitars let loose to take full advantage of their dynamic breadth. Where many bands would rely on effects to increase intensity, Fruit Juice Parade move from tender guitar strokes with syncopated rhythms to more intensive strumming and pounding, relying on their musicianship to push the emotive content to its loftiest reach.
Though emotions are valued and lyrics often point to nameable sentiments, the songwriting is
decidedly spare. Crisp musical themes are constructed without dalliance or repetition, chiselled into a flourish, and dropped, leaving the listener wanting more. Their songwriting formula – Bowatte penning lyrics for Petersen to turn out melody lines to – is revealed in drum-inspired lines, such as, still our legs move in polyrhythms. Full guitar tones stretch into the low end of the audio spectrum, making the absence of a bass guitar inconsequential. Except for dræyyke’s crescendo of swirling voices and tumultuous guitars, vocal harmonies are reserved, to mellifluous effect, for the purpose of sweetening the quieter moments.
The change of scene, now that the members of Fruit Juice Parade have shifted to Pōneke, and the large gap between writing and releasing the songs, gives the EP a sense of nostalgia for their secondary school lives in Palmerston North, where their glowing local reception and success in the Smokefree Rockquest helped spur them into the limelight. Lyrics such as 'growing means the way you look / at the things you knew so close/ expand change shape and colour', makes one wonder how the band looks back on their newly released offerings from the vantage of a new domicile and a growing list of additional musical projects. With innovative songwriting and polished performances, the newly released EP is certainly not holding them back.
HUP: It seems there's a bit of a scene erupting in Palmerston North with the likes of The Stomach propelling locals onto the national agenda? With this nourishing background, why did FJP up and move to Wellington?
Shannen: There’s not really a lot to it, we just moved to go to uni. It just ended up being a coincidence that we both chose Wellington, and I think we would have been happy with what we’d achieved and felt ok about finishing up at the end of school if we weren’t moving to the same place.
HUP: I saw Fruit Juice Parade started making music together during high school. How far back does your friendship go? Has it always been based around musical collaboration or did your musical endeavours stem from an already solid friendship?
Shannen: We’ve known each other since intermediate! We were put in the same group for this literature quiz, and every time we didn’t know the answer to something we just wrote ‘Julia Gillard’ and thought it was the funniest thing ever. Silly jokes are still a big part of our friendship. Personally, I think it’s quite important to have a strong emotional bond with your bandmates, so it really helps if you know them before you start writing bangers together.
HUP: With The More You Question, the Further You Get From the Answer being the first release since 2018, is there a reason for the lull? Have you been too busy with Sports Dreams, Queen’s Cup, etc, or did you make a conscious decision to take a break?
Shannen: We just out-emo’d ourselves and needed a bit of time to figure out how to live in a new town. Which we might have done? Wellington is weird so it’s hard to tell.
HUP: The new EP seems somewhat of an evolution, retaining your distinct C86-inspired – experimental within the context of a pop song – veneer, but developing a slickness to the writing and a bit of a step up in terms of production quality. Being in a band can often mean landing on a sound that's a compromise between different members' tastes. Do you find a musical synergy when writing songs or do your creative sparks mould into shape through a more iterative process?
Tharushi: As we haven't written a new song since 2019, it's hard to really say what will work for us now. But to answer for our songwriting method between 2015-2019 I would say it was both iterative but also intuitive. We developed distinct band roles, with Shannen writing the guitar parts and giving melodies to the lyrics I wrote. So even if we were "jamming", which is how almost all of our songs started, the roles for arrangement were already delegated. Looking back I can see we really respected and trusted each other as musicians and gave each other the space to feel out our musical ideas.
Shannen: I don’t know that we ever thought about making music in terms of compromise, we just found a way to write together that worked and stuck to it. Don’t fix what ain’t broke?
HUP: I heard Tharushi (pretty sure it was Tharushi) in an old Bfm interview explaining the motivation behind some of their lyrics saying, ‘There’s a real assumption made that girls aren’t the music makers. They’re just the topic of songs… We’re just kind of fed up with that.’ From appearances on Facebook, it looks like you’re fairly involved with Girls Rock and the Girls Rock Camps? Have you been mentors or attendees in the past and, if so, how much has this organisation influenced your development as a band?
Shannen: Our involvement in Girls Rock has come after the majority of our time playing as FJP, but we’ve both been band mentors, volunteers and had more behind the scenes roles in the camps. We’ve met some really lovely, clever and kind people through Girls Rock, all the shows we’ve played for Girls Rock (as FJP and our other bands) have been really safe and friendly environments, to the point where it’s vaguely frustrating that they’re not all like that.
HUP: I get the sense, lyrics wise, that a lot of the songs are focused more around personal or relational matters? Does any of the feminist sentiment alluded to above spill over into the song writing?
Tharushi: Yes, I've never put it that way, but I wouldn't dispute that FJP is kind of inherently feminist. I can see that we had such a profound urge to push out of the mould and define the narrative for ourselves. We were ambitious, clever, and unapologetic in our songwriting, which are things young women are groomed not to be. "Sand King" is a feminist song about sexism in the music scene.
HUP: You’ve had some good gigs, opening for the likes of Elemeno P and Mermaidens. Are there plans to increase your live presence, or even, eventually, look to playing outside NZ (global conditions permitting)?
Shannen: Not really sure yet. We just play for fun really, it’s nice that people like the music we make.