I N T E R V I E W
An Unimpressed Alien Landlord: A Q&A with Andrew Thorne of Silk Cut
With Ian Duggan
Auckland band Silk Cut, led by Andrew Thorne (Thorn, Splitter, Calico Brothers), has released their debut EP, ‘Astronaut’. We caught up with Andrew to talk about losing girlfriends in airports and rental inspections by alien landlords, all of which – of course – relate directly to the new release!
HUP: Andrew, you have been a constant in the Auckland scene over a number of years, and each of your bands has had its own distinct style. Silk Cut appears quite different from perhaps your best-known former band, Splitter, which I remember as commonly being a bit more ‘rock’ (though the melodies in Silk Cut's ‘Getting in Close’ do remind me of Splitter's ‘Tremolo Panned’, in particular, providing some continuity). Since Splitter you have played in alt-Country outfit Calico Brothers, which was different again. What has led you to go down the route now of recording songs with sounds more inspired by the likes of Radiohead, Ride, The Church, Swervedriver and Slowdive?
Andrew: During lockdown last year I had a desire to do something with more of a mature, serious and cinematic sound to it. As well as the old favourites you’ve mentioned I was inspired by purely instrumental bands like Explosions in the Sky and Khruangbin. Plus a growing appreciation of some modern surf bands, like Messer Chups and The Bambi Molesters.
Determined not to be bound by a three-and-a-half minute pop format we let the intros and outros breathe and were not at home to anything too ‘rawk’ or blues. No one was allowed to raise the goat horns during recording! Having said that, melody is still king, so like everything I’ve ever done the Silk Cut sound inevitably goes through the Beatles filter somewhere along the process.
I also wanted to approach these recordings differently as a vocalist, so I tried a quieter, more restrained tone - taking inspiration from the Steve Kilbey (The Church) / Leonard Cohen style and ending up nowhere near of course.
HUP: When I was younger I had several relationships end with myself or a partner climbing on a plane to relocate. ‘Getting in Close’, the lead single on Astronaut, appears to pretty much be about this. Does this song relate to a specific relationship for you, or were you looking for a story that would resonate universally? And lyrically, were you aiming on revisiting the Splitter song ‘Departure Lounge’ here?
Andrew: My day job is as a Foley recording engineer for TV and Film. I work with a wonderful Foley artist who changes proximity to the microphone depending on how loud or quiet a particular sound might be. When she has to take some time getting ready she’ll often say “almost with you” and if it’s a tiny sound like fingertips rubbing she’ll say “getting in close”. Obviously Kilbey has used the first phrase, but I thought ‘Getting in Close’ was a great song title so went from there.
The great New Zealand early twenties O.E. was a rite of passage for everyone I knew at the time. However, I didn’t even get close until my thirties, with a European tour playing guitar for Bic Runga that turned into a year in London. My then girlfriend had already left to see the world and I wrote ‘Departure Lounge’ about that feeling in the late ‘90s. Two years later we ended up meeting on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Luckily for me she is now my wife.
I’m not sure if ‘Getting in Close’ was a conscious revisit of the theme of leaving, loss, home-sickness and (rose tinted) memories, but it is a pretty universal theme, especially for Kiwis before COVID hit pause on any of that activity. It’s a modern human condition to every now-and-then think about ‘what if’ with different paths one’s life may have taken had alternative decisions been made. Made vivid today with the bliss filter of social media. People say “no regrets”. I sometimes have nothing but regrets for my wasted youth. Obviously, that way lies madness.
HUP: The band bio states you have drawn influence from your affection for ‘60s and ‘70s British television? This is most apparent here lyrically in ‘Black Night Sky’, which mentions ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ and ‘Tomorrow’s World’. What is the threat you are imagining here that will lead to the end of the world? And how and where else do you feel inspiration from classic television comes through in your songs?
Andrew: It’s a loose imagining of an alien force arriving to planet Earth like a landlord’s inspection and it being less than impressed with what we’ve done with the place. Doubly sad to think that the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson are the names on the tenancy agreement.
The song also has a nice surf-esque solo in it which utilised a lovely Fender Jaguar through a classic Fender Reverb Tank - we gave it a good kick to punctuate the ending which is a sound I love.
It’s hard to pin-point direct inspiration from ‘60s and ‘70s English TV, but I visualise our songs in black and white, driving a Ford Anglia, being not very good looking and having bad teeth.
HUP: Astronaut was released in September, but you already have another on the way called ‘Panda’. When is that one due, and how is it different from this one?
Andrew: We’re just putting the finishing touches to the ‘Panda’ EP. It was recorded at the same time as ‘Astronaut’, but we thought it presumptuous to start with a full album as first release.
The songs on ‘Panda’ are more of the same with perhaps a more uptempo feel overall. There’s five new songs including a jangly ‘dance’ track, a film noir story and an Onedin Line inspired tune concerning maritime themes and shipwrecks.
All things going well it should be with us March 2022.
HUP: Do you consider this an ‘Andrew Thorne project’, or have the band contributed to the songs?
Andrew: Being mostly written during lockdown there was limited opportunity to collaborate in person. The production of the songs, however, was worked out in the studio between myself, bass player Aidan Phillips and drummer Mike Burrows. Guitarist extraordinaire Tom Irvine has now joined the line up to one day realise the songs live.
Any future Silk Cut material will hopefully involve more input from everyone involved although, of course, I’m a complete control freak so it will depend on which of my particular personalities is in charge that day.
HUP: Overall, what are your aspirations for this band?
Andrew: I’m excited by the people involved and especially enjoy hearing Aidan Phillips turn my basic ideas into amazing bass lines and harmony ideas. We’ve worked together for 20 years. He is a remarkable chap and somewhat of a hidden gem in the NZ music scene.
We’re working on new Silk Cut material now for possibly a full album and have the two EPs worth of songs as a live performance starting point.
It would be great to play some gigs over summer, if that’s possible, and I’d like nothing better than sitting in a recording studio making noise and creating sounds with like-minded people. So just more of that until the sweet release of death seems like a plan.
Check out Silk Cut's 'Astronaut' at Bandcamp, and their Facebook page here.