I N T E R V I E W
The Larva from the City of Lava: An Interview with Te Huhu
with Ian Duggan
It’s getting closer to Future City Festival 2019 by the day. In the lead-up, we talked to Sam Smith from Auckland psychedelic-stoner-shoegaze-blues-folk band ‘Te Huhu’, about their upcoming debut album Recychedelia’, their distinctive sound, and their own upcoming festival, ‘Field of Dreams’!
HUP: For the uninitiated, how would you describe Te Huhu’s sound? Who are bands that you are most similar to?
Sam: That’s a really hard one. It’s probably easier for an outsider to answer that one. Who do we sound like?
HUP: As an outsider, I think you probably sound a bit like the most laid-back moments of Naenae Express, if they were to lay back a little further. Fair assessment?
Sam: Yeah, I guess we've got a similar connection to that kind of retro kiwiana type of sound that Naenae does, or something. Te Huhu is kinda nostalgic sounding. [We were] once described as 'a drowsy blend of atmospheric, stoner, blues, psych-folk-rock jams'.
HUP: You debut album ‘Recychedelia’ is listed on Bandcamp both as released on October 2018, and as “coming soon”. So far, only three of the ten songs have appeared. When can we expect the rest?
Sam: We put those first three songs from the album up towards the end of last year as a kind of motivation to get the vinyl pressed and ready for release with the remaining digital tracks. The vinyl record might still be a few months away, so we’re going to release it all digitally in the next few weeks with a pre-order option for the vinyl lovers out there. It’s been a long haul due to the DIY nature of it all.
HUP: Your song ‘For Love’ topped the 95bfm charts late last year. What have been some of the other highlights for Te Huhu since your formation?
Sam: Well, we’ve had a couple of other singles in the 95bfm Top Ten going back a few years, and we played at a combined 65th birthday party at the Ngataringa Tennis Club, which lingers in the memory as easily our best live outing to date. We also opened for The Phoenix Foundation at Shadows Bar & Grill one afternoon and they mentioned that our set was very relaxing, and we took that as a great compliment. [continued below]
HUP: Where does the band name ‘Te Huhu’ come from?
Sam: The Beatles was taken.
HUP: Prior to Future City Festival, I understand you have your own ‘Field of Dreams’ festival. What can you tell me about that, and how is preparation for it going?
Sam: Yes. We’ve put together a high-quality line-up of psychy bands on a limited-edition cassette and we’re having a geg party to celebrate. We’ve called it ‘Field of Dreams’. It’s kind of a mutation out of a month-long residency we held down at the Kings Arms Sports Bar a few years ago with some of these same bands.
HUP: I assume this is a Kevin Costner, "Build it and they will come" reference?
Sam: Yes, it is precisely that. What a buzzy film. We’ve put together the stage over the last few weekends in my back yard out here on the Awhitu Peninsula and it’s all shaping up really nicely for what should be a mint day out in the countryside with some mates and some of the best bands in the country.
HUP: What are the other bands at Future City Festival you are looking forward to seeing?
Sam: I think we’re only in the city of the future for the Friday night and I haven’t seen any of the other acts playing that night so am looking forward to seeing as much as I can, but especially The Fatalities who I have just discovered and am quite enjoying.
Te Huhu website: http://www.tehuhu.com
Field of Dreams website: fieldofdreamsnz.com
I N T E R V I E W
Quiet in the Back! An Interview with Gisborne's Sit Down in Front
with Ian Duggan
Future City Festival is only a few weeks away, so HUP are catching up with a few of the bands playing the event. Future City Festival's band with the lowest average age is Gisborne punks ‘Sit Down in Front’, who have found a bit of success in the last couple of years in the Smokefreerockquest competition. We had a chat with Cory, Rikki, Jackson and Roman about how a band of school kids from Gisborne have come to be influenced by The Sex Pistols and the Clash, why Cori Gonzalez-Macuer and a contestant from TV show The Block have come to be wearing their t-shirts, and more!
HUP: The band cite The Sex Pistols and The Clash as a couple of your main influences. How have a group of 15-year-olds from Gisborne come to be exposed to such classic, important bands as these?
Cory: My parents listen to heaps of that type of music, so I guess I just grew up with it. We also figured out that that type of music suited my vocals. Plus, those bands are just bloody good!
HUP: Sit Down in Front have already released one album in June 2018, ‘Red Light Runner’, recorded when you were 14-year olds. How would you describe the sound of the songs on that album, and do you think your style has evolved since this time?
Rikki: Our style hasn’t changed much since day one, but I think our songs are becoming more refined and are getting tighter the more we play. I would say that our new stuff, due out later this year, is a lot fuller as we used top of the line gear to record, and our producer Greg Haver pushed us pretty hard.
HUP: I see you have been doing some recording recently at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in Auckland. How did that opportunity come about?
Jackson: Our manager got introduced to Greg Haver and he was keen to do a single with us. He works out of Roundhead a lot, so we managed to book in a day in there. It was awesome! The gear is amazing! Blew our minds.
HUP: What are your aspirations for the band? Do you have a few more years to go at school, and is there the worry of what will happen to the band as the end of the school years start to approach?
Rikki: We are keen to get a few bigger gigs as well as get as many people as we can listening to our music. We are looking forward to releasing our new single, around May, and just keep having fun. Not really thinking too much about post-school, as there’s a bit of water to go under the bridge. And who knows what opportunities will come up between now and then.
HUP: You have managed to get some inspired product placement, with your t-shirts having been worn by comedian Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and by a contestant on the TV show The Block. How have you managed to make that happen?
Roman: Because being in Gisborne everyone knows everyone, so we decided to send the Gizzy hard team a Sit Down In Front merch package with some other bits and bobs as an encouragement gift. Stu loved the t-shirt and agreed to wear it on TV! For Cory, we randomly met him while we were doing a gig in Raglan and he came over and started chatting to us, so we kept in touch after the gig. We sent him a shirt, and he decided to post it on his Facebook. Right time, right place really.
HUP: Lyrically, what are your songs about? Are they at all politically minded, like those of your influences?
Cory: Nah, our songs aren't politically minded. We’re too young to worry about that stuff really. Our lyrics are just random and come from simple things, like reading the paper or watching things outside the car window on the way home. The first song we wrote was about not having any cream for our dessert when camping (hahaha).
HUP: Really impressed by the long list of sponsors the band has acquired, something I think other bands (and probably even us!) should think about. How do you go about attracting such sponsors?
Jackson: Gisborne has a good supportive community and when we were putting our album together several businesses offered their support. We put together a bit of a sponsorship package that included a free gig, and luckily a few places came on board.
HUP: Who are the bands you are looking forward to seeing at Future City Festival?
Roman: The bands I'm really looking forward to seeing there are: Carb on Carb, HEX and Nadia Reid.
R E V I E W
Tenterhook album by Beat Rhythm Fashion
I love Beat Rhythm Fashion’s 1981 singles ‘Turn of the Century’ and ‘Beings Rest Finally’. But I was way too young to have known the songs when they first came out; I discovered them much later in life. Nevertheless, despite not knowing them from new, these songs have become in my mind timeless classics. Following only a short period in existence as a band, and in spite of having released such excellent songs, they were gone.
Now, after 35 years, Beat Rhythm Fashion have a new album, ‘Tenterhook’, to be released on 11 February.
Like all the best albums, and like their earlier singles, this is a slow burner. The album opens with the single ‘Hard as Hell’, however, which is perhaps the most ‘immediate’ song in the collection, and in some ways is the closest in feel to those early singles. Not a new composition, this song can be found amongst live recordings from a gig recorded at The Gladstone in Christchurch from 1981, posthumously released on the 2007 compilation ‘Bring Real Freedom’. And this isn’t the only revisit on Tenterhook, either: ‘Freezing My Precedent’ and ‘Optimism’ both also gain studio recordings for the first time here. Many of the rest of the songs on the album are new collaborations between original member Nino Birch (guitar and vocals) and Failsafe Records’ Rob Mayes (bass), who has been instrumental in bringing this album to fruition, and on whose label this appears. An early favourite for me is one of these, ‘Dan’, written about founding bass player Dan Birch – and Nino’s brother - who died in 2011. This song is full of emotion, as you would expect of a song from a brother left behind. “Damn it Dan!!”. I’m sure my favourites will change, or be added to, after a few more listens. Give this album your attention, and give it some time.
The recording of the album has been a global collaboration, with Birch in Australia, Mayes in Japan and drummer Caroline Easther in New Zealand. The band are coming together, however, with a nationwide tour, including an Auckland gig at the Whammy Bar on 14 March.
Beat Rhythm Fashion Bandcamp: https://beatrhythmfashion.bandcamp.com
- Ian Duggan
I N T E R V I E W
An Interview with Bitter Defeat
with Greg Edwards; photos by Ngamihi Photography
Imagine if you will… a crowd has gathered from far and wide. Celebratory bunting flutters in the breeze. On a wooden platform alongside the towering steel edifice, a bottle of champagne waits. Silence falls as Rob Shirlow climbs the stairs. Mouths drop in anticipation as he lifts the bottle and sends it smashing onto the hull… “I christen thee… BITTER DEFEAT”! Whaaattttt????
Hamilton six-piece Bitter Defeat have risen over the last twelve months to take their place alongside the many, varied and fabulous acts emanating from Hamilton. Rob Shirlow (vocals and guitar) and Ian Duggan (keyboards) are instrumental in operating Hamilton Underground Press (HUP), and are active participants in and promoters of the local music scene. They are joined in Bitter Defeat by Julian White (also of The Scones, Kitchenette; bass), Sam Brockelsby (ex-Ancient Tapes; guitar), Ben Manning (guitar) and Kathryn Thompson (drums). It was my pleasure to interview the band as they gear up for Hamilton’s Future City Festival.
HUP: I really like the band name “Bitter Defeat”. It seems to me to combine so much conflicting and contrary imagery. There’s obviously a connection to Brisbane band Kitchen Floor’s song of the same name, which you’ve covered live. Can you tell us about the origin of the band-name?
Rob: It was exactly that! They played here a year or two ago and I grew to love that song. Matt Kennedy is a brilliant songwriter, but the beauty is hidden quite deep in a lot of Kitchen’s Floor stuff; not that I’ve heard it all. I think it’s important to hide the essence of songs, the beauty. At least sometimes. The truest beauty is always hidden, I think.
HUP: How would you describe the lyrical content of Bitter Defeat songs when considered along with the band’s name?
Rob: Hmmm. It’s a bit heavy actually. There’s a lot of emotion in there. Tales of love, hope and despair, however they come out. Delivered in quite a messy, half-arsed way, which is appropriate for me now I think about it.
The lyrics aren’t clever as such, but they are real, and they come from a place I’m not too comfortable with really. The guilty mundanity of a comfortable existence. Longing for newness but you’ve no idea what, exactly. The absolute madness of the world today. Rage at unfairness and incompetence by those in power. Anxiety and learning how to manage it. Toxic masculinity and bullying. Past personal experiences and those I have seen. All while trying to have a laugh and make lovely scratchy upbeat tunes!
HUP: A song such as ‘Hummer’ speaks about difficult circumstances, and about the power of human relationships to redeem suffering. Similarly, “All the Things” talks of the sun coming out, which manifests the darkness, but only as a weaker reflection of the daylight. Am I right in thinking there’s hope in “Bitter Defeat”?
Rob: Absolutely there is hope. Always. ‘Hummer’ is pretty explicit really, telling someone, maybe yourself, that there is always hope and a reason to ‘be’. ‘All The Things’ is more of a love song to no one in particular and is intended to reflect the actual sun coming up after a night with someone you care about.
HUP: I understand the band has its genesis in Rob’s one-man recording project. Rob, how have you found the process of turning over your creations to a wider group of collaborators?
Rob: It’s been ace really. I’ve been lucky to have found such an understanding bunch. The number one thing was that the creative process and the time when the band is together has to be fun and productive. So far so good. Everyone has input to the songs – I’m not super precious about them, as long as they have a certain feel to them.
Ben: But ultimately, if Rob hates it… then it's out ;)
HUP: And for the rest of the band; have there been challenges interpreting these existing songs, finding inspiration within the existing constraints?
Ian: For me, although I have always had a love for music, I'm not a musician. My previous experiences of playing in a band were in Spatula Death, where I played vacuum cleaner (not a difficult instrument), and later a toy keyboard and acoustic guitar, which were soon drowned out by the noisy electric ones. In Bitter Defeat, I mostly do what I am told.
Ben: It’s been incredible watching the songs evolve from bedroom demo stage, to early garage practice sessions, to performing them live and now (hopefully!) to recording them in the studio with a producer. Through all of these stages we have all managed to inject a little of our own personalities into the songs which makes them sound different, genuinely exciting and also a little rickety which only adds to their strength.
HUP: I enjoy seeing Bitter Defeat take the stage, there’s always a lot to enjoy. 6 band members, two microphones, 1 keyboard, 18 thin guitar strings, 4 fat ones, a swag of drums, although sadly no vacuum cleaner this time round. With three guitars plus keyboards, do you need to be wary of musically stepping on each other’s toes?
Rob: Yeah, it’s a bit of a nightmare at times; not musically, more physically. Actually stepping on toes. We’ve hardly got started really and are still working it all out, especially with three guitars. A lot of the songs start in my spare room and are quite sparse with one guitar, so incorporating three while keeping that pared-down lo-fi essence is a bit tricky. Keeping the ‘less is more’ thing when you have more…it’s a good challenge.
Kathryn: I’ve had to start drumming standing up to make more room.
Ian: The great thing is it doesn’t seem to me like there’s any competition among the instruments. When listening back to recordings, all the sounds are there. It all just combines to make one big, beautiful noise.
HUP: How do you see the characteristics of simplicity and complexity contributing to your song writing and performance?
Rob: As touched on earlier – it’s hard to keep the lo-fi feel, but having six instruments gives us heaps of options to make things different/odd/sparse/heavy, etc. The lyrics will always be simple but will often mean a lot more than just what you hear.
Julian: Half of us are doing things we've never done in a band before. I had never played bass and Ian had never played keyboards. I suspect Rob wanted us in the band at least partly because he knew we wouldn't be virtuosos on our instruments and would inevitably keep things simple, although he hasn't said as much, and equally that we would share his aesthetic sense. So in that sense, I think there is a conscious effort to keep things simple, or as simple as you can get with six instruments without everyone playing the same thing. Of course there is plenty of talent and experience in the rest of the band as well to help keep things together and interesting.
HUP: Your Bandcamp recordings have that lo-fi character about them that is so beguiling. Is this where your heart lies, or would you say it is more an indication of where you are now?
Rob: It’s exactly where my heart lies! It’s been interesting though recently, thinking about recording in March, how do we capture that sound in a proper studio? Should be interesting.
HUP: I enjoyed hearing you play “All the Goodies” live - a cover of Hamilton band Dead Pan Rangers. What do you find enjoyable when it comes to covering someone else’s song compared to creating and performing your originals?
Ian: With many new bands, covers are sometimes a necessary evil just to fill out a set. Our second gig was at the fantastic Hamilton Circle Jerk, where bands play a 20-minute set that includes two covers of other Hamilton bands songs... so having a couple of covers was a requirement. We only played The Shrugs' Pretty Dart that night, and we played 'Goodies' on only two of our three performances to date, but that one is possibly being retired now also. Which on one hand is sad, because it is an amazing song. But we are always adding new songs, so the set should be all originals pretty soon.
Rob: It has to be doable–ish, and appeal to all of us. I think it’s important to do other people’s songs justice, or at least really try to. That’s such a great song too; it was one of the first songs I heard when I moved here, from a local band. Top stuff.
Kathryn: It’s great to explore other people’s songs from the inside, see how they work and what makes them so good, especially as this is a less-familiar genre for me.
HUP: Hamilton is the nexus for so many interesting musical events, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a number of fantastic artists there over the last few years. With so much going on locally, are there any Hamilton based acts that have inspired you that the world needs to know about?
Ian: For me, too many to count. Through my university years, I had the philosophy "why listen to overseas music when New Zealand music is so good", and then Hamilton music was so good, it extended to "Why listen to out of town bands when Hamilton music is so good...”. But I love Hamilton bands from the early ‘90s in particular; pick pretty much any band from the Discordia Concors CD... A Crown Of Wild Myrtles, Huge Industrial Artsnob, Book of Martyrs, and later bands like Grok.
Rob: Heck, ummm The Shrugs, The Deadly Deaths, Amy Racecar – bands I found when I moved here that I really liked. Inchworm and Watershed were kind of amazing in the ‘90s too apparently – great songs. Landlords and Contenders are great bands too doing what they do. There’s never enough though. We need more bands here. Fortunately there are some neat acts coming through like Cartoon Villain, Orbjks, and Broadcast State. And *coughcough* Sora Shima are reforming for Future City Festival too; they were alright.
Thanks Bitter Defeat, it’s been fun. I hope you have a hugely successful night out at The Future City Festival – if that’s alright with you of course!