The Perfect Things to Have with your Devonshire Tea
Julian White of The Scones
By Ian Duggan
On 9 April we get the treat of ‘The Scones’ playing at Nivara Lounge, hot on the heels of the release of their debut EP ‘The Trouble with Thompson’ on 28 March. We talked to guitarist and vocalist Julian White ahead of the gig about their sound, influences, history, and the ever-contentious pronunciation of ‘scones’.
HUP: You have released a few songs on Soundcloud prior to the new EP, which were tied together under the moniker ‘Go Ahead, Bake my Day’, and there appears to be a definite '80 and '90s Flying Nun vibe in there. Who do you consider to be the main influences in your music?
Julian: My musical awakening came at the beginning of 1980, when I was starting 4th form. I went from listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and ELO to early British punk and post-punk. Some of that punk influence can still be heard in parts of some Scones tunes. However, I think you are right in suggesting Flying Nun has had a big influence on the songs. Throughout most of the ‘80s and the first half of the ‘90s I listened to a lot of Flying Nun music, and was a fan of many of the bands. I would say that without a doubt the songwriter who had the most influence on my own song-writing was Robert Scott, particularly in the early years of The Bats and also his much earlier band Electric Blood (which he fronted prior to joining The Clean). By and large those were catchy pop songs consisting of basic chord structures and naïve lyrics, with the trebly jangle in the guitars characteristic of the Dunedin Sound. I love that sound and there is a lot of it in The Scones music. Also in the ‘90s I listened to a lot of Jonathan Richman. While that influence may not come through as strongly in The Scones’ music, it reinforced my love of a poppy sound and a quirky, almost cute lyric, which make up a large part of his songs. Many of his other lyrics are profoundly honest, heartfelt ones which I think take a certain bravery to convey, and in more recent years I have tried to add a little of that feel to some of my own song-writing. The final major influence on my song-writing I would mention is The Lucksmiths. They were a long-time Melbourne band who split a few years ago. I first heard them on an online radio station in 2007, when I was living in London, Canada. My ear was caught by the very strong antipodean accent, which was quite a foreign sound in London. What I particularly love about their music is the lyrical sophistication within what is still a pop song, with clever use of rhyme, uncommon words and lyrical devices such as zeugma. Whereas the lyrics in early Scones tunes are almost painfully naïve, more recently I have been spending much more time trying to develop more interesting lyrics. I also think it’s worth mentioning that I am not a very strong guitarist, so the simplicity of much of the material suits my technical abilities (or lack of them). Greg [Edwards], the main guitarist in the band, is a very good guitarist and has added a lot to the guitar sound of the band. He has been more influenced by stronger guitar riffs and more distorted sounds, from bands including the 3Ds, The Pixies and Pavement, so with the two guitars you get a clean, simple sound from me and a more grunty, musically interesting sound from Greg. Mike [Paterson] on drums has been in many previous bands. Dave [Colborn] on bass has less of a song-writing pedigree but has contributed some strong and often melodic basslines to the mix.
HUP: Of the six songs on Soundcloud, two make an appearance on the new EP. My favourite track from the earlier songs, however — Blue and Green — which sounds quite like The Bats meets Goblin Mix, somehow didn’t make the cut. Is this an indication your sound is changing direction somewhat?
Julian: It’s interesting that you mention Soundcloud. Prior to our first gig in October 2012, at Static Bar in Hood St, we thought we should at least have something on the internet. We had made rough recordings at our Auckland practice rooms of the songs we had practised at that time, initially with the thought that we might turn some of them into something. In fact, we had only polished three of the songs, but decided to upload six to at least give people an idea of our sound. So some of those recordings are flawed, with mistimings and in one case omitted lyrics (from a vocally challenging part of Red MG so that my voice could be conserved for the ones we’d polished). They were never intended to be a formal release. Bake My Day was a phrase we used on the poster for the gig, and in fact the graphic on Soundcloud is part of that poster. As far as the songs on the real EP go, their selection was a democratic process. The band’s own perception of the merits of each song change over time, and if we were to choose the tracks for the EP now they might be different. But we are happy with the songs we have chosen. The basics of each of those songs were written before the band formed in 2011. Blue and Green is also in that category. I expect you will find it on our next release, whenever that will be, along with some newer songs. In terms of the band changing direction, as mentioned in the answer to the previous question there has been some change in the song-writing process and some of the content. In some of the newer songs we have tried to vary the song structures, but I don’t think there’s a major change in the overall aesthetic. We haven’t played enough to know what the real crowd favourites are, but a few different songs have been nominated by different people. Blue and Green is one of those. And don’t worry, it still appears in our set lists and you can expect to hear it live on April 9.
Julian: Greg and I go way back. We went to intermediate and high school together on Auckland’s North Shore. Incidentally, you mentioned Goblin Mix, who were contemporaries of ours at Northcote College. Greg and I have shared many musical adventures over the years, including a high school band called Limited Western Art and another in our first years at University in Auckland called Yorkie the Bricklayer. Neither band did anything notable, but a few of The Scones’ songs date from Yorkie days. Yorkie folded when I left Auckland in the late 1980s. For the next 20 years I moved approximately every 2 years, living in various places in New Zealand, the UK and Canada. When I finally settled back in NZ (in Hamilton) at the end of 2007 Greg was living in Germany, but when he returned in 2008 he recalled the old songs and suggested we try to revive them. We put some very rough recordings together and advertised for a drummer and bass player. Mike answered the ad, and we got together with him for a practice. That was in 2011. Nothing moves quickly with The Scones. Mike had a bass player friend who he had played with before, and who came to that initial practice, but who wasn’t able to commit to the band. So for the next few years the three of us practised when we could, and gradually polished a repertoire. We didn’t have a bass player at that time, so the bass tracks were programmed by Greg into a silver metal box. The silver metal box kept perfect time and never played a wrong note, but had no personality whatsoever. During that time Greg started playing in another band, The Imports. The bass player for The Imports was Dave, and after a while we asked if he would like to join The Scones, and happily he did, in early 2014. Dave has a great personality and is pretty much as accurate as and much more flexible than that silver metal box. We have been a 4 piece since then. We have only played live once since Dave joined the band, but recorded the EP early in 2015 and hope to play more often in 2016 and beyond.
Julian: It definitely rhymes with cons. To me the alternative pronunciation is an English pronunciation. When we first started practising together, one of the songs was called Scones. We were throwing around possible names, and our drummer Mike suggested The Scones. I felt this was appropriate. The song uses scones as a metaphor for human character, and there is a line in the song which says that “everyone’s a scone”. So I think it fits. I also feel it fits with the character of at least our earlier songs, which are pretty simple in terms of chord structure and lyrical content, and it’s a simple name. I have since found out that Mike was once in a band called “The Curries”, and another one called “Love Cake”, so maybe he has a thing for food-related band names.