I N T E R V I E W
Paul Kean of The Bats
by Ian Duggan
Once regular visitors to Hamilton, The Bats are making their long-awaited return to Nivara Lounge on 19 May, as part of their ‘The Deep Set’ LP release tour. I caught up with bass player Paul Kean a little under month out from the gig, and on the back of a slew of positive album reviews, to talk about what we might expect to hear at the gig, the enduring quality of their outputs, and we go way back to Paul’s move from Toy Love to The Bats.
HUP: With ‘The Deep Set’ released earlier this year, The Bats have now released nine albums. It is also the 30th anniversary of the release of Daddy’s Highway. What should we expect to see on the set-list for the Hamilton gig?
Paul: Our main interest as a band is to play newer fresher material, so we’ve got a good few songs from ‘The Deep Set’ in the show. Several are accompanied by our ‘skeleton string section’, who recorded on the album with us; Mikey Summerfield on viola and John Chrisstoffels on cello. They’re both great sounding electric instruments, and they look a bit skeleton like. Also, you can’t really refer to two people as a 'section'. [They play on] Steeley Gaze, Walking Man, [and] Shut Your Eyes. They also play on a few other favourite songs from 'Daddys Highway' that we haven’t played in a long time, and [songs from the album] ‘Guilty Office’ through to more recent material from ‘Free All The Monsters’.
HUP: Will we hear songs from every album?
Paul: I’d love to. There are so many to choose from now. I keep thinking of songs I want to play live again, but it’s a reasonably democratic process in choosing what ends up in the set, with Bob [Scott] having the deciding vote as he has to sing them. We’ll mix it up a bit from show to show. We’ve been playing Kaye’s song, Mir, from [the album] ‘The Bats at The National Grid’, which we all like.
HUP: The ‘Deep Set’ is getting great reviews, with it being consistently ranked among the best albums you have released. What do you think is behind The Bats’ ability to continue releasing albums of such a high quality?
Paul: Bob’s songwriting is the main reason. He’s so consistently good at coming up with really great songs, and he’s evolved. Some of his compositions have become more complex but without sounding like he’s trying to be clever. They stand up well without the band too. We each put our own stamp on them and it seems to work. There aren’t many bands in the world that have survived as long as us with the same line-up, and I think we’ve achieved that by not overdoing the live touring. It’s kept it fun for us and we’ve haven’t got jaded.
HUP: The Bats used to play Hamilton a lot in the late ‘80s and 1990s. When was the last gig that you played in Hamilton, and do you have any specific memories of past gigs here?
Paul: Sorry, I can’t remember where we were last gig. The pub near uni? We played a lot of Orientation Festivals in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Always fun, and close enough to Auckland shows to work well the night before or after with a short drive.
HUP: For anyone who hasn’t checked out ‘The Deep Set’ yet, what would be the one track you would suggest for them to check out, and why?
Paul: Hard to pick one song. Many have different feels and bring out different emotions. ‘Shut Your Eyes’ is very moody and dark, while ‘Rock And Pillars’ is an uplifting rollicking good time around the hills south of Dunedin.
HUP: Going way back, your move from Toy Love to the Bats was quite a change sound-wise. How did you feel about that change at the time, and could you have ever imagined that you would still be going strong with The Bats 30+ years later?
Paul: I transitioned to the Bats via The Playthings along with Jay Clarkson, which was different again. Each band had pop sense and played songs with a variety of emotions and paces, which I liked. At first I missed having Chris Knox up front, with his dramatic presence being the main focus of attention. I don’t think The Bats have ever been an interesting band to watch live – we sound pretty good – and much better to dance to us / with us and be part of the experience rather than observers. Oops! I’m still encouraging people to dance. We’re an experience to enjoy in whichever way floats ones boat.
A L B U M R E V I E W
Ghosts of Electricity - ‘Music to get Puppies to Sleep’
A year after their debut album, Ghosts of Electricity (GoE) are back with their sophomore effort, ‘Music to get Puppies to Sleep’, to be released in early July.
Where the heck did this album come from, I ask myself? Overall, this release is a totally different beast from GoE’s debut album, Trolls. That was dominated by riff-heavy, punk-inspired songs, played at a frenetic pace. On this release, however, the band for the most part can’t be accused of having any obvious punk influences. This is an album with a split personality. On one hand, it contains some well-crafted, complex pop songs, while many of the others are musically sparse and spoken. Following the classic guitar, bass and drums of Trolls, the importance of keyboards on this album is both surprising and welcome, while the glockenspiel promised in post-Trolls interviews appears on many of the songs also. Regardless of the style, the songs are as interesting lyrically as you might expect from a GoE release, featuring a great deal of intelligent observational humour and social commentary.
Some of the songs that connect most immediately with me, as a rationalist, are those that less than subtlety critique the anti-fluoridation and anti-vaccination movements. First track up, ‘The People Look Like Ochre at Last’, is spoken in its delivery, King Missile in style, and singer Tim Fowler puts his feet in the sandals of new-agers; “Don’t drink fluoride, it hardens your brain” sings Tim. Later, in ‘When I was Young’, he sings; “We didn’t need to be immunised, we just cured polio the natural way, which, you know, was to die, become disabled”, followed by an extended section of coughing. Even what on the surface are the funniest of songs, we are provided with some biting social commentary. Brilliant.
Given Trolls explored social issues and was seemingly so politically correct, dealing with themes like racism and gender, the contrasting song titles on this album are glaring; ‘Young MILFs In Your Area’, ‘Beer Castle’ (the one song that would have fitted comfortably on Trolls) and, in particular, ‘Tits out for the Boys’. This is seemingly GoE in a much lighter mood.
The highlight of the album for me is the second track, ‘Cultural Show’, which is a sort of sea-shanty styled piece of noise-pop. While a lot of the album is spoken word, this tune sees Tim singing from the chest. Fascinating and addictive, I rate this as probably the best song I have heard from the band to date, and I can imagine this will be an epic and intense song to experience live. ‘Stay at Home’ is also excellent, made unique by including what seems to be samples of some Gregorian bass chants.
Overall, this is a really interesting album, featuring some excellent songs and sounds, with thought provoking and challenging lyrics. How are these songs going to translate live? I can’t wait to see. - Ian Duggan