G I G R E V I E W
The Naenae Express, your new favourite band
…and a partial review of HUP’s May gig.
by Ian Duggan
On 27 May, The Naenae Express played Nivara Lounge with Halcyon Birds, Hospital Sports and Crows. The Naenae Express, I have to say up front, are my new favourite band. And they should be yours too. This may be less of a review as a piece of obsessive fan mail.
What isn’t to love about the Naenae Express? They sing about all the finest things in life. First and foremost, they sing about cricket, the most cerebral of all of the world’s sports. For example, on the night they played songs named ‘Eden Park’ and ‘Carisbrook’, which they stated were both about the man they named the band after: ex-New Zealand cricket player Ewen Chatfield. They also sing about biology, the most fascinating of all the sciences. ‘Sea Anemone’, for me, is just about as perfect a song as ever could be written; the lyrics cover mutualistic relationships between anemones and clown fish, their use in the aquarium trade, and – perhaps for the first time in musical history – they reference cnidocytes, the stinging cells distinctive of the phylum Cnidaria. At the gig they also played one of the other EP tracks, called ‘Asteroid Blues’. I don’t know what the lyrics were about, but it is easy to imagine it was about a mass extinction event following an extra-terrestrial collision. Did I mention the opening track on the night, ‘Overlander’, also mentions Hamilton? Pretty much all of my favourite things covered. Brilliant.
But wait, there’s more! Live, they were enthralling. Their live sound was somewhat different to their rather wonderful recorded outputs, but not in any bad way – both are excellent. And lead singer Scott Kendall appears to have some kind of an aura. An X-factor. A je ne sais quoi. A bit like Ringo Starr had that time I saw him walking through Dublin's airport. It’s like some kind of magical property, which makes you feel like he is going to someday be someone special. Overall, Kendall appears somewhat reminiscent of Steve Malkmus of Pavement; in attitude, in the way he stands, in the way he plays his guitar, in the way his vocals sound live, and in the way he commands your attention. In fact, the whole band seemed quite Pavement-esque on the night, in terms of both their sound and look. Both bands include two excellent guitarists, bass players who appear to be existing in their very own, very interesting little worlds, and percussionists who seem to be just the loveliest people you could ever wish to meet. Naenae Express left me star-struck. Luckily I can’t draw. Otherwise this review might be accompanied by an inappropriate piece of fan art.
Overall, HUP’s May gig was as excellent night, from the mellow twin-guitars of the Halcyon Birds, the entertaining indie-pop of Auckland three-piece Hospital Sports, to the beautiful noise of locals Crows (who were known on the night as ‘Sam Shaw and the Ring-Ins’, due to two-thirds of the members standing in for others). And of course, the night ended with eight awesome Naenae Express tunes, ending with Dream State, which I am sure sent everyone in the audience home happy.
I N T E R V I E W
By Elaine Gyde
Gig posters are one way that art and music careen into each other. Plastered over walls throughout the city, they shout (or whisper) that Hamilton has bands! Hamilton has music! Hamilton is cool! You just need to get out there and see for yourself. Gareth Schott is the mastermind behind some of my favourite posters, so it was a real privilege to hear from him about how he works and his thoughts on that sometimes temporal element of music: the band aesthetic.
Objectively- how important is to have a poster that looks good for getting people in the door? Yeah, a lot of posters are driven by the information but with some artists and designers you can recognise a style - Dean Ballinger has distinctive personality in his style. When you're sitting in a cafe there's a vast array of posters so it's important to be engaging then details come second, because if you see an engaging image you go away and research the band. Sometimes the response to my posters has been surprising, people have asked for posters they liked. One of the first gigs I went to was the Stone Roses in London, who had done a cover where they were covered in paint, inspired by Jackson Pollock. Jackson Pollock was actually a big influence on their work- they were in a record contract that they wanted to get out of so they actually splattered the studio with paint. It was what made me check out Jackson Pollock's work.
What's your perspective on the role band posters have on the landscape and feel of Hamilton city? Posters can be a constant presence and reminder that there is activity and so they're important in that sense, otherwise you can miss what's going on plus posters last beyond the gig since they often don't get taken down. It's a reminder that performance is a temporal thing within a limited space and time and length but a poster can be forever. They're a cheaper equivalent to a band tee shirt.
How do you start each poster and is matching the band or producing something visually impressive a priority? The style of the band is important and I tend not to go too far outside of my own taste in music but it depends on the gig often. Bands are quite often distinctive on the bill like I went to the Hollow Grinders gig, who have a completely different sound from His Masters Voice and so turning that into a poster can be a challenge. Trying to focus on one thing and working from there is usually helpful.
You moonlight as a university academic in your spare time, how do you think you get more university students involved and excited about the local music scene?
I don't think I see many students at gigs, I think though that the Hamilton music scene has been revitalised by people like those involved with the Hamilton Underground Press and Ivan at the Nivara and they're all doing an amazing job.
It's important though that my students see you're doing stuff - that you're still immersed in creative things. When I was at university I wanted to go to art school but I studied a social science/psych degree pushing back to work as a creative psychologist for five years.
How do you work around obstacles in your poster design? I think you have to be more creative working around obstacles. I don't have a great imagination- so often the drawings I do come out of intuitive feeling. I do have a photographic memory which helps because I can remember images that I've seen but usually the jumping off point can be an assemblage of different things, influenced by other bands.
I N T E R V I E W
Scott & Andrew Newth of Rumpus Room
By Ian Duggan
Formed in the mid-1990s, Rumpus Room is centred around three Newth brothers, Scott (bass, vocals), Andrew and Kent (guitars), along with the familially unrelated Greg Page (drums). I caught up with Scott and Andrew ahead of their gig supporting Inchworm to talk about their history, being in a band with brothers, and curious to know why they haven’t yet released an album.
HUP: Let’s start at the start. Around 1997 you evolved out of Love & Violence, via the darker more industrial FALLen, replacing synthesisers with traditional band instruments and became an indie-rock band. How did this seemingly rapid evolution in styles transpire, especially when your earlier projects had a strong following?
Scott: We started Rumpus Room mainly because I thought it was a great band name, and that we should use it up. Our other acts were still operational at the time. Both L&V and Southern Tribe for Andrew, so we started Rumpus Room for a bit of fun. Greg and I kicked it off and we roped Andrew in because he owned a guitar. When we started, none of us could play the instruments we chose, so for the first year it was pretty bad. The whole thing was comical and that was reflected in our songs as well.
HUP: Who primarily writes the songs, and who are your major influences?
Andrew: I can't say that any one person writes the songs. It usually starts off with someone playing a riff either on bass or guitar. Sometimes Greg will just play a drum rhythm and we jam around that. If we are really lucky a song will fall out of the noise we are making.
Scott: As far as influences go, we were obviously doing something very different to our other acts, and we were taking inspiration from the other bands playing around that time. It was very much focused on Hamilton's alt band scene and what we were hearing on [Hamilton] compilations like the Fridge and Discordia [Concors]. We were fans of Inchworm especially, but I was also keen on Watershed and Romantic Andes, Postlethwaites, Nodrog and A Crown of Wild Myrtles and the like. Because these were people we knew or were aware of that you could hear and see regularly. I thought there was a distinct Hamilton indie sound emerging and we wanted to be part of that. We also had international influences, especially Joy Division for me and Andrew, but also this little known Swedish act called Salt.
HUP: You have three brothers in the band. I imagine on one hand this is difficult, but that it may also have contributed to the longevity of the band? What do you see as the pros and cons of primarily being a band of brothers.
Andrew: Having Kent joining the fold has been interesting as he lends a darker side to the songs which we all really like.
Scott: I also enjoy the two guitars. Maybe it's a brother thing but Andrew and Kent never play the same thing, but it always works. Maybe it's a brother thing, but they just gel and it's really instinctive. They never talk about what they are doing, they just do it. Having three brothers in the band isn't a problem. It’s actually why we do it. We get to hang out on a regular basis and it's why we are still doing it.
HUP: I know you two played together in L&V and FALLen. Did Kent have any band experience before Rumpus Room?
Scott: No he didn't. He has been in the band twice though. He first joined when we became a five piece. We had Jane Pierard with us on guitar and cello. And he jumped in too to play a third guitar. He was very sparse in what he played. But he left shortly after Jane moved to Wellington. Kent moved to Korea and we enlisted Chris Paki, who had been in L&V and Fallen with us. Kent then returned a few years ago, and we became a five piece again for about a year. But we were not playing shows or doing much more than the odd random jam, so Chris called time on his involvement and that left the current line-up. We have only played one show since Chris left I think... but we want to be more active again now.
HUP: One thing that amazes me is that despite Scott being a sound engineer, having recorded albums for a number of bands (e.g., The Datsuns), Rumpus Room have never released an album! Are there plans for an album, and what else might the future hold?
Andrew: We are writing new material at the moment. Will they become an album? It's pretty hard to say. It would be nice to do at least one album at some point. For now we are really wanting to play live and write new material.
Scott: Making an album is hard work and I'm a bit of a task master so it's hard to apply that to yourself, or find the time when you are making records for other people. It's the same reason why we have very few videos. Or a web site. Another thing about an album. I never thought we were in a position to record one. We always seemed to be in some kind of transition between members changing or in long periods of inactivity with me being away from New Zealand a great deal of the time. Now we wouldn't record the old songs I don't think. If we did do one, it would have to be new material and it would have to be very good for me to want to bother releasing it, as we don't have a following built up. It's a lot of effort if you're not in a position to push it. And we haven't been until now really.
I N T E R V I E W
Scott Kendall of The Naenae Express
By Ian Duggan
With The Naenae Express the headliners at the next HUP gig at Nivara Lounge on 27 May, we caught up with front-person Scott Kendall to talk about their wonderful EP, and a bit of cricket.
HUP: You released ‘The Naenae Express Extended Player’ at the end of last year, and it is a rather wonderful listen. For the readers who haven’t yet heard your music, how would you describe your sound?
Scott: ‘New Zealand Guitar Music’ is my go to description. Pop/rock drums and bass with lots of major 6ths in the crunchy guitars. A fair bit of effort [goes] into lyrics and singing in a New Zealand accent. On the record there is a lot of Jonathan Pearce’s EHX Polychorus and Tape Delay. Live we are using more fuzz pedals and country music.
HUP: Your band is named after Ewen Chatfield — a.k.a. The Naenae Express — the metronomic bowling partner of Richard Hadlee in the New Zealand cricket team from the mid-1970s to the end of the ‘80s. Firstly, you seem too young to remember Chatfield, and secondly, you aren’t from Wellington. How did you come to name yourself after the great man?
Scott: I first heard of Ewen Chatfield while reading one of Richard Hadlees’ autobiographies. Hadlees’ description of Chats’ bowling and general ‘run it straight’ attitude appealed to me. I have since read Chatfield’s book and watched as many videos as possible. He’s just a great guy and ‘The Naenae Express’ is a cool name! Also Robert [Bruce], our guitarist, is from Lower Hutt.
HUP: You all seem to wear a bit of sport-related clothing on stage. Outside of the cricket theme in the ‘Bleaching Sun’ video by The Phoenix Foundation — a band I feel you have similarities with sound-wise — good music and sport generally seem to be mutually exclusive in New Zealand. What is your thinking when it comes to presenting a sport-related image, and how a New Zealand underground-music crowd might react to it?
Scott: The Jerseys came from playing a residency at the Kings Arms Sports Bar with the great band Te Huhu. They called it the ‘RUNITSTR8 Residency’ and we played in front of games on the big screen. I think we kept wearing them mainly because playing music in shorts is great in the summertime. Before that we sometimes played in dressing gowns. It’s just nice to match sometimes.
HUP: There is at least one cricket lyric reference on the EP, but there also seems to be a bit of a biological theme, with songs called ‘Sea Anemone’ and ‘Save the Bees’. Was having two of the five songs on the EP focussing on the environmental sciences a conscious thing, or just a coincidence?
Scott: Probably both. It’s a coincidence because they were just the first songs I wrote for the band. It’s conscious because I was conscious when I wrote them. There’s a lot of things you can think about, and if you can think about something you can probably write a song about it. I think about the things I wrote the songs about?
HUP: What are your aspirations for The Naenae Express?
Scott: A really, really, really big tour of New Zealand. No less than 40 shows. I’ll play anywhere with power.
Check out The Naenae Express on Bandcamp:
R E V I E W
By Choice or Design LP
Since 2009, former Hamiltonian Dan Satherley has been recording prolifically under the moniker ‘Radio Over Moscow’. Frustrated with the fact that a number of other bands have also been releasing music under (t)his name, he has decided to change the name of his project to ‘Anecdata’. And he has just released his first album under ‘Anecdata’, called 'By Choice or Design'.
If you are acquainted with Satherley's indie-electro Radio Over Moscow outputs, you will still largely be on familiar ground here. Many of these songs have similarities to the more upbeat and accessible tracks he has released previously, which in my opinion puts them among his best. Also, similarly, the album still has all the quirky lyrics you expect from a Dan Satherley project, including the expected sci-fi (and occasional New Zealand political) references.
One of my favourite tracks so far, however, is ‘The Time Traveller's Dilemma’, which to me seems very reminiscent of something from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man Machine’ mashed up with the opening theme from Arthur C. Clarkes Mysterious World. It is different from the rest of the album, being slower than most, and with the vocals more robotic, but I rate it as one of the best songs Satherley has released. Magic! If you only have a few minutes to check the album out, perhaps start with the title track, By Choice or Design, which gives a good indication of the sound of the rest of the album. Overall, great stuff! - Ian Duggan
Listen to the rest of 'By Choice or Design' here: