HUP had a natter with Penelope and Robin of Wellington existential folk band Grawlixes. They have just released a new LP ' Love You To Death', and are about to embark on a twelve-date tour of the country.
Kia ora Grawlixes, tell us who you are and how you came to be!
Robin: Grawlixes is Penelope Esplin (accordion, vox), Robin Cederman (guitar, vox), Hikurangi
Schaverien-Kaa (drums) Emma Minor (bass) and Alex Vaatstra (violin). Penelope and I formed Grawlixes back in Dunedin when we were dating and living together in a two bedroom flat above the octagon. Now we live separately in the suburbs of Wellington, but the band lives on.
Tell us how Grawlixes songs are usually formed.
Robin: I usually come up with an initial draft for a song on my acoustic or keyboard, and then Penelope and I will nut out the final details together, especially for the songs she sings.
Congratulations on the release of the new LP! Where did you record it?
Robin: We recorded ‘Love You To Death’ at The Surgery, (in Wellington), with Lee Prebble. It was amazing and expensive in equal measure. Lee is a total wizard and a lovely supportive presence in the studio. We learned a huge amount, and definitely became better musicians in the process. Tip: practice along to a metronome ahead of recording!
(Ed: It was obviously worth it, as album opener, the beautiful 'Honey Bees' has charted at number one on NZ Student Radio Network charts.)
How does this LP compare to your previous work, do you feel the songwriting has changed, maybe the content or the way of working?
Penelope: I think this record is quite a big departure from our previous work. For the first album, we wrote a lot of love songs, being a couple and madly in love. And we wrote in our living room sporadically, when the mood called for it (which was honestly most days, as it was the thing we both loved to do). But towards the end of our relationship, it got a lot harder to enjoy being around each other. We were fighting a lot and honestly kind of hating each other (as a lot of the songs on the second album reflect). It was hard for either of us to make the decision to break up, knowing it could mean the end of the band, so we stayed together longer than we should have, which is funny looking back now.
We had to completely take a break from each other for 6 months, to establish a better way of interacting. During that time, we each individually wrote the crux of the break up songs for the album, to purge ourselves of our demons in a way. We decided to bring in a band as well to break bad habits. We have to write songs differently now. We usually message each other song clips and suggest rewrites virtually.
Sometimes we will tack on a songwriting session onto a practice, but it's better for us not to be in a room together alone for too long. One of the reasons we stayed together in a musical partnership is because we write great songs and are very compatible and creative musically. And we tend to have the same vision for videos too. It's just almost everything else we disagree on.
The tour is fairly extensive, is this the biggest tour you've done to date?
Penelope: Yes this is the biggest NZ tour we've organised to date. We organised a 10 date tour around NZ in 2017 and toured with French for Rabbits around Europe for 3 months in 2015 (but we were not the organisers for that one luckily). It was an incredible experience, without any of the stress of being an organiser.
Do you look forward to touring or is it a bit of a grind?
Penelope: Personally I find touring a very mixed experience. I love the interactions with the audience and being on stage performing. I love having time with the band as well, having chats. And I love the driving - seeing the beautiful countryside. But I find the sleep deprivation pretty taxing.
What have you been listening to lately, and is there anything you've heard that has really stopped you in your tracks?
Robin: I’m listening to the new albums by Faye Webster, Tyler, the Creator and black midi. All are very special in their own ways. black midi always amazes me when I first hear it because there’s so much intricacy and I really struggle to imagine how they even write their songs.
Penelope: Adrianne Lenker - Simulation Swarm. The guitar playing and vocal melody in the breakdown is simply incredible. Her lyrics don't initially stand out, but her lyrics are divine I think she might be one of the best songwriters of our generation
When did you think 'I can be in a band' for the first time and how did that turn out?
Robin: My first band was a high school rock band called Blue Rivets (named after the screensaver). We did a couple of school assemblies, and a talent contest where I performed a triumphant flute solo (years ahead of the Lizzo curve ha). We didn’t place.
A few light-hearted questions to give us a glimpse behind the Grawlixes curtain...
Who is the best cook in the band?
Robin: Penelope would have to be the best cook in the band. She can cook a whole range of amazing goodies.
Which of the Grawlixes is the sportiest?
Penelope: Robin or Emma, they do yoga. I plan to do yoga, then I don't.
And the least likely to get arrested?
Robin: Emma would have to be the least likely to get arrested because she is a very sensible young woman.
Any memorable shows you're willing to share with us, good or bad?!
Robin : Our worst ever show was during a previous national tour when we played at Titirangi on a horrible stormy night and nobody came, except for this one guy on psychedelics who paid us $50 and had the time of his life. Sadly, the owner called off the performance after a few songs, and spent the next half hour making us feel guilty about the turnout despite him not promoting the show. Here’s hoping that never happens again!
If you could organise a show anywhere in the world, where would it be, what 3 bands would be playing, and what are we drinking?
Penelope: That's a really good question. Probably Switzerland, with Radiohead, Moses Sumney or Lianne La Havas and Sabrina Claudio. I've never seen any of those bands live but they're on my bucket list. I would say Adrianne Lenker, but I watched so many of her live videos on YouTube, I probably don't need to anymore.
Catch Grawlixes on tour throughout July and August, click HERE to grab yourself a ticket!
I N T E R V I E W
HUP caught up with New Plymouth-based psychedelic bedroom-pop artist Kayleb Duckett aka The Tiz to talk about his songwriting process, releases to date and plans for the future.
Kia ora Kayleb! Tell us all about The Tiz...
The Tiz is what I like to call my imaginary band, it's a home recording project created by myself and anybody else that would like to contribute. Essentially anyone can be in The Tiz. The idea was spawned from a desire to collaborate with other musicians without the restraint of a fixed band lineup.
When did you think ‘I can be in a band’ for the first time and how did that turn out?
When I was about 12 I started a band with a few friends and whilst trying to perform an epic guitar solo my friend's mum came in and screamed "Please just SHUT UP!"
Who does what – writes the songs/plays what instruments/books shows/designs your artwork etc.
I do most things in The Tiz by myself. It's a really creatively fulfilling project because it can encompass any of my creative whims. For instance, visual art when I'm creating the single/album art and obviously the music itself too.
What is your song writing process?
My writing process these days is to go somewhere in nature with a guitar, record a bunch of spontaneous ideas into my phone and then sift through them later. Then I'll take my favourite ideas and flesh them out until they are ready to record.
Tell us about your recording process...
I spend most days recording at home. I'm currently recording an album which I hope will be finished by the end of the year. The way I record is by recording drums with someone first and then adding my rhythm guitar. Then after that I have a nice little bed to lay the rest of the instruments over. I'm always reaching out to different musicians to add parts to these rhythm tracks, it's usually musicians that play things that I don't know how to eg. Violin, harp, saxophone.
What's coming up for The Tiz, any shows or releases planned?
I will be putting on an album release show which I hope will be in November. That's the deadline I've given myself to get the album finished. It'll be one huge show with most of the people that contributed to the recordings so it's looking to be roughly a 20 piece band give or take. That's going to be at Common Good which is a space run by my good friends Sophie and Eve for yoga, music events and a whole variety of different things.
What is the scene like in your hometown these days?
New Plymouth is interesting because there are a lot of musicians here, I've been really amazed this year by what a huge variety of musicians there are here. There is a serious lack of music venues here which is a shame though we do have some great events like our monthly Singer Songwriters night.
What are you listening to at the moment? What was the last band you heard for the first time that stopped you in your tracks?
Lately I've been listening to the first Ramones albums a lot, that's a favourite. I tend to listen to a lot of older music but the most recent band I really enjoyed is probably Altin Gun. Cool turkish psych rock stuff.
Finally, if you could organise a show anywhere in the world - which three bands are playing, where is it, and what are we drinking?
We're down at the local pub and it's just me and my mates. We're watching classic AC/DC Bon Scott era. The Beatles are the opening act. The Mama's and The Papa's are there too just so I can say what's up to a young Michelle Phillips. We're drinking Absinthe 'cause I've always wanted to try it.
I N T E R V I E W
HUP caught up with Matt and Lisa of tremendous Oamaru-based indie noiseniks Cuticles ahead of their show at Tāmaki Makaurau's Wine Cellar, (with The Biscuits and Kraus), this coming Saturday, 17th July.
How did Cuticles come to be?
Myself and Austen were in a band called the Trendees which became inoperable for various reasons. We still had a hankering for playing music though. Previously I had played the odd song on guitar in Trendees but was mainly doing singing and lyrics. With no apparent band anymore I started playing more guitar and these rough songs kept tumbling out. We were friends with Lisa and I knew that she was a great guitarist and songwriter - she played a memorable set of original songs in my lounge once. She was in various Christchurch bands in the 80’s and 90’s including Nux Vomica, Portage, stints in Spacedust, a drummer in Snort and also played in Lo-Liners from 2003-2012.
Anyways when she agreed to have a go at making music with us we called ourselves ‘Foot Foot’ referencing that classic old Shaggs song. This version of the band played for a few practices and it felt good but it was pretty rough and wild we always felt on the verge of going off the rails. Austen suggested Tom on bass to try and hold it all together a bit more. It still feels like we might lurch off the rails at any moment teehee but I guess the bass player cemented the rhythm section for me and Lisa to get into the deep wonk within the songs. Around this point the name was changed to Cuticles for some reason and we started regular weekly practices out at Lisa’s place.
How does the songwriting process happen in Cuticles?
I have done almost all of the lyrics but Lisa can also write and will hopefully do more of this in the future. I bring in songs which are sometimes worked out beforehand and sometimes just one melodic line. I will normally have some lines tied to the song but I also have piles of other lyrics on random pages/ backs of envelopes ready to adapt to anything.
This is what happened for Steal My Statue when Lisa played her pretty composition on guitar and those words fell into place. I love language and making up songs. Lisa tends to have compositions sorted before she brings them to us also - some of the songs were a few years old I believe. But then a couple of the songs she plays main guitar on - Post Office and Farmer Jones- were just made up on the spot at practice as well. All the artwork/videos have been done by me just out of necessity and time allowances.
And the recording process – how has that happened to date?
We have been super lucky with recording our songs because Tom works at a recording studio called Sublime and we have been able to slip in between bookings for the professional bands for Tom to speed-record us on the fly.
Tell us about your releases so far.
At the moment we have released eight songs but have another album’s worth of unreleased material pretty much ready to go. We have five videos out there for our songs so far and there’s a 7” coming out soon on Spik and Span records which will have artwork by my daughter Ori. DIY is an ethos which I think we all like - trying to do everything ourselves seems best.
What's the music scene like down in Oamaru?
There isn’t one. The large majority of bands in Oamaru are covers bands. We do have Mads Harrop who is cool and has done well recently on student radio but despite having many great musicians not many other bands seem to want to play original music. We have got a venue there called Settler Theatre where we host bands coming through Oamaru and this is an attempt to create a DIY space where a scene could potentially occur.
At this point I posed a few optional light-hearted questions to the band, several of which were answered…
Who is the sportiest member of Cuticles?
Tom. He likes cycling.
Tell us about your best/worst gig experiences?
Matt - as young idiot man playing at being a destructive arsehole with first band Poison Arrow at Kings Arms.
Lisa – An infamous Nux Vomica / Axemen tour of the top of the South Island and we played to
six angry rednecks in Motueka who ran us off the stage when no one would or could oblige
with anything off Dark Side of the Moon.
If you could arrange a show anywhere in the world with any three bands, where is it, who is playing and what are we drinking?
Lisa - Raincoats / Can / Dead Moon – tequila.
Matt - I agree with Lisa but now I can add in three more teehee… Nina Simone / Bo Diddley / Swell Maps - herbal tea or beer probably.
R E V I E W
Bathysphere - Heaven Is Other People (trace / untrace)
By Barnaby Greebles
Our knowledge of the deep sea has crept forward at a trickle. Recent documentaries give us glimpses of diaphanous, oxygen-conserving creatures lurking at Cimmerian depths, feeding opportunistically off sunken whales. But in the 1930s less was known. Off the coast of Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, the naturalist, William Beebe, and engineer, Otis Barton, broke records, reaching the twilight zone at a time when trade and fishing dominated. Cramming themselves into their “Bathysphere,” a small steel orb with fused-quartz windows in which they waved fans made of palm leaves for circulation, they sighted shrimp and jellyfish at depths never before traversed.
“Heaven is Other People,” the title of Dunedin band Bathysphere’s debut album, decries the isolation evoked by their band name’s hydrous depths. Instead, it derives the flipside of Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous “hell is other people” quip, which is taken as a criticism of our tendency to scrutinise or compartmentalise each other.
Admittedly, I’m a little late in cottoning onto this gem which was obscured by the ever-burgeoning Ōtepoti music scene. With the addition of Bathysphere frontperson Julie Dunn’s label, Trace/Untrace Records, the southern city has begun spewing out even more than its usual quotient. Obviously, platforming a swathe of local artists was not enough for Dunn who honed her soporific drawl at solo shows around the city, drawing in musicians from bands such as Asta Rangu, Fazed on a Pony, Koizilla, Males, and Space Bats, Attack! to provide a musical juggernaut as ballast for her tunes. The lineup injects a neuroleptic tension that carries Dunn’s well developed asseverations to a state of transcendent inertia.
I enjoy music that strives for novelty. Of course, there’s always a middle ground between otherworldly and familiar ideas, but it seems a given, that as a musician develops, they will venture into bygone soundscapes searching for fresh inspiration. While Shoegaze branched into Blackgaze and the more mainstream, electro-inspired Nu Gaze, Bathysphere evoke the genre’s origins, throwing in elements of other traditions (such as Noise Rock) along the way, but bringing a raw intensity and a sense of spontaneity that push deeper than where "The Scene That Celebrates Itself” kicked off thirty-odd years ago.
Live tracked in a hallway, Heaven is Other People is a crisp listen. It plays like an on-the-spot blat, unforced, heartfelt, and brimming with the vicissitudes of winter. Bathysphere set the clock ticking, tasseling the listener to a pulse, hypnotic enough to endure, one reasons, at very least for the three minutes or so on the count. But rerunning a trodden groove was never the intention. Instead, spontaneous swerves, harmonic curveballs, riffing off on a tangent are the routine. Sunken and indecipherable vocals could be interpreted as avoiding a socially defined role, which, according to Sartre, is what objectifies a person and deprives them of freedom. The few audible lyric snippets point to personal or relational themes (It feels the same as it did before / I built a shelter while you were gone to sleep in). The formula allows the music to rise and encompass the listener in a wonderous world, as if being plunged into the murky depths, peering out through fused-quartz windows, struggling to catch flickers of life, the embodiment of heaven glimmering through the darkness.