A R T I C L E
Band Family Tree: Rumpus Room
by Ian Duggan
Rumpus Room are a Hamilton indie-rock band celebrating 20 years of existence this year! So who better than them to be the subject of our second Band Family Tree?!
If you missed the article on our Inchworm family tree, ‘Rock Family Trees’, as they are commonly known, were the invention of English rock journalist Pete Frame, whose first trees appeared in his own magazine, Zigzag, in 1971. What the trees basically do is chart changes in bands, or whole music scenes, by constructing ‘family trees’ based upon the interrelationships of members among bands. While our trees now number a couple, Frame has to date created at least a couple of thousand.
Our second tree centres on Rumpus Room, whose 20 year existence has (understandably) resulted in a number of line-up changes, though the core of Scott Newth, Andrew Newth and Greg Page has remained solid. Members of the band are the descendants of several others, and in turn they have spawned offspring of their own; obviously, not all related bands could be shown! I had always planned for Rumpus Room to be my second tree, but a comment left on our webpage following the publication of our Inchworm tree by drummer Greg Page sealed the deal; “love it. do rumpus room! pweeeeaaase”. Nevertheless, when I first mentioned I wanted to do a Rumpus Room tree to Scott, he commented, “Seriously? That's not going to be much of a tree. A shrub at best”. (continued below)
Working with several members or related musicians in developing the tree, it was clear that remembering the history of your bands can be difficult. As Andrew Newth noted, “This is fascinating for me, as I can't remember anything”. However, as we discussed various dates a number of memories of associated bands came out. For example, of the name change from Love and Violence to the short-lived Fallen, the direct major antecedents of Rumpus Room, Scott noted; “That was really a late decision that we probably shouldn't have done. My fault. I just thought the new material was just so different to the first Love and Violence album, and we were not playing any old stuff by then. There was a whole new album in the works, but only two songs were completed before the [Zoo] studio went belly up. The whole project got too hard to do live and losing our recordings was a blow and then the Contact/UFM saga ruled my life for a good time after that... The name change came about around the same time we stopped”.
And, to the most recent offspring, Scott noted: “Kent, Andrew and I are in a band now called System Corporation with Ben [Cole] and Phil [Buscke Somervell] from the Datsuns, but we haven't released anything yet. But soon. First single out later this year and an album in production”. Watch this space!
I N T E R V I E W
Kurt Williams of Hollywoodfun Downstairs
By Cameron Reid
Ahead of their show at Biddy Mulligans this coming Thursday, August 18th, Cameron Reid caught up with Hollywoodfun Downstairs guitarist and vocalist Kurt Williams to talk about the Wellington band's upcoming tour with Phone Sex Robots, the New Zealand music scene and touring through Europe.
What was the catalyst for starting Hollywoodfun Downstairs? To be straight up - to get off our faces in Royal Oak, London. But then it kind of grew into something more serious.
You’re recently back from touring Europe, and have just finished recording your next album, what made you guys want to hit the road again? Yeah, Europe was a blast, 65 shows which has sorted us out mentally and physically. You and I had the idea around Hamtown Smakdown that we would like to do a bit of a North Island tour. Plus it's good to play to friends and family.
I forgot about that! Tell us about the new album, Tetris. What was it like to write and record the follow up album to Reactions and when do you think we will see a release date for Tetris? To us, this album Tetris is something we have been working on really hard - putting the yards in and working out the style we are comfortable with, without giving anything away. Tetris was recorded with James Goldsmith at Blue Barn, 12 tracks in 4 days. James knows us and likes to push us which is awesome. We are about to hand the tracks over to Chris Common in El Paso, who we met when playing with Le Butcherettes in Brussels. I'm not really going to say much about the sound or shape other than… you’ll see!
What is your writing process typically, and do you guys write while you’re touring at all, or is it all done in the practice room? We made a track called ‘Reverse Ahoy’ in an old bomb shelter in Osijek in Croatia - now the collective there is so awesome, Danja and Darko are like family now. The majority of the writing is done in my bedroom to start with, then I forward the noise to Joe and Grant at practise.
How many tours have you done through New Zealand, and is there a town or city or venue that you look forward to playing the most? Heck - we have done a few tours around NZ. Our favourite is definitely Mount Maunganui. Great crowd and people.
Same question, but swap New Zealand for Europe: How many tours have you done through Europe, and is there a country, town, city or venue that you look forward to playing the most? UK/Europe we have played 90 shows in two tours so picking a favourite from that is hard, they all rock. Paris in November will be a blast and also playing the Leeds PieRace festival where our good friends Riggots will be playing, check them out!
What are your feelings about the New Zealand music scene at the moment, and what things could we learn from Europe/UK? I’m so far out of touch I wouldn't know, to be honest. Down here bands like Starving Millions are great, they just toured Aussie for the second time. Press Gang is something very special in NZ, like Austin in Tauranga.
I see noise-punk and post-punk being used as descriptors for your band, which I don’t entirely agree with. Personally, I think you guys fit in far more with the post-hardcore sound of the 2000’s, with bands like Blood Brothers, This Night Creeps, and Some Girls. Do you think that’s a fair comparison, or have I totally missed the mark there? You are spot on. The Blood Brothers, man. What can I say?
What bands are you listening to at the moment? Head Wound City - Deafheaven - Birds in Row - Bad Breeding - Touché Amore.
What’s your favourite Hollywoodfun Downstairs song to play live?
Which other NZ bands should we be listening to? Broods’ first album. I don’t know why but that dream element gets me when lying down in the van on the highways.
You can curate a show anywhere in the world with any three bands, dead or alive, and there’s only one thing to drink…who/where/what are we quaffing?!
The Blood Brothers, Pet Shop Boys, Blur. Tokoroa Football Club with Tequila!
A R T I C L E
The Outsiders: What Memories do Bands that Toured Hamilton have of us?
By Ian Duggan
Hamilton has hosted a number of notable bands, including those from elsewhere in New Zealand and international visitors, although the rate at which really significant bands have toured here has slowed somewhat in recent years. I approached musicians from some of the noteworthy bands that played here in the past, between the 1960s and 2000, and posed a single, simple question: “Do you have any lasting memories or impressions of playing in Hamilton?” I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Were we remembered? Was it worthwhile them coming here? Would anyone actually respond? Happily, for the latter, they did!
Being such a broad question, I got a diversity of responses; from the generic to the specific, positive and negative, and on a variety of topics. One theme that emerged strongly, however, was an enthusiasm of Hamilton crowds.
The Chills were a band that played Hamilton a number of times from the mid-‘80s to mid-‘90s, at a variety of venues: The Metropole, Roxoff, The Hillcrest and The Wailing Bongo. Caroline Easther, drummer for the band from 1986 to 1988, remembered Hamilton well: “Ha ha, yes, l vividly remember The Chills’ [early 1987] Hamilton experience because it was the first gig of our New Zealand tour before we went to London! An astonishing, high energy gig... we played hard and got sweaty and l wondered what the fuck a nice middle class girl like myself was doing in a place like that and if l might be about to die. It was a promising if pretty overwhelming start. Very punk, very responsive crowd. Full on. I don't know Hamilton well but suspect they don't do stuff by halves”.
Flying Nun stable-mates The Bats also played here a number of times, and lead singer Robert Scott answered similarly: “I remember Hamilton for the few enthusiastic fans that did come to the shows. They said they missed out on a lot of bands, so [they] were very happy when we did make the effort to go there”. I was somewhat surprised by his use of “few”, as in my memory, The Bats’ gigs were always well attended: ‘Yeah, the crowds were good”, he responded.
It wasn’t always just the audience enthusiasm at gigs that Hamilton was remembered for, though. One recalled Hamilton for the size of the crowds, but also for…ahem… enthusiasm of another kind. Harry Harallambi, drummer for the Dance Exponents (and later the Exponents) — again, once frequent visitors to Hamilton — stated: “Love the Tron. It was the first North Island town the Dance Exponents ever played in, when we supported the Screaming Meemees in ‘81 or ‘82, and since then the Tron has always been a blast when we play there. We'd be doing a tour and stiffing everywhere, but show up in Hamilton and it was always packed. Seemed the ladies of the town liked us a lot also”.
Alright, let’s leave such positivity for the moment. Surely Hamilton can’t be seen in such a great light by everyone? In fact, Goodshirt wrote a song about Hamilton, their 2004 single ‘Fiji Baby’, which begins:
When we went to Hamilton I said,
“Just pretend it's a holiday" and you said,
"Yep, I'll just pretend it's Fiji baby."
So I was pretty stoked when Gareth Thomas, Goodshirt’s keyboardist (and 2016 Silver Scroll nominee!), responded with reference to the offending song. “Rodney was a bit worried that the song Fiji Baby might be taken the wrong way. When we first played it in Hamilton I remember the audience cheering in approval hearing Hamilton in a song - all apart from one guy who raised his middle finger at Rod, and then kept it raised and aimed at Rod's head for the rest of the gig”.
“Was the song based on a true story”?, I asked. “Yup, it's a true story, based on a conversation with his girlfriend when they went to Hamilton”. “Now ex-girlfriend I trust!”, I responded. “Ex-wife actually!”, he replied… oops…
At least we left a lasting impression, though. Some musicians I approached had played here as early as the ‘60s, and for them (and some touring here in the not-so-recent past), memories will have degraded with the passing of time. For others, Hamilton was likely just one segment of an intense and extended tour. For example, the English band Manfred Mann played Founders Theatre in February 1965, a year after having an international hit with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. Neither Manfred (keyboards) nor Tom McGuinness (bass) had “any real memories of this time. Sorry!” I’m not sure if the “this time” they referred to related specifically to the time they played at Founders, or the ‘60s in general, but I was just happy musicians of such long-standing stature even responded! Both Manfred Mann and Wellington’s Head Like a Hole have covered Bruce Springsteen songs, but in another parallel, the latter’s Booga Beazley also noted: “Lasting memories — not so much bro, not so much”.
Interestingly, even for gigs for which I had strong memories could not be remembered by some artists. For example, hip hop trio Urban Disturbance played a gig at the University of Waikato swimming pool, during which a ‘bombing’ competition was held; based on the setting and associated activities this was one of the most surreal, and seemingly unforgettable, gigs I have ever attended. However, DJ Rob Salmon noted “I do remember the gig, but vaguely”, and asked “to jog my memory, who did we play with?”
Of course there were a number of musicians who didn’t get back to me, a proportion of whom may have had similar reasons.
Another non-response was Australian instrumental rock band The Dirty 3. I was at their gig at the Wailing Bongo sometime in the mid- to late- ‘90s where, during a particularly intense song, the DJ, thinking the set was over started up the dance music and shouted “Let’s give it up for the Dirty Three!” Unsurprisingly, the band stormed off, and had a bad word or two to say about us in interviews. Probably a bad experience they didn’t want to remember. Good memories can come from bad experiences, however. Andrew McLennan (a.k.a Andrew Snoid) of the Pop Mechanix, a popular band in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, stated: “I loved playing at the Hillcrest. We had [Dragon members] Marc and Todd's brother Ross Hunter on our crew. He was a giant of a guy and one night stood behind a drunk yahoo who was causing the band and the crowd grief. The whole room watched in delight as the drunk toss-pot turned around to see Ross standing right on his ass. Ross never lifted a finger; with a flick of his head he signalled “Out you go”, and that was the end of that”.
Tim Mahon, bass player for Blam Blam Blam, also remembered ‘elements’ of the Hillcrest crowd: the “Blams played with Screaming Meemees and Newmatics at the Hillcrest in 1981. The Springbok tour was on and we were the voice of the protesters. Rednecks were everywhere and in those days we came across them often. The Hillcrest had a fine collection of rednecks, but they still loved ‘There is no Depression in New Zealand’” — a song with lyrics full of irony, including “we have no racism, we have no sexism”, in reference to the rednecks themselves.
What about bad behaviour from the bands themselves? Any archetypal ‘rock and roll’ experiences that took place in Hamilton? The closest I got was from Jon Toogood from Shihad: “One enduring memory from me was watching Phil, our guitarist, throw a toaster out the window of a hotel after first ringing reception to find out what the replacement value of the toaster actually was. He paid when checking out. Ethical rock-star behaviour in Hamilton, if there such a thing”.
Jon also remembered the “many seriously out of control sweaty rock shows at The Wailing Bongo [at the University] that totally ruled”. One band you would expect to have had enthusiastic crowds anywhere was Supergroove, but trumpet player Tim Stewart also had lasting memories of this venue in particular: “I remember playing Wailing Bongo in '93. We were quite concerned that the crowd would knock over the PA in their general desire to get onstage and throw themselves off. Gigs there were always crazy.” The same venue was remembered for slightly different reasons by 3Ds bass player Denise Roughan, however: “The Wailing Bongo – arguably the silliest name for a music venue, ever…?”
Unfortunately, the Bongo is now history, and at least one artist believes the current venues just aren’t up to standard. Booga Beazley of Head Like a Hole noted: “The thing with Hamilton is there isn't much choice for venues and basically you have to play Altitude bar which for me isn't ideal. The stage is too high and the room is all wrong. Nothing about it says ROCK. All it says is NIGHTCLUB, which is soooooooo last month. ha!” He also noted, “Hamilton just isn't appealing for anything apart from passing through, but with the housing crisis Hamilton may have hope?” hmm…. alright, let’s finish with some more positive stories about our enthusiasm!
Mark Silvey, bass player from Garageland, who were regular visitors to Hamilton from the mid-‘90s to the early-2000s (and now a solo artist), couldn’t have spoken more highly of Hamilton: “Hamilton crowds were always fun to play to. Very appreciative and [they] love a good old singalong. So yeah, good crowd memories, not only at the gigs but in-store at record signings too. If Garageland ever reform for a national tour, Hamilton will be on the dates for sure”.
Singer/songwriter Jan Hellriegel, who had a number of charting singles in the 1990s including ‘The Way I Feel’, answered remarkably similarly: “I loved every show I did in Hamilton. The audiences were always good to play to. To be honest I don't know why I haven't been back — but then, I have hardly toured in the last 20 years... will try to do something about that one day!”
I leave the final word to another international group, Australia’s Little River Band, who had commercial success in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, with hits such as ‘Help is on the Way’, ‘Lonesome Loser’ and ‘Cool Change’ in the early ‘70s and early ‘80s. They played at — of all places — our international cricket ground, Seddon Park, in February 1983. Wayne Nelson, bass guitarist and sometimes lead singer for the band, remembered the incredible reception the band got in Hamilton that night, and that it was one of the band's first performances in New Zealand with a new lead singer. “There had been many large audiences in years before, so there was some trepidation about how the new front person would be received. Everyone was very happy with the result... it was a beautiful night”. And happily, I hear the new lead singer John Farnham went on to be quite successful in his own right.
I N T E R V I E W
Michael Keane of So Laid Back Country China
By Arpie Shirehorse
Wellington’s So Laid Back Country China is a band with a sound that is as unique as its name. Their brand of atmospheric stoner/country rock has been creating waves on the underground scene for a few years now, and last year’s debut LP ‘With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon’ was a stunning piece of work. HUP talked to Michael Keane ahead of the release of the second LP ‘Sin Cristales’ and a tour of the country which includes a show this coming Saturday with Jakob at Nivara Lounge on August 6th.
How long has So Laid Back Country China existed for? I have been writing material for So Laid Back Country China since 2011, in response to a sound and song style that existed in my head. Harriet Ferry (keys, vocals) joined me in bringing the first songs to life in 2012; she pushed the boundaries even further. Kane Tippler (drum kit) and James Bennett (bass guitar) joined later that year, and we began the slow journey to our first collection of songs, WINTER, that was recorded in 2013 and released in 2014.
What was the catalyst for starting the band/how did you all get together? Harriet and myself have a history in the live country music scene in New Zealand, and I feel the band started in response to a frustration at a lack of imagination and growth in that style of music. We wanted to tear song structures apart and create a huge live sound, as well as writing music that was reflective and truthful to our day to day lives. Kane and James, while coming from different back grounds of progressive rock and self-portraits respectively, helped to expand the sound and break old patterns.
Your second album ‘Sin Cristales’ is about to drop – how excited are you for that? Has it been a long time in the making? Where did you record it/with whom? Our second album is an exciting collection for us - we have developed on both the sound and song style established on With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon (2015). We learnt a tonne from Knees about our voice as a group and about myself as songwriter, and as a result we have approached this album in a more ambitious way by expanding instrumentation, demoing and reworking at the birth of songs and feeling confident to make songs dramatically dynamic. The songs were recorded October/November of 2015 at the Blue Barn in Wellington by James Goldsmith who also mixed the album.
What is your favourite song to play live? Ballad of Calm Arms (unreleased) has been an exciting addition to our live show - watch out for G'n'R-esque guitar solos and seductive microphone stand movements.
Is Britain doomed following the Brexit vote?
It's a thing, I'm Scottish born so let's get out.
Who is the sportiest member of the band?
Kane Tippler supports local and international sports teams.
Which other NZ bands should we be listening to? Spook the Horses are about to drop an album that is going to break hearts and please ears. Yukon Era are getting better and somehow younger by the day. Bespin are killing it live and working on a new record.
You can curate a show anywhere in the world with any three bands, dead or alive, and there’s only one thing to drink…who/where/what are we quaffing?! Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings and Kirin J. Callinan drinking peppermint tea and performing the songs of Lee Brice at Dakota Bar, Wellington.
* Jakob, So Laid Back Country China, Desbot - Saturday August 6th at Nivara Lounge. Tickets available at Under The Radar.
I N T E R V I E W
Jason Johnston of Jakob
By Arpie Shirehorse
HUP caught up with Jakob drummer Jason Johnston ahead of the band’s show at Nivara Lounge this coming Saturday, August 6th. Read on to find out about the band’s early days, what it meant to win the Taite Music Award in 2015, and the recent tour of Europe and the UK.
You’re finally coming back to Hamilton! What took so long? Yay, finally back to Hamilton and sorry it’s been so long. I kept on getting lost due to taking highway 27 to Auckland.
You have been together as a band since 1998. Life is no doubt very different for you all as individuals compared to when you started out. Did you think you’d be still doing it almost twenty years later? Jakob has been a band now for 18 years and we are all still based in Napier. Life has changed dramatically since we first started, for all three of us. Having kids, buying houses and still having day jobs. Maybe back then we dreamed we would one day turn this into a passion that we could make a living from. In terms of readiness, we were ready to tackle it as far as having no children or mortgage to worry about, yet Jakob as musicians were not ready for that step. It’s kinda funny, now we are totally ready as a band but we all have other commitments and priorities that come first before the band. It’s totally backwards but we still are having to pay to play...touring Europe/UK is very expensive and we pay for the whole thing of our own backs. We always envisioned we would be still playing together but we never put a time frame on it. Time flies when you’re having fun. And when it's not fun anymore, we are done.
Do you remember the early days much at all? How did you all meet and start jamming? The earlier days...ahhh, great times man. They were awesome and nothing much has changed as far as how we feel about the music we play. All three of us were skateboarders back in the day, skating the local indoor skate parks, The Skate Domain and Taradale , Flaxmere, Havelock North Bowls and the schools and street in Hawke's Bay... that's going back 25 years. I had just started at Tamatea High School (third form) and was already jamming with new friends I had made. Matt Emery (formerly of Hamilton bands The Clerics and Amy Racecar - Ed) was a great bass player who came in from another high school and we just clicked. He introduced me to a guy who played guitar from Napier Boys High who turned out to be Jeff. We jammed for hours and hours at Tamatea High music room after hours, and honed our skill playing Tool, Helmet, Living Colour, Pearl Jam, Rage, STP, Smashing Pumpkins…the list goes on. Lots of jamming and a few flat parties. Maurice thought he'd give it a go on the mic...he sounded pretty good so he became our singer in a covers band, which then turned into an originals band called Vaccine (formed in 1996) Everyone did their own thing for a few years, then Vaccine came back to Napier at the end of 1997 and Jakob was born in 1998.
How is Jakob’s music formed/what is your writing process typically? We still jam out an idea and take it from there...we don't try and force it if someone isn't feeling the buzz. Most of the time we'll try to record all jam sessions, but it’s the golden moments that usually don't get recorded and we have hundreds of those.
Things got difficult there for a while, with each of you injuring hands in various ways, one after the other. Was there ever a moment when you thought the band might not get going again? When I cut tendons in my right hand we had a month long European tour booked. I told the boys that I would stand down and I asked Aaron Harris (ISIS and Palms) to take over the duties so that Jakob could still do the tour. Aaron was totally down for the opportunity but Maurice and Jeff decided to flag the tour till my hand had healed. The first show back was Jakob supporting TOOL in Australia at the Brisbane Entertainment Center and Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl. If anyone gets hurt we just carry on and don't get all hung up over things that are out of your control. The longer you don't get to play music the more drive you have to want to.
In 2015 you won the Taite Music Prize for ‘Sines’, a fantastic achievement! Has that been useful at all in terms of realising any ambitions for the band? Even from the beginning we have been very humble. "Yeah she'll be right, sweet as, chur bro algood". Never going out to make a million dollars...no expectations = no disappointments. That’s been my motto the whole way through. So winning the Taite Music Award in 2015 blew us away. How can that happen to a non-commercial band with very little following in NZ compared to the commercial shit that can sell out Vector Arena yet have only been around for 4 years or so, straight out of Otago Uni…anyway. Jakob winners of the 2015 Taite Music Award...it sounds pretty sweet, and the $10k prize money couldn't have come at a better time as we were all booked for a European/UK tour three days after winning the award. Stoked.
How was the recent tour of Europe? Any highlights or lowlights? The recent European / UK tour was "epic". Jakob's following and support in Europe and UK is growing so fast it’s crazy. So many people think we make a living off playing music and to them we are "famous" in Europe yet we get back home and we have to go back to work. Classic kiwi buzz. All the venues were packed and everyone appreciated our music and the travel we had to undertake to play for them in their home towns. The USA is the same, but we have not been back for a few years. We need to win that $40 Million this Saturday, then we'll live that dream. The whole tour was great...highlights for me were coming home to hold my family. And have a roast lamb with all the trimmings. Chur!
Jakob, So Laid Back Country China, Desbot - Nivara Lounge, Saturday August 6th - limited pre-sale tickets available from Under The Radar.