Back in 1965, the world was, well, a bit mad. Not like the sane, accepting, gentle society we have today. Arf! The Vietnam War was in full swing, Mary Quant was helping the decade swing, and Martin Luther King was victorious in winning the right for African Americans to vote in the United States. Here in New Zealand, Waikato University opened, Mt. Eden prisoners rioted, TEAL became Air New Zealand and Ray Columbus and the Invaders won the Loxene Golden Disc Award for 'Til we kissed'. A shitload of classic albums were also released that year - The Who 'My Generation', The Byrds 'Mr Tambourine Man' and The Beatles second album of that year, 'Rubber Soul', were all set free into the world.
Now, over half a century later, Matthew Bannister, of Sneaky Feelings and The Changing Same, is on the verge of releasing his cover of The Beatles classic, entitled 'Rubber Solo'. Julian White (The Scones, Bitter Defeat) caught up with Matthew to find out more about the making of the album and the plans for its release.
JW: You have been a prolific songwriter for many years, and have an extensive back catalogue of original songs. But your upcoming release is a covers album. What is your general approach to covering other artists’ songs?
MB: With the Evolver and Rubber Solo albums it’s basically about using my knowledge as a Beatles fan to rearrange the songs in a style the Beatles might have done them. I try to leave the lyrics and melodies alone, but change the rest. Sometimes I take a lick from one Beatles song and apply it to another, like the Travis picking John uses on “Dear Prudence” and apply it to “Here There and Everywhere” on Evolver. On Rubber Solo, I borrowed the intro of Strawberry Fields for my cover of Girl. It helps that Logic Pro 10 now has mellotron sounds.
JW: What is it about Rubber Soul which attracted you to covering those particular Beatles songs?
MB: I dunno, I’d already done Revolver, and Rubber Soul kind of sits beside it. Sgt Pepper would have been too complex, plus it’s as much about the sequencing and sound effects as about the songs. White Album would’ve been too daunting. I guess I should’ve done Abbey Road, it would have been the most sensible move commercially. The early Beatles albums aren’t as well-known, although for my money, Hard Day’s Night is as good as they ever did. Rubber Soul has a few more naff songs than Revolver, like Run for your Life, but we turned into a sleazy glam-rock thing, which kind of suits it.
JW: You have called the album Rubber Solo. Do any other musicians perform on the album?
MB: Like Evolver, I did it all at home on my computer alone, it was kind of a stress relaxation project. The only difference is that this time I had Logic Pro 10 which has better sounds than what I had for Evolver. At the same time, I’m worried that better sounds give you too many easy options. But live, I have a full band, with Albert (my son) on bass, Bruce Dennis on drums, Nick Braae on keys and Mef Storm on guitar and vocals.
JW: Have you employed any special musical instruments?
MB: Nope, bit of mandolin here and there. Overall, it’s a bit mellower than Evolver. More of a 70s feel.
JW: Is there a track you feel particularly proud of, and if so, why?
MB: I borrowed the intro of Strawberry Fields for my cover of Girl. That works well and it’s pretty funny. I’m also pleased with If I Needed Someone, which I converted into 7/4 meter. I’d been singing in World Voices choir with Kristoff Maubach and we did a lot of Eastern European folk, which is often in weird time signatures. So I was pleased to be able to apply it to the Beatles.
JW: Tell us about the recording and production process. Where and when was it recorded? Any special techniques used in the production process? In what formats will it be released? When will it be available?
MB: I did most of it in about a month in August 2017. I was on a kind of a roll. Later on I went back and made some adjustments. Some of the vocals were a bit rough (some of them still are). I just plugged into the computer, mostly – very boring! We decided to do a limited release on vinyl as no one buys CDs anymore. Here we were helped by the fact that there’s now a pressing plant in NZ again (Holiday Records) as the cost of pressing overseas is prohibitive. It’s still pretty dear. It should be out mid-October, fingers crossed.
JW: You are planning to tour the album in late October and early November. What are the dates, who will be accompanying you, and how can we get tickets?
MB: The plan is to release Rubber Solo in October and perform it live with a full band in Hamilton (Nivara, Thurs Oct 31), Auckland (Wine Cellar, Sat, Nov 2, w/ Superturtle), Whanganui (Luckys, Fri Nov 8 Wellington (Third Eye, Sat Nov 9, w/ Terror of the Deep).
The album will be available on CD and in a limited edition of 150 vinyl copies. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Tickets at Undertheradar. Plus Hamish Kilgour (of the Clean) will now be performing at the Hamilton and Whanganui gigs. That was a last-minute thing, but Danny from Powertool’s played with us a few times and with Hamish too, so he contacted me.
Anatomy of a DIY show: aka why you should attend more shows (a discussion starter)
We all like living in towns where arts and culture is appreciated don’t we. We do. If you’re reading this, the chances are that for you a big part of that is having a thriving local live music scene. Thriving as in a good amount of good bands, and people who go to shows by those bands. What follows is a little insight into what being in a DIY band in Hamilton in 2019 is like. The term DIY is meant to mean that everything is done ourselves and the people in the bands almost certainly have a day job. I’m in a couple of bands at the moment, not that I want a medal or anything. It’s fun, and I like the creativity of it. It is however, a bit of a grind from time to time, and I thought it would be mildy interesting to share some of that with people who might not have been in a band. The best bit is at the end btw.
Forming a band
Finding like-minded souls who play the right instruments. Sounds easy right? Nope. Somone needs to invent a Tinder for musicians rapid. Drummers in particular are like gold dust and should be cherished like your best jumper.
Finding a space to practice is hard enough, (reader, I have practiced in an old bus in someone’s garden for months on end), but then finding a time and day when all members can be in the same place at the same time (not to mention on time) make some of NASA’s achievements look a piece of piss. Does piss come in pieces? I don't know (longhand for idk).
I don’t know what to put here. It’s the other magic bit. Communicating which bits of songs you like to other band members, negotiating lyrics, song length, altering bits other people are doing, not sounding too much like band X….all while trying not to hurt others' feelings. It’s a minefield!
Finding other bands to play that work on the bill BUT will bring in an audience, agreeing a date, finding a venue that is free on that date, sorting a sound engineer and PA, booking a venue, making posters and flyers, postering posters, flyering flyers…a lot of mahi needed.
Afternoon nerves. Turn up for soundcheck 6pm. Soundcheck 7pm, two songs and ‘yeah that’ll do’. Eat shit food. Doors open. Lay out the merch, ever hopeful. Sit on the door praying to something that people turn up. Trying not to hug and kiss strangers when they arrive at YOUR GIG when they could be doing anything in the world. Smiling and being nice to the person turning up with a $100 note and wanting all your change. Getting to 20 people and starting to breathe because you might have just broken even and can pay the venue/sound engineer. Yuss! Band one plays to 20 people. Some clap. 25 people now for band two. A party of four comes approaches and tries to negotiate a bulk deal instead of paying $10 each. Mate. 30 people have paid in now for band three. 8 people leave because they are tired. One person has their fingers in their ears. Still, they all came through. Grateful. ‘This next one’s a new one.’ They mostly all are, only three people have heard you play before. Got to love it!
Wash up – venue incl. engineer $200 (valid; venues cost money to run and engineers need paying). Resulting in $100 to split between the three bands. One travelled from Palmerston North, ten hours return drive. Sold a t-shirt though, and people dug the free stickers. Two are local and decide to give all the $ to the band who travelled. Solidarity.
There you go. It's how it is. Isn't it? DGMW (shorthand for don't get me wrong) there can be some huge highs being in a band too, other than just the joy of creating/playing music…people actually coming to your show at all; nice comments about your music that shows someone was really listening; selling merch; getting a much bigger crowd than expected; cheers when you start playing a song you wrote and someone recognises it; getting airplay on the radio; seeing good amounts of listens to your music online; meeting lovely people in other bands; travelling and playing different venues…and so on.
This is a realistic picture of what it is like being in a DIY band in Hamilton in 2019. If you can go to a show and the other ooption is not too great, please, go to a show. The bands love you for it, and your city becomes a shitload cooler.
Looking forward to the no-doubt wholly positive comments which follow! 😊
Arpie was fortunate enough to catch up with two of Aotearoa's finest underground bands - Swallow The Rat and Threat.Meet.Protocol - ahead of their show at Nivara Lounge this coming Friday, Sept 27th 2019. The key participants in what follows are...in the red corner, representing Taurangans T.M.P, none other than THE Austin Cunningham, and in the blue corner, all the way from Austin, TX via Auckland, is Brian Purington of Swallow The Rat. If you didn't read that in a wrestling announcer's voice, please re-read appropriately.
Just before we proceed, reader, I feel I should share with you that as I typed the above it occurred to me that someone in this godforsaken world of ours needs to pen a song entitled 'Two Taurangans don't make a right' pretty jolly quickly please and thank you. Enough mindless digression. On with the show...
Gidday fulluhs! You are hitting Hamilton this Friday as part of an interesting tour...tell us more about it…where/when/with whom?
AC: Oh it could barely be called a tour but think of it more as a family holiday for a few bands: Swallow the Rat/Threat.Meet.Protocol and Hemordroid who need to get away from our jobs/families/daily stresses and to play and hang out with our good friends at our favourite venues Nivara Lounge and the Vault in Auckand. With guest appearances from extended family members like the awesome Silver Surfer and Fritchley juniors The Pope.
What are your favourite things about each of the bands playing?
AC: With the exception of Brian who’s an outsider that we all secretly resent for taking gigs off hard-working New Zealand musicians [build a wall], these are bands whose members have been around in various guises for the last decade or more. In their current formations both Hemordroid and Swallow the Rat have finally found not only the success they all deserve but the musicians and friends to do it alongside they should have always had. It’s nice to see.
BP: I like that we all play loud Rock n roll musics.
Both your bands have had some fairly exciting overseas tours in the last year or so, STR to SXSW in the US, and T.M.P over in Japan. How was that as an experience?
AC: SXSW was great thanks! Oh wait….. Japan had long been an ambition of ours to tour so to finally do so was an achievement in itself. And to do so without entering financial ruin was an added bonus.
BP: SXSW was pretty decent thanks! We ended up playing 8 shows over 7 days and sharing the stage with some amazing bands. Also we met the label, (Shifting Sounds), that will be releasing our record, so I would count that as a win.
What was different about those shows compared to playing here in NZ? Would you recommend it to other bands?
AC: Every band should play Japan, such a different experience from the New Zealand one. Audiences are bizarrely respectful to the point that you aren’t sure if they even like you as they aren’t responsive like western crowds. Less drunken ‘whooing’, awful dancing and mass venue exodus come mid set so they can smoke/talk outside. A lot more respectful hand clapping though.
BP: Being in a band in NZ is a bit like Groundhog Day. You end up seeing the same bands in the same venues over and over again. It’s life affirming to go abroad and meet/play with other musicians/fans.
Would you go back? Or do you have plans to go further afield?
AC: We would love to but due to Evan's addiction to buying snare drums we will struggle to pay for the gas to Hamilton let alone Japan again. However we plan to send him to rehab for his dirty vice so if he comes out clean we will aim to head stateside next year for a run of shows.
BP: We will be doing some shows in The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave sometime next year. How we will pay for this remains to be seen. All four us could probably spare a kidney or lung. We just need to find some buyers.
Austin, you recently organised a(nother) ginormo Fest over in Tauranga…how did Loserpalooza go and did it achieve what you had hoped to? Would you do it again?
AC: - It did mate, we raised 4.5k for Lifeline and brought a lot of joy to attendees and participants. I will do Loserpalooza again for sure, annually even and hopefully for ever growing proceeds to Lifeline.
What does the rest of the year/2020 hold in store for your band?
AC: We are in the process of recording a 7” for release early next year and between you and I hopefully replacing our bass player as he is abysmal and kind of an asshole.
BP: hmmm, we will be supporting Gang of Four 12th November at the Tuning Fork and releasing our debut LP in early-ish 2020.
Shit that is pretty cool! Finally, encourage the good gig going public of Hamilton to get along to Friday’s gig in ten words or less…
Brian's gonna get out his weiner…. & expel sweet smelling spores
Heavens above! Will if that doesn't entice you out on Friday night, Hamilton, I don't know what will. In all seriousness these are two fantastic live bands, and the fact that they will be joined by two more bands in Hemordroid and Silver Surfer ought to be enough to convince any potential fence-sitters to get along to the show and cut loose. TTFN.
I N T E R V I E W
‘Screen Variations’: An interview with GROK about their new album
With Ian Duggan
GROK took out Hamilton’s Contact 89FM Battle of the Bands competition in 1996, and released their debut album ‘Bubbles and Noises from the Aquarium’ the following year. Reforming in London in 2006, they released two further albums, 2008s ‘Ruined Music for Everyone’ and 2011s ‘Create a Diversion’, both featuring studio improvisations. Following a brief reformation of the original GROK in Hamilton in 2014, the again UK based band have just released their fourth album, ‘Screen Variations’. We talked to GROK’s Scott Brodie about the album, and their residency at London’s Genesis Cinema — where they have been providing the soundtracks for silent films, on which the songs on the new album are based.
HUP: The songs on ‘Screen Variations’ are quite different to GROK’s previous albums. On the new album the songs are more soundscapes, and lack vocals, as might be expected from a soundtrack to a silent film. Many of the songs start quietly, and then build in intensity, which I guess is reflective of the scenes they were associated with. What can you tell me about the songs, and how representative are the songs on the album relative to those that were in the original performances?
SB: They turned out not to be too representative of the original ideas. We listened to the original improvisations before heading into the studio and at times may have latched onto a motif that worked. When we were in the studio we improvised two versions of each song. We didn't really plan to start quietly and then go loud - it's the movie we are following. I think maybe just one song follows this arc; in the others it's more that the mood changes from synth based to bass/guitar/drum based.
HUP: What films were you asked to provide soundtracks for? Had you watched the films previously, or did you go in to each unprepared?
SB: The Genesis gave us a pretty free reign in the residency. We would watch a few movies and then suggest ones to do. We watch the movie once together - just to enjoy it. Then we watch again and break it up into 'songs'. In the past we would improvise over the whole movie, but we realised pretty quickly that there needs to be variation in instrumentation and differentiation to add interest, and to mark boundaries between the scenes. So, we think of these as songs. After we break the movie up into songs, we categorise the songs and the action. We create a little flash animation so that when we are playing and improvising we can see that some increasing action is coming up, or perhaps a plateau of gloom. Rob [Talsma] and Chris [Ayles] do this and we have a process now. It takes a bit of work to categorise, but it's essential to have these guardrails when you are improvising. Otherwise, you could be preparing for an ‘Explosions in the Sky’ type section, and suddenly you realise things changed to a pastoral scene that you just forgot about.
All the soundtracks we did are on the website, except for Mocny Człowiek' / 'A Strong Man' — a great silent Polish movie — and David Lynch's Eraserhead, which we did in March. We have a few more coming up. We are just confirming them at the moment.
HUP: So, when you were doing the rerecording, were you re-watching the appropriate segment of the film again?
SB: Yes, we had the scene playing as well as the original flash animation running to see the peaks and troughs coming up.
HUP: How and when did you come to be involved with Genesis Cinema, and how did the residency come about?
SB: Rob's sister Amanda called in there one day and talked to the manager, who she had met before I think. We had previously only done soundtracks in pubs. We then went and had a talk with them. Following that, we played a couple of movies and they offered a residency, which was really great, but pretty full-on doing a new movie every month. We've been having a break this year. It was excellent - we learned so much. Our soundtracks are much more controlled now and we have added so many more electronic elements.
HUP: You look to be down to a three-piece now. Who plays in GROK now, and does being in a pared down line-up provide challenges?
SB: We have gone electronic... Chris plays guitar and has a hundred or so pedals over a two layer pedal board, and maybe three synths to go with that. He uses different ones each time. He has an MS20 and also his own drone synth machine that he designed and built, and many others. I have my bass with some synth pedals and a harmonic generator. I also have a Nord G1 modular that I use, with a Beatstep pro for sequencing. I have a Eurorack modular setup in a Doepfer road case: a couple of oscillators and voltage generators and sequencers along with some filters and other modules to mess with the sound. The modular is so much fun but difficult to improvise with. I need to have a few generative patches ready with options to change the sound based on the movie and the improvisation. Rob has his drums, a Novation synth, and a Roland drum pad with samples he's put in, and also a Volca sample. So, we have filled up the space by multitasking really.
HUP: Are the band still playing other gigs, or is silent films now your specialty? What is the future for GROK?
SB: We haven't played a 'normal' gig for a year and half (one completely improvised with our ‘wheel of chordal destiny’, to determine the key and lyric suggestions from the audience). We think we will do one shortly - we were talking about it. We will do a release party at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon in the next few months where we DJ songs that relate to films. We are also thinking about the next album, which will be completely electronic. No bass, guitar or drums. Let's see what happens.
HUP: Back on 2016, you reunited with the former members of Inchworm and recorded some new songs. Should we still expect those to see the light of day?
SB: Yes. It will see the light of day. We [— The UK-based GROK —] also have an unfinished album from 2013, which we were talking about making into an EP recently. One of those songs [The Thrill of Caucasus] went on the HUP compilation [Life Beneath a Gravel Streak (2016)]. The other album is quite nice and raw it doesn't need too much. I would just need to redo the vocals. We think it will be called ‘GROK Make Music With Friends Vol 1’, opening the door to a series of future collaborations, maybe. When you work with computers all day you can't really face hitting Pro-Tools in the evening. That's part of why I love the modular stuff so much; you can plug in cables and twist knobs and don't need to look at a screen. If it's a cold winter - I'll try and finish GROK ‘Friends’ this year.