I N T E R V I E W
Rob Talsma: Drummer and music video maker
by Ian Duggan
Inchworm was among the most popular of Hamilton bands in the mid- to late-1990s. While we have recently seen Inchworm bass player Scott Brodie back in Hamilton, playing in Grok, what happened to the other members? Here I talk to Rob Talsma, drummer, songwriter and music video maker, about his music related activities since leaving Hamilton in 1999 — his latest band ‘Five Second Burn’, and his music videos.
HUP: Rob, you were known in Hamilton as a member of Inchworm, Inspector Moog, Tobermorie, and several other 1990s Hamilton bands. In 1999 you left Hamilton for London with Scott Brodie, in the hope that Inchworm would continue, but you weren’t joined by guitarist Justin Harris. Your first band in the UK was Girlinky. Can you explain how Girlinky came about, and a little bit about the band?
Rob: Scott and I came to London with the idea of recruiting someone over here. We did audition a couple guitarists, but I think it's pretty hard to find someone who just clicks. Scott meanwhile wasn't sure if I was going to stick around — I spent a year sleeping in my sister's lounge and living off my savings — so he joined an established London band called Baptiste. Later in 2000, Sarah [Ferguson, now Bourn], also from Inspector Moog and Tobermorie, headed to London and the three of us started writing songs. Chris Ayles, the keyboardist from Scott's 'other band' [Baptiste], came to see us play and eventually added a second guitar. Thusly, Girlinky was formed.
We had a lot of fun and we took it pretty seriously, practising most weeks and gigging a lot. The music was very keyboard and melody focussed. I still love a good electro-poppy song. We recorded an album called 'I want the Tsunami', releasing it the year before the terrible 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Obviously, compared to the horrors of the actual tsunami, our timing wasn't that genuinely disastrous. We were just slightly unlucky. We were still writing songs we liked, but we couldn't cultivate the required London 'buzz', despite our manager's best efforts, and in the end we decided it was time to try something else.
HUP: You have a new band, with a new album. Tell me about ‘Five Second Burn’, which features yourself and Chris Ayles.
Rob: Chris is very interested in trying new things and a project having a theme. After Girlinky we did an electronic album with Sarah called 'Dobra Robota', which was very focussed on analogue synths and slightly philosophical observations. The idea with Five Second Burn was to base everything on noisy guitar riffs. So each song has its own guitar loop that runs underneath and the chord progressions and melodies sit on top of that. We wanted everything to sound like a chorus so when a song ended you'd want to hear it again immediately. Perhaps we didn't succeed 100%, but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I'm not sure if we have aspirations though. We tend to do it for fun now.
That said, I think at the back of my mind I still entertain this vague delusion that someday, just from sheer volume of work, someone might notice all this music we made. Mostly though I think we're very at ease with the indifference that follows a musical project's release back into the wild. We've released it for free, so I just like the idea of people listening to it, or perhaps even dancing to it. Actually the album release party was a really fun dance party. Even a few people we didn't know popped their heads in briefly. I ran over to one couple and gave them a CD; they left soon after. But it was fun and now someone I don't actually know has our CD… or at least has given it to a charity shop. Either way, that sole CD is out there, somewhere.
HUP: Is there a story behind the name 'Five Second Burn'?
Rob: We wanted something that reflected the brevity and intended intensity of the songs and we both love space. Chris came up with it.
HUP: Do you and Chris share the song writing duties in 'Five Second Burn'?
Rob: Chris had been working on this project, developing lyrics and rough demos from about 50 different riffs. I came up with a couple melodies, but it was mostly Chris. After we selected 12 songs and recorded the drums and bass, we worked more collaboratively, adding harmonies and tweaking the structures of the songs. It was an odd process when we came to practise, having the recordings finished and then having to learn the songs. We have a third member, Paul Deacon, who is on bass now and doing a swell job. We practiced last night actually. It's always great to make a huge racket.
HUP: You first started making music videos while in Hamilton, with your first effort being the magnificent stop-motion video ‘Umbrella’, an Inchworm song written by yourself. Since leaving New Zealand you have made animated videos for Girlinky, and several other bands. Can you tell me a little about your videos and your ‘sugarspook’ project?
Rob: Well, thanks for calling it magnificent! Shucks. Making that video for Umbrella was a good lesson for me in persistence. It only had 300 drawn frames, but it took 8 months to draw them in my spare time. I don't know if it was entirely completing that project that taught me this, but I have a lot of time for grim determination. I think I can get a bit focussed on the 'grim' side of things but it can be useful to know, during a project, that it will be satisfying to see it completed. [Ex-Hamilton video maker] Greg Page was a huge help on the weekend we filmed it, providing the camera, expertise and much needed enthusiasm.
When Girlinky was in full swing we did a couple of, mostly animated, music vids. I think our creative ambitions slightly out-stripped our technical prowess at the time, but we [Chris and Rob] did get a video for another band [No More Broken Hearts by Computerman] played on MTV, when that was still a thing.
We have talked vaguely of making an animated vid for 'Hand Model', from the Five Second Burn album [Fugitive Forces | Scorched Signals | Blazing Beacons, released in 2015]. It's a lot of time to invest. The sugarspook project is basically my online portfolio. I'm actually looking for freelance work at the moment, so if you know of anyone who needs sparkly new illustration or animation done, feel free to send them my way!
HUP: In this day and age, I assume you could make music videos for any band in the world, including Hamilton bands?
Rob: Sure. Dropbox, Skype and WeTransfer are my friend! I think there would have to be that initial face-to-face to get a feel for what they wanted, but I'm sure that could work. Storyboards by email and rough versions on YouTube.
HUP: What would the cost of the typical animated Talsma video be?
Rob: Yeah, unfortunately that would have to come up at some point too. I think a video without too much repetition could take a month to make. We spent five weeks on the Computerman video. At my usual day rate that comes out at over 6 grand (in pounds!), but that seems really steep! I'm always willing to negotiate with regard to video production. I'm happy to scale to the resources available.
If you want to check out Rob’s portfolio, head over to www.sugarspook.com, and take a look at the show reel, below, featuring the song 'Hand Model' by Five Second Burn.
M U S I C
Fugitive Forces | Scorched Signals | Blazing Beacons LP
Five Second Burn
‘Five Second Burn’ is the latest London-based project by ex-Hamiltonian Rob Talsma and English guitarist Chris Ayles. Talsma is best known here as the drummer from ‘Inchworm’, but may also be remembered as a member of ‘Inspector Moog’, ‘Tobermorie’, or any one of several other 1990s Hamilton bands. In 1999 Talsma left Hamilton, along with Scott Brodie of Inchworm and Grok, for London. There they formed Girlinky together, as well as a new incarnation of Grok, both of which also included Ayles. With Scott Brodie’s return to New Zealand, and the associated dissolution of the London-based Grok, Talsma and Ayles have continued together as ‘Five Second Burn’. The pair have recently released their debut album, ‘Fugitive Forces | Scorched Signals | Blazing Beacons’.
Despite their ‘Five Second Burn’ moniker, the album itself is one of those slow burners, taking a few listens to even begin to fully appreciate. Stylistically, the album seemingly does not owe greatly to the sound of the members previous shared bands, but of course there are elements that are reminiscent. The songs are certainly less overtly poppy than those of Girlinky, and being dominated by guitar and drums are quite removed from those by Grok. Further, Talsma’s drumming appears to have become more simplified through time, although echoes of ‘Inchworm’ can be heard in the more complex rhythms of the songs ‘Adrenaline Adjustment’ and ‘Hand Model’. Both of these songs are also among the most accessible initially, and provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to give the album a go.
Overall, the album contains twelve songs, all around the two and a half minute mark in length, which combined provide a very listenable and coherent collection. That is, this is an album by a band that already seem to know who they are and how they want to sound, and it is definitely worth checking out. The album is freely available via Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, and elsewhere. Ian Duggan