R E V I E W
‘Synth from the Dawn of Time’ EP by ‘Thagomizer’
While having a dig through Bandcamp I unearthed a recent EP release by Wellington’s ‘Thagomizer’. I hadn’t heard of this artist, no, but their name immediately caught my attention, because I was familiar with the term ‘thagomizer’ – it refers to the four spikes on the tails of Stegosaurus and their kin. The reason the name is so well known as a point of trivia is because it is a feature that until the 1980s had no name, and as it was coined not by a palaeontologist, but by cartoonist Gary Larson in one of his ‘The Far Side’ cartoons. In it, a group of cavemen are taught by their caveman lecturer that the spikes on a stegosaur's tail – the thagomizer – were named "after the late Thag Simmons”. The title of the EP, ‘Synth from the Dawn of Time’, also caught my interest as, when I’m not exploring new music, listening to ‘80s synth pop is my ‘safe place’. [continued below]
The EP’s opening track is titled ‘Unequivocal Size’, and it sets the scene for the whole EP. The title obviously relates to the bulk of some larger dinosaur species, with the keys playing slowly over beats that are reminiscent of the plodding of an enormous quadruped. Perhaps what you might imagine as being the sound and speed of a Stegosaurus, moving at an estimated 6-7 km/h. Instrumentals, the only vocalisations on this – and other songs on the EP – are of the occasional imagined dinosaur sound. Mostly Thagomizer have avoided the classic dinosaur noises of pop culture; the Jurassic Park-style open-mouthed, forceful roaring. Indeed, it is now appreciated that many dinosaurs perhaps didn’t even make any vocalisations at all (though this wouldn’t have worked so well on the EP), while some may have honked like geese. Instead, Thagomizer have walked the safe middle ground; the sounds used include low frequency rumblings, reminiscent of those made by crocodiles, which is indeed what it is thought some dinosaurs may have sounded like, but not so removed from those of people’s expectations. The only blot in this respect is a classic roar used in the final moments of the EP. [continued below]
The second track follows a very similar plodding beat to the first track, but the title introduces a concept I wasn’t familiar with; that of the ‘Apex Herbivore’. Apex predators are well known, being carnivores that sit at the top of the food chain. An apex herbivore, I learned with some reading, is a plant-eater that is difficult to be preyed on, and thus sits at the top of food chains for a different reason. Nevertheless, despite being used colloquially, a search of Google Scholar reveals it’s a barely used term in the scientific literature.
The beat doesn’t speed up until the final track, ‘The Bone Wars’, though not by much. With this track I got to do some more learning. ‘The Bone Wars’ are known, according to Wikipedia, as “a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery” in the late 19th C United States. Central to these ‘wars’ was a rivalry between two palaeontologists, Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and Othniel Charles Marsh – the discoverer of Stegosaurus – of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, at Yale. Each apparently used “underhanded methods to try to outdo the other… resorting to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones”. As such, the increased sense of urgency on this track may be interpreted both as an increasing rate in the movement of a dinosaur, or as the race between Cope and Marsh for the discovery of new dinosaur fossils. [continued below]
So, what is my over-arching impression of the music? Well, for me, the EP can be best described as ‘Mesozoic mood music’ – I feel it is likely to have a similar effect to the soothing and meditative sounds of whale songs, relaxing the mind and body… only it’s set in the late Jurassic. The artist, however, tags themselves as ‘dino synth’, and there is a whole rabbit hole you can jump down there. Click it, and it turns out there is already a whole genre of ‘dark synth music about the dinosaurs’.
I N T E R V I E W
‘A State of Mind’: An Interview with Hand of Glory
With Ian Duggan
Hamilton’s Hand of Glory are releasing their second album, ‘29 || 92’ – a follow up to their self-titled debut album from 1991 – through German tape label Thokei Tapes on the 23rd or 24th of this month. I talked to the band to find out why this material had never seen the light of day until now, what the title referred to, what became of everyone… just simple things, really… but I was left as something of a bewildered mess. Did I even get the answers I sought? Did I? Read about the experience, below.
This is an amalgam, a blend, a coalesce of thoughts, words and memories initiated by Ian Duggan when he interviewed Hand of Glory.
But before we start, the band would like to collectively intone : ‘we are not competing for your undivided attention : so if you have other things to do .. please …’ …
Well, the interview began with the tape recorder being switched on and the video camera focussed. And this is the ‘no1 best transcript’ of what then ensued.
Firstly, introductions and masked hellos – Peter, Kent, Martin, Gillian, Sean and Alec, and of course Ian – and so the bubble was fully rounded. Seats were taken and beer was served .. and the masks neatly folded.
‘29 || 92’ Ian began .. ‘ahh yes the time signature of the band’ Alec interjected.
Undeterred Ian continued with the thorny question as to ‘why it has taken the band so long to release this the second album ?’ The question almost answered itself. Peter though strode purposefully into another other answer – ‘it was a different time, the age of the CD, not downloads, it was cash up front, not file sharing, and well, we didn’t really fit into any record company model’. There was a wry, almost rueful smile from Peter at this point. ‘The band did try – but didn’t get anywhere .. that gig - remember, when we knew that some Flying Nun A & R types would be there - and I convinced you all to dress in cowboy outfits ? he continued.
Time is a great healer, for most things. Not all. The recollection still induced a slightly sharpish edge to the general laughter. The band drinks some more.
‘We had no money’ says Peter – attempting to move the collective memory on - away from those bloody hats. ‘That’s how we began – with no money .. Martin had a guitar and an amp, and Kent a bass .. and music .. well .. it was an entertainment for ourselves and our friends’. This seems to be working, the tension is easing, the collective band shoulder is softening. Peter seized the opportunity - ‘the kitchen at Memorial Drive – hitting pots and pans in glorious abandon ..’.
Looking at the video of the interview, it is just possible to see, at this point, a certain confusion in Ian’s eyes - what has this to do with the why ? What has happened to my question .. ?
So, before the band could fully settle into a hazily self-referential golden reflection of the past, Ian leaned purposefully forward, and asked : Thokei Tapes ?
Scanning the faces of the band as they mentally staggered and stumbled back into the present, Ian settled on Gillian – as she seemed the first to arrive. ‘Yes’ says Gillian. Pausing slightly – for effect. ‘It’s a long story’.
Ian relaxes slightly - this sounds promising.
‘The tape came to be released by Thokei Tapes entirely by chance’ Gillian begins.
Ian relaxes some more.
‘I saw that Alec Bathgate had released a recording and I decided to buy a download’ Gillian says. ‘I saw that it was also available on cassette tape, so I decided to buy the cassette from Thokei Tapes .. well .. the tape got lost in the mail. Thomas had emailed to say the tape was on its way and then checked a few weeks later to see if it had arrived. It hadn’t.”
Ian is now quite happily relaxed. Some actual, useful, copy he thinks.
‘One day I received the Thokei Tapes newsletter and discovered that Thomas had made the Bandcamp page for another band I was in – I never knew. In my next email communication with him – regarding the missing tape ( he was now offering to refund me ) – I mentioned this. He then asked me if I was involved in any other bands and I mentioned that I had just completed mixing HoG. He asked if he could hear it’.
‘A month later he emailed to remind me to send him a Dropbox link to the album. So I did. A month after that the Alec Bathgate tape finally turned up.’
Spontaneously the band toast Gillian.
More beer is passed around.
Ian senses that the interview is in a delicate position. Having just got it back on track, Ian can see it slipping away again – but ever the nimble interviewer, he asked - ‘So you mixed the album Gillian ?’
‘Yes’ says Gillian. Pausing slightly for effect. ‘It’s a long story’.
The band laugh. And toast Gillian again. And then settle back and share the second cigarette.
Externally Ian remains steadfastly focussed on Gillian – but internally he is thinking .. I’ll just get this story down, a couple of simple questions for the rest of the band and then I can get the hell out of Dodge ..
The band – who never tire of hearing this story – are now listening intently .. waiting for the first note to be strummed ..
‘In 1998’ Gillian begins – in the key of E – ‘I transferred the 1992 recordings from analogue tape to a digital magnetic tape format – Adat – to archive them as it was beginning to get difficult to find machines that would play back ¼ inch 8 track tapes.’
‘To Greg and Orange’ called Martin. ‘To Orange and Greg’ the band responded. The collective clink of bottles caused the tape recording to red-line at this point.
Gillian continues .. ‘And then the tapes were put away in a box in my studio archive. Then last year, during lockdown, I was working on a children’s show, and remembered that in the ‘90s I’d recorded the sound of a synthesiser frying its outputs – as a sound effect – on Adat. I thought that it might fit into the sound design – so I dug out the box of tapes.’
The band are happily hanging onto each note in the story.
‘Well’ says Gillian, ‘there in that box were the Hand of Glory tapes. When I saw them, a thought instantly jumped in my head – it’s time to mix this .. and now !’
A metaphorical crash of cymbals smash around the room as the band thrash into the chorus.
Even just a quick look at the video showed that there was no need for a lip-reading expert to decode what Ian muttered under his breath at this development.
Frantically thumbing through his well-prepared notes looking for something solid to grab a hold of, Ian’s eye falls on the favourite songs question .. he does not hesitate – ‘what are your favourite Hand of Glory songs ?’ he asks – surprising himself with the calm tone of his voice.
The band falls silent. Ian slowly breathes out. Everything is just hanging, as if suspended in mid-flight. The band look at each other – each daring some-one else to speak. The silence descends, searching out all the nooks and crannies in the room ..
‘Benson & Hedges’ – it was Peter who first grabbed the silence by the scruff of the neck, quickly followed by the rest of the band, in a rising cascade of suggestions by ‘Eva Braun’s Holiday’ – ‘Fly’ – ‘Hit the Ceiling’ – ‘Chromatic Tune’ – ‘The Same’ – ‘Thing …’
‘Stop’ declared Ian.
As one the band turned to look at Ian. Ian stared back. ‘You are just listing all the songs on the album’ he says, quite correctly as it turns out. The band sheepishly then drink some more beer.
‘Ok then’ says Kent ‘listening to 29 ||92 for the first time with all the band, that was exhilarating’. ‘Extraordinary’ echoes Sean. ‘I can’t remember, I was drunk and stoned the whole time’ offers Martin.
There is a silence.
Then there is not.
[ editorial note : at this point, it is beholden on the band to say two things – it is time to turn the cassette over, and as it is 2021, the band are required to repeat the health and safety message ( as it is a new side ) so - the band are still not competing for your undivided attention .. and .. well .. you know the drill … ]
Pushing play, Kent is the first to emerge through the babble – ‘performing Cage’s 4’33”’. Sean then changes everything, opening up the conversation to .. well almost anything – ‘Peter snapping the neck of his guitar off at the Ward Lane Tavern’ and ‘Kent climbing over the drums to adjust the lights in Dunedin’ he continues, sliding effortlessly through the scales, ‘waiting endlessly on stage for Martin to start playing Gloria’. But before Martin can respond, Alec jumped in with ‘that moment in the gig, generally at the second break when the realisation gently lands that after the last set .. all the equipment will have to be packed down and taken back to the rooms – up a flight of stairs’. Martin, who by his own admission has carried more black boxes than anybody else ever – nods. ‘Kafka’ says Sean. Everybody sighs gently in agreement with that most favourite of memories.
Foolishly as it turned out, Ian read that as a mellowing of the mood. That brief lapse of judgement, combined with the interviewers mantra of ‘keep going - ask the important questions’ emboldened him to ask - ‘so .. what’s the difference between the first album and the second ?’
The cacophonic response is deafening. The band are in full voice. Ian curses inwardly that he hadn’t chosen the seat by the door.
Martin bellows ‘Sean – the addition of Sean .. there was more trumpet’. Peter loudly counters with ‘no change’. Alec thunders agreement with them both ‘more trumpet yes – which meant that I got to play more guitar .. and ha! one of the songs from the first album is also on the second – no change there !’ ‘We play as we play !’ says Peter ‘with deep friendship and excitement’. Sean, in true trumpet player style then “honks” in with ‘HoG are not a band but a state of mind’. ‘Indeed’ replied Martin as he placed the bottle of port on the table.
Reviewing the film footage, this is when the genie was truly let out of the lamp .. as the band passed the bottle round – and the metaphorical lights were dimmed.
‘The bus’ said Peter as he held the bottle aloft. As one the band are back on the road. Ian calculates the distance to the door. ‘Reefton’ ‘ Penguin Club’ ‘ Manawatu Art Gallery’ – these are the only recognisable words that have been able to be salvaged from the maelstrom of memories that surged and slammed around the room. In amongst all this, Ian has quietly stood up.
Like all storms, there is a lull. A caesura. The brass section seize the day ‘writing charts on the back of the bus in Dunedin’.
The band drive on ..’go to the bridge’ is heard. The band do. Visually the guitars are shoegazing, the horns are heaven bound, the rhythm section are on the 1 and the 2 and .. Ian however, is not to be seen.
Then, as suddenly and surprisingly as the band stopped - Ian re-appeared. Just by the door. ‘I just have to go outside’ he said .. ‘I may be some time’.
Different rooms have different reverberations. Kawhia was close and tight, 32e warm and crisp and the old bank building full and inclusive – this room was different again. Ian opened the door – the air rushed in and out .. almost imperceptible except for the VU meter needle which shook and swayed.
With impeccable timing, Ian turned, and looked back through the door, just as the silence overwhelmed the reverb, and casually asked ‘what happened to you all - do you still play music ?’
The tape then records a confused smile, a small wave and the beginnings of a look of relief as Ian disappeared from the frame.
For the band, it was as if Ian was still in the room, for they answered his question – ‘Some loose outfits and constricting garments’ – ‘could be folk, could be impressionism’ – ‘not too far, some to either end of Te Ika a Maui, but we always come back’ – ‘in our minds’ – ‘everyone is still playing’ – ‘the jazz principle’ …
The tape continued to record another 1 hour and 17 minutes of freely forming syllabic slices of gustoso sound, droits and plops, slow shimmering shuffles of gustoso feedback, double deep scatendo echoes and long, long vamp lines of capriccio colla voce.
The tape then closed, slowly, to a small black dot.
Transmogrified by Hunter S.T.
I N T E R V I E W
Unrequited Love: A Q&A with Belladonna
With Ian Duggan
I’ve been listening to a couple of Belladonna’s songs quite a lot over the last few weeks; Hillcrest, released earlier this year, and Kiss Me, from last years ‘Salty Dog’ EP. Both I think are perfect slices of pop music, and both come with fantastic videos. I spoke with Bella Cook - the former Hamiltonian, now Wellington-based musician - about her songs, being a finalist in the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Awards, unrequited love, and more!
HUP: Firstly, the video for ‘Hillcrest’ reminds me of ‘Getting Older’ by Princess Chelsea – another former Hamiltonian – in that it features lots of footage from when you were growing up. It’s also interspersed with shots of Hamilton suburb Hillcrest, from Hillcrest Rd, Cambridge Rd, O’Donoghue St, Edinburgh Rd, St Johns College, the University, Burger King, Hillcrest High… and much more… However, lyrically it appears to be primarily about unrequited love. What can you tell me about the song, and how it relates to Hillcrest?
Bella: That’s so cool, I didn’t know she was from Hamilton! The story behind 'Hillcrest' is pretty special, I think. When I was at Hillcrest High as a wee teen I had a very quintessential high school crush. The kind where you write their name in your workbooks. At the start of this year I reconnected with him after years and we had a brief romance. The suburb of Hillcrest is very special to me and also to my friends and family from there. I wrote the song as an ode to that relationship as well the place. Writing the song made me realise that I’ll always be connected to it in one way or another.
HUP: A number of fantastic musical artists have come out of Hillcrest High School, with Kimbra going on to the greatest fame. What’s in the water there do you think?
Bella: Not sure, but most people who’ve done music since have been in the jazz choir run by Sue Radford. She’s a classic and definitely encouraged music at the school!
HUP: When did you leave Hamilton for Wellington? Were you aware of bands in Hamilton before you went, and how do you find and fit into the scene down there?
Bella: I left Hamilton at 16 as my Dad got a job in Wellington. At that stage I’d always loved storytelling but any songs I’d written were kept in the confines of my bedroom. My older sister [Zoe Cook] was involved in the music scene back in the day in Hamilton though. Me and friends loved ‘The Good Fun’ and they played at my sisters 21st yearrss ago, which was very fun!! [continued below]
HUP: ‘Kiss Me’, off the ‘Salty Dog’ EP from 2020, also sounds to me to be about unrequited love. Is this a theme that runs through all your songs?!
Bella: Haha, I guess I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, I haven’t been too lucky in love!
HUP: With your first release, ‘Hands’, you ended up as one of the twenty finalists for the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Award. How did this nomination come about?
Bella: Earlier in the year I thought I may as well nominate one of my songs. I’d released two and decided that the writing for Hands was the most interesting, so I submitted that. I’d completely forgotten about it ‘til I got the email. I thought I had no chance. It was super encouraging to know that people value the writing I’m doing.
HUP: What is your writing and recording process? And who features on your recordings?
Bella: I write by myself, usually in my bedroom. For all the music I’ve released so far I’ve worked with Shannon Fowler. He is an immense talent who I’ve always admired, so it’s been super cool working with him. He is a wiz on so many instruments, so a lot of the stuff you hear on the tracks is him playing. But in Hillcrest, and a couple new numbers, we had Alex Freer tracking live drums. [continued below]
HUP: What are your aspirations for ‘Belladonna’? And by this, I mean, when can we get some more?!
Bella: So happy to hear you say that! I’ve got a new EP coming out in the next couple months, with a few more singles before that. Behind the scenes I’m working on writing an album, which has been so nice to have a bigger space to explore themes more in-depth.
Find Belladonna on Spotify, Bandcamp, and pretty much everywhere else!
I N T E R V I E W
An Unimpressed Alien Landlord: A Q&A with Andrew Thorne of Silk Cut
With Ian Duggan
Auckland band Silk Cut, led by Andrew Thorne (Thorn, Splitter, Calico Brothers), has released their debut EP, ‘Astronaut’. We caught up with Andrew to talk about losing girlfriends in airports and rental inspections by alien landlords, all of which – of course – relate directly to the new release!
HUP: Andrew, you have been a constant in the Auckland scene over a number of years, and each of your bands has had its own distinct style. Silk Cut appears quite different from perhaps your best-known former band, Splitter, which I remember as commonly being a bit more ‘rock’ (though the melodies in Silk Cut's ‘Getting in Close’ do remind me of Splitter's ‘Tremolo Panned’, in particular, providing some continuity). Since Splitter you have played in alt-Country outfit Calico Brothers, which was different again. What has led you to go down the route now of recording songs with sounds more inspired by the likes of Radiohead, Ride, The Church, Swervedriver and Slowdive?
Andrew: During lockdown last year I had a desire to do something with more of a mature, serious and cinematic sound to it. As well as the old favourites you’ve mentioned I was inspired by purely instrumental bands like Explosions in the Sky and Khruangbin. Plus a growing appreciation of some modern surf bands, like Messer Chups and The Bambi Molesters.
Determined not to be bound by a three-and-a-half minute pop format we let the intros and outros breathe and were not at home to anything too ‘rawk’ or blues. No one was allowed to raise the goat horns during recording! Having said that, melody is still king, so like everything I’ve ever done the Silk Cut sound inevitably goes through the Beatles filter somewhere along the process.
I also wanted to approach these recordings differently as a vocalist, so I tried a quieter, more restrained tone - taking inspiration from the Steve Kilbey (The Church) / Leonard Cohen style and ending up nowhere near of course.
HUP: When I was younger I had several relationships end with myself or a partner climbing on a plane to relocate. ‘Getting in Close’, the lead single on Astronaut, appears to pretty much be about this. Does this song relate to a specific relationship for you, or were you looking for a story that would resonate universally? And lyrically, were you aiming on revisiting the Splitter song ‘Departure Lounge’ here?
Andrew: My day job is as a Foley recording engineer for TV and Film. I work with a wonderful Foley artist who changes proximity to the microphone depending on how loud or quiet a particular sound might be. When she has to take some time getting ready she’ll often say “almost with you” and if it’s a tiny sound like fingertips rubbing she’ll say “getting in close”. Obviously Kilbey has used the first phrase, but I thought ‘Getting in Close’ was a great song title so went from there.
The great New Zealand early twenties O.E. was a rite of passage for everyone I knew at the time. However, I didn’t even get close until my thirties, with a European tour playing guitar for Bic Runga that turned into a year in London. My then girlfriend had already left to see the world and I wrote ‘Departure Lounge’ about that feeling in the late ‘90s. Two years later we ended up meeting on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Luckily for me she is now my wife.
I’m not sure if ‘Getting in Close’ was a conscious revisit of the theme of leaving, loss, home-sickness and (rose tinted) memories, but it is a pretty universal theme, especially for Kiwis before COVID hit pause on any of that activity. It’s a modern human condition to every now-and-then think about ‘what if’ with different paths one’s life may have taken had alternative decisions been made. Made vivid today with the bliss filter of social media. People say “no regrets”. I sometimes have nothing but regrets for my wasted youth. Obviously, that way lies madness.
HUP: The band bio states you have drawn influence from your affection for ‘60s and ‘70s British television? This is most apparent here lyrically in ‘Black Night Sky’, which mentions ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ and ‘Tomorrow’s World’. What is the threat you are imagining here that will lead to the end of the world? And how and where else do you feel inspiration from classic television comes through in your songs?
Andrew: It’s a loose imagining of an alien force arriving to planet Earth like a landlord’s inspection and it being less than impressed with what we’ve done with the place. Doubly sad to think that the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson are the names on the tenancy agreement.
The song also has a nice surf-esque solo in it which utilised a lovely Fender Jaguar through a classic Fender Reverb Tank - we gave it a good kick to punctuate the ending which is a sound I love.
It’s hard to pin-point direct inspiration from ‘60s and ‘70s English TV, but I visualise our songs in black and white, driving a Ford Anglia, being not very good looking and having bad teeth.
HUP: Astronaut was released in September, but you already have another on the way called ‘Panda’. When is that one due, and how is it different from this one?
Andrew: We’re just putting the finishing touches to the ‘Panda’ EP. It was recorded at the same time as ‘Astronaut’, but we thought it presumptuous to start with a full album as first release.
The songs on ‘Panda’ are more of the same with perhaps a more uptempo feel overall. There’s five new songs including a jangly ‘dance’ track, a film noir story and an Onedin Line inspired tune concerning maritime themes and shipwrecks.
All things going well it should be with us March 2022.
HUP: Do you consider this an ‘Andrew Thorne project’, or have the band contributed to the songs?
Andrew: Being mostly written during lockdown there was limited opportunity to collaborate in person. The production of the songs, however, was worked out in the studio between myself, bass player Aidan Phillips and drummer Mike Burrows. Guitarist extraordinaire Tom Irvine has now joined the line up to one day realise the songs live.
Any future Silk Cut material will hopefully involve more input from everyone involved although, of course, I’m a complete control freak so it will depend on which of my particular personalities is in charge that day.
HUP: Overall, what are your aspirations for this band?
Andrew: I’m excited by the people involved and especially enjoy hearing Aidan Phillips turn my basic ideas into amazing bass lines and harmony ideas. We’ve worked together for 20 years. He is a remarkable chap and somewhat of a hidden gem in the NZ music scene.
We’re working on new Silk Cut material now for possibly a full album and have the two EPs worth of songs as a live performance starting point.
It would be great to play some gigs over summer, if that’s possible, and I’d like nothing better than sitting in a recording studio making noise and creating sounds with like-minded people. So just more of that until the sweet release of death seems like a plan.
Check out Silk Cut's 'Astronaut' at Bandcamp, and their Facebook page here.
Liz Stokes of The Beths
In October 2016, when HUP was putting on shows by bands we liked more or less every month, we were fortunate enough to have The Beths headline a show at Nivara Lounge. Ahead of that show we talked to Liz Stokes, the band's main songwriter, for a HUP interview which is still available to read here.
It's now almost exactly five years on from that show and it's fair to say a lot of very good things have happened to The Beths since then, not least a hard-earned but much-deserved triple-whammy of awards at last year's Aotearoa Music Awards - Best Album, (for Jump Rope Gazers), Best Group, and Best Alternative Act for a second consecutive year. We caught up with Liz as she and the rest of Auckland came out of their latest level 4 lockdown, almost five years on from that 2016 show.
Kia ora Liz! I hope you are all doing well. I’m typing this a few hours after the announcement that level 3 kicks in tomorrow evening…hurrah for you all! What things have you missed the most and what are you going to looking forward to doing most with your new found freedom?
Kia ora. It’s been a week at level 3 now. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of some hot chips. Not much else has changed though to be honest.
How has this lockdown been different from previous ones? Have you been productive at all, musically or otherwise?
They’ve all felt different. We were bang in the middle of tracking a new album when this one started. For the first few weeks Jono and I were able to keep some productivity going from home. Some tracking, some writing, some mixing. But as the weeks have gone by that’s dropped away a lot, to be honest. For me anyway. It comes in waves though.
Congratulations on the release of the live album! It sounds brilliant, I don’t think enough people release live albums these days. How did the idea for that come about?
The show at the town hall in November last year had a lot of emotional weight for us. For all the obvious reasons to do with the global pandemic. We recorded it and filmed it, with a short term aim of streaming the concert for people overseas. Once we had it in hand, it just made sense. We had the time to put it together.
The thing that struck me most about the record is how absolutely stunningly solid you sound as a band these days. I remember the earlier shows here in Hamilton and it was clear you were a special band back then but you’ve gone stellar since then and it is of course much deserved. Have you always believed this was possible, or was there a point where it dawned on you that this was really taking off?
We’ve always tried really hard to be a good live band. But it’s a whole different level being able to play like 250 shows in 18 months, we were able to really push ourselves. We’re still working on it, it’s still a difficult set to get through for us instrumentally, vocally, and energetically. I think in late 2017 we had a small confidence that Future Me Hates Me was a good album and that we would bet on ourselves for the next year. A lot of things lined up and we got really lucky.
How are you finding the song-writing process a couple of albums in? Has it changed much since Warm Blood, either in terms of subject matter or the way the songs come together? Years ago, you told us that you (Liz) typically record a demo and bring it to the band to arrange the parts.
It’s still really difficult. I’ve written a lot of songs now, so trying to keep writing ‘Beths’ songs, which have particular… characteristics? or that have a particular feeling to them, is hard to do without repeating yourself. The process once a demo is made is still pretty similar. I send it out and we work out an arrangement together as a group. The main difference now is that back in 2017 we would learn a song to play it live in the set, then record it later, whereas now we learn a song, record it and then add it to the set. It’s a big difference.
Is there anything you do to try and keep things fresh or challenge yourself musically, maybe include chords or instruments or perhaps structures that you haven’t used before?
Yeah, I think I’ve learned that when it comes to writing, having at least a trickle of new information coming into your brain is pretty important in having new things come out. Whether it’s some music that’s new to you, or a book, or going somewhere new, or meeting someone new and having a conversation you haven’t had before. It seems obvious but it’s easy to reach for comfortable things that you know, particularly when things are hard. I do this a lot.
Is there any new material planned for release in the next year or so and what can you tell us about that – EP/LP when etc.
We’re trying haha.
There’s a US tour coming up soon, how have you enjoyed playing there in the past, and are there any fundamental differences in the way a tour works there compared to here in NZ?
Yeah it’s a super strange place. It’s so so big. And people love music there. It’s our biggest audience, and like I said before, being able to play a whole lot of shows and settle into a groove is really satisfying.
I’m not sure how much time you have spent in the US in the past but have you felt at home in any particular city or state? Is there a city you particularly look forward to playing over there?
The big cities are the biggest shows, NYC, Chicago, LA... and they are awesome and usually kind of fly by in a surge of adrenaline. We played three shows in Wisconsin in 2019 though, and one sticking in my memory today is when we played at this tiny venue called ‘Shitty Barn’ in a town called Spring Green. We played cricket in the parking lot and they showered us in cheese and it was a really fun night.
Can we expect a NZ tour sometime in the next year or so? Covid pending of course.
We’ll see about next year. We’ve played pretty heavily in NZ in the last two years so if international touring goes ahead next year then we’ll certainly be doing as much of that as we can. But we love it here too much to not plan something fun.
A few non musical questions...
Back in 2016 you informed us that Ben is the best cook in the band, and that all he talks about is seasoning pans. Five years on, does Ben retain the title and has the food chat moved on passed seasoning?
Now that Tristan has joined the band on drums, there is some competition in this department. Actually I take that back, it’s not a competition. It’s a loving shared interest. Ben and Tristan have made numerous marmalades together.
Also back in 2016, you told us that Jonathan was the sportiest Beth with his love of cricket. Is that still the case or has a new sporting interest developed amongst the band?
Yeah we all kind of joined Jonathan in the end. It started with a mini cricket bat that Katie (our then drummer) bought from a supermarket in the UK in 2018, that we would play with at rest stops. Then we were pretty homesick in 2019 and the cricket world cup was on, and that’s when the interest became full-blown for us I think. But Jonathan is still the biggest cricket-head. (Editor's note: Check out this tremendous Beths Cricket Tee Shirt)
According to Bandcamp, the new record is ‘Housed in a wide spine single sleeve jacket’. Two questions, both equally nonsensical…the first is this...Which Beth has the widest spine? (Bit weird that, but I’ll leave it in.)
No clue haha.
Which NZ city or town would you most expect to see someone wearing a single-sleeve jacket as a fashion statement, and why that place?
I dunno, but it sounds cool.
Who is the most famous person you have met that has made you a little overwhelmed. Like a real OMG moment?
Probably Rick Astley. He was a total sweetheart and I would die to protect him.
What does your ideal NZ holiday look like/consist of?
I’d love to go to Stewart Island one day.
Finally, are you feeling confident about the Blackcaps winning the T20 world cup?
Big thanks to Liz for taking the time to talk to us. The Beths Live at Auckland Town Hall is out now and available via the band's bandcamp page and all good record stores.
I N T E R V I E W
Naughty Beethoven: A Q&A with Luke Buda
with Ian Duggan
Luke Buda is releasing his latest solo album – BUDA – on 15 October, and with it comes an eleven date tour of the country. We caught up with Luke to find out why it has been such a long wait since 2008s ‘Vesuvius’, his collaboration with novelist and poet Damien Wilkins, whether there is any lingering influence of his early years in Poland, and more!
HUP: This is your first solo album since 2008s ‘Vesuvius’. Why so long between drinks?
Luke: Just got very busy with The Phoenix Foundation after [the 2010 album] ‘Buffalo’ came out. We did lots of touring in Europe and the UK off the back of that album. Then we wanted to carry on going hard so there was no time really for other stuff. Then we all felt a like we needed a break after 'Give Up Your Dreams', which is why it was five years between that and 'Friend Ship'. But naturally I was still making music so the solo album slowly materialised. I actually thought it was going to be finished and out BEFORE Friend Ship.
HUP: What do you think are the differences between a Luke Buda penned solo song versus one that ends up on a Phoenix Foundation album?
Luke: Ah shit, I dunno really. It’s just about the process right? I am not sure if it is up to me to try to define the sounds. But definitely it is nice to have some time to just chip away at some music without having to deal with anyone else’s opinions and ideas! Even though in The Phoenix Foundation it is that very mix of opinions and ideas that makes the music.
HUP: You are a multi-instrumentalist, but as a keyboards player, I’m most interested in the keys you play. What do you use, and what is it about that one that suits your needs?
Luke: Well in my studio I have a Rhodes, a Roland Juno 60 and a Prophet 600. But live I just use MainStage and software synths, because the vintage keyboards are huge, heavy and easily broken on tour. The choice of MainStage is purely down to the fact that Ableton seemed to crash my ancient laptop.
HUP: Three of the tracks are co-written by novelist and poet Damien Wilkins. How did that collaboration come about, and what role does he play in the collaboration?
Luke: He wrote the lyrics! When I played on his 2014 album ‘The Lines Are Open’, I was whingeing about how hard I find lyrics to write and he said he’d write some for me if I wanted. It took me a long time to give that a go, probably just out of fear of the new / unknown. In the end it was desperation that made me ask him and I am glad I did. Basically I couldn’t get any lyrics going for the track that ended up being ‘Here Comes The Wind’ at all. It was mostly recorded. Because it was originally made for an older version of the opening of the movie ‘This Town’. I sent him the track and the next day he sent back the lyrics. It usually takes me a few years to “finish” a song, so I was mightily impressed and thus I sent him two more.
HUP: One of the songs for which he has writing credit is one of the teasers, ‘Here Comes the Wind’, which I’m particularly enjoying. With lyrics like “about the planet and its future direction”, is this a particular concern of yours – or is this part of Wilkins’ influence?
Luke: I didn’t try to influence the lyrical content in any way. But I certainly agree with his concerns.
HUP: The other teaser to date, ‘Candy’, was co-written by yourself and the other Phoenix Foundation originals, Samuel Scott and Conrad Wedde. Was this one that didn’t quite make the last album?
Luke: Well actually this one also originated as a track for the movie ‘This Town’. It was a sincere attempt at a fully sweet pop number. An interesting exercise in trying to turn off my “child of the ‘90s” cynical killjoy instincts.
HUP: You spent the first few years of your life in Poland. Do you think this has had any lasting influence on your music? Perhaps not just the influence of music you were exposed to there, but by missing out on the releases of, say, Patea Maori Club’s 1984 hit "Poi E" or Dave Dobbyn and Herbs’ anthem "Slice of Heaven" in 1986?
Luke: I think it’s had as much of an influence on my music as most people’s musical listening from before they were 8 years old has on them… Apparently I listened to a lot of Dire Straits, Genesis and Phil Collins, which obviously shines through in my own musical expressionz.
HUP: One thing that seemingly wasn’t stunted by your formative years outside of New Zealand was a love of Cricket. How did this develop?
Luke: Man, people seem so amused by the idea that you can like art AND sport. Full disclosure is that Cricket is a recent thing for me. At high school I wasn’t into sports at all, although in some ways I think the lack of a jock culture at Wellington High School is also why I don’t have an ingrained animosity toward sports. I got into watching Rugby in 1999, not a great time to get into it from a NZ point of view, but hey! I got into cricket in 2019. Mostly I like having old mates over to watch a game and drink beers and shoot the shit about something that is ultimately utterly meaningless. And I dunno… I guess I enjoy lying on the couch in a semi-conscious state watching a ball roll around a field, so?
HUP: A huge array of musicians contributed to the recording of ‘Buda’. Following the album release you are on tour. What should we expect there? Will you have a full band together, or are you doing it all alone?
Luke: Yes I have an awesome band. Anita Clarke (who is Motte) on violin, keys and vocals. Jacqui Nyman (who is also playing in Bret McKenzie’s band) on bass and Olivia Campion (of Yumi Zouma and countless others) on drums. Expect us to play ALL the songs from Buda as that is what we are excited about, and maybe a couple of songs from the oooooooold albums.
Visit Luke's Bandcamp, Spotify, Instagram, and Facebook pages, and check out the 'BUDA' tour dates below: