I N T E R V I E W
Back to the Big Bang: The Reformation of Sora Shima
With Ian Duggan
One of the most highly anticipated performances at Future City Festival 2019 is the reformation of Hamilton ‘sonic rock architects’ Sora Shima, playing their first gig in over five years! Likened to bands such as ‘Mogwai’, ‘Explosions in The Sky’ and ‘Sigur Ros’, Sora Shima will be performing with their original line-up, and playing only their early material. We spoke to Jae Lurman (guitars), Adam Fulton (guitars) and Rob Shirlow (bass) about why they stopped performing, how the reformation has come about, and why it has taken so long to get back together?
HUP: You are playing at Future City Festival with the original line-up, performing just the early songs. What has led to this reformation?
Adam: Rob asked nicely.
Jae: Full credit to Rob for sparking this off. I've been in hiding for years and I needed a catalyst. At first I thought we'd ease into it with some more relaxed, low-key support gigs. But hey, why not come back guns blazing.
Rob: We’d been toying with the idea for a while on-and-off, and I thought that making it a bit special - playing a festival, and just doing the early stuff - might give us the extra oomph we needed to get going. Everyone seemed keen and after a bit of texting back and forth we got together and it was pretty much exactly like it was in 2006! Shit jokes… lots of noise… mean songs!
HUP: Sora Shima, perhaps more than any other Hamilton band this millennium, gained critical approval outside of the city. It felt for a while like the band were on the verge of something. Why did Sora Shima stop performing?
Rob: It did, eh?! We got some decent press, and great support slots with the likes of Broken Social Scene, Mono, Jakob, Dimmer, and Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3. I left in 2010 due to a change in career. Becoming a teacher meant little free mind-space and no time to focus on the band. It knackered me out completely. So Sora Shima Mk III was formed and they carried on for some time, recording an album. Gav [McDermott, drums] eventually moved to Switzerland, so I guess that was a fairly big factor. Jae can probably answer that better!
Jae: Gav recorded all of his drum tracks for the album ('You Are Surrounded') before he left NZ, so fortunately we were able to get the album finished in his absence. But there was no release show, tour, or anything, so it was very bittersweet. At that point it was just myself left from the original line-up, and just after Gavin left I also lost my job and went through some heavy shit. So I descended into a pretty dark place, financially, emotionally and eventually creatively. Essentially the answer to the question is... I simply couldn't do Sora Shima without Gavin.
HUP: What are your best memories of the times the original band were together?
Jae: Yeah, probably the four of us making hellish noise in my spare bedroom in quiet Forest Lake. I remember we went to the neighbours to apologise for the noise pollution and they said they actually opened their windows to listen to us! That was great. I'm immensely proud of those early tracks, particularly Spinetingler, which was recorded all live and we didn't even care about mixing it. So I love the raw energy of it. Musically, I think the song Tornado vs Trailerpark is our crowning achievement; we've never quite captured lightning in a bottle again like that... yet! On the live side, being taken very generously under Jakob's wing early on was really amazing for us. We played some fantastic gigs, enjoyed it all, and it was always a laugh a minute.
Rob: Sora Shima was instrumental (no pun intended) in helping me settle in New Zealand. I joined via an online ad, just after moving here from Amsterdam. I made pals early in my new hometown through music, and that was really nice on a human level. We used to make a hell of a racket in Jae’s spare room. I don’t know how we didn’t get shut down. The camaraderie was ace; recording, making CDs, getting a decent reception, playing with some great bands. It was a lot of fun.
Adam: Driving long hours to play music to strangers, which is more enjoyable for the most part than it looks on paper. [continued below]
HUP: What have all the original members been doing since you all last played together?
Jae: I needed some kind of expressive outlet so I formed Gang Violins, which remains (very) active. I also did some solo/duo ambient and loop project stuff on the side under the name Palaces, which I've since shelved. We've all done and are doing other stuff.
Rob: It was probably 2008 when we last played together, I think. Adam left around then and Tu took over on guitar. Eleven years pretty much. I’ve played in Ancient Tapes, and now do Bitter Defeat too. Gav plays in Broadcast State, and Adam has done and still does loads of stuff; Hedge Fund Trader, amongst others. All fairly active musically.
Adam: Living outside of this country, playing in various heavy bands and recording various other heavy bands, driving long hours to play music to strangers.
HUP: In what ways did the band change after Adam Fulton and Rob Shirlow left?
Jae: I guess there was an element of "staying the course", forging on as best Gavin and I could - and it seemed to work for us as, for a while. The momentum kept building. Full credit to those who came after: Tuhua [Mutu; guitars], Nick [Johnston; keyboards] and Liam [Clancy; bass], for continuing that momentum, bringing new elements to the sound.
HUP: There have been hints dropped over the last few years that the band were emerging from the hiatus, but it’s never happened. What was behind the hints, and what prevented a reformation prior to this time?
Jae: Those were false starts, nothing more. A lot of wishful thinking, mostly on my part. Life just gets in the way. Gavin's been back for a while now, but it's taken this opportunity and Rob's positivity and persistence to really get me back into it. I'm moody. I can't just turn the switch back on... it needed to feel right. The original line-up playing the original tracks just felt perfectly right to me. We've stripped it right back to the big bang and maybe now we get to do it all over again, perhaps differently this time.
Rob: We’ve wanted to do it I think, but life and stuff made it hard; family, living on the other side of the world, etc. This time was a proper effort at committing though, and it’s worked so far. [continued below]
HUP: You have teased on Facebook that this could be start of something, depending on how things go?
Rob: Yeah who knows! I reckon we’ve got some decent new stuff in us, but there’s also the album that never got toured, so who knows. Not that Adam or I were involved with that, so I guess we’ll just see how things go. I’d be into making a new EP though for sure.
Jae: Nothing's planned as yet, but I think we're all secretly hoping for more. The planets have aligned again, so it'd make sense to seize the opp. Right now though, this gig is a one-off reunion. So if you want to see more, come and support it... please! I want to do more because I can't take any more bitter-sweetness! Gonna give this gig 100%. It's been said that on a good night it's like this band can open blackholes and that's my intention. I hope this isn't fleeting.
HUP: How have recent practices been feeling? Does it have the same sense of excitement as it did when the band were first together? No lingering tensions, I trust, if they ever existed in the first place?
Jae: The feeling is pretty comfy. I love these guys! Tensions that might have existed have completely evaporated to the point where I can't even remember what we squabbled about. In saying that though, a little tension generally does good for the music itself! I'm sure I owe a few apologies... Playing these songs again feels like "ahhh, so THIS is what was missing from my life". Guitar riffs I totally forgot have returned like magic. It's like the synapses reconnected - just surreal and awesome. Let's open a blackhole. Bring earplugs and an open mind.
Rob: Really good actually! A few bum notes here and there, and remembering the subtleties of the music, where you played certain things. It’s come back quickly though, and I can’t believe how good it sounds. We were really good, eh?! There’re no tensions at all – at least from my perspective. It’s getting together for a one-off and then see how we feel after that really.
Adam: The practices have been more efficient than I remember them being ten years ago. It would be a logistical miracle managing to continue with the original line-up, but with a band that has had 7 members and countless contributors, who knows...