I N T E R V I E W
Hero in a Half Shell: A Q&A with Darren McShane of Superturtle
With Ian Duggan
Auckland’s Superturtle play Nivara Lounge on February 23 at an event called ‘Weird and Wonderful in Hamilton’, with The Changing Same, The Scones and Orbjks. We spoke with Superturtle front-person Darren McShane about the band's evolving sound, why they have had a big gap between their most recent albums, and how they came to cover the song ‘Light of your Cutiemark’ from the TV series ‘My Little Pony’!
HUP: Have you played Hamilton before, or is this your first trip down here?
Darren: Superturtle have played in Hamilton a few times, firstly with The Shrugs at Diggers Bar at the time of our debut album ‘To the Rescue’, probably at the end of 2008. We played Diggers Bar again for the 2010 ‘About the Sun’ album, with The Shrugs and Dynamo Go. I think we've done a few others in addition to those, again with the Shrugs and Dynamo Go. Going way back, my old bands Figure 60 and Chainsaw Masochist played Hamilton shows a fair few times as well. Hamilton's a great place to gig!
HUP: I drove to Auckland late last year and attended your ‘Student Flat Reunion’ single and video release, which I really enjoyed. That night, someone mentioned to me how different Superturtle sounded compared with the previous times they had seen you. How has the band’s sound changed over time and, for the uninitiated, how would you describe the band’s sound now (or, are there other bands you would compare yourself to)?
Darren: I've got a completely new line-up now, so the band's sound has changed accordingly. This will be the third Superturtle line up and third change of direction. The first phase of Superturtle had a strong ‘60s tinge, with album reviewers referencing Bowie and The Small Faces. Then the ‘About the Sun’ LP retained some of those influences but introduced a post punk element, though critics referenced Bowie and Flying Nun for both of those albums. With ‘Beat Manifesto’ and ‘Student Flat Reunion’, things are predominantly post punk - though Bowie continues to get mentioned. Devo, The B-52's, Talking Heads, Joy Division, The Strokes, Interpol and Franz Ferdinand are the most common press references now. The next album and our current live show have a bit more rock added to the post punk.
HUP: There was quite a gap between your last two albums, 2013’s ‘Beat Manifesto’ and 2018’s ‘Student Flat Reunion’. Now, I understand you have a new album in the works already? What led to the hiatus and, conversely, what has sparked the sudden increase in outputs?
Darren: There's two reasons for the five-year gap between the two albums and the short turnaround for the next. Firstly, ‘Student Flat Reunion’ has 19 songs on it and no fillers! Secondly, when I tried to reconvene weekly rehearsals after mixing, it became apparent the band members had lost their motivation. I tried to keep things moving but in hindsight should have called it and moved on. But we did do some excellent live shows during that period, so something positive came of it all. Once planning a promotional tour was mentioned they all jumped ship one by one. I began rehearsing with a new line-up immediately, but it still took close to a year before we were gig ready, so I held off the ‘Student Flat Reunion’ release until then.
The new lineup only does justice to four of the ‘Student Flat Reunion’ songs live, as they are very different players. But the new jams are stonking! Our current show is a mix of those songs and as yet unreleased new tracks that are being recorded at the moment. Hence the fast turnaround projected for the next album release.
HUP: What do you expect you will be playing down here in Hamilton; a mix from your career, or will you focus on new material?
Darren: Four songs from ‘Student Flat Reunion’, and the rest is new material.
HUP: A couple of years ago you released a cover of the song ‘Light of your Cutiemark’ from the TV series ‘My Little Pony’. How did that come about? Does that song get a live airing?
Darren: That was fun! We got approached by a Scandinavian charity website for The Animal Welfare Institute, so they took care of the copyright aspect and arranged permission for us to sync up our version to the animated video from the TV series. We did play it live at the time to promote the single, but there's no plan to resurrect it.
HUP: You regularly organise gigs in Auckland featuring Superturtle and friends. If you could choose from any bands in the world, who would feature in your ultimate gig lineup?
Darren: The Strokes, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and The Horrors. If it’s a festival, add The B-52's and The Stranglers, who both still kill it live. I would have also had The Buzzcocks if Pete Shelley hadn't passed away. Maybe Cage the Elephant, but I haven't seen them live so I'm not sure how they translate to stage.
HUP: Do you know much about the other bands you are playing with in Hamilton?
Darren: We've gigged with The Scones three or four times in Auckland and I enjoy their set. We played with The Changing Same in the early days of Superturtle, and I've played with their frontman's (Matthew Bannister) previous bands in the form of Dribbling Darts of Love and Sneaky Feelings back in the Chainsaw Masochist days. I have CD's of The Scones and The Changing Same, as well as Sneaky Feelings vinyl. ORBJKS will be a new experience for me and I'm looking forward to it.
HUP: After a decade of Superturtle, what are your aspirations for the band now? Has the band achieved the goals you have set for it to date?
Darren: The aspiration and goal has always been to produce good quality albums that excite me to the point that I'm motivated to promote and release them in a DIY fashion. We've certainly achieved that goal with the four albums released to date. The other goal is to do killer live shows on a consistent basis. I think we've done that most of the time and we're getting better with each show.