I N T E R V I E W
by Ian Duggan
Photos by Ngamihi Pawa
Ancient Tapes have recently reformed after a year and a half hiatus, and will be playing at the HUP/HUM Xmas party later in December. Sometimes as awkward as a three-way handshake, I talked to members Sam Brockelsby (vocals, guitar), Gareth Schott (guitar) and Rob Shirlow (bass) about the bands beginnings, sound, their high turnover of drummers, and we play a version of ‘Desert Island Discs’ especially personalised for the band, ‘Traffic Island Tapes’.
HUP: How did Ancient Tapes form?
Gareth: Rob and Sam were working together at the time and that led to the discovery that Sam had fantastic music taste for one so young. Sam became Rob's Padawan and the rest of us were drafted in to make up the numbers, I think? Sam and Rob kicked it off and remain the core of the band to this day.
Rob: I'm a teacher and Sam was a teacher aide in my class. I still remember the moment I discovered he dug Ride. I couldn't quite believe it. I remember seeing Gareth drop his kids off at kindy near school, in all manner of band t-shirts and eventually getting to know him through school too. Eventually I suggested we all have a jam, with Liam Clancy on drums who I knew through football, and away we went.
HUP: How do you describe your sound?
Sam: I don’t! But I find it interesting hearing what other people think we sound like. Someone once compared us to the Smashing Pumpkins, which was very flattering, but I don’t see it personally. We all really like those alternative guitar bands from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, so I guess we must sound a bit like that?
Rob: It's noisy, melodic, layered, guitary, dreamy indie rock. I think.
Gareth: Our sound is BIG. We are loud but not in a teenage turn-it-up-to-11 way. We have a big sound thanks to effects, song structure and having three guitarists. Songs generally have a LOUD-quiet dynamic and will inevitably build. We aren't really shoegaze although we have given ourselves that label. That was more a summation of the bands that we all like and had in common — Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, etc — which gave us a guideline as to that kind of song parts we'd try and write and the way in which each of us should contribute to a song. i.e. no one should add a metal lead break or add bass slaps, that kind of thing. It's actually a good way for bands to avoid musical faux pas. It quickly got us on the same page. Although our sound has changed since we got back together. We are probably just indie-guitar now. Adding a bit more pop to our songs in an attempt to combat Hamilton audiences desire to sit and watch rather than stand or dance... maybe that's just for us.
HUP: Your first gig was in September 2014, but performances ceased in May 2015 when Sam left the country. You have only recently reformed after a year and a half gap. Stylistically, are you picking up where you left off, or has the break led to a rethink of the direction the band might take?
Sam: There has been a bit of a shift away from the more post-rocky stuff in favour of shorter, faster paced songs with more up-front vocals. This is partially because we wanted to have a more exciting live set, but also because of [drummer] Albert [Bannister]’s influence on the material. He has definitely brought something different to the table, and the songs have a bit more bounce to them now.
Gareth: We have dropped a massive proportion of our old set for a number of reasons. We are sick of playing some of them live, some haven't stood the test of time, maybe one of us doesn't like a song for whatever reason, and some songs we feel are better songs for a recording than a live set. We have a lot of songs. Instead of just doing the same stuff now we are back, we want to do new songs. Our first gig back contained two new (unfinished) songs. Old songs that have survived the chop are less effects driven when played. Simpler sound, so we can enjoy playing them and not have to shoegaze so much. That has given them a different feel and new lease of life. Basically we are weeding out the more epic post-rock numbers in favour of shorter punchier songs. Bit of Clash, Ramones, Wedding Present sneaking in there on top of existing influences. New drummer Albert [Bannister] also has had an impact; Mark [McGeady], enjoying too much success in Arc of Ascent to even contemplate returning to Ancient Tapes, was a much heavier drummer. Some songs don't sound right without Mark. Albert brings more of a Loz Colbert (Ride)/Danny Goffey (Supergrass) quality to the sound. Although he's off... so who knows what Ancient Tapes drummer #5 will bring.
Rob: Stylistically it's very similar, but maybe there's a focus on being a bit more upbeat. We want to record of course, but I think I'm right in saying the collective focus is to make a live set that blows minds, and that's not easy. I've been lucky enough to have had that before in the early Sora Shima days, and it's a real thrill to play music that takes people's breath away, including your own. There's work to do for sure, but to be honest I don't know what the point is really if you're not aiming for that as a band. Whether you get there or not is a different matter of course.
HUP: I am sure each of you still has some old cassette’s in your music collections. If you were stuck on a traffic island, which one of your ‘ancient tapes’ would you chose to have with you?
Rob: Traffic Island... hmmm, it would be noisy, eh? So probably my [Jesus & Mary Chain] Psychocandy tape, which still plays nicely despite the battering it has had over the years. It's got the rage songs to get you through rush hour, and the mellow songs for 3am. I guess it depends where the traffic island is though.
Gareth: Probably The Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me for its sheer variety of songs.
Sam: Cassettes were already on the way out by the time I started getting into music, so I don’t actually own any. But I do remember my dad had this acid jazz mixtape that he used to blast in the car when I was about 7 or 8, until one day it got left on the dashboard and was melted by the sun. That was a sweet tape and I’d love to have it back somehow, so I guess I’ll put that as my answer.
HUP: What are your aspirations for the band?
Sam: Play more live shows, and hopefully get a few things recorded next year. We have a lot of songs, old stuff and new stuff, and there’s easily enough there for an EP or even an album. It would be nice if we could hold on to a drummer for more than six months as well.
Gareth: Have fun. Not be too bothered if no one gets it (still working on that one). Play some big gigs with great bands. Record some songs.
Rob: Play some great shows, meet some cool people, write some great songs, record something worthwhile. Have fun.
HUP: While the three of you have been stable in the lineup, you seem to lose drummers faster than Spinal Tap. What’s the deal with that?
Gareth: Rob's wind.
Rob: Possibly Gareth's wind after Vege burger night at the Schott's. Or plain old circumstances. Liam left to go to Scotland. Then Sam went to Berlin and Mark joined Arc of Ascent. Now Albi is off to sunny Whakatane for employment. As Sporting Director and thus head of recruitment, we've had to review some HR policies. Watch this space I guess.
Sam: I don’t know, but it does concern me. Maybe we’re just insufferable assholes and don’t realise it?