Sonic Archaeology: A Q&A with Malchicks about ‘Everything’
With Ian Duggan
Failsafe Records’ Rob Mayes has been on a mission to “tie up the loose ends”, releasing remastered versions of material from the label that “hasn’t yet had that treatment”. The latest cab off the rank is Auckland band Malchicks, who are releasing the 23-track ‘Everything’. The album features previously released songs from the bands 1992 ‘Lotus’ EP, 1995s ‘Mercury’ album, and the song ‘Vanilla’ from the 1991 ‘Freak the Sheep’ compilation. Further, it includes seven unreleased early recordings, representing 93 and a half minutes of music! We talked to Malchicks guitarist/vocalist Matt Dalzell about the release; does it really, really contain “everything”? Have the songs stood the test of time? And if Malchicks weren’t shoegaze, what were they?
Matt: There were a lot of possibilities and permutations; the simplest was to remaster the CDs and add Vanilla from the Freak the Sheep compilation. We then discovered a treasure trove of old mix-downs on cassette, DAT, and reel masters which we restored - call it sonic archaeology or something. We even found some live stuff on DATs. So the question then was if we put previously unreleased material in - if it could be scrubbed up and polished - then what order to put it in? Rob [Mayes] put most of the thinking into it, we threw in some ideas, and to me it really works and feels new. I think of it more like curating an exhibition. Doing it linear style might have been simpler and more obvious, but that's not really our thing.
HUP: Looking back at all the songs, how do you feel your music has stood the test of time? Do you still look back at the songs with pride, or are there tracks you might have done differently if you recorded them today?
Matt: There are definitely some tracks I listen to and think yes, we really nailed what we were trying to do with the combination of guitar power and harmonics, vocals, and some inventive beats and bass to drive the songs. And some happy accidents or surprises that appear. Others - well, I probably had the same opinion during final mix-down in The Lab - you're always going to have some "if only" moments, but you have to lay down the best tracks and takes you can and work towards a mix that everyone's comfortable with, before the grim reality of time and budget draws things to a close. Some parts still make me laugh; they're kind of in-jokes. There's a guitar line in Eros that appears out of nowhere because Chris couldn't find which channel it had been tracked to and couldn't mute it. There's another where a guitar goes waay out of tune halfway through the song, but we didn't notice until final mix, and there was no alternate take, so we kept it anyway. I think it works, like a dash of vinegar on chips.
HUP: You have been described as ‘shoegazer sonic dream-pop’, and compared with the likes of Lush, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride; comparisons I understand you are uneasy with. If you weren’t inspired by these bands, are there bands you feel might have influenced your sound instead?
Matt: On the whole labelling thing, it doesn't sit that well and a lot of our writing and style was coalescing prior to the term shoegaze emerging from the UK, but there's not much you can do about it. It's a bit like punk - not easy to draw a neat boundary around bands like Television, the Buzzcocks, Wire, or Siouxie - but they all came out of their local punk scenes. On inspiration, the band that got me into buying a guitar was the Jesus and Mary Chain; literally Psychocandy came out and I started saving for a guitar - and the bands that made me think “wow, you're doing what with a guitar”?! - especially live - were Sonic Youth, Bailter Space, and Dinosaur. Then there's the inspiration that comes from wondering how a band puts a song together, structures it - takes a great jam and turns it into a form. Harder to pick as I grew up with Fleetwood Mac and ‘70s folk-rock, but the Psychedelic Furs were a big early teenage influence, so was the Cure. It still mystifies me that in all the talk of shoegaze two brilliant bands of the era hardly get a mention - Swervedriver, and Curve. They should!
Matt: I would have failed Shoegaze 101 as I only had a Crybaby Wah, a Boss DF2 Superfeedbacker, and a phaser - brand unknown. There actually weren't that many pedals available in New Zealand at the time, and they weren't cheap. I did buy a Boss VB2 Vibrato, but it didn't quite do what I wanted, so got put back in the box. Still got it. Typically I found "that sound" in a Lovetone Doppelganger a couple of years later, great combination phaser/vibrato. My amp had reverb. And a chorus which I hated - all fine if you want to sound like the Cocteau Twins, but that wasn't us. The rest of the tone was alternate tunings, extended chords and whammy bar. More a case of physically wringing the sound from the instrument than tapdancing on pedals. I can't recall if Simon had a pedal at all, or just plugged his Jaguar into the Mesa and went for it.
What you hear on the album is pretty much what we played with live, with one exception... we discovered an aging Marshall JTM45 head in the studio, cranked it up, and it turned out to be better than the pedal chain for my guitar. There's no reverb at all, so we multitracked the guitar lines, painstakingly in some cases putting down identical takes, but that gave us options to centre or hard pan the guitars, mess with the stereo balance and so on. All the stuff you can do in Ableton on your laptop these days... on a couch, with a cup of tea.
HUP: In an interview with us last year, Failsafe’s Rob Mayes said he had “dug up some early recordings that no-one’s heard”, which comprise the seven bonus tracks on this release. Why hadn’t these songs already seen the light of day?
Matt: I guess some were done as demos, looking for a purpose and not quite finding it. Some were experiments at SAE and learning how to do a recording session in a structured environment - nothing quite like knowing you have from 7pm ‘til 7am to lay down all tracks for a song and rough mix. And pack down and load the van so that school can start. Some recordings were put away and forgotten, partly in long-term storage with our various international moves. I think also we started really getting our writing and sound together in 1990 by the time we got the Arts Council grant to do Lotus EP, so it was more of a case of “let's work up the new material rather than look back or re-do it”. Unfortunately, that meant ‘Fly By Night’ got left behind, which was a pity as it was on high-rotate on bFM and is still one of my favourites.
HUP: What has Rob’s role been in getting ‘Everything’ released?
Matt: Pivotal, instrumental, indispensable. Any other adjectives we can try out?
Matt: ‘Cry to Me’ is a weird one; it's not us. I discovered it a couple of years ago and asked around but couldn't figure it out. ‘Lost Times ‘on Solid Pyrite Hits is definitely us - it was a shorthand name for ‘Stranded in Lost Time’, which ended up also on our album. The Pyrite Hits compilation was the brainchild of Fraser McInnes who ran Bar Bodega in Wellington. It wasn't open that long when we played there - still in Willis St - the Old Bodge as it was later named. The track-list is many of the bands who played there, and maybe helped establish its reputation, through that first year or so. It was tiny, I guess between the stage and the wall it was about 10 people deep, and from stage to bar not much more so it always looked full and rockin. The bigger "quiet" area down the back with tables was only 10 metres away, so it wasn't exactly quiet, but that's where the back door was in case you wanted to pop out for a smoke. But put a band like us, or Bailter Space, or anyone more used to playing the Gluepot or larger venue and there was really no escape from the noise. It broadcast straight onto the side-street too - some years later I lived around the corner and was too slack to get tickets to a Dimmer concert, which duly sold out, but I heard pretty much the whole thing through the corrugated iron.
HUP: There is an image of Malchicks on AudioCulture playing in Hamilton in 1991, at Gurus at the University of Waikato. Did you play Hamilton a few times, and do you have any memories of the gigs you played here?
Matt: Hamilton was great for us. Always a good turn-out. Played the university and elsewhere, usually on tour; acceptable level of stagediving, cool people. We got on with local band Thundermonkey, who agreed to come on a mini-tour. From memory they were close to half the audience at a spectacularly ill-fated gig in Palmerston North which we'd managed to book smack bang in the middle of varsity holidays, on a Thursday. Nice. With Hamilton we also got a system going to leave Auckland after Friday rush-hour, soundcheck, play, pack down, relax a bit, then drive home and arrive in the small hours but not crazily late. It was kind of a breakthrough because the Auckland live music scene was starting to get a bit tribal about its styles and preferences. Auckland was big enough to sustain a really big alternative / indie audience base, but that audience was also big enough to split into ever-smaller fanbases by genre. And subgenre. Sub-sub... It's a paradox.
Find 'Everything' on Bandcamp HERE, or visit the Failsafe store HERE!