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YOU CAN HEAR THE LANDSCAPE IN THESE SONGS. THE BALMY SIMPLE GOLDEN BAY SURFACE FLOWS OVER DARK SECRET UNDERGROUND CAVES. LIFE IS SWEET WITH UNFATHOMABLE DARKNESS LURKING.
Photography by Andy Morley-Hall
I was sitting on my veranda hunched over my new Mac Classic writing a draft of some film of mine that hasn’t happened yet, when a van stopped at the top of the drive and fourteen people tumbled out. Toby Laing had arrived with “a couple of friends”. He came down with seven of them. Lovely kids. Once they had ascertained friendly territory, the rest ambled down and moved in. I knew their mothers. The Woolshed nearly had walls then – plenty of that lanolin smell and open pens at one end. It was a hot summer. They all hung out with us. Age, Fiona, Loren, Han, Brett, Jacqui, Gentian, Sam Broad, Ben, Peter, Justin and more. Wastrels. Lounging around. Swimming in the waterhole, laughing, drinking water from the springs and other things. A big river stone they carried back to the Woolshed still sits there. A couple of Vespas materialised and broke down upon arrival. Layabouts singing silly words to ’80s hits, lying about entertaining one another while doing nothing. A parent’s nightmare. Since that first summer, most year various combinations come back. The vans have got better. We had a memorial soccer game one year. Ten years later they are still almost without exception, doing the same things they were doing then only now they’ve gone professional. The world is their oyster. That first year, when the Vespas had sputtered off up the drive and they had all cleaned up leaving not a trace, and as suddenly as they had arrived, they had dematerialised, on the table in the house diary, Age had left a long song in rhyming couplets. Everyone was in it. Since then, every time they have come, Age has left a song on the table. This time, they’ve left a fitting record that will travel well beyond the house diary.
“Wheels of motion … Black stars are blinkin, The sea is wide, That empty sky Wants me tonight … I’d take you with me if you’d let me.”
– Gaylene Preston. August ’08 Filmmaker and owner of the Takaka Woolshed
PHOTO ESSAY BY
Age Pryor’s songs enter your eardrums, head North to the core of your nervous system, and play on your mind for days. The Wellington musician released his second solo album Shanks’ Pony last year and promptly ventured abroad to get some perspective back. Toby Laing conducts a dictaphone interrogation of Pryor while taking a break from digging tons of clay in South Wellington.
TL: Shanks’ Pony, Jess Chambers' album, and The Woolshed Sessions sound to me like a family of albums. Obviously they have a lot in common in terms of the people involved, but they seem to complement each other by being quite different and having their own approach. How do you think Shanks’ Pony and Woolshed relate to each other? AP: For me, they’re opposites and that was on purpose! Shanks’ Pony was me ferreting away on my own, using very limited resources and working out this vision that I held personally. I tweaked it for a long time, as people do on Protools and after a year I put it out and then I was kind of happy with it and not happy with it at the same time … feeling like it was really a construct. The Woolshed Sessions was a strong reaction against that; just playing and recording live. I didn’t want to be mucking around with recording equipment, or trying to be an engineer at the same time as being a musician. TL: There’s a nice amount of ‘roughness’ in the performances and it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of micro-editing happening. The sound of the old shed is beautiful. The character of the room really stands out. AP: Like there’s spirit in music, there’s spirit in the places and the Woolshed is a magic space. We’ve played in some wonderful rooms since our first loose jams in the Paekakariki Hall and the gigs at The Moorings. I think Justin and I had a feeling that the Woolshed would be one of those rooms.
TL: You’ve just got back from four months in some far flung places: Lebanon, Spain, Morocco and Japan. That’s why you’ve got a tan right? AP: Yeah, I really needed that. The work I did for The Woolshed Sessions was the last serious writing I’ve done and it really felt like I was getting to the end of the material I had in me. Not all writers have this but I have a feeling of not wanting to write about things that I don’t know about. I have to write from my own experience. I really had to get out of New Zealand and see what else is out there. TL: What is it? Seeing other places? Seeing other peoples? AP: Well, when I’m writing I’m depicting my own experience or my view of other people’s experiences. After a while you settle into a way of life, a certain pattern. Going overseas breaks it up; it pushes your imagination, challenges what you know about New Zealand and about the world. In my music I had reached a comfortable place, almost like I’d found the solution. When you find a formula that works, on the one hand it’s satisfying but it’s also a scary thought. Going overseas is a way of breaking that up and also humbling yourself and putting to rest the idea that you’ve found something that will always work, reminding yourself that there are so many other things to tackle in your writing and reminding yourself of your own place in New Zealand in the context of a huge world. Something I’ve started to look for is the genuine feeling of something being unreal, out of this world, or magic, without being unnaturally induced. Visiting other countries is a way of encountering different realities. I’m seeing that each time you alter
your approach to writing, you actually have to lay a foundation in that new area and find your way upwards, but at the same time you start bridging between the new thing and what you’ve done previously. TL: ‘Waterfall’ definitely sounds like a bridge to somewhere… It sounds like a few songs rolled carefully into one. I see what you mean about music being a formula because ‘Waterfall’ is one serious fractal! AP: ‘Waterfall’ is one of my best songs. I’m really pleased with it. Having done ‘Waterfall’ in response to Shanks’ Pony and then having traveled, the next thing I would like to do is totally different. I want to get back to my electric guitar and play some music with physical power in a loud band. TL: That sounds like something I’d like to listen to on the Foxton Straights. The ultimate test for good music! AP: If I think about what I’d like to listen to on the Foxton Straights, it’d be something that has depth and a feeling of genuineness. The Woolshed group and the Ukulele Orchestra have something in common in that all the musicians play with true heart. I credit Justin Firefly with creating that atmosphere in The Woolshed Sessions. The way that Justin approaches his music is consistently connected to the heart of what he’s doing. It’s something that I aspire to and all of us really respect. The great thing about playing with him is that that pervades the group’s performance. www.myspace.com/agepryor
y by Pat Sh
Justin Firefly Clarke can sniff subcultures a mile off and imbed himself within them quicker than his fingers can slide across guitar strings. Having lived for seven years in Berlin with a melting pot of world music at his fingertips, he has returned home to folk roots with The Firefly Orchestra. Toby Laing talks to Clarke about the philosophy of flies, eleven beat rhythms, and musical spirits.
TL: Who are The Firefly Orchestra? JF: It started in Berlin, playing with The Firefly Orchestra. Originally it was intended to play Balkan music: Bulgarian, Macedonian… TL: Was that group known as Fried Flies? JF: It did get that name inside the band, but then I decided that was discriminating against flies and I actually quite like flies. It seems to me that flies not only have a role in the organic breakdown of matter, they also congregate in places where the energy is bad and clean it out. Frying them didn’t seem right. TL: No it doesn’t! JF: It was a group involving anyone I could find playing Balkan music in Berlin, who had time to do a project with me. I got them all together: accordion, cello, double bass, trumpet. Depending on who was around, it was a quintet, or sextet and we recorded a couple of albums together. I realised when I was back in Wellington and we were recording Jess’ album, that The Firefly Orchestra is the arranging and orchestrating side of myself. In any project that I have arranged, I’ll use
that name. Especially if it’s got cello in it. I think we inherently bring our personalities to the sounds that we make. And so one cellist is different to another cellist … I like putting these sound personalities together. With Jess’ album it was all based around Jess’ songs and the value of her songs. I had to be able to listen carefully to be able to write it. Her songs have such inherent power that nothing needed to be done to push that. With Jess’ demos, I’d listen to them and I could hear something, I’d hear that it needed a particular pitch or frequency. TL: Are you back in New Zealand to stay? JF: I’m living here permanently yeah, after seven years in Berlin. TL: Why Berlin? JF: Berlin is just awesome! Where I was living in Prenzlauberg is so conducive to being an artist. So many educated and creative people and freaks, it feels really comfortable. It’s always been a place of great thinkers, musicians and writers. Nowadays in Berlin, the dynamic underground culture of the city is developing
constantly in new directions. It’s always bubbling, becoming more and more unique, while at the same time the more mainstream European culture is closing in and there’s a real tension between the two. Like oil and water. Being in Berlin gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a great range of musicians practicing traditions from all over Europe and the world. We would play world music festivals and then I’d encounter more incredible music. What I’m trying to do now I’m back in New Zealand is maintain the influence of the world music that I’ve been exposed to and played in Europe. I want to express these other traditions that I’ve explored overseas, through the music I’m involved in here. But also I’d like to see some really hot Balkan parties. I want to see Kiwis dancing to eleven beat rhythms and to seventeen beat rhythms. Spice it up a bit. TL: How did these adventures in far away lands bring you to The Woolshed Sessions? JF: Age and I conceptualised it together and we produced it together. For me it’s the same thing I’ve being doing for the last few years – getting involved in one of the local
musical subcultures wherever I happen to be. In this case it’s the folk subculture of Wellington. I feel like I’m tapping into a bubble-like atmosphere. It makes perfect sense to play Balkan music in Berlin and it makes perfect sense to play folk music in Wellington. TL: Folk music? You mean folks are playing it? It’s happening at a folk level? JF: It’s indigenous music. For example, the way The Woolshed Sessions happened was a natural process. There was very little resistance to what small amount of planning went into it. We wrote a lot of the songs down there, during the three weeks prior to recording. We had a whole song-writing hoedown. These songs manifest the environment they come from and the sound and atmosphere of the recordings does the same. It seems to me that the art of producing, or rather the art of making great recordings is the art of atmosphere and respecting the importance of atmosphere. It’s a fine line. You’ve got to wait for the spirit to be there … and the spirit often doesn’t want to be captured on a recording. www.myspace.com/jazzfirefly
Brett Skinner was a relative newcomer to the business of making music until one particular potluck where he was enticed into a bongo-drumming jam session that turned into a series of fruitful musical collaborations. Jason Naran talks to Skinner about drumming for Jess Chambers’ live band and working his heart out at Weta. Photography by Pat Shepherd
JN: You’re originally from the United States. What was it that lured you to the green grass of Aotearoa? BS: The short answer was to work on Lord of the Rings. Though it wasn’t me that was asked to work on the film originally … it was my girlfriend at the time. I was working in film as a focus puller and thought it would be wicked to come to New Zealand so we made the extremely big jump to your fine shores. I ended up meeting (through a friend I knew from England) an Assistant Editor for Rings. They were looking for an apprentice and I got the job. That’s why I came here. I’m staying here because Wellington is a fucking brilliant city! JN: Since Lord of the Rings, you have set yourself up well professionally. Have you found a place here for your creative life to also flow? BS: I do feel lucky the way things have worked out so far. The creative life has had to take a back seat to larger film productions over the past few years but since meeting people like yourself and Gareth at Nektar, I’ve been able to start moving towards doing more creative endeavours. Due to deadlines at Weta, it’s hardly a ‘flow’ but I’m really making an effort at the moment to get some ideas down … and hopefully out. JN: Weta is a big system these days. Does dealing with those parameters make you dream bigger about your creative ambitions for the future? BS: Not really. I think I would be dreaming the same regardless of whether or not I was working at Weta. It’s great to see how these things are put together, it’s great to see the new technology and all that, but I can’t honestly see myself running a show as colossal as Avatar or Tintin. Perhaps working at Weta has made me think more about simplicity. JN: Tell us a bit about fatherhood. Does it take up creative time or does it add a new world of inspiration? BS: There is an amazing mix of emotions for me on a couple of levels with regard to fatherhood. My son, Wynn, is an incredible
human being and I’m so proud to be his father. He is constantly amazing me with his adaptability and interests. He’s four years old and riding a bike for f@rqs sake! I was seven or eight or something before I lost the training wheels! Wynn helps me to take time out and investigate things … definitely conducive to creativity. Today we went for a ride around his kindy to check out the rocks and go to our favourite lookout to watch ferries. JN: So you’ve found yourself currently contributing to a number of musical projects. Can you tell us about them? BS: Yeah … all this music stuff just came to me. Since I moved back to New Zealand from London in 2005 I was thinking it would be nice to get back into music and then last year it came together. I met Jess Chambers at a potluck that Justin Clarke had. Soon after dinner everyone got out their respective instruments and I grabbed some bongos and we jammed. This was the first time I heard Jess’ music and I was completely blown away. After that, Jess and Justin invited me to play drums with them. I was so honoured to be invited to play in her live band. We organised to have a jam up in Paekakariki to see how it all felt playing together. We invited other folks and what was meant to be a jam with Jess turned into what is now The Woolshed Sessions. A lot came from that dinner party! It’s all happened pretty fast if I think about it. My second live gig ever was playing in front of two thousand people at WOMAD 2008. JN: How does holding together a rhythm section make you feel? BS: I was just thinking about this last night at rehearsal actually. There is a calm yet focused feeling when things really lock in. Pete is a legend. Let me just tell you this now. He is such a great bass player. It’s perfect for me working with him, as it’s been a while since I really played music. I remember the first practice with Woolshed, that time in St Peter’s Community Hall in Paekakariki. I had a complete feeling of bliss sitting amongst all this beautiful music and all these talented/loving people. I’m serious … real moments of excitement to Continues on page 24…
With a voice that reaches to the rafters, Jess Chambers’ years of hard work and exquisite harmonies culminated in the 2008 release of her debut solo album, Island. Pat Shepherd finds out why Chambers was considering releasing her album with a very different price tag and how a trip to Africa changed her way of thinking.
Photography by Amelia Handscomb
PS: It was almost three years ago that we first caught up and talked about your album plans and you released your debut album this year. Did it feel like a long journey? JC: It felt like forever! It took a lot of trial and error on my part to envisage the sound that best complemented my songs, and to come up with the funds to record. I didn’t want to sign to a record label. Justin Firefly was living in Berlin and it wasn’t until he came back to Wellington in 2006 and suggested we work together that everything started to fall in place for the album to be recorded. Justin had a beautiful feel for orchestrating my songs without taking away from the delicacy of them. PS: The album was recorded in eight days at the studio. Talk us through the process of condensing years worth of material into a short time frame? JC: It was unbelievably effortless on one hand, and on the other, one of the hardest things I have done. I laid down all the main vocal and acoustic guitar tracks with just a few takes for each song and then we layered the strings and bv’s etc. all on top. I went into the studio knowing how limited my time was and decided right from the start that I wasn’t aiming for ‘perfection’. My goal was to capture the essence of the songs in the most honest way I could. I tried to listen to my intuition rather than my intellect to create the album. I write music very intuitively, almost unconsciously, it’s a weird and wonderful thing. It was also effortless in the way that all the players just kind of drifted in and drifted out. I wanted each musician to do what came naturally for them with their voices and instruments, and it all came together easily. I invited my friends to be on the album and whoever could make it at the time was who we had. It worked out better than I’d imagined and I’m really happy with it. The reason it was hard on the other hand, was because it was very daunting to think I had to represent these songs in just eight days and then put them out into the world. PS: It’s a stunning album with years of hard work behind it but I heard you had thoughts of giving it away. What were your ideas behind this? JC: I initially didn’t want to become involved in the music industry. It felt weird to divide
and break down creativity into percentages and dollars ... among all the other things that go on when music is turned into income and business. It was strange mixing music and money at first. I also felt anxious putting out a piece of work and making a musical statement about myself. The songs are very personal and there’s not much separation between me and my music. I felt a little vulnerable thinking about how it might be received. PS: So was your trip to Africa an escape from the music world after recording the album? JC: Going to East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) with my bro the following month was crazy; simultaneously amazing and traumatising. I saw a lot of people who are just getting by, working to live and feed their families without the opportunities that we have here in New Zealand. Yet they had big smiles ... it was bizarre. To me, the situation looks pretty hopeless, and the aid organisations are only treating the symptoms of the problems. There are massive problems, inefficient health care, corruption, lack of education and so much poverty. It seems like it suits the political leaders and business men of the world to exploit the people and resources of Africa. It was a very heavy experience and I saw first hand how my lifestyle as a citizen of a First World country is to a large extent built on exploiting Third World countries. I felt lucky I had been born in New Zealand and that recording albums with my friends is part of my reality. PS: Your vocals have featured on lots of dance and electronica tunes. Have you ever worked on music with your brother? JC: I have collaborated with my bro AKA The Limit Pusher/Million Bucks/Psyzak and the Freakin Dukka Durr… He has a few different aliases. I’m not sure when or if those tracks will be released. I know he’s dropped them on some feral hippies in Golden Bay. I witnessed the mayhem last New Year at Canaan Downes. It was a buzz, hearing my voice coming out of a humungous sound system and hundreds of extremely happy peoples going crazy under the stars. So fun! www.myspace.com/jesschambersproject
Photography by Pat Shepherd
The Surgery is a Wellington recordin g studio where artists such as The Bla ck Seeds, Trinity Roots, The Phoenix Founda tion, Fly My Pretties, Dave Dobbyn , Hollie Smith, Jess Chambers, Kora, and many mor e have cut their albums. Justin Firefly and Guy Capper interview the man behind the studio, Lee Prebble AKA ‘Doctor Lee’ .
As Guy and I enter The Surgery, there’s a hum of activity. The Black Seeds are all milling about, talking, using the Internet, and cellphones are ringing. Rio Hemopo walks in to use the microwave. An unfamiliar face is picking up a recording. The kettle boils and by the time a coffee is brewed, the crowd has subsided. A quiet distant drumfill starts up and the sound of reggae skanking through far away corridors. An active hush remains. GC: Where are you from originally? LP: I’m from a small town named Waipawa in central Hawkes Bay. It’s a town of 1800 people. It was a good place to grow up but I’m pleased I don’t live there anymore. My brother got me into music. The first tape he brought home was Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. Growing up in a small town, there wasn’t a lot to do and so all my brothers and I latched onto music and it became a huge part of our lives. I guess we were bored and it inspired us. JF: Two of your brothers, Tim and Ryan, are strongly involved in the Welly music scene. What’s it like having them roaming around? LP: It’s great! Really awesome. They’re both great musicians and Tim helps me fix a lot of things around the studio,
which is invaluable. It would be great if my older brother Greg moved down here as well. JF: Does your family have a secret DNA for making music? LP: Nope, unless farming has something to do with it. GC: Baaaa! JF: It seems you become part of the bands you work with during the recording process. Is that a philosophy of yours or an accident? LP: Well, it is something that I do try and do and that’s why I only take on projects that I believe in. I find it really hard to just sit there and be told what to do and press buttons. I have to see the artists’ visions to follow what they’re seeing. To do that, you have to get really emotionally involved. GC/JF: Do you have any analogies for making an album? For example, is it like cooking a fish? LP: Nah! [laughs] I like to think that making a record is like a tree or a flower. The public gets to see this beautiful tree or flower above the surface and underneath are all these roots that are three or four times bigger than the actual tree, that go off in all directions and crazy paths and dead ends and that sort of thing. That’s what making an album’s like. There are all these roots underneath. GC: Are there any other art mediums in your life that affect your sound work?
LP: I like building things and fixing things and taking things apart. Maybe it's similar to recording in that you get a whole lot of material and put it together to create something? GC: Do you have a favourite album you’ve recorded? LP: The Phoenix Foundation’s Horse Power. We were so naive that we’ll never make those great mistakes again! GC: By great mistakes, you mean they had greatness to them? LP: That’s what I mean! It’s a really cool record. It’s riddled with faults if you analyse it but it’s almost those faults that make it so cool! The whole thing has this naivety and this experimentation about it. JF: Can you please explain the relationship between Trinity Roots and how the studio came into being? LP: They found this space and asked me to kinda help them out with their album. Once the album was finished we said, “Why don’t we just keep it set up as a studio?” The plan was to have it set up as a koha studio but it didn’t really work cos no one really gave anything, [laughs] so we had to start setting rates and it just kind of grew as a studio. It started out as a hobby, and in a sense, I still like to think of it as a hobby. I’ve seen how other studios run by the hour but I just like to keep it as a relaxed environment cos I think that’s how music gets made!
GC: If you were to rebirth into a musical era or explosion of this planet, what would it be? LP: I’d love to be working in music in the ’70s. Technology was really getting somewhere then. It was at the peak of analogue! JF: Your studio is obviously very analogue-orientated. Do you have an animosity towards digital? LP: Not at all! I think they work really well together. I don’t think I’d be working as an engineer if I had to work just with analogue. I don’t think I’ve got the patience for it. The thing I like about analogue is the unreliability of it, the little quirks and things. JF: I really like your approach playing the slide guitar. How did you get into slide playing? LP: Actually, it was just that I saw it and it looked like a beautiful instrument. I bought it in an antique shop as a birthday present to myself. I kind of think of myself as an atmospheric mood slide guitarist. GC: Here’s a serious question: if you could have a really well trained animal in your band that was seriously good (and there’d be towels in case it was a mammal or a fish), what would it be? LP: I think probably a simple old dog cos I just love dogs! Continues on page 24…
Andy Hummel is a bloke who writes and sings songs with a guitar. He is one half of contemporary folk duo Rosy Tin Teacaddy and a presence in myriad musical ventures coming out of Wellington. Hummel is a cryptic crossworder as opposed to a sudokuer and his name is a somewhat apt anagram for hum, lay, mend. Pat Shepherd asks Hummel about his musical meanderings. Photography by Pat Shepherd
PS: It takes a particular mind to successfully wordsmith one’s way through a crossword. What do you enjoy most about doing them? AH: I do cryptic crosswords mainly. I’m not consistently good at them but I enjoy the fact that they’re a puzzle, which is obvious, but I don’t have the sort of mind that can do sudoku. I like them because of the wordplay and puns and fragments to be gathered together. It’s a good exercise for keeping a lateral mind I guess. They’re also a way of exposing yourself to the components of language and how we use it, new words. They’re a great excuse for reading the dictionary. I find cryptics are often more fun done with someone else, working out the problem together, there’s usually a little slither of thought that makes it all fall into place. It helps that I’m good at anagrams, and the people I usually do crosswords with are better at the other bits. My mum is the queen of cryptic crosswords. PS: Your musical journey must have taken you on some fascinating adventures thus far. Can you tell us a bit about what you have done along the way? AH: I would describe it as more of a meander than a journey. One that has seen me sometimes bowling down clear paths and sometimes distracted and looking under rocks. So far I have been a long-haired sweating singer in a rock band, a Crosby Stills and Nash folksy wannabe, a faceless electronic computer noodler, and feel that I’ve only just hit my stride. There seems to be some kind of refinement process going on, one that tries to bring together acoustic guitar song based elements and the more glitchy end
of electronic computer music. My main project and focus is Rosy Tin Teacaddy. Rosy Tin Teacaddy is my bestest oldest friend and I, essentially a contemporary folk duo – male and female vocals and guitars. There’s a certain freedom and whimsy and lyrical fun going on in this project that really appeals to me. Since beginning, the band has grown to include a cellist, a bass player and other instruments for a more lush sound. Plus we dress up, play make-believe and put on a show. We’ve just finished recording a new album and is this where I say we’re really excited about it and it’s coming out soon? I hope so, because we are, and it is. I’m not sure if any of this is very adventurous, but I’m certainly enjoying the wandering. PS: Do you find it hard putting a value on your time and music and do you think musicians often undervalue their preparation and writing time? AH: It depends what you mean by value really – do you mean money, or contentment and satisfaction? There’s never enough time. But that’s everyone’s problem. Aren’t we all struggling with work/life balance? I don’t know about others but when I write songs it’s a pleasurable yet sometimes laborious process. What audiences see and hear at a gig is the result of hours and hours of writing and rehearsal. PS: During the two years you lived in the UK, what were the experiences that affected you the most? Have they shaped your life since returning home? AH: Songwriting for me took a hiatus during that time – I didn’t play my guitar much, and I didn’t see as many shows as perhaps I should have, but I did go to some nice festivals. And I learnt a new piece of audio computer software. I also hung out with some guys who saw sound as art, something I realised that I already knew, but hadn’t formalised in my head. I like
stretching out to that field. But when I got back all I wanted to do was make songs. I had stuff to write about and so I did. Suddenly it seemed okay. The cringe factor of the ‘singer songwriter’ label had died a bit. Actually, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the term still. Can’t you just be a bloke that writes and sings songs with a guitar? Or is that the same thing? PS: Some of your songs have a wonderfully dark merriment woven into them that makes the listener feel like you’re occasionally poking fun. Do you think as a general rule, we take ourselves too seriously? AH: I definitely take myself too seriously. Which is why there has to be an aspect of humour to my songs, or else it’s too cloying, heart-on-your-sleeve rubbish. I have a certain self-awareness that I’m a bit contradictory. I can be quite flippant, some would say inappropriate, but I can also be sincere. I wouldn’t want my music to be a downer for people. I hope they feel a sense of playfulness in it, or confusion even. We just need to know when we’re taking ourselves too seriously, and if it’s not the right time, to snap out of it. There’s nothing wrong with a bout of serious if you’re prepared to have a good giggle afterwards. PS: What do your tattoos mean to you? AH: Tattoos are quite a personal thing despite their visibility. Maybe the body can be considered a totem pole, a record of events and thoughts. I like the permanence. Rarely in life do you get to make a decision where the outcome is fixed. www.myspace.com/hummelmusic
Like many Wellington musos, Al Fraser has his melodic fingers in all sorts of interesting pies. Not only has he learned the art of playing traditional Maori instruments but he also constructs and carves them himself. Pat Shepherd asks the talented Fraser about impending fatherhood and how he came to love so many different instruments. Photography by Stephen Mackey
PS: You’re originally from Dunedin. When did you make the move to Wellington? AF: I moved up to Wellington in 1994 to start a cafe with my brother, Tim. I guess you could say I’m a Wellingtonian by now but I still feel a strong affinity to Dunners and the South. You can take the boy out of the South but you can’t take the South out of the boy … or something like that. PS: Did you start Jazz School while running the cafe? AF: I was working a cafe job by the time I went to Jazz School in 1995. Our cafe was what I now see as valuable (expensive) life experience. It went down the gurgler due to various shenanigans out of our control. Them's the breaks. I did the long haul at Jazz School. It was great to have my ears open up to lots of different sounds and approaches to playing music but I think the people I met were the best thing about that place. Good dudes. It had a real family buzz about it. PS: Do you still play music with any of those people? AF: Yep, sure do. Justin and Age were the big kids a couple of years ahead of me. Choice to be jamming with the big kids now! I also play in Tahu with Mike Hogan who I met at Music School. I will hopefully still get to play music with the people I met there for the rest of my days … some wicked musicians have and still do come out of there. PS: Did your love for particular instruments change during your time there? AF: I started on guitar, which I finished my qualification on, but I also dabbled in a bit of trumpet, which I auditioned on for the first year. They teach everyone a bit of drums and piano. I also heard and saw taonga puoro being played for the first time at Music School. So yep, my passion for instruments changed heaps in that time. As did my musical focus, from finger-twisting, super-locrian scales to playing one note on a bone you’ve found on the beach. The latter is way more of a challenge in my books. Less is more, and all that. PS: I read that taonga puoro were used to portray different aspects of the environment. Does nature inspire you when learning these instruments? AF: The family of instruments we call taonga puoro had many uses. There are some taonga puoro which had practical food gathering purposes such as the karanga manu and poiawhiowhio, which are both bird lures, so they had to mimic the birds’ local dialect as well as possible in order to work and put kai on the table. In this way, some taonga puoro portray different aspects of the environment. These instruments are so intrinsically linked with the natural environment culturally, materially and spiritually, that the best way for me to learn how to play them is to be immersed as much as possible in all of these things. Soak it up. PS: Your instruments are works of art. Did you teach yourself the crafting? AF: I learned the basics of taonga puoro instrument construction at first by bugging Brian Flintoff, Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns for pointers when I was stuck, and then by attending a few of the workshops they used to run at Hei Tiki Gallery in Rotorua. I nutted out the fiddly whakairo bits by watching Brian and then by looking at the instruments and carvings in the museums and books. I was also taught basic chisel carving techniques by Davey McGhee at Vincents Art Workshop. I’m going to be nutting this carving thing out for a long time yet, that’s for sure. There is way more to taonga puoro than I first thought! PS: What projects are you currently incorporating your taonga puoro or guitar flavour to? AF: My main taonga puoro project is Tahu, which also has Henare Walmsley on taonga puoro and korero and Mike Hogan on classical guitar. I’ve been playing taonga puoro and doing backing vocals with Jess Chambers and The Firefly Orchestra quite a lot and I play bass once and a while for Rosy Tin Teacaddy. I play with Grove Roots on guitar and taonga puoro and contributed some puoro to Hannah Howes’ new album as well as Astrid Nielsch’s medieval harp album. I’m playing at Bats in a contemporary dance theatre performance called Tuawhenua starting mid-September. I’m also doing backing vocals, gats and taonga puoro on The Woolshed Sessions. Continues on page 24…
JF: Which of Luke Skywalker’s defining qualities would you like to integrate into your musical productions and bass playing? PH: I like the schwing of his swings. I’m talking about his haircut. He’s got the ‘wing schwing’ going on. He’s got style. When I lived in Japan I didn’t have the Japanese to explain what kind of haircut I wanted so I took a photo of Luke Skywalker and they were like, “Ahh! Soo desu ne!" [laughs] At that time, there was a kind of disco Luke Skywalker look going on in Japan. JF: You were producing a lot of dub-orientated music when you lived in Korea a few years back. What has changed in your productions since then? PH: The sonic side has changed a lot since the Korean days. It’s much more ambient. It’s not just a heavy beat; it’s much more melodic. JF: You program computer beats and produce groovebased albums, you play keyboards, bass and guitar. Do you have a preferred medium? PH: Not really. I really like the different roles the instruments have in a band. JF: How long has your band Safari been around? PH: That goes back quite a long time to Dunedin. It was around 2002 when I met Jarney Murphy for the first time. We used to do this thing at sound checks where we would just play heavy dub beats stripped back with a raw
Peter Hill AKA ‘the Octopus’, is a multi-talented, Wellingtonbased musician who has lived in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He currently plays with Rhombus, Safari, The Woolshed Sessions and other local projects. As well as gigging and producing, he is also an in-demand guitar teacher. Justin Firefly visited Hill to discuss Luke Skywalker, musical visions, and the art of relaxation.
kind of style; really simple but it worked. We clicked together. When I play with him I don’t have to do anything or think, I can just play. That’s when Safari really started. We were like, “One day we should start a band – we should do this!” So we got Safari going and it’s awesome. We just love it. When we’re on stage playing it’s hilarious! People in the band have fits of laughter cos we can’t believe what we’re doing! [laughs] JF: If the SPCA said that you had to have an animal in your band, what sort of animal would you have? PH: I’d like a Macaw! It’s an Amazonian parrot with a big long beak. There’s a runt of the litter and then there’s a stronger one. The stronger one is the one that can climb the tree and exercise its wings before it has to fly over the river where the crocs are waiting. They know there're a couple of weaker ones in there and there’s gonna be dinner for them … Amazonian McNuggets! [laughs] It’ll play vibes with its beak. JF: What are your musical visions? PH: I’d like to do my beats and really push that side and do it as my main thing. It’s always about preparation for me; like building a house or something. I want to build something that is beautiful and long lasting.
So my short-term vision is to build up the materials to build a really good house. Getting good wood, rich Californian cedar; it’s got a nice fine grain, is hard and it’s long lasting. Building that up and still being involved in projects: Safari, The Woolshed Sessions, Rhombus and traveling around with music! My dream has always been to travel around with music. I’ve always thought that was the ultimate lifestyle! Cruising around different countries with your friends, playing music to people, and experiencing different countries and cultures. JF: You do seem to have quite itchy feet! You’ve lived in quite a few countries over recent years. PH: It’s good! Even as a kid I wanted to do that. Growing up in a small town I guess you get that, aye? JF: If Darth Vader was to play an instrument what would he play? PH: He’s not such a bad character you know. He’s got his dark side but he’s actually kind of redemptive as well … balalaika maybe. JF: You enjoy teaching guitar and you’re a good teacher. It seems you’ve earned valuable skills from your experience teaching English in Korea and Japan. PH: That really got me off to a good start. A lot of things
I learnt there were good: like how to organise. There are so many levels going on when you’re teaching that you really need some systems and organisation to unclutter your mind so that it’s creative as well. JF: You’re one of the most laid back people I know. How do you stay so laid back? PH: [laughs] What do you want me to say? [Italian accent, waves arms around] JF: How would you teach a really uptight politician to relax? PH: Appreciate your life! Just appreciate! All of us are special, we just don’t realise it. When you appreciate your life you can just relax. You are this creation; you’re a part of creation! This fact for me is quite enough a lot of the time! I’m just walking around going, ‘Wow! I can’t believe it! This is fantastic that I got here! [laughs] JF: Do you think before this life you were maybe a mosquito or something? PH: Maybe an Amazonian parrot! JF: The Ewoks seemed to have tuned into the good vibrations too… PH: Singing and dancing, building little swing bridges between their little tree huts. Good times!
Andy M watch orley-Ha ll is a er. A tea-d peop corne rink r-loit ing, s le ering the h treet obs um arme an condi erver of tion. d wit Often hh and c amer is trusty ukul a, throu ele gh W he strum s e his w lling captu ton’s ay rin stree Pat S g the wo t s , r ld ar heph erd t ound Hall alks him. abou t o t M stree song o r l ey t pho -wr togra proce iting, an phy, d cre sses. ative Photography by Pat Shepherd a lot of street photography, to light it, because it cost however much it PS: Considering that you do this arranged setting, was, for a roll of film and I really took that was there a big difference in s? The Woolshed Session for nds frie r you on board. I do like the idea that it means g hin rap photog ere a street photographer but wh something; when you push a button, you AMH: Well, that’s like being h n you permission to photograp are actually spending money. everyone on the street has give s me to it. Occasionally a friend ask So, that kind of contradicts what I said them and they’re all complic y’re the etimes when they ask som and g din wed ir before but if you’ve reached that peak the h rap photog actually st thing I can ask Andy’, but – this could apply to analogue or digital thinking, ‘Oh this is the wor ne and then as it’s like a street sce – when you feel like you’ve honed in on I don’t mind doing it every now gs One of the great yet hard thin something and you’re really on fire, you where everyone is dressed up. t tha so that you want to be invisible photograph as much as you want and then about street photography is you ly and photograph people but dom I don’t feel restrained by it. you can roam around ran t to recognise you. You just wan don’t actually want anyone to PS: Did you run out of film on The it’s not dissimilar. observe and photograph. So don Lon in a lom dip d tgra Woolshed Sessions? pos ary When I was doing a document t of the course par as but AMH: I didn’t run out. I made sure rse cou m alis urn in 2000, it was a photojo a while I thought, For hy. when I was getting low towards the end rap tog pho et stre ut we were taught abo do with documentary?’ I just shot less. Which means I put really to e hav hy rap tog pho et stre ‘What does an hum the ing erv obs dark glasses on and pretended not to see are you e aus But of course it’s similar bec n. We got sent atio situ ine anything: “Andy, Andy, there’s a really fam a or war a condition, it’s just not in or at play and we got k good shot over here…” “Sorry, I’m busy.” wor at ple peo h rap tog on projects to pho was like, ‘Hallelujah! This is I was aware all the way through of how I and hy rap tog pho et stre exposed to the much I had. Ultimately, you want to go on g I like more than standing on just my thing!’ There’s nothin t Jus by. go ld wor the g a job with 100 rolls – you might only use chin wat tea, of street corner with a cup everything. I love but 20 but you know you can use as much as lly rea g hin not g chin standing there, wat es think that they can look you want. bus on g elin trav ple peo e buses becaus look at if you’re on the street and you at everyone on the street but to be PS: As well as playing in the Wellington ed pos sup you like, ‘You’re not a bus passenger, they look at International Ukulele Orchestra, do you g. thin ny fun a It’s .’ to look at you looking at us. We’re allowed also write your own music? s get film as e tak AMH: Funny you should ask that. Since you t sho PS: Do you question every being in the Ukuleles for the past two more expensive? ry shot each time I years, it’s actually inspired me to start eve n stio que ’t don I ll, We AMH: No, I don’t. with writing my own stuff. The Ukes have olshed Sessions, I only went push the button. On The Wo I was recently done a series of ads for Whitcoulls. and unt amo te fini a had I w a certain amount of film. I kne n the They requested four of the songs that we so I knew I couldn’t pop dow in a valley in remote Takaka had I If int. stra con y onl cover and an original instrumental to use the was t Tha re. mo e shop and get som glad there is a restraint like as the radio version of the ad. I had been I’m re. mo t sho e hav ld wou had more I work messing around with the instrumental, stop and consider. I used to that because it does make you . some of the orchestra knew about it and I land Eng in umentary cameraman as a camera assistant to a doc he took it to practice one day and we worked but s, era cam ital dig did jobs on He had a great eye and mainly load mag to n lear I . film m it into an instrumental with some ‘doos on 16m also did the odd documentarie I noticed wop-shoo-wops’. It was amazing for me to s. era cam us geo gor st mo and, as things, they were the oot get all the Ukes input and for us to arrange ld say to the cameraman, “Sh directors on digital shoots wou skilitl and for it to become this thing, which any e hav n’t did lly g” and they rea this, shoot that, keep shootin er end has now been recorded. I find words really d cameraman and at the oth as a director. They had a goo person hard to come up with though! this just ally actu e wer y The of the process, a good editor. on film ked wor we ”. Whereas when Continues over the page… who pointed and said, “Shoot how and ot sho to at wh r deciding shoots, we would spend an hou
PS: Do you think that comes from being more of a visual person? AMH: Possibly. I do like writing letters and I like reading. I think it might just take time because I can’t bear the idea of writing stuff that everyone else writes. I was listening to Ian Dury and the Blockheads the other day, who I think are great and I like the idea of writing nonsense. Everyone else thinks about all the important stuff like love and telling people how to do things. PS: At a time when hightech digital technology and production are often favoured in the music industry, do you see The Woolshed Sessions as a fresh return to strippedback and collaborative music making? AMH: I think my attitude towards that and anything creative is that I don’t care how it’s made or what the photo’s taken on. Show me a photograph; if I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t. I think technology is great. It’s good and bad and there was good and bad stuff in the old days too. It’s the end product that matters. I feel really strongly about that. I think people can get preoccupied with the technology. You can have all the technology in the world, or you can be Taika and do an amazing short film [shot in camera across one day of filming] in the 48-hour film fest, and it’s brilliant. It could have been off Blue Peter or something. It was just great, it won and I’m not surprised. www.myspace.com/ wellingtoninternationalukuleleorchestra
just be contributing to the feel of the music. Calm yet focused … not sure how else to describe that. I guess all else just falls away… I found myself staring at Pete’s amp for ages. JN: I know for me, music provides an element of uplifting therapy. Do you have your own form of musical therapy? BS: Ever since I can remember, music has had a positive effect on me. I gain so much from playing music and listening to music. In a way it’s therapeutic as it takes me away from my analytical mind. I remember as a child thinking that music gave me powers! I would get so into the album that I would think of myself as some kind of superhero! The first album I got was a KISS album and I can still remember air guitaring to the whole album in our living room. JN: Haha, times have changed since our childhood dreams of being superheroes! All media – photography, film and music, face the same dilemma. What are your thoughts – analogue or digital? BS: What about coexistence?! I’ve recently pulled out my Lomo (camera) again and am getting such great images from that. I can’t imagine giving that up! I’m into using digital images for sure… I shoot lots of video/digi because the workflow is easier but if I had to choose any format it would be Polaroid! Creating a film from millions of Polaroid’s? It must happen. You keen to help Jase? JN: True … Let’s hook up! I’m free Friday. www.myspace.com/brett_skinner
GC: What would it play? LP: Well, I’m thinking drums actually. GC: So a Labrador? Oops, that’s me pushing my dog! What sort of dog would you want on drums? LP: I wouldn’t be too fussy actually. It would be down to me meeting them as opposed to looking for a special type of dog. GC: But a Chihuahua, visually, for fans might look a bit odd… LP: Yeah, you see it would have to be a reasonably sized dog with a big tail cos I think the tail could hit the kick drum and then the dog could use the four limbs to do the rest of it. JF: I’ve noticed you might have some squirrel-like tendencies… LP: Yeah, I’m a hoarder and my dad was a hoarder. I used to think if I just got this one more microphone that’d be me set. But I’ve realised that you can never have enough! It’s a never-ending addiction and there’s no cure. GC: … and you’re okay with that? It’s not a problem is it? LP: I’ve come to grips with it, and so have the people around me. [laughs] www.surgerystudios.co.nz
PS: Does that busyness mean you are able to make a living doing music in New Zealand? AF: It’s definitely possible to make a modest living from music in New Zealand, even though we have a small population and the opportunities for touring are limited. I think there are probably only a small number of people doing this from just playing music though. Most people I know playing music full-time also have another source of income such as teaching music or some sort of day job, so they end up working harder than your average nine-to-fiver. This is what I’ve opted for by working part-time at the Wellington Public Library, which then gives me the time (and money) at the end of the day to get into my workshop or music studio and to be a bit more picky about what gigs I play (no more covers band!) Having limited time to spend on my passions means I am more focused when I’m carving or making music and I really try to make the most of my time and not mess around too much. PS: With fatherhood fast approaching, how is your headspace? AF: My head is good. I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been actually. Fatherhood is gonna be a crazy ride and I’m feeling well up for it. Bring it on, I say. www.myspace.com/alistairfraser
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