The first half of 2013 has been full of surprises and delight!
You may recall that at the end of last year, it wasn’t really clear what 2013 would hold. There was uncertainty. There was a hint of fear.
I needn’t have been concerned.
We kicked-off the music calendar on the first Sunday in February at the Days Bay Pavilion with Matt Hay and Phil. We were back before the end of March, and brought George along with us for that one. Both gigs were really good. Things are evolving here, which is great. Matt has picked-up a retro-styled Fender Excelsior amp and has started playing some good old fashioned Chicago-style harp through it. So yeah, some blues tunes are creeping into the set. They’re good fun, and the crowd digs them.
Meanwhile, Matt Langley (keep up here – the other Matt – the one that lives in Dunedin) was planning a show in Wellington – with a band – to get the promo ball rolling for his new album. He asked me if I’d like to be part of the band for this one, and of course I said yes. The band would consist of two of the core members from the album sessions – Tom Watson (HLAH, Cassette, Fly My Pretties) on guitar and Tom Callwood (Phoenix Foundation, Little Bushman) on bass, with Davey Geard guesting on Drums. I couldn’t turn this one down. What a great bunch of musicians. Would they work out that I was an imposter? That there must have been some sort of mistake in the recruitment process?
So yeah, by now (March), Langley had manufactured all of his CDs – although the official release of Virginia Avenue wouldn’t be until May. The album has turned out really well. It sounds tremendous thanks to Brett and Riki’s lush production. There’s even some great horn playing throughout courtesy of Adam Page and Alexis French. Matt has been brave here and hasn’t paid any attention to what others may think a Matt Langley record should sound like. It is a big proper album, that covers a lot of ground and styles and demands repeat listens. He should be very proud. I’m on there a little bit. Always nice to be involved. In fact, my good old casiotone is the very last sound you hear at the end of the album.
This “preview” show took place at Puppies (the former Happy) on Tory Street. We played most of the songs on the album in track-list order, and topped it all off with a Faces cover. We played really well, but it was a disappointingly small crowd. Good times, though. At the end of the evening Langley asked me to join the band for the May album release tour!
The May tour would cover Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland over an extended weekend, followed by Wellington the following Thursday. Due to commitments in my other life, I elected to participate in the North Island shows only. It was a tough call, but it was the right call.
The week before before the tour, we re-convened at the Car Club in Berhampore for rehearsals. With Davey out of the country and Tom Callwood away on tour in Europe with the Phoenix Foundation, it would be a new rhythm section for the tour with Riki back behind the kit and Andrew Bain completing the line-up on bass. Andrew is most famously known as the bass player for Fur Patrol, but less well known is that he played on two songs on a Blender (Gareth and mine’s old band) tape back in the mid-90s. It was good to see him again. He’s a good geezer. That can actually be said of the whole band. Aside from the joy of playing with such a great bunch of musicians, there is enormous fun to be had just hanging out with these guys. Hilarious, the lot of them.
I met up with the band on a fairly wet and dreary afternoon in Auckland at The Kings Arms. They were all fairly shattered after the first two shows and an early morning flight. The show at Chicks in Dunedin had apparently been a riotous success, but the turn-out in Lyttleton, at a new venue in an isolated area, had drawn less of a crowd. The Auckland show, in terms of attendance, would fall somewhere in-between I imagine. But, by golly, we played well. The conviction of Matt’s performance and the playing of this band, which has really found it’s stride was really something. It was nice for me to be able to play in front of some of my Auckland mates (including my uncle) which I haven’t really had the chance to do before.
The band reassembled the following Thursday at my favourite Wellington venue, Mighty Mighty. What a great night! Awesome crowd, and we played so very, very well. Even our cheesy David Letterman-band style interludes to punctuate Matt’s jokes, were tight. This night will feature in my list of all-time great musical experiences. It’s right up there. It might even be at the top. The horn section from the album joined us for this one, and they were great. Amazing energy, and a packed dance floor by the end of the night. What a buzz. Thanks Matt.
Here’s a video from the gig:
And some stills:
More pics here
POSTSCRIPT: About a month after that Langley gig at Mighty Mighty, I bumped into Riki at Fidels café. He had a friend with him who had gone to the show. He told me that he really enjoyed it, and made particular reference to me and said that he liked my “Wilco-type” keyboard work, and that my playing reminded him of John Lennon. Whoa. Two massive ticks there. Riki also said that the Langley shows were his most enjoyable gigs in ages (and he does LOTS of gigs).
That was a big buzz. I don’t know how qualified Riki’s friend was to make those calls, but he obviously knew enough to understand where I was coming from. He knew enough to be able to identify two significant influences in my playing. He was no chump.
I felt great for the rest of the day. And there you have it. Bingo. This is one of the reasons I do this. In my regular day-job life, I’d never receive a compliment that would mean so much to me. I guess it proves to me that music does matter – more than I am even able to acknowledge most of the time.
The twilight months of 2012 were fairly subdued – even by our standards
I played with Matt and Phil at the Days Bay Pavilion in August. That was a nice intimate winter show, with an enthusiastic, and sometimes downright rowdy, crowd (a crowdy?) of locals. Good times, indeed.
NZ Musician magazine reviewed both the Matt Hay (August/September issue) and poco (October/November issue) EPs. Matt’s one was particularly favourable, and I eventually came around to seeing that the Meech Brothers one was pretty good too.
We were all back at the Pavilion in October. First-up was a Meech Brothers show on the first Sunday in October, at the slightly experimental and earlier time of 3pm. Again Zoe Cook and her side-kick, Ollie, played before us. I really enjoyed their set, but it was a weird gig. It was a cracker of a day, which we thought would be a good thing, but unfortunately it encouraged our audience to sit outside of the cafe. We pretty much played to an empty room. We had people sitting on the verandah listening to us, and applauding, but there was this massive distance between us and them. Very weird indeed. G and I didn’t didn’t play as well as we can, which was a shame, as it was our last show of the year. The punters, and Angus, said they enjoyed it, though – which is the main thing.
The following week, I returned to the Pavilion with Matt and Phil. We played at 6pm, and it was much, much better. We had a room full of people who stuck around, dined and listened. We played really well. It was one of the good ones.
I had always planned for October to be the last month of gigs for a little while. It was time to take a break from music for a few months to recharge and re-focus. However, like an ex-con trying to go straight in some sort of heist movie, I got lured back in for “one last job”. At the end of November I did a dirty old Corporate Gig with the full Matt Hay & The Makers band (Matt, Phil George on double bass and me) at Matt’s work. It was a nice way to end the music year. We played really well, got paid well, the canapés were excellent and we were quietly ignored. It was good fun. George’s double bass adds soooo much to the sound, and I think he just lifts everybody’s game. It’s like being in a band again!
The year ahead
We don’t often have a grand plan in place for each year, but we usually have a bit of an idea of what we’d like to tick off in the medium term. This year, things are vaguer than usual. That could be because we’ve had a couple of productive years recently with a tour, and a couple of new EPs behind us. What do we do next year?
Matt wants to make a video clip. That’s a good idea. I’ll keep him onto that.
Gareth and I will work-up more songs. There will be another EP – but let’s be realistic – it won’t be released until 2014. We’ve got one or two song ideas at the demo stage already. I’d like our next EP (or whatever form it takes) to be a bit more musician-y, and left of centre. If I have one criticism of poco, is that it’s a little clean and conventional. Let’s mess with things a bit. At this stage of the game we’re never going to played on mainstream radio or tv any way, so lets just have fun with it!
Merry Christmas People.
Be good to one another.
Gareth and I played at the Southern Cross’s “Kroon for your Kai” night on the 18th. This night is similar to the old Acoustic Lounge night, or as the promo says, “a showcase of up and coming artists and established musicians working on new material”. Not sure which category we fit in to. Like Acoustic Lounge you can get an odd combination of acts, but the venue is much better suited, you get a free feed and a drink, and hostess, Mara Simpson, does a wonderful job of holding it all together and keeping the musicians in good spirits. G and I played well. Also, performing that night was Zoe Cook, who we thought was great – good songs, lovely voice. We thought we should do a gig with her sometime.
The weekend before that gig at The Cross, Matt Hay and the Makers were the guest artist at Laura Collins’s regular Back Porch Sunday session at the Kelburn Pub. George Barris – who played bass on the recent Matt Hay recording sessions – is in Laura’s band so it was easy for him to sit in our wee set. It was a full-house and there was a really good vibe and we were well received. Why don’t we all go to the pub more often on a Sunday afternoon? It’s a very civilized thing to do.
Towards the end of the month, Gareth and I were interviewed on Tony Kemp’s Access Radio show. Tony is a very good drummer, and he use to be in our old band, Blender, and was the one who introduced us to Midge McCleary. These days, he works at the radio station and plays in stadium-rockers-to-be, Supermodel. You can hear the interview here:
Got the call-up to lay some keyboard parts on a couple of songs on the new Matt Langley album. Matt has been working on the album since around March. Since he returned to Dunedin, his producers Brett Stanton and Riki Gooch have been holed-up in the doomed Mt Cook Production Village. With the wrecker’s ball poised over their heads, Brett and Riki were working at a feverish, semi-crazed pace to complete the mixing by the end of the month. Between them, they had actually put a lot of keyboard parts down already. That left just two songs (“Never” and “Cemetary Stone”) for me. It was a very chilled-out session.
It was cool to work with Riki again – I had a few basic parts worked out going into the session and we expanded on those, with Riki often “conducting” me. I’ve come a long way. Once upon a time, such an experience would have terrified me, but now, it seemed completely natural. It helps that Riki is such a down-to-earth and humble guy.
I’d also never seen such a positive reaction when I casually mentioned that I had a casiotone in the car – it had to be brought in immediately! They loved it and apparently made it into the final mix. I can’t wait to hear the completed album. What I heard that day was sounding really, really good.
After that Southern Cross gig in April we traded some e-mails with Zoe, and we agreed that we should try to do a gig sometime. The opportunity to do just that came about when we booked a gig out at the Day’s Bay Pavilion. It worked out really well. We kicked-off late on a Sunday afternoon, and it was a really pleasant gig. The sun sets early at this time of year, but we had good audience. Zoe had a good support crew and a few locals stayed to listen to the music, eat and enjoy the warmth of the fire. I was really happy with our Meech Brothers set. It really felt comfortable and good. The set was well balanced and really worked. Proprietor, Angus, was also pleased with how it all went. It would be good to do another one or two out there in Spring.
The Meech Brothers were invited back to play at Kroon at the Southern Cross, by new booker, Melody Thomas (Mara has moved to Berlin). So back we went, and played the last Wednesday of June. An even more eclectic night than last time, with music ranging from glitchy electronica instrumentals (Pea Stew) through ukuleles and everything inbetween. We were the “headliners” and we played a good solid set (although we probably needed a slower song or two in there).
While all of this was going on, Matt and Brett had been busy working on the new Matt Hay CD. Brett did all the mixing and then mastered the disc. Graphics Designer, Brian Lammas, who did the cover art for the Meech Brother’s “Lost at Sea” EP, was called in to work on the artwork for the EP that would be titled “Where do we go from here?”.
As we all know, once you’ve got product, the next step is to do a release gig. So we did. No prizes for guessing the venue. Yep, it was back to Meow.
George again sat-in on this one making us as close to a band as we get these days. Not a bad sized crowd for a Thursday night. I think we played well – it just didn’t feel that great. It might have been the on-stage sound. I don’t know. It sounded good out the front, apparently.
I can report, with absolute certainty though, that Matt’s EP is very good. A lot of work has gone into it, and you can really hear it. Take a listen:
Until next time,
2012 has given us the best first three months of a year since records began. There were recording sessions in January, gigs in February, and Gareth and I released our second EP in March. Let’s start at the beginning.
Matt Hay ///
In January, Matt assembled a wee band to record his new EP. He pulled together a crack rhythm section in Riki Gooch on drums (yes, that Riki Gooch from Trinity Roots), and George Barris on double bass. We had one rehearsal at the Blue Room, and then convened at The Blue Barn in Newtown over Wellington Anniversary weekend, with Brett Stanton at the controls. It was the most enjoyable and relaxed recording session that I’ve been involved in. Brett’s “it’s just some dudes in a room playing some music” recording philosophy meant that all four us played live in one room with no click track and no headphones. I hadn’t realised how fatiguing those mechanical devices can be. In one day we had recorded all 6 songs.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. It’s never that simple, but we were happy with what we had captured of Riki and George’s performances, so they were free to go. The next day we re-recorded my parts on an actual acoustic piano, and most excitingly for me, the resident Rhodes electric piano (a Mark I Suitcase model, for all you piano-spotters out there) – I think it was Taay Ninh’s one (Electric Wire Hustle). Over-dubs would continue over the next month or so, with Matt re-doing his guitar and vocals, and Phil adding some Mandolin. During this time, Brett relocated from the Blue Barn back to the old Production Village in Mt Cook (originally a film and TV post-production complex, and is now semi-derelict studio space for several local artists). The final recording session took place here in late February with Phil and I adding backing vocals.
At time of writing, Matt’s EP has had the first cut of a mix completed by Brett, with final mixing and mastering penciled for later in April.
Along the way, we managed to do a rather enjoyable gig at the Days Bay Pavilion on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in February, followed by a more “character-building” show at the same venue in March. The Pavilion is a great spot and is run by the husband of a former Uni mate of mine. They do a fine pizza. Go there – it’s a nice part of the world.
So, you may remember that we had our EP (“poco”) mastered by Brett at the end of last year. We got him to re- tweak one track in January, and then the manufacturing, distribution and promo machine lurched into life.
Again we made a small run of CDs locally at Amstore in Miramar and distributed some of these to Slow Boat Records and Amplifier.co.nz. This time we stepped-up the digital sales channels, and used CDBaby.com to get our little EP on itunes and Amazon and elsewhere. We also switched-on digital sales on our existing Bandcamp.com site. We were under no illusion that by having all these purchasing options that sales to strangers would suddenly go through the roof – we just wanted to remove as many obstacles as possible to anyone who might actually want to buy our stuff. We wanted to make it easy. I might give you a break-down of the success of each channel in a future blog post.
Enough commerce! On with the show!
We staged the EP release party at good-ole Meow on the last Thursday in March. We asked local singer-songwriter, Claire Terry, to open the show. It was a great night. There was some trepidation heading into it as we had to cope with the technicalities of using a few different instruments on the night (multiple keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, a new drum machine as well as actual drums!), and the normal fear that not many people would show up. But people came, we played well (Gareth nailed his drum work), and we sold some CDs. Got a lot of positive feedback. It was a big gig for us. A real step-up. We played with an energy and confidance we probably haven’t displayed since we were playing in our post-High School bands.
It’s key that we now keep the momentum up and spread the good word and do some more gigs. We can do this.
You can watch a video clip from the night here
And I just about forgot – I met my first nerdy keyboard groupie that night. She was from Canada and said my keyboard rig gave her a “synth boner”. Awesome.
With the recent acquisition of a new drum machine, and further gear purchases unlikely for awhile, I thought it might be a good time to document my current line-up of kit.
Nord Electro 2 73. Purchased (new) in 2006 after a year or two of playing with Matt Hay. Made in Sweden. It specialises in reproducing the sounds of classic, vintage “electro-mechanical” keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer and Rhodes Electric pianos, Hohner Clavinet and Hammond B3 organ. A fine instrument which I hold almost singularly responsible for a dramatic improvement in my playing. When an instrument sounds as good as it does, you want to play more often.
2. Casiotone MT-65
Casiotone MT-65. Picked-up second-hand in 2010. Originally intended as my travel-keyboard, it made its way on to just about all songs on the Meech Brother’s “poco” EP. These essentially, toy keyboards from the 1980s have found favour in recent years with the indie crowd. Sure, there is an ironic retro appeal for the hipsters, and those auto-accompaniment drum beats are pretty cheesy, but I do have a genuine fondness for the distinctive, reedy “organ” tones that you can get out of them. Soon after I bought it, I recorded a version of “Hermit Crab” with it. Click here to see the video.
MicroKorg. Purchased new in 2011 from long-time music associate, Pete Jamieson at MusicPlanet. I’ve mentioned this keyboard in an earlier post about the custom stand that I got made for it. Despite its ridiculously small-sized keybed, this keyboard has been an outrageous success for Korg since its release in 2002 (and is still in production in 2012). Some say it’s the world No 1 selling synth. It’s what they call a Virtual Analog (VA) synthesizer – meaning it emulates traditional analog synthesizer building blocks (as employed by classic synths from the 60s and 70s ala the original Moog and Prophet synths) with modern digital components. Despite it’s playful appearance, it can make some massive sounds. So you get great sounds, a step-arpeggiator, vocoder and a legitimately cool retro-styled body, all at a pretty sharp price. I couldn’t really go past it.
4. Hammond XB-2
Hammond XB-2. My first keyboard purchase, made back in the first-half of the 1990s. I upgraded the ROM chips to the V2 firmware a few years after I bought it. It lives in semi-retirement at the studio these days. Manufactured by Hammond-Suzuki (Suzuki bought the Hammond Organ company in 1991), it was part of the second-wave of “clonewheel” keyboards (lightweight, reliable emulators of the legendary tone-wheel Hammond B3). It is a dedicated organ, with drawbars and built-in Leslie simulator. Today’s clonewheels (including my Nord Electro 2) provide more accurate emulations of the B3, but I think the XB-2 has a character of it’s own, and in a way, I reckon, in some ways, it sounds more like a 60’s Farfisa or Vox transistor organ – which is no bad thing.
5. Korg Electribe R ER-1 Drum Machine
Korg Electribe R ER-1 Drum Machine. Ever since Gareth and I moved away from the whole band thing, we have turned to using drum machines from time-to-time in an effort to steer our sound away from typical acoustic, singer-songwriter, folk-duo territory. I had become tired of my previous drum machine – a Zoom. It was sterile, difficult to use, and tried way too hard to sound like actual drums. Of course it fell far short of this, and just sounded like a pale imitation of something it clearly wasn’t. The Zoom was really for buskers or one-man covers bands. Not that the Electribe was targeted at me either. Purchased second-hand in 2012, this is from the first generation of Electribes that were manufactured from 1999 – which were aimed squarely at dance music makers and DJs. However, it works for me. Like the MicroKorg, it’s a Virtual Analog device, so it’s not trying to sound like actual drums, it uses analog synthesis modeling to sound like a Drum Machine! It knows what it is. I love the easy to use Step Programmer and tweak-ability of the sounds. It’s not a world away from the highly sought-after classic Roland TR-808/TR909 analog drum machines of the 1980s.
6. Wharfedale Titan 12” Active Monitor
Wharfedale Titan 12” Active Monitor. I won’t dwell too much on this one. It’s nowhere near as interesting as my actual instruments, but it is an important part of the team. This guy superceded my Roland KC-series combo amplifier which I use to use at home, and as an on-stage monitor at gigs. This latter aspect is where the Roland failed – it was ridiculously heavy. I still vividly remember the turning point for that old amp – after carrying it through Cuba Mall, and then up the stairs to Mighty Mighty, I promised myself I would get myself something lighter ASAP. The South Island tour in 2011 provided the motivation needed to down-size to something more practical, and in a nice moment of synchronicity, tour-buddy, Darren Watson, was selling up parts of his old PA around the same time– including one of these Wharfedale Active Speakers (essentially a speaker with a built-in amp and a mini-mixer). A deal was done, and I haven’t looked back. It was a good move.
At last, our (Meech Brothers) second EP, “poco” is ready to be set free into the world. It’s nice to know that we can’t tinker with it anymore. It is what is. Full-stop. I wish it well.
Have a listen:
Digital Downloads from itunes here
Actual CDs from Amplifier here
Press release here
Release gig will be happening on Thursday 29 March at Meow, Edward St. See you there!
Full report on the final stages of the CD production, the gig, and so much more (it’s been a busy year, so far!), will follow in the next music review blog post (probably in April, sometime).
A top-notch music year.
The obvious highlight was the South Island Tour in August which you can read about in detail here.
Otherwise, the second-half of the year consisted of more Meech Brothers recording/mixing sessions, gigs for Matt Hay & the Makers at CQ, and in a quite nice moment of symmetry, we finished the gigging year the same way as it began, with a shared-bill gig at Meow.
Our enjoyable little residency (do 6 or so gigs count as a “residency”?) at CQ on Cuba St, that had started in May, came to an end after a couple more gigs in July and then one at the end of August. Looking back, the writing was on the wall when the digital grand piano that plays itself, turned up. Pianos that play themselves? What sort of voodoo is this? Have we learned nothing from science fiction? There are always consequences when mankind starts playing god. All hell will break loose when these pianos become self-aware. You have been warned.
Meech Brothers EP progress///
Gareth and I spent most of the second-half of the year finishing off our second ep, “poco”. This involved completing overdubs, recording the title-track instrumental, and then mixing. We had originally planned to outsource the mixing, but for budgetary reasons decided to do it ourselves at the Blue Room. I started off loathing the mixing process, but really came to enjoy it by the end. It was definitely good for me. In parallel with the mixing efforts, we started work on the artwork with a good friend of ours, Clayton Homer, who is based in Dublin. Geography was no barrier, and after multitudes of e-mails and the occasional video demonstration we’ve ended up with something that we’re really happy with. By around October we decided to push out our target release date of December to February next year to give us the time to really get the promotion and release just right. We still wanted/needed to get everything ready for pressing by Christmas, though.
For the final, important Mastering stage of the process, we turned to Brett Stanton. Brett did all the mixing and mastering on Langley’s Featherbones, but his experience stretches much further back through the mists of time and space, and includes engineering and live mixing for Wellington-based indie darlings, The Phoenix Foundation, amongst others. A week before Christmas, Gareth and I convened at Family Cactus‘s Blue Barn Studio in Newtown. Here, Brett worked his voodoo and brushed up the overall sound of the songs, injected a bit more life into them, and removed irritating noises and things. After an entertaining evening , we walked away with a disk that we can take to the manufacturers early next year.
Smack-bang in the middle of November, both the Meech Brothers and Matt Hay & the Makers bands (“bands”, really?) supported Midge McCleary (accompanied by flute player, Michelle Scullion) at Meow on a Wednesday night. Midge and my paths have crossed a couple of times over the last few years – most recently in Picton, during the tour. We hadn’t exactly had an auspicious run at Meow – our first gig was a bit of a write-off when everybody stayed at home to watch the Royal Wedding, and then for the second one everybody stayed at home when it snowed on that final day of the tour. This time we had no excuses – and sometimes that’s not always a good thing. Perhaps people hadn’t come to those other shows because we suck. Fortunately, we got a good crew along this time – by no means was it packed – it’s a deceptively large room – but for acoustic music on a Wednesday night it wasn’t bad at all. I was most happy with our Meech Brothers set. Possibly our best ever performance. We were pretty relaxed (once we got through that first song) and I was happy with my playing and singing. Our set was lean and we didn’t have to draw on any of the “B-team” of songs. It was the first time that I used my microKorg at a gig, and it was a real hit. People seemed to really enjoy the night – although the $4 beers were a contributing factor.
It’s good to have a few things lined-up for early in the new year. We often start from scratch each year. In January will be the Matt Hay recording session (again with Brett), and Gareth and I will definitely do a release gig in February.
In earlier blog entries I have questioned why I play music. Why I put myself through the hours of work, the anxiety and stress of doing a gig, the lack of money and even less recognition. I’ve even called it a curse from time to time. I’ve asked these questions less of myself this year. Whether I like it or not, this is who I am. It’s what I do. I can’t stop. The alternatives are too dull. Whilst it sometimes seems like everybody is making music these days, the reality is that there are far more people who aren’t making music. I love the process of writing, recording, making CDs, promoting, and playing. I love that I can do this without needing a record label or buckets of money. It’s great to have this thing that we can all escape to and do, even when it makes no sense. And it’s cool to be able to hang out and just shoot the breeze with some good geezers while we’re at it. But we aren’t just mucking about here – we want to do good work. We want to make really good music. We want other people to hear it and we want it to be good enough that they want to hear more.
Even if I can’t make a living from it, I think it’s a real privilege to be able to do this – even on this nano scale.