It’s the type of morning that only a place like Karori can put on. It’s cold. Not cold enough that I can see my breath, but certainly enough to warrant a few extra layers of clothing. Everything is grey. Between the concrete roads, the overcast skies and the dense fog, there is little colour to be seen as I walk to work. But the music I’m listening to keeps me in good spirits.
I’ll discuss the music in a minute, but first I’ll tell you a story to give you context.
Image: Sam Blythe Photography
When I first met Hamish Dobbie seven years ago his favourite band was Dream Theater. We tried to form a band together at one point, but nothing eventuated from it. Later on down the track he joined some of our mutual friends as bass player for their hardcore band Declaration AD [My review of Declaration AD opening for Bangs is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written]. This was then followed by a string of other hardcore/metal projects, making Dobbie one of the busiest people in the local scene for a year or two.
But now he has tried his hand at a different style.
It’s almost clichéd – going from hardcore to acoustic. Dave Baxter from The Chase started Avalanche City. Dallas Green from Alexisonfire started City and Colour. Derek Archambault from Defeater started Alcoa. And then we have the many punk singers who feature on the Revival Tour: Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, Jon Snodgrass, Dave Hause etc…
And Hamish Dobbie from the local hardcore scene started Far From Here.
His first release is a five track EP called The Loss – poignant pop music with a dash of electronica dance beats.
The EP has been a few years in the making. Dobbie started working as a youth worker in his last year at university, and recently switched to work in the mental health sector. Not easy jobs by any means.The Loss was written in the midst of inner turmoil, and as an attempt to put a language to the experience of suffering.
And rather than writing music in the vein of Terror and Advent, he turned to other musical influences like Broods, JOY, Bon Iver, and Imogen Heap.
It makes for nice listening. The titular opening track sets a tone of mourning through use of guitar and delay, not unlike something Explosions In The Sky would do. A dance beat slowly emerges before everything cuts out. It’s a delicate balance – the sad guitars and the uptempo beat – and although the two elements shouldn’t work together on paper, they somehow create something compelling radiates hope. Just as it seems to gain momentum, the song ends. I wish it was longer.
Two things can be learnt from this first song: first, Dobbie does dynamics well. And secondly, he absolutely nails the guitar tones on this EP.
Despite his best efforts, Dobbie is not the strongest singer. Nor does he pretend that he is. He recruits two friends to help him out in that department. Andy Hockey tackles a verse in “Distance”, and does well to mirror Dobbie’s aching. And Mimi Gilbert features in “I’ve Failed You”. Gilbert’s voice is a showstopper. She recorded it from her home studio in Portland, Oregon, and it took her less than an hour to record all her takes for that song. The vocal harmonies at the end of that track are my highlight of the EP.
If stunning guitar tone paired with Postal Service-esque beats sounds appealing to you, then give Far From Here a listen. If that doesn’t sell it to you, how does incredible vocal harmonies, sublime moodiness and brilliant production sound?
I can think of nothing better on a bleak, foggy morning like this.
Auckland singer/songwriter Lydia Cole has just come home from a short Australian tour promoting her second album, The Lay Of The Land, which came out a few weeks ago. She’s in a weird state between excitement and exhaustion.
“On Monday I flew back. I did three shows in four days. It was kind of insane. I have never been more tired or thoroughly exhausted in my mind and body than I was this weekend.
“It was awesome though. Totally pays off and definitely worth it.” she hastily adds.
Image: Josh Yong
Cole will continue the tour locally across our three main centres over the coming few weeks, before emigrating to Berlin in a couple of months. She has spent the day trying to organise the logistics and equipment for her next few shows.
“The stress has been pretty insane over the past month, but I’m learning to break it down. I’m not sure about the details for the Wellington show, because I’m just thinking about this weekend, you know? I’ll worry about Wellington next week, which is the only way for me to cope with everything.
“At the moment it’s literally too much work for me to do. I did the Kickstarter, and there’s something like 260 people that I have to send CD’s or different rewards to. I’m definitely not up with all of that. Maybe half of the rewards are in boxes waiting me to package and address and send out.
“But I figure if those people have waited 18 months than they won’t be bothered about another few weeks … hopefully” she chuckles.
“I’ve never been this busy before. It’s like full-time plus. But I’m really grateful for it, because I know it doesn’t always happen that way.”
A new album
The Lay Of The Land is a stunning follow-up to 2012’s Me & Moon. She’s pleased with the album. Me & Moon left her anxious about what people would think, whereas this time around Cole is has had long enough to sit on the songs and is happy that they represent her well at this moment of time, and realises that they don’t have to define her forever.
“In the studio when I was recording it I was very anxious. And I don’t know if it was because I was subconsciously thinking that there was 260 people hoping to like this. The grassroots support from an array of people – the Kickstarter people – was one of the big reasons why I decided to go that way. Firstly: it was financial, but secondly: I don’t have a label or a publicist or anything – it was just me at that stage, doing my own thing – and I realised that doing Kickstarter was a way to have a few hundred people aware that I was going to release something. They’re waiting, so you already have a bunch of people on your buzz already. They’re loyal. They’ve invested with their money already and they’re likely to tell their friends and follow what you’re doing, so it’s cool.”
Cole had quit her job and sought contributions from her fans via crowdfunding site Kickstarter to help her fund the recording process. She managed to raise the $15,000 within only five days, and since recording the album a year ago has worked hard to piece together the package that has become her album. This has involved finalising the album art, creating music videos, having band rehearsals and waiting for the CDs and vinyl records to get pressed
When you look at what she has put out, you can understand why it has taken so long. Take, for example, the incredible stop motion video for “Telepathise”. Cole teamed up with ex-pat animator Timothy Armstrong to create this brilliant clip that is not only visually stunning, but complements the song so well. It took Armstrong a whole month to make, and could have easily taken three times as long.
There are so many intricate details in the video. Armstrong discussed at length with Cole what types of trees she likes and what animals she wanted featured. He painstakingly created the layered images atop a Lazy Susan table and spent a lot of time manipulating small lights to create the different effects you see in the video [example here].
Cole is also super excited about having vinyl copies of the new album available.
“I was living at home a few years ago with Mum and Dad and they had an old record player. I’ve got a small collection: Louis Armstong, Sufjan Stevens, Ryan Adams, Phoenix Foundation (fun!). Since I’ve gone flatting I haven’t had a record player and have had to shelf them, but listening to records is like making coffee for me. It’s a physical routine: you chuck it on, put the needle down and it’s more of a tangible moment to enjoy.
“Look, I’m not a big sound-y person and don’t understand technical stuff very much but I did have an inkling that the warmth and the textures – a lot of the synth sounds on this album – would suit a vinyl sound. It was real cool when the test pressing arrived and I chucked it on. It sounded so good – I think it really suits it. I’m stoked with that.
“And they’re selling really well at shows and online as well. I sold a whole bunch to people in Germany and all through Europe, which is awesome! Hopefully they all make it in one piece!”
Nic Manders on keys. Image: Josh Yong
Berlin represents a fresh start and new challenges. Going from support slots for big name artists and Silver Scroll award nominations to being a nobody on the opposite side of the planet.
“I’m very aware that I’ll become nobody. I’m excited to start afresh and meet people and go to gigs and busk and see who reacts to me on the street. I’ve always had Nic Manders produce my stuff, and he won’t be there. Over there I’ll be doing home recordings and stretching myself in that way as well.
“I’m a real big fan of sustainable and thorough growth. Like, chipping away at your character, chipping away at a project that means a lot to you instead of hoping for that overnight success that doesn’t actually mean anything. I apply that to my music and to my personal growth. I think that the slower you grow, then the more concrete that change will be.”
Connecting with musicians
We spend some time enthusiastically discussing the Sufjan Stevens shows we had each been to when he came last year. He embodies that type of musician Cole aspires to be like, just an upfront guy who is also a talented musician. She shares that these are the types of people she tries to share a stage with as well.
Luke Oram on guitar. Image: Josh Yong
“A guy called Chris from Christchurch is coming up to Auckland to support me. He messaged me on Facebook to say ‘Hi, here’s a link to my latest song on Soundcloud and I’d like to support you’. I really liked it. I’ve never met him and have seen no footage of him playing live so it’s like a fun little risk that I’m taking.
“In Australia it was real interesting trying to find people to support me. And I was lucky with that too. I got a couple of real cool people. I think musicians have pretty amazing stories a lot of the time so it was cool to bump into more people who have crazy stories.
“People who play music in similar genres to what I play – they’re writing from the heart and writing about stuff that matters to them. Usually when I click with someone like that it’s often on a personal level as well, so you make a really good friend out of that, which is nice.”
Authenticity is something Cole values. She presents herself as she is, flaws and all. She chooses not to wear makeup and her personal lyrics can leave her feeling incredibly exposed, but she’d prefer to be seen as genuine than perfect.
“When I was younger I thought that not needing a day job meant you’ve made it, but I’ve changed my perspective on what success means.
“Success to me is balance and health. The past little while I’ve been working part-time in a café, and doing music the rest of the time. The café work helps keep me social and personally healthy, and not going all crazy in my head. And it pays the bills. And that to me is success.”
Lydia Cole has four more NZ shows before moving to Germany to continue her personal and musical growth. With hundreds of people paying to help fund her music and a likely three sold out shows on this tour, it’s hard not to agree that she has done well for herself. We wish her the best of luck starting afresh overseas.
I first became aware of Emeli Sandé when my younger sister sang her hit single “Next To Me” at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary ceremony. I was taken by the power of it, so made it my business to seek out the original artist. Turns out that Sandé was a pretty big deal – beating chart records set by The Beatles and boosting the biggest selling record of 2012. Four years later, Sandé has released her follow up album, Long Live The Angels.
Long Live The Angels is explores Sandé’s identity. Her half-Zambian, half-Scottish heritage, her failed marriage and strained relationships, her aspirations and desires realised since she dropped her medical studies to pursue a music career. Here is someone who reached such great heights with her début album, but lost herself in the process. Long Live The Angels is the story of a powerful singer desperately climbing back up to her former throne.
“Selah” starts the album with a powerful tone. Sandé shows off her gorgeous voice by reducing the instrumentation to a minimum, and instead using the service of a goosebump-inducing choir to add ambiance to her poetic singing. The gospel overtones continue with the uplifting first single “Breathing Underwater” – a euphoric victory cry in ballad form.
I love the production on this album. Everything feels very deliberate. By reducing the amount of instruments in each song, Sandé has more space to let her voice take center stage. Take for example “Sweet Architect”. It’s just piano and vocals, with choral harmonies and organ used to add depth towards the end. But it makes an impact.
In “Happen” we feel Sandé’s despair and loss, until a guitar chimes in – almost squealing – and Sandé answers defiantly. “Hurts” adds urgency with a fast hand-clapped beat and brass section. Lovely acoustic guitar number “Give Me Something”, however, feels more simple, yet effective.
The album takes a sharp turn half way through, with a more contemporary pop approach. Jay Electronica lays down some rapping for a verse in “Garden”, and the next track “I’d Rather Not” features hip-hop drumming. The two songs don’t fit well within the context of the rest of the album. Compared to the more soulful other songs, these more urban tracks feels forced – with “Garden” in particular clearly manufactured with the intention of becoming a hit. Album closer “Babe” and a few of the bonus tracks come close to straying into this territory as well.
Not to let these urban intrusions derail the album, Sandé saves one of the best tracks for later – the feel good family affair “Tenderly” – a nod to her Zambian heritage. From here on in the mood feels lighter and more carefree. Using her voice to convey emotion and gravitas works, but injecting fun energy into tracks like “Highs and Lows” is simply more enjoyable.
Long Live The Angels feels emotionally raw, covering the entire spectrum from desperation to elation. Sandé uses the album as her phoenix fire, emerging from heartbreak and loss to rise stronger than before. The production is stunning, but not nearly as impressive as her voice.
Simple, effective, and emotional: Long Live The Angels is a defiant statement from a talented singer claiming back her stake in the music industry
Name UL (real name Emanuel Psathas) has been making waves in the local hip hop scene for years now, which is all the more impressive considering his young age. He has opened for some of the more notable hip hop acts to arrive on these shores for years now, including the likes of Jurassic 5, Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt. And his work within the scene has paid off, landing him a song writing job in LA to start next year.
Thursday saw the release of Psathas’ first full length, Choice(s), and Friday saw the album come to life at the San Francisco Bathhouse in Wellington.
Image: Will Not Fade
This was it: two years of writing and recording finally coming to fruition. Sure, some of the songs were from older EPs, but most of this material was new. Was it going to measure up?
Short answer: yes. Yes, yes, and then some. Psathas actually admitted that he was quite nervous, but he needn’t have worried. Choice(s) debuted at number one one the iTunes NZ hip hop charts, and number seven overall. And it translated just as successfully live. The audience lapped it all up with vigour – both new and old material. There was no mistaking that the new material hit the spot, judging from how enthusiastically everyone was dancing and grooving along to the music.
Image: Will Not Fade
The set started with Name UL on the mic and DJ Heist Beats on the decks. People were singing along to the familiar songs like “My Side”. It sounded great. And then it got better. Matt Beachen from Drax Project joined in on drums, and then the rest of the Drax crew joined during the following song. The extra live instrumentation really added to the mix. How often do you hear someone ripping it up on a sax at a rap show?
I’ve only seen a few hip hop acts with live bands (The Roots, David Dallas with The Daylight Robbery), but I think that hip hop within a live band context is far superior to having a DJ or laptop providing the beats. With more happening onstage, there is more to watch and take in, as well as the extra layers of music building upon each other.
Image: Will Not Fade
I saw Immortal Technique – one of my more highly rated rappers -play San Fran years ago and his sound was horrendous. By contrast, last night Name UL was slaying the crowd with the most incredible sound and energy. It was also nice to hear Drax Project back on form under a different setting, after poor sound mixing marred their own otherwise-untouchable album release three months ago. They’re a diverse group of musicians who know how to adapt to different settings- progressing from crowd-drawing buskers to the next big thing, and casually adding hip-hop backing band to their résumé along the way.
I’ve only seen Name UL play support sets to dates. And he did well, but in those situations people had paid to see international headliners, not a kid from Wellington. The reception tonight was exponentially better than the lukewarm reaction I’d seen during those early instances. For this show, people were excited to be there – bouncing around and loving the atmosphere. And fair enough too – the sound was great, the tunes were fresh, and the addition of Drax Project helped to make the show even better.
Image: Will Not Fade
Two years of writing and recording, finally realised in a live context. I can see why Psathas would have been nervous playing a lot of untested new material. But all that work paid off, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the show was a complete success. Everywhere I looked during the set people were dancing, bouncing, singing and generally enjoying themselves – both on and off stage.
Do yourself a favour and check out Choice(s). And if you get the chance, catch Name UL live. Because if you don’t, the next opportunity may be when he’s selling out shows in LA.
Last week when I interviewed Adelaide singer Jay Power I asked her to convince me that it was worth coming out to her gig on Wednesday night. She simply listed the musicians playing, and I could tell just from those names that the quality musicianship would be enough to make it worthwhile.
Image: Will Not Fade
First up was Wellington trio Spitfire, bringing a spontaneous experimental vibe to the evening. They had loose points of the arrangements agreed upon to navigate their playing, but most of it was improvised. The three musos onstage were clearly having a blast, exchanging glances and bouncing ideas off each other as they worked together to evolve their tunes. Ed Zuccolo held the bass down and led the melody simultaneously with his signature mini moog set up. Drummer Myele Manzanza pushed the time signatures and messed around with the flow. His fills and flourishes were disarmingly fast, and you could see him cracking up as he tried new and interesting approaches to see what would fit within the song. Justin Firefly Clarke rounded out the tunes on guitar, fleshing out the sound with plenty of whammy.
The hour long set was thoroughly enjoyable. The band clearly had a blast messing around onstage, and I was enthralled with the sheer talent in front of me.
Image: Will Not Fade
Headliner Jay Power arrived onstage exuding confidence, rocking a fur jacket that would earn Macklemore’s respect. Not only did she look the part, but she had a powerful voice to match. It was one of the colder Wellington days in a long time, not that you’d think it with the warm vibes and live energy that Power and her band brought with them.
They offered up a great selection of groovy pop-meet-soul-meets-jazz-meets-funk numbers from Power’s recent album The Missing, as well as a slightly tongue-in-cheek cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony”- “My guilty little pleasure”, as Power put it.
A sign with “No Scat
Image: Cat Power
” written on it had been placed on the wall just side of stage, next to a stuffed dead wallaby. If I hadn’t been to Meow before I would have wondered if this were a deliberate placement. Nevertheless, Power acknowledged the sign, and then cheekily threw some scat into her next song as a sign of defiance.
Following on from the talent of Spitfire was no easy task, but Power and her band managed to keep the bar high as they delivered song after song.Her band members were impressively tight, considering that they had only just recently assembled for this tour. Their sound was crisp, and although they were all seasoned players, I was surprised at how well they had gelled in the the limited time they’d had to do so.
They played to a backing track, so I guess that they had no room for error. Power’s long time guitarist Mikey Chan provided guitar squeals and solos between riffs, and Hollie Smiths’ rhythm section of Darren Mathiassen and Marika Hodgson kept it flowing on drums and five string bass, respectively. And of course they all did an amazing job of support Jay herself, who wailed her way through the set with classy showmanship.
I had been somewhat hesitant to resist the call of my bed and venture out to a a bar to see some bands on a chilly Winter night. I’m so glad that I did though, because the sheer talent was outstanding.
Jay Power is also playing up North over the next few days. Details below.
Friday August 12 – The Old Stone Butter Factory Whangarei