In an era of music streaming and randomized auto-generated playlists, one can easily get lost in the millions of musicians and groups and their discographies. However, one thing that helps us seek out the songs we love is an artist’s signature sound. The book This Is What It Sounds Like by writer Susan Rogers delves into what makes us love the music we love, in which Rogers explains the seven “sweet spots” we all use to determine whether we like certain music or not. Rogers’ list includes a song’s melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre — as well as its novelty, authenticity, and realism. All of that, combined with the rawness of listening to music live, still doesn’t answer the question: What’s in the making of a signature sound? Our “Will Not Fade’s 2022 in Review” post highlights the many bands across different genres, from the prog and post-rock The Prog Alliance Tour to Avantdale Bowling Club’s jazzy hip-hop set. Part of the joys of listening to live music is enjoying a band’s sound, the live instruments, the vocals, and their energy. In this post, we’ll attempt to look at certain aspects of music that can help musicians create their signature sound:
It is not possible to talk about The Beatles’ signature sound without mentioning the Fenders, the Gibsons, and all the amps and pedals used throughout their different tracks. Case in point, Far Out Magazine‘s feature on iconic George Harrison moments noted that his use of the sitar in “Norwegian Wood” marked a shift in the latter half of the Beatles’ discography. Later, this inspired the Rolling Stones to start featuring sitars in their song “Paint It Black.” Jimi Hendrix also decided to use a Fender Stratocaster — upside down. This not only created a signature sound but a signature look as well. Guns n Roses’ Slash has an inseparable image from his Gibson Les Paul, but like Hendrix, it’s because of how he plays it as opposed to what he played. Clearly, the instruments a musician utilizes are a starting foundation for their overall sound.
Aside from the instruments, a musician’s equipment is equally important to creating the sound we eventually hear. Over the years, musicians have come to rely on specialized equipment to help create their music. Jimi Hendrix’s iconic guitar tone results from his pedal setup—a wah pedal, a fuzz pedal, a Uni-Vibe pedal, and an Octavio pedal. All of these helped create Hendrix’s odd-sounding, hypnotic swirly guitars. Like pedals and guitar amps, an artist’s microphone can affect their sound. Shout4Music demonstrates how many microphones available today can serve different purposes depending on the sound you want to produce. Still, some microphones—like the Shure SM58—are such classics that they have become an industry standard and a favorite among music’s iconic names, from The Who to Paul McCartney, for their clear and crisp audio. Indie bands, meanwhile, may use equipment you may have never seen before. A notable example is Julian Koster and his singing saw — a bow on a traditional handsaw — for Neutral Milk Hotel. The equipment the artists use can be considered the unsung heroes of signature sounds.
Certain artists have a particular sound that you quickly associate with them a few seconds into a song. Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees didn’t know he could sing in falsetto until he did it in “Nights on Broadway,” eventually establishing the Bee Gees’ trademark falsetto sound. And when you think of Mariah Carey, you may think of her whistle tones, the same applies to Freddie Mercury’s belting and use of the mixed voice. Not everyone has a signature vocal sound, but the ones that do will often stick out to you because the technique is present throughout their music. Of course, it’s not all stylistic. Ray Charles’ music is known for his growls and shouts, stemming from his gospel and jump blues background from the 50s—a time associated with emotional, soulful songs. Often, vocal techniques such as improvisations can transcend the importance of lyrics and may be why we can quickly identify certain songs. Overall, an artist’s vocal technique establishes their color as performers, creating music that is unique to them.
Guest post written exclusively for Willnotfade.com by Amy Cayenne
Photo of Tides of Man at dunk!festival 2018 by Will Not Fade
My favourite gig of the year wasn’t a “big” band. It was The Prog Alliance Tour featuring Claemus, Elidi, Pull Down the Sun and distance. It just ticked all my boxes. Great musicians playing prog and post-rock. It must have taken a lot of planning to organise a nine date tour for bands from three different cities, but the Wellington one was a great success and I’m proud of what they pulled off. distance also put out a stellar album, everything in exchange for nothing in August. Really cool to see how that project has evolved from a lockdown bedroom project into a fully fledged amazing band.
Sam Butler of distance at Valhalla
Speaking of awesome local prog-rock, Ovus dropped a tasty wee EP earlier in the month. Josh the bassist lives in Christchurch, but I’m holding out for an EP release gig sometime soon.
I’ve been hyping them up for a few years now, and Adoneye finally released their long-awaited EP this year. It’s a beaut. It’s a shame that the band members parted ways and didn’t get to celebrate the wonderful music that they deserved to.
Alexisonfire continue to deliver the fire with recent album Otherness. I cannot get enough of the single “Sans Soleil”.
Reliqa were my favourite new discovery of the year. They killed it at Monolith Festival, and their new EP is fantastic.
Reliqa at Monolith Festival in Melbourne
Planet Hunter dropped their debut album. They’re Wellington’s best live band, so of course I’m a huge fan. And they managed to capture the energy and talent and distill it all into a fantastic record: Moscovium.
I’ve been friends with Vorn for many years now, and follow his projects with great interest. I actually joined one of his bands – Crash Bandihoot – on a brief tour in May. One of Vorn’s other bands, The Wellington Sea Shanty Society have enjoyed some relative success in recent years after the song “The Wellerman” started trending. I convinced Vorn to let me contribute backing vocals to their latest EP, so was very excited when that was released in August. I’m not credited, so maybe they weren’t impressed with my singing abilities? Anyway, TWSSS annual shows at Breaker Bay Hall have become a highlight to look forward to every year. This year was just as great as the others I’ve been to, and I also won best dressed – wearing a sexy mermaid outfit that I’d painstakingly created.
The Beths are progressing from strength to strength. They played The Opera House in Wellington recently in support of their third album – a big step up from the usual smaller venues they usually play here. And they crushed it. Seated venues are usually a poor choice for fun, energetic bands, but it wasn’t a problem.
The Beths at Peachy Keen, Wellington, 2021
Jakob rule. Returning to San Fran – their home venue away from home – they gave us everything we’ve come to expect of them, and also played a few new tracks to whet our appetite for the upcoming album. And Jakob bassist Maurice Beckett also released an awesome album from his side project, Desbot. Seriously worth checking out.
I was upset that Amy Shark cancelled her NZ tour with no explanation (and I’m still waiting for a refund, well over a months after the cancellation, and roughly a month after the scheduled gig date), but that freed me up to catch Avantdale Bowling Club that night instead. Playing the fantastic TREES album, ABC put on a stellar set of jazzy hip-hop. I love hip-hop with a live band, and this band was goooood. Also, it was pretty funny seeing people smoking it up and having a great time dancing and singing in a venue that feels as “classy” and conservative as the St James Theatre.
I caught my friend Taylah playing a bunch of times this year and was consistently blown away but the sheer talent that Tay and her band showcase. Always a fun night, and her songs are irresistibly infectious.
Taylah with Sam Nakamura at Rogue & Vagabond
2022 was a tough year for me on a personal level. Covid finally hit New Zealand and brought us up to speed with the rest of the world. This meant a lot of cancelled gigs, and missing a bunch of gigs that I was too exhausted to attend while I recovered from the virus. But I’m in a good space at the moment. I’ve been working with some local bands to build their profile and book gigs, and enjoying the challenge of discovering what success can look like within the creative fields.
The NZ borders opened and we finally had international bands return. I saw The Bronx in May – the first international band I’d seen in years. And I went across to Melbourne for Monolith Festival in August. It was an amazing opportunity to see a handful of my favourite bands on the same day, and a great reminder of what I had been missing.
The NZ music scene has flourished in recent years. Annual events like Newtown Festival and Cubadupa were the biggest gatherings in the world at the time – because NZ was covid-free and didn’t need to worry about social distancing – but sadly both were cancelled this year. But given the space, local bands had the chance to prove themselves worthy. I’m happy to see international bands touring here again, but it already feels like local bands are now struggling to book shows with reintroduced competition in a market already lacking enough venues for demand.
I’m not sure what 2023 will throw us. Life has been fairly unpredictable and anxiety-inducing for some time now. But I’m looking forward to releases from PROKOP, my favourite Italian post-hardcore group Winter Dust, and I can’t wait to see blues sisters Larkin Poe play in April. I saw that Trombone Shorty is coming to Australia as well, and hoping that he makes it over to NZ.
Welcome to Will Not Fade’s Artist Profile series, where we take a look into the people in the music scene who aren’t necessarily musicians.
Who are you?
Hi I’m Liam (He/Him), a 20 year old Queer Trans man who loves to ride his motorcycle and take photos here in Pōneke Aotearoa!
How did you start off doing photography?
Back in 2019 my mum got me a Canon 800d for Christmas as I had been talking about wanting a camera non stop by that point. I was pretty natural at photography and started doing photography for people ASAP
Why do you photograph musicians?
Music runs in my family, Mum played guitar as a kid, Dad was a music lover, Sister is a music lover as well, Brother does guitar, drums, and vocals, my other brother plays drums and piano, and I myself play guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and do some vocals. So I have a passion for music and when I started doing photography it was pretty obvious I was gonna do music photography and also the photographer who I have been obsessed with for years and inspires me is a touring photographer for bands (Bryce Hall) so he’s another reason why I do music photography…
Also photographers in music are very important, A lot of people don’t realise it but we are the reason you see photos or promos of your favourite bands. Our photos are everywhere on social media pages of bands that we photograph. I basically also accepted there’s not a high chance I’d be good at my own music as I have severe stage fright and commitment issues, but I still wanted to do sometime in the music industry and turns out I’m somewhat good at photography so yeah… that’s another reason why photograph gigs!
Saving Grace at San Fran
Film or Digital?
Mirrorless! Haha, nah jk I haven’t used a mirrorless yet unfortunately but hope so soon tbh. Digital! No reason, but I’ve been wanting to get a film camera like a Canon AE1 just to experiment and play around with, I sometimes like doing moody landscapes and would love to try it out with a film camera.
Colour or black & white?
I’m gonna have to say colour as I also do automotive photography and love Cinematic and dramatic looks, but I do love myself a good B&W photo especially when I’m photographing a gig!
What has been your highlight as a photographer so far?
Oh man, there’s been so many highlights so far in my career… I wanna say the people I meet cause I meet some awesome and talented people! But also again going back to the automotive side of things working with motorcycle brands has been something I never thought I would do… like it feels unreal to go on DucatiAusNZ Instagram or The official Ducati club here in NZ and see my photos up there like what the hell!? That’s my photo I’m pretty sure they hired the wrong guy, cause there’s no way my favourite motorcycle brand should use my photos haha but they have… Sorry I’m having another Fanboy moment writing this haha
Ducati Lamborghini Diavel Transmission gully
What band would you most love to photograph?
Motionless In White or Bring Me The Horizon! That Bryce Hall guy I was talking about earlier is their touring photographer and when I was obsessed with Motionless in White back in my teenage years I would see his photos and be blown away and it would be my honour to take photos of MIW (cause I still love them) and hopefully take photos alongside Bryce!
Have you got a favourite venue?
A year ago I would have said Valhalla but today imma have to say Meow on Edward street or San Fran on Cuba street. I don’t hate Valhalla – I love Valhalla – but I’ve photographed there so many times and I don’t like how small and intimate it can get at times and I’ve had some bad experiences with my camera at Valhalla before haha.
Elidi at Valhalla
What do you consider your most essential piece of equipment?
Listen up photographers, the most essential piece of equipment is a Variable ND filter… done, don’t ask any questions, go get one and thank me later… On a serious note the reason I say Variable ND filter is cause I shoot outside a lot and it really helps with lighting and it gives the cinematic look that my automotive photos have! But on the gig side of things the only essential piece of equipment I can think of is a proper camera bag so you can leave your stuff somewhere or have your other lenses and camera bodies on your back!
What kind of ear protection do you use?
Next question please……… haha I don’t actually use ear protection but I’ve been meaning to buy some more ear protection recently…. But the couple of times I have used ear protection I used D’Addario ear plugs and they worked amazing!! I lost them while riding my motorcycle unfortunately haha
Ducati Multistrada V4S waiarapa
Have you got any advice for aspiring beginner photographers?
Don’t worry about gear too much, it’s about how you use it and you don’t need to study photography to be good at it… YouTube exists and guys like Peter McKinnon or Chris Hau will teach you more important things in like 10 minutes haha.
How can people contact you if they want to use your services?
Yet again we faced another unpredictable year. So many tours were cancelled, rebooked and postponed. But creative people need outlets and despite the effects of covid, the music community still pushed to keep the arts alive.
Here are some of my favourite releases of the year:
Obviously any Ranges release is going to get a mention. I consider myself an unofficial member of the band. It’s a real shame that postage issues have prevented me from receiving the record I ordered because I know that they always put a lot of effort into the packaging and design. But the music is great.
Local prog-rockers Claemus have always set a very high standard but seriously, do not sleep on this album. I’ve been playing it on repeat and I’m not even remotely sick of it. I’m excited to see them play again over the next few months.
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
I reviewed Halsey’s debut album Badlands years ago and was a bit dismissive, categorising it as music for edgy teenagers who wanted to feel rebellious. But I did genuinely like most of the music, even if a whole album’s worth was too much. This past year Halsey teamed up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails to create If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. And it is fantastic. You can really hear the NIN touches and Halsey is obviously a great singer. I haven’t watched the film, but I have had the album on regular rotation.
I’ve been a Julien Baker fan since her first album. She has risen in fame a lot since then, especially after taking part in the group boygenius (also featuring Phoebe Bridgers, who was one of the hottest artists of 2020). This latest album is Baker’s most musically fleshed out, with a full band and wonderful intriguing soundscapes and tones.
I’m a huge Amy Shark fan, and thrash her last album Love Monster all the time. This latest release sees her ascending further into the pop stratosphere. There’s a few big bangers as well as some intimate ballads. Will she manage to collab with Tom DeLonge on her next record to complete her Blink 182 hat-trick?
Fucked Up drip-fed the four parts of their EP over four Bandcamp Fridays, each a month apart. I’m not sure if that is smart marketing or not but it had my hyped for the full release. At almost an hour and a half long, it takes the listener on a wildly varied journey, but I love it. You need to be committed to get past some of the weirdness, but I think that was already a given if you’re a Fucked Up fan.
Gojira – Fortitude
I can’t believe that I never listened to Gojira before this album. Simultaneously heavy and accessible, technical and groovy, it’s a great metal release. Thanks to Mark Levy for recommending this one.
I’ll admit that I’m not usually into doom metal but I’ve got to give Planet of the Dead some love. They did exceptionally well, with plenty of media attention around the globe, and a lot of demand for their latest record. It’s a real shame that most of their tour was cancelled due to covid, but I managed to see them play a few times and they’re an outstanding live act.
Planet of the Dead
No surprises that all my favourite gigs of 2021 were NZ artists. The local music scene seems super strong and venues are booked out well in advance.
I only travelled out of town to see one band play this year. I saw legendary trio Jakob play their album Solace in full two nights in a row, in Auckland and Wellington.
David Dallas is one of my favourite artists, so there was no way I was missing him play his classic album The Rose Tint in full, especially with a live band. I know that album so well and had the best time seeing Dallas and his band The Daylight Robbery bringing it back to life.
I did photography at Peachy Keen festival at Easter time and it was super fun. I don’t usually listen to much pop music but I had a great day and discovered some new acts. I’d love to see Peachy Keen become a regular event.
Newtown Festival and Cubadupa are also perennial highlights in the calendar that make me super grateful to live in Wellington. It was a wonderful period where New Zealand felt “normal” and “safe” and we could have events that involved thousands of people coming together to celebrate the arts while the rest of the world was shutting down over a pandemic. Cubadupa especially felt like a revival of sorts, having been affected by covid and Christchurch terrorist attacks the past few years. Sadly, those times of normalcy were fleeting, and Newtown Festival 2022 has already been cancelled.
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged as much this year. It is just harder to find the time these days, and I’m more involved in other creative pursuits like my photography and playing in a few bands.
One of my photos of Sam Leamy from Opium Eater was included in the From The Pit exhibition that took part in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I’m already good friends with many of the local music photographers but it felt really nice to be included in something that celebrates the talents of the wonderful photographers around the country.
My old band Secrets of the Sun released their debut album Obon. I no longer play with them, but I did record the drums that featured on the album.
My new band Aegir & Ran played four shows, all which were loads of fun. We’ve got some video footage that I’ll get around to editing and sharing at some point. Nothing better than playing great music with some of your best friends.
I also joined another band, Dressed in Wax. We’ve only played one show so far, but are excited to play more in the future. You can hear some of our songs from frontman Ilja Gray’s solo EPs.
Who knows what the future will bring? Much of the population are vaccinated now, but I still think that the pandemic will continue to affect things for a while to come.
I have tickets to see The Beths and Shihad early next year, both events that were supposed to happen months ago but were postponed. I’ll be stoked if the concerts happen, but won’t be surprised if they don’t.
Karnivool just dropped a new single so may have an album on the way. I’m super keen to get to Australia to see them play with amazing prog and post acts like Cog, sleepmakeswaves and Plini, but I don’t think it’s likely at this stage. The chances of getting stranded in Australia are extremely high, with New Zealand’s MIQ system proving inadequate to meet demand time and time again.
I’m excited about future releases from bands who have been in the studio such as Youth League, Tides of Man and Shipwreck Karpathos.
Tides of Man
On a local level, Adoneye may finally release their debut album next year. Planet Hunter have been doing some work in the studio. And I was super excited to help record backing vocals for an upcoming Wellington Sea Shanty Society EP recently (bring on the tiktok fame!)
I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say it has been a rough year. Personally, I had a lot of amazing plans that got cancelled. I was planning on traveling throughout Europe, seeing the world, touring with my dear friends Ranges and attending festivals such as dunk!festival and ArcTanGent. Then a pesky virus spread around the globe and put an end to all of that. Admittedly we’ve got it pretty good here in New Zealand. We had five weeks of national lockdown around Easter time, and certainly a lot of gigs were cancelled or at reduced capacity, but we’ve still had live music for a lot of this year, which is an absolute blessing.
Even so, I’ve found it hard for a multitude of reasons. I decided to retire from running the blog earlier in the year. But I have some spare time now that I’m on holiday and I enjoy writing these end-of-year summaries, so I’m back in action for this one last article for the year.
As I mentioned, New Zealand has still been able to have concerts and gatherings for a lot of the year, so this has allowed a lot of NZ artists to stand out a bit more on the world stage. Benee is an example of one artist who has garnered international attention and success. The Beths are another group who have gone from strength to strength. Many of us fell in love with their self-deprecating powerpop with debut album Future Me Hates Me, and follow up record Jump Rope Gazers is just as brilliant. It’s more of a slow burner than FMHM, but still proves just as irresistible and catchy after a few listens, and an easy pick for my top album of 2020. The Beths are also great live and I was delighted to catch them live again this year after a number of postponements. They’re in such demand that they played 5 packed out shows over three days in Wellington, and I imagine they could have even pulled enough of a crowd to play a few more shows too.
Caspian’s last album Dust and Disquiet is phenomenal. They blew my mind playing that material at dunk!fest in 2018 and I was so upset that I couldn’t see them play again this year after my travels were cancelled. On Circles may not quiet measure up to Dust and Disquiet, but it’s still a solid album, just in it’s own way. It’s a more reserved offering, but this seems somehow appropriate for the times. There’s two songs with singing – Kyle Dufrey of Pianos Become The Teeth lends his voice to one track, and Phil Jamieson’s singing on the titular track is sublime and soul restoring. Something else I love about this album is the interesting tones and timbres they’ve gone for. Maybe they’re in alternate tunings, maybe it’s effect pedals, I really have no idea. But these tones, coupled with some cello and violin on a few tracks, make for unusual yet enticing listening.
Regular readers won’t be at all surprised by this inclusion. It’s no secret that I’m a big IIOI fan. They were the first act that I flew overseas to see live. And the last album, Standards, was a great. Figure is a logical continuation of Standards. Brilliant songwriting, great playing. The drumming is complementary and they’ve continued their exploration into interesting tones.
Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings
Again, this should come as no surprise; Biffy Clyro have been my favourite band since I was a teenager. I almost slept on this one though – I pre-ordered the vinyl record and due to covid related complications it still hasn’t shown up. Warner said they’d send a digital download but never did (same case with their last record Ellipsis too, up your game Warner!) After a few months of waiting I figured that maybe I should do some hunting. I eventually got a copy of the album downloaded and I’m glad I did because it’s been on steady repeat ever since. Biffy have always trodden a fine line, making a point of being weird and alternative (at times inaccessible even, especially during the earlier albums), yet at the same time playing stadium rock and writing songs that earn mainstream radio play (more so overseas). And somehow they’ve managed to continue down this path with success. There’s less of the bland radio fodder that featured heavily on Ellipsis, and they’ve managed to evolve and push their style whilst style true to their distinctive Biffy sound.
Other music worth mentioning
Sam Butler released two great solo EPs this year. I reviewed the first EP, over time.
You may know Hause as the singer of punk band The Loved Ones. It’s almost a cliche how punk singers start solo projects along these lines (Think The Revival Tour). Kick is a great album, hopeful and defiant in the face of oppression. It’s in the vein of singer-songwriter, even country styles, something a bit more chilled out, but still with rock roots.
I have no idea how I came across this album but it just hit the spot. A perfect blend of ambient and electronica. I’ve needed more calming music like this a lot this year.
The state of things in 2020
I’m terrified of the ongoing implications of what will happen to the music scene as a result of this pandemic. Musicians who rely on touring and selling merch for a living suddenly don’t have an income. Venues can’t get by because people aren’t allowed to attend gatherings. No venues means no places for bands to play. And it doesn’t just affect musicians, there’s the roadies and drivers and lighting techs and sound engineers and a whole industry suddenly without work.
Many musicians are resorting to livestreaming performances. [Here’s one that my friends in Ranges did for WherePostRockDwells]. Some people have been able to monetise livestreaming these performances. We will see if this becomes comomonplace in the future.
We all know that streaming is not really the answer forward. Sure, it is a revenue stream, but they pay such a pittance per stream that it’s a joke. Bandcamp have stepped up with Bandcamp Fridays, monthly events that they choose not to take their cut on any music and merch sold in order to help the musicians and labels who need the income so badly now. And it appears to have worked, with millions of dollars worth of transactions happening every Bandcamp Friday.
Thankfully we still have live music here in NZ for the time being. I’ve been paying to a Patreon for our local venue Valhalla because I know that without venues, we won’t have a live music scene.
Live music in 2020
I didn’t see many international acts this year, for obvious reasons. I did see Queen at the stadium (it was a bit of a spectacle but I’m glad I didn’t pay much), I saw Yawning Man at Valhalla, and a few metal bands at Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt. My own band also opened for Sebadoh at a sold out show at San Fran in Feb, which was pretty awesome.
Happy Valley at Newtown Festival. Image: Will Not Fade
Some of my favourite Wellington bands at the moment are Happy Valley, Planet Hunter and Adoneye, and I managed to see them all play a few times.
It’s a real shame that Spook The Horses had their European tour cancelled, but I was stoked that they asked my band to open at their album release and they killed it. They livestreamed the night if you want to go back and watch it.
Spook The Horses album release at Meow. Image: Will Not Fade
A real indication of how much things have changed is when I went to see local speed metallers Stälker recently. It was packed. Certainly a big change from reduced capacity shows that I’d been going to a few months earlier. The mosh pit was pumping and you couldn’t move because everyone was squeezed together so tightly. I used to live for nights like that, but it felt so uncomfortable after avoiding being too close to others for most of the year.
Stälker at Newtown Sports Bar. Image: Will Not Fade
It’s hard to say what next year holds for us. Guns n Roses have announced a stadium tour in NZ. Is that too ambitious? Only time will tell. Hopefully the covid vaccine is effective.
Beastwars have held an Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt over the past few years and it’s been successful. I’ve heard rumours about the potential lineup for 2021 and I’m excited about that. I’m not holding my breath about seeing any acts from overseas anytime soon though.
In terms of releases, I’m looking forward to a new Amy Shark album, and hopefully Adoneye release their debut (bass player Jesse is recovering from wrist surgery). There may also be a live DVD from Opium Eater (Jesse’s other band) and Glassblower are dropping their debut grindcore album. My own band Secrets of the Sun will have an album out at some stage early next year too. Sora Shima are coming back so I’m hoping to see them again, and fingers crossed for some new music.
What are your favourite albums of 2020? What are your predictions for 2021? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!