Friday, February 15th, 2013 | musiX | No Comments
The final installment, but not the enz of my current Split Enz obsession. I leave you with a short documentary on the band’s calling it a day in 1984 (boo!), followed by a clip of The Enz performing “History Never Repeats” during a reunion show in 2007 (yay!). I’m now realizing how many music videos these guys made—Split Enz were prolific, weird, and fantastic popsters (and still somewhat underrated in America). Dig it, and dig in.
Thursday, February 14th, 2013 | musiX | No Comments
Happy Valentines Day, the day I celebrate my love for my wife … and also Neil Finn. Released as a single in 1978, and later added to 1979′s Frenzy LP, “I See Red” is The Enz’s punk rock song. It also seems kind of fitting for today. Frenzy was the first record to feature Tim’s younger bro Neil, and it continued the band’s progression into simpler pop.
Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | musiX | No Comments
I’m on a Split Enz kick … now, so are you. For the rest of the week I’ll be posting video earworms from my time down in the YouTube wormhole (not such a bad place if you can avoid the comments section).
I start with this one—one of the great pop songs … well, ever. And, of course, the video for “I Got You” shows why these kids from New Zealand were ready-made for MTV. It also gives me an intense flashback of eating Cap’n Crunch and playing drums along to it with markers on the arm of the couch.
Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 | interviewZ, musiX, pdX | No Comments
I like Portland. I liked the Mint Chicks. I love New Zealand. I dig noisy pop music. But as much as I like these things it doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’m easy, but I’m not that easy.
But I do like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. That’s because Ruban Nielson writes good songs. The PDX by way of NZ musician surprised a lot of people (including himself) in 2010 when he posted the song “Ffunny Ffriends” on his Bandcamp page. Blogs ate it up before they even knew who or what was behind it, and Nielson–who was just writing songs for his own amusement—soon found himself releasing an entire record for Fat Possum in 2011.
There’s no mystery surrounding the band’s latest LP II, out now on Jagjaguwar. The songs again dip into the nether-regions of Nielson’s psyche, as he pushes garage rock and soul through some sort of futuristic meat grinder. It’s a little hazier than their self-titled debit. Zeus knows there’s been plenty to draw from in Nielson’s life over the past few years: The breakup of his longtime New Zealand band the Mint Chicks (caused by a strained relationship with his brother, Kody); the roller coaster that came with the release of UMO’s debut, which came after deciding he was going to quit music; and a tumultuous year of touring that saw Nielson nearly party himself to death in 2011.
It sounds like the makings of a juicy autobiography; instead we get II. And it’s a good one. Nielson took some time to answer a few questions about living in Portlandia, making music with a clear head and missing his Ffriends in New Zealand.
TDoL: You wrote and performed II yourself, right?
Ruban Nielson: I wrote it, but my brother plays some drums on it. Greg Rogove plays drums on a track and Jake Portrait plays bass on a track. It was still a pretty solitary process overall though.
It’s good stuff. It’s more dynamic than the first record, more live sounding …
Thanks. It has more drum fills and is a little less repetitive I suppose. I put some extra effort into the big picture of the record. The first record was me just trying to make jams to listen to on my iPod on the bus. It wasn’t intended as a real album. On the new record I thought about the little journey it would take you on. I knew people were going to hear it so I stepped up with a bit more conceptual ambition.
What were you going for in that respect?
I was just trying to capture the way I felt about the year and half I’d just had. Every song was coming at that idea from a different angle. I thought if I could make an album that invoked the feelings I’d had it would come out pretty heavy, and it would be good.
I remember hearing the Mint Chicks’ Bad Buzz EP and being really excited about the new music, and then poof they were gone. What happened, and what did you take from that experience?
My brother was just treating me like shit, basically. I needed to get out of the situation of working with him on a daily basis. I was working really hard and putting a lot of effort into it and getting nothing back. I’d just grown out of it. I wanted my life to be more rewarding and fun.
How long was it before you started working on the UMO stuff?
For about six months I think I was just trying to figure out how to pay my bills in Portland and stuff like that so I didn’t think about music much. I had this plan in my head that I was going to do something else with my life that wasn’t music, and that whatever it was it was going to be awesome. Eventually I started making recordings as a hobby. While I was in the Mint Chicks I worked as an artist’s assistant and did visual art as a hobby and music for a living so my plan was to flip that around. I got really excited about making music without arguing with bandmates about whether an idea was good. I got excited about making music without having to send demos to the label and all of that stuff. I got excited about removing the ego bullshit from the process.
Were you surprised by how quickly it caught on?
Of course. I remember working on “Ffunny Ffrends” and specifically thinking, “OK, now I’m just removing myself from the zeitgeist entirely. This is officially the most untrendy music in the world. Nobody is going to want to hear this.” If you’d asked anyone if they wanted to hear overly distorted music in an annoying falsetto about funny friends over old-school breakbeats … and, oh, did I mention the guitar solo?
How did you end up in Portland?
I have an uncle who lives here and I stayed with him and his family for a couple of weeks, and just felt like I wanted to move here. I went back to New Zealand and basically started planning to move. I have dual citizenship but I’d never had the desire to move to the U.S. permanently until I’d hung out in Portland. Of course, it’s changed a lot even in the five years I’ve lived here. There wasn’t a TV show about how ridiculous things are downtown. I still like it a lot though.
Do you miss New Zealand?
Sometimes. I had a great time last time I was there. My good friends I have there are irreplaceable. My immediate family are still there. I get along a lot better with my brother now that we aren’t in the Mint Chicks together.
Were you more influenced by New Zealand bands growing up, or American bands?
I was influenced by everything. Flying Nun, East Coast hip hop, alternative rock, punk, post-punk, jazz, jazz fusion, avante garde music, dub, drum and bass, noise music, classical. My family are all musicians on both sides so my poor brain was under siege from music. That’s why I didn’t want to be a musician growing up. I got into it accidentally, almost.
If you could go back to a certain era of music, what would it be?
2010, man. Things were so good then.
It sounds like 2012 was a hectic year for you. What are your goals for a smoother 2013?
I think 2012 was a great year—not that hectic, just busy and successful. 2011 was the hectic one. Just touring and touring and touring. This year I’m going to be busy again. There’s never telling what’s going to happen. I don’t know if smooth is what I want.
“Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“So Good at Being in Trouble” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 | musiX | No Comments
It’s no secret that TDoL is an unabashed New Zealandophile. Give me meat pies, the 3Ds and Lemon & Paeroa and I’m a happy camper (more car camper than roughing-it camper). Give me Barbara Manning’s In New Zealand and I’m an even happier car camper.
So when I receive e-mails with the subject line “New Zealand band … ” I pay attention. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but when it does, it’s great—Mint Chicks, Surf City, Liam Finn, to name a few. I recently found “New Zealand’s Street Chant” among the inbox clutter, a bratty, melodic trio that cranks out fast and furious noise. Even if the songs absolutely reeked, I’d like these young Kiwis for their unruly, fuck-all attitude alone—there’s a genuineness to this power trio.
Fronted by guitarist Emily Littler and bassist Billie Rogers, Street Chant (formerly know as Mean Street) brought drummer Alex Brown to the fold, and released their debut LP Means last year in NZ. Available this week in the States on Auckland label Arch Hill Recordings, Means is an unrelenting nod to the ’90s that allows no time to catch yr breath (see/hear “Yr Philosophy”/”Less Chat, More Sewing”). The band has opened for Dead Weather and the aforementioned 3Ds, and I presume they’ll be clogging more than inboxes very soon. Take that as you will.
“Less Chat, More Sewing” – Street Chant
“The Fatigues” – Street Chant
Friday, December 10th, 2010 | musiX | No Comments
I went to New Zealand for two weeks in 2007—a wonderful blur of camping with locals, Steinlagers, fishing, Monteith’s, good friends, a wedding, Steinlagers, a trio of Germans and, of course, talking about NZ music with whomever was game (while drinking Steinlagers).
New Zealand’s importance to indie rock can’t be measured, even if the output of good bands has waned in recent years (though, TDoL can never get enough of the Mint Chicks). Auckland’s Surf City don’t necessarily break new ground, but rather stay true to the sounds that preceded them, made by like-minded Kiwi forefathers The Clean and The Chills. That’s a good thing. Warm, fuzzy guitars never go out of style. Neither do dark, pop hooks. And Surf City (formerly Kill Surf City) ably delivers on both.
Of course, none of that would matter if the songs themselves weren’t any good. But on their debut full-length Kudos (released not on Flying Nun, but rather Fire Records) Surf City make a good racket while going beyond three-minute pop songs (dip your toe into the eight-minute “Icy Lake”). But since you’re here, and I happen to like three-minute pop songs, you get the title track and “Crazy Rulers of the World.” Needless to say this six minutes of guitar pop pairs well with a Steinlager.
“Kudos” – Surf City
“Crazy Rulers of the World” – Surf City
Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 | musiX, pdX | No Comments
I was going to go with the headline “Chicks with dicks,” but thought that would be sophomoric and tasteless … and I don’t need people thinking I am either of those. Continuing with my fascination with male bands with female names (The Girls, Women), I give you The Mint Chicks.
I was actually in New Zealand around the same time The Mint Chicks made the big move to Portland … I thought they might be avoiding me. The Auckland trio came to the States in January despite their hugeness back home, where they’ve won every award possible for their 2006 Flying Nun release Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! (re-released in the U.S. in September).
Brothers Kody and Ruban Nielson (vocals, keys; guitar respectively) and drummer Paul Roper are putting the finishing touches on their next record Screens, and announced this week that it should be out in February 2009. A few of the new songs including “Life Will Get Better Some Day” and “2010″ are available on the band’s MySpace.
I’ve seen the band use “troublegum” to describe their sound. It couldn’t be more accurate. The Mint Chicks take rock from the last four decades—including ’60s bubble gum, ’70s punk and new wave—and lets it loose with the nervous energy of an abused Chihuahua. When I listen in to them in the car sometimes I bob along with a goofy grin on my face, sometimes I just want to ram the bad driver in front of me … maybe it’s just me.
The Mint Chicks will play a handful of dates leading up to the release of Screens, including this Thursday at Portland’s Rotture. Check ‘em out. You might catch them hanging from the lighting rigs, or attacking the stage with a chainsaw (OK, it’s not just me). Maybe I should title this “Minters make splinters.” Perhaps not.
Mint Chicks dates (all Portland):
“Life Will Get Better Some Day” – The Mint Chicks (Screens, 2009)
Video for “Walking Off a Cliff Again” off of Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!