Monday, 18 January 2010

Christmas Island Interview Summer 2009

Ok, I admit it, I have no life. I trawl MySpace and music news sites, desperately trying to discover some unblogged band, untapped musical genre or obscure record label that only releases its stuff on slices of toast.

I’ve delved so far up my own arse lately that even Pitchfork isn’t doing it for me and I’ve started checking out drone-rock and psychedelic ambient bands that only really specialist blogs share for download. I’m not even sure I like any of it; I’m just desperately searching for the greatest psychedelic sound ever made.
Thankfully, before all this, there was Christmas Island; a band really worth getting excited about.

Their sound comes close (but not too close) to the much fĂȘted Dunedin (NZ) bands of the early 80’s such as The Clean, and embraces the DIY aesthetics prevailing this summer. They’re just one of a school of American groups whose sounds are slowly coasting over the Atlantic, more a reluctant windblown lilo-mounted stumble onto our shores, than an ambition fuelled Yank-rock invasion.

They’re timeless, but not because in 40 years time people will be writing dog shit philosophy about their lyrics or dissecting the contents of their bin-bags. Just because there will always be a summer (ice age permitting) and there will always be a need for awesome blissful escape in jingle jangle guitars that burn holes in mail order amps. The kind of sound that makes you want to drink margaritas on your balcony then jump in the canal in nowt but your kecks.

I tried my luck getting in touch with the much touted troupe to try and satisfy my obsessive urges before they got out of hand (see above). To my gleeful surprise front man Brian Carver graciously agreed…

First things first, can you introduce the band for the uninitiated...

Brian Carver: Lucy Wehrly plays drums. I play guitar and sing. Lucy and I write all the songs and play on the recordings. Craig Oliver plays guitar and keyboard when we play live.

How did the band come together?

BC: I guess pretty organically, whatever that means. Lucy was playing drums in the Cowabunga Dudes with our friends Bova and Kevin. I really liked how minimal and spontaneous (read: drunk) their sound was so when that band broke up I suggested starting a band with Lucy. It didn't hurt either that Lucy and I were already romantically involved. Initially, it was just going to be a recording project but Lucy really wanted to play out live. After playing a few shows as a two-piece, we realized we needed to flesh out our sound more, so I tapped my best friend Craig to play guitar and keyboards. We're a pretty tight-knit crew.

How long were you playing together before labels started getting interested?

BC: I guess it was just a few months after recording "Doin' Swell" that Harry from Almost Ready offered to put it out on Vol. 5 of his "World's Lousy with Ideas" 7" series. Everything else kind of went from there.

You came to the attention of taste makers and bloggers such as Gorilla vs Bear almost immediately with the Morning Sunshine release. Tell us how that cover came about.

BC: I'm a big fan of the Fall and I went through a period where I tracked down the originals of every cover they did (there's a lot). That's how came across the Idle Race, an old 60's psych-pop band fronted by Jeff Lynne. "Morning Sunshine" is one of my favorite songs by them and we needed another song for our side of the split 7" with Le Jonathan Reilly so we recorded a cover version.

Do you feel any added pressure because of all the attention/anticipation surrounding the upcoming LP?

BC: We're definitely anticipating its release, too, but we're not really feeling too much pressure. It's finished and we're really happy with how it came out and that's what matters. It sounds great. Mike McHugh at the Distillery is the man!
It's a huge thing for me, though, because I never thought I would do anything with music, let alone record an album.

How important do you think Bloggers and the online community are right now for breaking new bands?

BC: I guess it’s important but I don't like the whole "hype machine" aspect. You're seeing bands blow up based on praise that one blog regurgitated from another blog and so forth. It's created this weird backwards model for doing things: start out successful and then figure out how to be a band. Even then, it's an artificial, insular type of success; just because a band gets a glowing review on Pitchfork or Stereogum doesn't mean the world-at-large gives a shit.

I don't think we're exempt from that because things happened quickly for us, too, but it was on a much smaller scale and luckily, all that stuff kind of died down. The realities of being in a band set in. It's an insane amount of work. It might not seem like we're up to much when we only post a new song every couple of months (if not longer) but we're constantly practicing, writing songs, playing shows, recording, etc. Everything takes longer than anticipated, especially considering we all have day jobs and personal lives.

Would you agree that music journalism, at least in printed form, is becoming increasingly redundant for fans of and practitioners of, non mainstream music?

BC: I actually went to school for journalism and I work in print and I can safely say that print is redundant, period. It's a dying medium. Everything is moving towards the internet. I’m going to need a new job soon.

You seem to be gigging pretty hard in the lead up to the record release, what’s been your favourite show so far?

BC: I think any shows we’ve played with the Fresh & Onlys, Meth Teeth, the Intelligence and Personal & the Pizzas have been great. Whether we played a good set or not is irrelevant; it’s just fun playing and partying with friends who make really awesome music. The In the Red (Records) showcase we played at SXSW was probably our tightest set and was a great night through and through. Somehow, though, the sloppiest and drunkest sets we play are the ones that everyone raves about.

Do you find you can write whilst on the road? Was the record written in this way or were the songs all there before you played live?

BC: We haven't really been on the road enough to have had time to write songs. Typically, Lucy and I take a month off from playing out to work on new material and then we show the songs to Craig. The bulk of "Blackout Summer" was written over the course of three months in our practice space.

Any plans to visit the UK?

BC: We definitely want to! Probably after the LP comes out. It's more a matter of figuring out finances, work stuff, etc.

Which of you guys are involved with Spirit Photography? We love the Sacred Bones 7inch (Time is Racing), did SP pre-date Christmas Island?

BC: Craig and I do Spirit Photography. We started doing that project probably about a year before Christmas Island.

Is it important for you to explore other genres with your music, albeit in a different guise, to prevent boredom? Or is it just a case of playing with a different set of musicians...?

BC: I think it's more about playing with different musicians and having different roles in the songwriting. Sure, Christmas Island is more "pop" and Spirit Photography is moodier and more experimental, but I don't feel we're limited to any particular genre with either project. If Christmas Island wanted to write a longer, jammier song that sounded like Neu! that'd be fine. Spirit Photography is actually working on some shorter, poppier songs.

Any future releases planned for Spirit Photography?

BC: Yes! Right now we're working on a tape/CD called "Circle in the Fire." It's pieced together from various sessions we recorded in '07 and '08 with our friend Frank on drums. Neon Aztec is putting it out. After that we're contributing to a 4-way split 7" that will come out on Craig's label, Volar Records. We're also talking about doing another 7" and/or 12" at some point, too.

Lately a lot of bands and record labels have begun to mention The Clean and Flying Nun Records as a big influence on them and their attitudes to the whole process of releasing music. What is it about that particular scene that, for you, is so appealing?

BC: First and foremost, it's the music. New Zealand's isolation from the rest of the world kind of allowed pop music there to mutate in strange, new ways. Even within the Flying Nun scene there was a lot of diversity: the Axemen, the Bats, the Chills, the Verlaines - none of those bands sound too terribly similar. It's almost like the Galapagos Islands of music.

For me, the whole DIY outlook on music came more from growing up in the punk scene and the idea of working with what you have in terms of talent and musical equipment. A few years back, when I heard the Messthetics compilations, it REALLY clicked for me. I think it's possible to be a better songwriter than musician and the songwriting in a lot of those songs really shines through. The rough production values and sour notes only add to their charm.

Speaking of labels, how is it working with In The Red Records?

BC: Larry's the best! I can't think of a better label to be on. It's great to be on a label that has such a rich musical history and that's run by someone super-reputable who knows what they're doing.

They don’t seem to put a foot wrong, which I’d imagine inspires some confidence in you as band on their roster?

BC: Absolutely. It blows my mind that we're on the same label that put out a Sparks record. Larry has a keen ear and he only puts out stuff he likes so it's really flattering that he thinks enough of us to want to put out our record. Plus, it's great to be on a label with Blank Dogs, the Intelligence and Wounded Lion.

So, the album is done, what can we expect?

BC: It's pretty varied and I think it stands head and shoulders above anything else we've recorded, in terms of songwriting and production values. We try out a bunch of different things but it still sounds really cohesive. Overall, I think it’s a great pop record.

No comments:

Post a Comment