INTERVIEW: The Bats

thebats2015

LONG HAUL FLIGHT

Still with their original lineup, The Bats are the longest running band in New Zealand and after more than three decades they’re still finding fascinating new variations on their iconic sound. Frontman and songwriter Robert Scott talks to Chris Familton about how their new record came together and how they’ve maintained their longevity.

Down the line from his home on the coast just outside Dunedin, on the lower South Island of New Zealand, Robert Scott is enjoying the tranquility punctuated by the visiting cruise ships that grow exponentially in number over the summer months. Things are also about to get busy for The Bats after a five year gap since the album Free All Monsters came out, and though it’s taken a while to see the light of day, The Deep Set emerged from the same creative process as most of their records.

“I stockpile songs, I’m pretty much writing all the time,” explains Scott. “After a couple of years have gone by since the last album we’ll decide if we actually want to do another one. Then I say I have a bunch of songs, do some rough demos and the others choose the ones they like before we narrow it down to around 15 for the album. Then we’ll start working on them together as a band. In the studio the songs will be about 90% done but before we do the takes we might make a few changes. On the whole these have come out pretty much the way they were written though,” Scott reflects.

After so long together as a band, Scott reveals that their recording process is a simple and intuitive one that isn’t influenced to any great extent by the studio or producer they use. “It’s more just concentrating on getting a great version of the song. That’s what we’ve found over the years makes our stuff work best – getting a good flowing, natural sounding take – whether that’s urgent or laid-back. We’re attuned into that more than anything else.”

Looking back at the legacy of the band, Scott proudly claims the mantle of having “the longest continuous line-up of any band in NZ,” before revealing some of the key reasons why they’ve stayed together for so long. “Part of that might be down to having long breaks, there were nine years in the late 90s/early 2000s where we didn’t release any music. We pick and choose things we feel comfortable doing so we’re not putting ourselves in a position of too much pressure. We’re obviously very used to each other’s company so we’re aware of any weirdness that comes up and know how to deal with it. We’re all reasonably laid-back people as well so there aren’t any ego issues that you get often get in bands.”

The band will be launching The Deep Set at the 2017 Sydney Festival and they’re bring along the string players that appeared on the album. “It’s the first time we’ve taken a string section overseas. We thought we’d do that for a bit of a change, to spice things up and have a bit of fun,” enthuses Scott. “In Sydney we’ll probably do seven or eight songs from The Deep Set and then because the 30th anniversary of Daddy’s Highway is coming up we’ll be doing a set of mainly songs from that album too. The two ends of our career – which will be quite a different show for us!”

  • MELBOURNE: Sat Jan 28, Northcote Social Club. Tickets on sale now from Northcote Social Club.
  • SYDNEY: Sun Jan 29, Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival. Tickets on sale now from Sydney Festival.

NEWS: New Zealand’s Taite Music Prize 2012 Finalists Announced…

The Taite Music Prize is the equivalent of the UK’s Mercury Prize or the Australian Music Prize and recognises outstanding creativity for an album release. The award is $10,000 in cash to be used however the artist wants. This year’s finalists are:

Andrew Keoghan – Arctic Tales Divide (Brave Beluga Records)
Beastwars – Beastwars (Destroy Records)
David Dallas – The Rose Tint (Dirty Records)
She’s So Rad – In Circles (Round Trip Mars)
The Bats – Free All The Monsters (Flying Nun Records)
Tiny Ruins – Some Were Meant For Sea (Spunk Records)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Seeing Records)

The judging panel is comprised of:

Jon Bywater (Programme Leader, Critical Studies @ Elam School Of Fine Arts)
Hugh Sundae (Entertainment Editor, NZ Herald Online)
Stephen O’Hoy (IMNZ / Amplifier / DRM)
Jeremy Morrow (Warner Music)
Leonie Hayden (Editor, RipItUp)
Richard Thorne (Editor, NZ Musician)
Andrew Tidball (Editor, Cheese On Toast)
Russell Brown (Public Address)
Charlotte Ryan (95bFM)
Glenn Williams (Wammo) (KiwiFM)
11th Man – John Taite (BBC America)
The Judge Wrangler – Damian Vaughan (APRA)

Personally we’ll be hoping the award goes to Tiny Ruins, The Bats or Beastwars when the winner is announced on the 20th April in Auckland.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Bats | Free All The Monsters

written by Chris Familton

The Bats are about to celebrate 30 years as a band in 2012 and one that can still boast the original line-up. Not many groups can lay claim to that milestone yet the New Zealand quartet have quietly gone about crafting a considerable body of work that has never taken drastic directional changes or seen them seeking to box above their weight. Free All the Monsters is their eighth album and finds them sounding more cohesive and relaxed than ever before.

Robert Scott, Kaye Woodward, Paul Keen and Malcolm Grant decamped to an ex-asylum north of Dunedin to record the album yet there are no traces of the former tenants on these twelve songs. The mood is laid-back, gently propulsive and hypnotically meandering tied together by the unassuming yet familiar and comforting voices of Scott and Woodward. The latter is given a freer rein on this record and the songs benefit immensely. She adds a lilting harmony on It’s Not the Same, high sweet notes on Simpletons and she lifts the title track into reaffirming territory. It isn’t all easy going though – In the Subway take a dark detour, still with that trademark shuffle and jangle but with added sinister overtones. Elsewhere there are essential krautrock subtleties to Grant’s drumming on tracks like Spacejunk that prevent the songs from settling too comfortably into folk-rock territory.

All of The Bats’ albums have included ‘should have been hits’ like North By North, Smoking Her Wings and Afternoon in Bed but on Free All The Monsters they’ve conjured up possibly their strongest batch of songs across a single album. This is all killer no filler as they say and it’ll leave you casting aside fears and worries for a brief moment of musical respite in the blissed out indie guitar world of The Bats.

this review first appeared in The Drum Media

FEATURE: Life in a Chord | Flying Nun Records

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun, here is a reprint of a piece I wrote about the label last year…

written by Chris Familton

A record label at the right place at the right time can be integral to a music scene, often gaining revered status further down the track as history settles into place. Sub Pop, Motown and Factory are obvious examples. At the start of the 80s very few would have predicted the impact (albeit on a lesser scale) that a label started in the lounge room of a record shop clerk, on a culturally isolated island at the bottom of the world, would have.

Born in Christchurch in 1981 to Roger Shepherd and raised in Dunedin, Flying Nun became home to a unique cross-section of bands who were influenced by both the cold dark winters and the independent music that was coming out of the northern hemisphere.

Simon Coffey, who was a radio DJ and gig promoter at the time, sums up the origins of the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’. “I think it was the combination of the UK’s Punk ethic of DIY and rejection of bloated 60s/70s rock (seen clearly with acts like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs and The Puddle), the influence of US ’60′s psychedelia, up to and including acts like the Velvet Underground which combined to embody themselves as lo-fi pop.”

The original mission of Flying Nun was to create an outlet for bands from the South Island to have their music heard and the first wave included The CleanThe ChillsThe Bats, The Verlaines and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs. It is those bands that are now, more than 25 years later, being cited as influences by current acts such as Stephen Malkmus, Jay Reatard, Pete & The Pirates, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.

JB Townsend of US band Crystal Stilts recalls when he discovered Martin Phillipps’ The Chills. “The first time I heard Pink Frost I was astonished that there was a band out there with a song that sounded like that. The whole spacious half melancholy pop thing… It was exactly the feel I was going for in our earlier records. They took from all the right resources before them and make it sound thoroughly unique and as good as their classic predecessors.” says Townsend.

One of the key figures on the Flying Nun scene was Chris Knox. The singer of early NZ punk bands The Enemy and Toy Love, he was the driving force behind the label’s lo-fi approach to video, artwork and early recordings. Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings summed up Knox well in his book Positively George St; “The most important contributor to the cult of shambling amateurism was Chris Knox, a punk puritan who mistrusts anything too polished or seductive.”

That perceived lack of aspiration worked in the label’s favour, so much so that contemporary bands like UK’s Pete & The Pirates see it as a defining part of Flying Nun’s appeal. “What makes them unique is that they never seemed to aspire to what most labels would: making money! and they didn’t seem to interfere with the artistic processes of the artists,” says singer Tom Sanders, “It seemed almost like a strong compulsion to capture the music that the label found and loved in it’s rawest and most honest form, seemingly for posterity rather than commercial gain.”

New Zealand writer Graham Reid has been writing about the Flying Nun since the mid 80s and recalls an insular scene which contributed to the lack of wider success for many of the bands. “They were so inward looking, some of them only played ten hours together before they recorded something, they didn’t tour, they didn’t play often enough to become good at their craft – they didn’t want to do that. They’d play 2 gigs in three months and want a cup of tea and a lie down,” he laughs, before adding, “It was like a little boys club that looked in on itself.”

Prior to punk music reaching New Zealand and planting the seeds for these bands, there had been little for people to latch onto and call their own. A cultural cringe outweighed pride and self promotion. Graeme Jefferies of Flying Nun bands This Kind Of Punishment and The Cakekitchen sees the label as a major cultural turning point for the country. “I think from my own generation’s point of view that it was extremely important for our cultural identity. That early Flying Nun stuff has some real milestones and was the first real indication of Kiwi underground culture outside of books and movies. It was really important then and historically it still is.”

As the label grew and the bands began to expand their sound with larger recording budgets the strain began to show. In the mid 80s the label shifted offices to Auckland to be closer to the wider music industry which was viewed by many as a betrayal. By 88, with cash-flow problems mounting, a deal was made with Australian label Mushroom Records which provided both funding and international distribution opportunities.

Though both The Chills and Straitjacket Fits inked deals with American labels Slash and Arista, the big push to promote many of the bands overseas ultimately led to burnout and disillusionment causing many of the label’s profile acts to disband. Shepherd battled on, relocating to run the London office in 95, but, by 97 he had departed the label and Mushroom had amalgamated with Festival Records, further distancing Flying Nun from its independent beginnings.

The label has been relatively dormant in the 21st century with The D4The Phoenix Foundation and The Mint Chicks the exceptions. Recent activity in 09 from prominent ex-Flying Nun bands shows the creativity of the early pioneers is still strong with new albums from Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (Degrees Of Existence), The Bats (The Guilty Office), The Clean (Mister Pop) and The Verlaines (Corporate Moronic).

The most recent and encouraging development in the Flying Nun world is the news that a Roger Shepherd-led consortium has bought back the label’s catalogue from Warners who absorbed Festival Records in 05. Neil Finn is one of the other major backers of the group and you sense that in their hands the legacy of Flying Nun as well as the cultivation of new artists will be well looked after.

Though it never sold a lot of records it seems that there is still an immense amount of pride and respect for the label that started at the bottom of the world, took flight and ended up influencing so many with its pure and enthusiastic dedication to music.

www.flyingnun.co.nz

Interview with Martin Phillipps

Interview with The Clean

Live review of The Bats

Review of Dimmer’s Degrees of Existence

This article first appeared in A Fine Line magazine


NEWS: Flying Nun announce 30th anniversary celebrations…

New Zealand’s iconic independent (for most of its time) label is turning 30 and they’ve got themselves organised with a bunch of shows to celebrate the occasion.

The Clean

Nov 23 – Dunedin, Sammys

Nov 24 – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 25 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 26  –  Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

 

HDU

Nov 11  – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 12  – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 18 – Dunedin, Sammys

Nov 19 – Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

 

The Bats

Nov 11 – Dunedin, TBA

Nov 12  – Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

Nov 18 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 19  Auckland, Kings Arms

 

Ghost Club

Nov 16 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 17  – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 18 – Christchurch, Dux

Nov 19 – Dunedin – TBC

 

F in Math w/ Alphabethead 

Nov 4 – Christchurch, The new Dux De Lux

Nov 5 – Dunedin, Chicks Hotel

Nov 11 –Auckland, Golden Dawn

Nov 12 – Wellington, Mighty Mighty

 

30th Anniversary launch party featuring Grayson Gilmour, Popstrangers, Surf Friends and T54 plus more.

Nov 4 – Auckland, Kings Arms
Nov 5 – Wellington, Garden Club

NEWS: Christchurch Music Scene Fundraiser …


There is a great looking line-up hitting the Kings Arms on the 22nd May for The Sugarloaf Shakedown to raise funds for the Christchurch music scene in the wake of the recent earthquake that devastated the South Island city. Bands will play on the hour from 3pm and include:

The Bats
Lawrence Arabia
The Drab Doo-Riffs
Street Chant
Dictaphone Blues
Princess Chelsea

Tickets $20, available now from undertheradar