Chelsea Jade Makes Enigmatic Pop Music for Outsiders with Soft Spot LP

Chelsea Jade has always felt like an outsider in the music industry. Even after making the voyage to Los Angeles from her isolating home country of New Zealand, Jade’s journey in music has always seemed like something that happened despite her plan, not because of it. She went to art school and dropped out after a year to pursue music. She didn’t quite fit in between the lines of dense art history textbooks, but never really felt at home in the star-studded hustle and bustle of Hollywood. In fact, Jade’s life has been full of paradoxes, and her music makes no exception. Her latest record, Soft Spot (out April 29 on Carpark Records), is a collection of songs that contain both the effervesce of a summer day and the nihilism of Nietzsche. Her ability to weave dark metaphors and prosaic story telling into the tight confines of ABAB pop song structure is nothing short of genius, and result is, simply put, a record full of bops.

“Frankly, I appreciate the parameters that pop [music] provides,” says Jade. Once the barriers are in place, you can just bounce around inside so freely.” Take her song “Optimist.” At first glance, it sounds like a lovesick infatuation anthem – “I became an optimist the minute that we touched/I’m positive it’s love/I don’t believe in much/It’s looking up/‘Cuz I became an optimist the minute that we touched.” But if you listen closely, Jade’s lyrics carry a heavier weight. “It’s about manipulating someone with sex,” explains Jade, “or using them as a salve when you feel affection for them but you don’t know how to maneuver through that honestly, because you have no self-esteem. Does that make sense?” Why, yes, yes it does.  

Through this lens, Jade’s record unfolds in a type of dark love story – the kind that paints your whole world blood red and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe until you’re out the other end. The kind that might actually just be obsession, or lust, or just blatant distraction. In “Good Taste,” Jade elaborates on the idea of sex as a band-aid for any unpleasant emotions. “It’s like a miracle/Feeling your charisma getting physical/And yet I’m miserable/But oooh, it’s such a mood getting sexual.” But, as nature has proven, the fruit is always the sweetest before it decays.

Jade points out that the thesis of the record lies in the first phrase of the title track, “Soft Spot” – “I’m gonna love you from the soft spot where the fruit begins to rot.” It’s a nod to the sickly-sweet decadence that characterizes impulsive love affairs, escapist bouts of romance, or a fling that has run its course. Ironically, the title track is stripped of all the embellishments and lushness present in the rest of the record’s eight tracks, and plays out like an intimate soliloquy.

“This is the art school in me I couldn’t resist,” Jade says of the song’s stripped down production style. “It felt like a good opportunity not to abandon context. Which is a new thing for me.” She explains that as she adds production to her practice, she’s not afraid to add crunchiness or texture to the music she makes. On top of that, she’s not afraid to let what feels natural supersede what anything “should” sound like, especially when it comes to pop music. “The person who’s playing the piano [in “Soft Spot”] is not in the music industry or anything, it’s just my friend who has a piano in his house and we were just playing around after dinner, which is nice too.”

These subversive nods exist throughout the record, whether it’s the dark, repetitious bassline in “Optimist” or the bright twinkling bells set against the foreboding metaphor for relationship-induced isolation in “Real Pearl.” Soft Spot finds its home in the spaces between – between self-awareness and escapism, love and hate, indulgence and sagacity. If Chelsea Jade is an outsider, then we are lucky to get a glimpse inside her enigmatic mind.

Follow Chelsea Jade on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Jamie McDell Recalls A Life of Wonder and Risk on Her Fourth Album

Photo Credit: Jake Smith

No pearl exists without the sandy grit that acts as both an agitator and a catalyst for the solid, iridescent beauty that results. So it is with the thirteen lovingly crafted tracks on Jamie McDell’s self-titled fourth album, pearls of wisdom and wonder formed by an adventurous childhood, early music stardom, and a series of migrations across three countries. Released February 25th, the latest LP from the New Zealand singer-songwriter celebrates the blessings alongside the burdens, delving into unexpectedly personal territory for the artist.

McDell spent some of her early years adrift – quite literally. Aged seven, she lived on a yacht with her parents and her younger sister, as her father helmed an exploration of the Mediterranean; it would be the first of many impulsive decisions that would consequently leave the family in financial peril. “It’s been quite a strong narrative throughout our entire relationship,” admits McDell, who is currently living in Papamoa in the North Island, New Zealand. “It probably wasn’t until I was in my late teens and early 20s that I understood the impacts that [taking off in a boat] had on their life.”

But McDell’s song “Poor Boy” is a reassurance and a thank you to her father for providing his daughters with revelatory experiences, and a sense that the world is large, wonderful and available to them if they breach the safety of the limits imposed on them by society, media and their own fears.

The song opened a dialogue between herself and her family that had been coursing below the surface for decades. Before releasing the single, McDell played “Poor Boy” for her dad on acoustic guitar, unsure what to expect.

“He did cry. I must say, I wasn’t entirely sure what the complex theme might have been of what he was feeling. I think my parents still hold quite a bit of shame and, absolutely, before I release something like this I definitely talk it through with them,” she says

“Poor Boy,” too, enabled her to consider the weight of shame in her own life and to alleviate some of its burden, something that she hopes will adjust the dynamic of her relationship with her parents, perhaps recasting their shared memories as formative, not damaging.

“I’m in an interesting stage of life where I’m learning, myself, not to carry so much guilt and shame for some of the decisions I’ve made,” she says. “My parents’ generation, they don’t necessarily have those same tools. I think we’re on a journey to develop our relationship and have it not be based so much around what they consider mistakes, but I consider moments in my life that have given me strength and made me more adaptable as a young woman.”

Now 28, she has known a truly peripatetic life, providing artistic manna ripe for shaping into song. Whisked off to sea when her father gave up his lucrative position within an Auckland law firm, most of what she listened to growing up was her parents’ collection of cassette tapes. The country-folk-rock soundtrack to their sea life was built upon days of Jimmy Buffett, John Denver and James Taylor. Enthused by her parents’ regular duets, young McDell sang along and began to teach herself guitar with the aid of her father’s John Denver chord books.

The experience coloured her 2012 debut album Six Strings and a Sailboat, which won the 16-year-old McDell gold album sales and New Zealand Music Award’s Best Pop Album of 2013.

She takes a deep breath in before discussing her debut.

“I really had an internal struggle with that [album]. It’s something I’m really trying to still feel proud of and what I fought to achieve as a young woman, because I can see that – at the end of the day – I’d gone into the studio, I was able to command these musicians so young, and we recorded a record that is entirely mine, no collaborations. Everything was written by me, no intervention, and I do think that’s really amazing,” she concedes. “I was young and didn’t know how to articulate all the kinds of sounds that I wanted. The aim was definitely to create radio singles and that was quite a different process to what I’m enjoying about music now.”

Her second album, Ask Me Anything, followed in 2015, and tracks like “Dumb,” “Falling,” “Crash,” and “Luck” give a sense of the emotional terrain she was feeling lost in. “My history in the music industry, to me had felt very commercial,” she reflects. “I got into the music industry really young and had one of those kind of dream stories where you sign a record deal and you record this album and it goes out into the universe and somehow all the singles get picked up and do really well. [I was] oblivious to the struggles of being a musician.”

The memories of Americana and country that permeated her childhood beckoned her to Nashville, and in 2017, she moved to the musical mecca, just after releasing her first independent, self-titled record with her sister Tess under the moniker Dunes. “Once I left my record label [EMI], I felt that I’d seen how a successful album campaign worked and there must be options out there for me to set up an independent release. I was really excited about that. I was quite business-minded, really enjoyed marketing and was excited to take it on myself,” she remembers.

In Nashville, seeking to reconnect with the country and roots music she’d loved as a child, she met and bonded with Australian expat Nash Chambers after she sent him a couple of tracks via email.

“I had this big spiel to him about my commercial history and how I wanted to move into a more country-folk sound and he said okay, cool, let’s stop talking about genres now and just worry about songs,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was dancing around what was important about this whole thing and I just think from there, I felt like we had similar values and he was going to be really good for me and getting down to the grounded songwriter that I wanted to be.”

Her third album Extraordinary Girl resulted from that journey. Funded by the renowned producer (and brother to internationally reputed country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers, who features on opening track “Tori”), it was recorded in Nashville over two days at House of Blues studio, and she proceeded to tour and promote it through Australia and New Zealand throughout 2018.

“Coming from quite a pop background and having Auto-Tune playing on everything, that works for some people. But for me, that’s not how I like to hear my voice,” says McDell. “There’s an imperfection in many of my recordings, whether it’s a chord that goes off, something I’ve played wrong, something I’ve sung wrong, and I love those. I love that part. Nash has been such an amazing producer to work with in that regard because he really celebrates that.”

Seeking a change of scenery but still wanting to be within easy range of Nashville and Chambers, she moved to Toronto in 2019 with her partner. The Visa process was significantly simpler than trying to move to the US, she explains. It also took the pressure off her to be a full-time, hustling musician in Nashville. On the floor of her tiny apartment, she penned “Botox” as a way of expunging the frustration of witnessing a friend’s problematic relationship and her own sense of powerlessness. Released on The Botox EP that same year, the song reappears on her latest album.

McDell didn’t last long in Toronto, though. “Looking back now, we were definitely just surviving in Toronto. There was nothing that we could relate to back home in terms of the landscape, apartment living, a lot of concrete, not much nature, not really knowing anybody. I don’t associate it with a positive experience,” she says. “I did feel like I was running uphill all the time because I was trying to so hard to find a music community… I just wasn’t finding any pathways there.”

That community opened up for her in Vancouver, which proved a vastly more nourishing base for the couple. “Vancouver is like a different New Zealand in terms of landscape and nature; it’s very similar. We’re such outdoorsy people and it had all of that for us so we related to home a lot more and we had new friends there, we immediately felt a sense of community.”

From Vancouver, she had gone on the road, before dedicating herself to the making of her self-titled album. After opening a US tour for Texas Piano Man Robert Ellis in early 2020, she returned to Nashville to work with Chambers in his Eastside studio, joined by a coterie of enviably talented musicians: Dan Dugmore, Jedd Hughes, Dennis Crouch, Shawn Fichter, Jerry Roe, Jimmy Wallace, Tony Lucido, the McCrary Sisters, Erin Rae and Tom Busby (Busby Marou).

“My biggest fear comes from that dreaded imposter syndrome that I get from working in a studio in Nashville with really accomplished studio musicians,” she recalls. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that. Because I’m not technically trained, there’s this sense of unworthiness. Going into the studio I’m always super nervous that someone is going to say ‘what key is this?’ and I won’t know the answer. I’m much more about feel and that’s how I write songs.”

The songs on this latest album are, indeed, brimming and bubbling with feeling. McDell is more open than she’s ever been about the moments that have shaped her life. “I’ve recorded a handful of albums now, and it’s very unlike me to go into it with some kind of theme or whole picture in mind. I definitely write more ballads than I do upbeat tracks and with this album, we had such depth lyrically – so many moving moments – because a lot of the writing did become about my family and some of those personal stories,” she says.

The songs on this record are both poetic and humble in theme and delivery, able to disarm the hardest of hearts. Says McDell, “The balance to the imposter syndrome is that I have such belief in what I’ve written and I rarely feel the need to go in and change things around.”

Follow Jamie McDell on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

BROODS Take Experimental Approach to Processing Heartbreak on Space Island LP

Georgia and Caleb Nott of Kiwi brother/sister duo BROODS have crafted their most conceptual, atmospheric album to date with Space Island. Their fourth album is chock-full of heartbreak-on-the-dancefloor beats, bass and confessional lyrics, with the compositions dipping into artsy, experimental arrangements and the epic, compelling schlock sci-fi of ‘60s cult movies.

“This album really has brought us together in a way that we just haven’t really tapped into until now. Partly [it’s] because of the time we’ve had during the pandemic, and how much we’ve grown as people outside of music,” says Georgia Nott. “Because we had all this time, we sat in the world of Space Island together and collectively dreamed it up… we let it appear around us just by talking about it, dreaming about it and listening to records that we thought were like Space Island.”

Nott is living with her brother and her partner (producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Noah Beresin) by the ocean in Piha Beach, New Zealand, pending a return to her second home of Los Angeles, aligning with BROODS’ May tour of the US. She is quick to respond when asked where she’d ultimately like to reside.

“Nowhere!” the flame-red haired singer-songwriter exclaims with a full-throated laugh. “LA has been a pretty inspiring place to live, be it difficult at times. It’s taught me a lot about what I’m capable of and what is possible. There’s so much pushing of the boundaries there, which is fun to see then test out yourself. Whenever I come back to New Zealand, I’m really inspired by nature. Piha is so beautiful and that brings out a whole other side of my songwriting and I just want to sing about the ocean all the time.”

But, she adds, she is at her most inspired and productive when unmoored. “I really have loved having a bit of time over the last couple of years that’s been this forced nesting period, but at the same time, I like to flop around and float around because of how it makes me feel. I write a lot when I’m focusing on living my life and not making my music. Travelling is what’s really inspiring to me and as long as I’ve got the guitar, then I’m good to go… Once I’ve racked up a bunch of songs that’s when I’ll sit with them and make it into a record.”

Originally from Nelson, New Zealand, the Nott siblings are not strangers to US audiences: they’ve collaborated with Tove Lo; toured with Taylor Swift and HAIM; and performed at both Coachella and Lollapalooza. Debuting in 2014 with a self-titled EP, followed by their first album Evergreen the same year and their second album Conscious two years later, ten New Zealand Music Awards had already confirmed their homeland popularity. Their 2019 album Don’t Feed the Pop Monster lead to appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show with James Cordon. But Space Island firmly asserts them as an act that can stand alone, unshadowed by celebrity tourmates, TV hosts and festival gloss.

Notably, this is the first of their albums in which the Nott siblings haven’t worked with producer Joel Little, but they remain close friends with the Los Angeles-based producer. “We started to make different music to what we made before and he was making different music. I think it’s important to switch up collaborators; it helps you to broaden your knowledge and new people inspire new things out of you,” Georgia explains. “He was obviously a massive, massive part of our first two albums… he’s still a massive part of our lives.”

Like some of the greatest pop and rock albums, the glamorous, epic, theatrical fabulosity of sound and mood blossomed from grief. Not long after the release of Don’t Feed the Pop Monster, Georgia and her then-husband divorced. Creating music that was strange, expansive, otherwordly and transportive enabled her an escape valve from all the feelings. Inevitably though, the threads of memory and all the dreams of forever that ended with her previous relationship weaved their way through her lyrics.

“When I first experienced the breakup that this album was about, it was like an explosion, then a crash. Through that crashing period, I had really good friends and amazing support. I started dating this person that was really, really emotionally intelligent and had all these perfect soundbites to help me quickly gain perspective and stop judging myself… that made me able to write the album that we wrote,” she says. Beresin ultimately had a hand in producing Space Island, having worked on ”Gaslight,” “Alien,” “Like A Woman,” and “Days Are Passing.”

Ensconced in their home studio – complete with Caleb’s newly purchased Farfisa organ – the duo mostly worked alone bar occasional collaborations with producer friends Leroy Clampit (Ashe, FLETCHER) and Stint (Santigold, Carly Rae Jepsen). Tove Lo adds vocals to “I Keep,” a song that stemmed from Georgia’s vision of a moth flying into a porch light, burning to death, being reborn, and repeating the process every night. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a job you despise, a toxic friend, a family relationship or an addiction, it’s a rare human who can’t relate to the sense of repeating cycles of behaviour that corrode our spirits until we’re spun off course by force or circumstance.

If that song bears witness to the darkest elements of the psyche, then “If You Fall In Love” is the first cloudless, sun-drenched spring day that emerges after a long, devastating winter. It is all summery, soft-pad synths, waves of lush dream bubbles blown into the ether. Georgia’s delicate, dusky vocals float through the interplay of synths as organically as air, water and light co-existing.

The crackle of dust on vinyl opens “Goodbye World, Hello Space Island” – a chilled out, slow-trip, downtempo house mood transitioning seamlessly into “Piece Of My Mind,” redolent with spacegun sound effects, fervent energy and restless beats. Georgia’s vocals sound like they’re being warped in from a distant planet, spectral and beautiful.

Nott candidly confesses that given free reign, she’d exist in the world of sad, grief-infused guitar pop. But make no mistake: Space Island does not wallow in any mires. Caleb’s internal radar for bass-and-beats provides ample counter to his sister’s downtempo leanings.

“Songs like ‘Distance and Drugs’ are very Caleb; they are his brain in song form. Songs like ‘Heartbreak’ [are very much about] his basslines and visceral beats. He really wants to feel it,” she says. “The one that feels most like me is ‘Gaslight.’ When I’m left to my own devices that’s the kind of music that I churn out – sad-ass guitar songs with lots of lush harmonies. That song, it still makes me feel a lot right in the pit of my stomach. When we practice it, I just want to cry. That’s how I know that it’s so important, to me, anyway.”

Nott has been immersing herself in regular sessions with her Perth-based psychological-somatic therapist. It has made a world of difference in her ability to articulate her feelings and to feel confident enough emotionally to reveal herself through this album. There has never been a point though, albums or not, where she hasn’t been documenting her observations and ideas. “I’m always writing on my own, whether or not we’re going through that whole studio album process,” she says. “For me, I like to keep writing through it because it’s my way of processing my whole life.”

The music industry, Nott admits, can be “fucked up” sometimes, tossing humans around like bits of seaweed in a tsunami. Going to therapy, doing bodywork, having a good, noisy cry and very open, honest conversations with her brother, her partner and her friends have all given her a sense of security the past few years.

“This album has been such a cathartic experience because we’ve learned to get the support that we need as individuals to carry on sharing really personal things and giving your soul up to people every time you release an album. It’s intense and it’s taxing sometimes and it’s really important when things get busy to know that there’s support there,” she says. “The pandemic has been really, really hard but it’s made a lot of things that wouldn’t otherwise come to the forefront, surface. Even though it’s been pretty full on… I feel like I haven’t lost any of my openness or my sensitivity.”

The lovely, sweet sonic pulse of “Heartbreak” revels in her sensitive, open suggestion: “Let your heart break,” she sings. “Gives an opportunity to get your feelings straight.”

The song was the sad dance music equivalent of a howling exorcism of grief. “’Heartbreak’ is about reminding myself that holding it in is really, really toxic and it does not make that feeling go away, it just makes it ferment into this poison that becomes even more painful when you have to deal with it later,” she says. “A lot of women have trauma held in their bodies. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man – maybe they do too.”

No promises then, but a visit to Space Island might be the cathartic, bass-driven, dancefloor therapy we all need right now.

Follow BROODS on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Five Can’t-Miss 2021 Albums from the Eclectic New Zealand Music Scene

Kendall Elise // Photo Credit: Kristin Cofer

Australian music press and fans often look to the US and UK when seeking new sounds. It is to our detriment though, when so many diverse and divinely talented musicians and producers are emerging from the North and South Islands of New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori).

From the nufolk, gothic, country-tinged ballads of Kendall Elise to the fresh, ambient pop of French For Rabbits, the heartbreakingly soulful Hollie Smith or the dark, strange and compelling Proteins of Magic and OV PAIN, there’s every reason to indulge in a deep dive into New Zealand’s 2021 album releases. Do yourself a favour, even, and book a trip. The epic, abundant natural beauty of the landscape and its diversity might make sense of the enormous variation in art and artists from this Pacific destination.

The following list is but a drop in the ocean of New Zealand’s music scene; in the coming year, readers can look forward to many more features on New Zealand artists in Audiofemme’s Playing Melbourne column. Stay tuned!

Kendall Elise – Let The Night In

Kendall Elise, from Papakura in Auckland, released the darkly soulful country album Let The Night In in August. Her sophomore effort is rich with hauntingly romantic, gorgeously spare ballads. “I Want” is proof Elise can’t neatly be classified as pure country. It’s a crooner, wrapped up in a plaintive, weeping guitar embrace that speaks of open windows and a thundering storm approaching.

She admits she wears her jeans too tight and likes her music too loud on a rip-roaring cover of Suzie Quatro’s “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me;” furious, barnstorming guitar drives the message home with grit. There’s a whisper of traditional English folk ballad “Greensleeves” in the guitar-based melody  and melancholy harmonies on “A Kingdom.”

After gaining attention with her self-produced EP I Didn’t Stand A Chance in 2017, she drew enough crowdfunded support to release her debut album Red Earth in 2019. Let The Night In was recorded in lieu of her COVID-cancelled 2020 Europe tour – it’s sparing, stormy, sultry and stunning across all 10 tracks.

French For Rabbits – The Overflow

Salty air, sparkling ocean waves, the brightness of sun glinting off mossy rocks – these refreshing sensations are easily evoked by Poneke, Wellington band French For Rabbits on their track “The Overflow.” It can be found on their third album of the same name, released in November.

Brooke Singer adds vocal gilt to the delicate instrumentals and dreamy electropop of guitarist John Fitzgerald, drummer Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa, and multi-instrumentalists Ben Lemi and Penelope Esplin. While their past albums – 2017’s The Weight of Melted Snow and 2014’s Spirits – have rooted the mood in more solemn, sad territory, there’s a languid sweetness, a freshness, to the ten tracks showcased here.

Hollie Smith – Coming In From The Dark

Hollie Smith released her fourth solo album in October, and Coming In From The Dark more than justifies her four-decade strong career. The album showcases high-caliber collaborations, including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (which features on the dramatic, full-throated title track), Sol3 Mio (on theatrical pop-operetta “You”) and Raiza Biza (on the slow burn of trippin’ R&B slow-trap “What About”).

Ultimately, the full-body feels are delivered simply by Smith’s sensational vocals. She’s an established artist in New Zealand who began singing in earnest as a teenager in local jazz outfits in Auckland. She went on to record and tour internationally with her father, an expert in Celtic music, before taking the solo path from her Wellington base in the 2000s. Her 2007 debut album Long Player sold double-platinum and scooped a bunch of New Zealand Music Awards. She followed it up with Humour and the Misfortune of Others in 2010 and her third album Water or Gold in 2016, as well as two collaborative albums: Band of Brothers Vol. 1 with Mara TK and Peace of Mind with Anika Moa and Boh Runga. Why hasn’t Australia tried to claim her yet? Maybe we tried and failed. Our loss; Smith is never forgotten once you’ve heard her sing.

Proteins of Magic – Proteins of Magic

How do you describe the unusual, totally captivating strangeness of Kelly Sherrod and Proteins of Magic? Just like that, I suppose. It’s a bizarre, wonderful pagan spell that’s conjured in her cross-border project that sees her living and working between her homes in Auckland and Nashville.

There’s a Laurie Anderson vibe to Sherrod’s operatic, gothic delivery over esoteric electronica on her debut self-titled album, released in August. If you can imagine, it capably combines elements of Enya’s dramatic, atmospheric “Orinoco Flow” and the odd sound-and-voice nightmare vision of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” with the hyperreal, disjointed techno-cool of Miss Kittin & The Hacker’s “Frank Sinatra.” But then, “The Book” is a piano-led, ghostly lament that is absolutely, heart-rendingly beautiful, defying comparisons. In November, Proteins of Magic released stand-alone single “Willow,” a multi-layered, witchy brew of synths, bouncy basslines and punchy digital drums.

Sherrod’s musical debut was as frontwoman for Punches in 2003, followed by playing bass for Dimmer before she moved to Nashville in 2009, painting and recording in her home studio when she wasn’t touring with the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Her schedule is busy with festivals in New Zealand in early 2022, and seems ample reason for organising a January roadtrip via Auckland.

OV PAIN – The Churning Blue of Noon

Renee Barrance and Tim Player are Dunedin-originated, Melbourne-based OV PAIN. Their second album The Churning Blue of Noon is a more eclectic, experimental beast than their debut self-titled album of 2017. The duo had been nourished by a diet of drone, free jazz and instrumental work, and combined with the apocalyptic global pandemic scenario, their creative vision became murky with gothic, end-of-times moodiness. The August release was admittedly recorded in Melbourne, the duo’s second home.

Player is the Bela Lugosi-esque narrator on “Ritual In The Dark Part 1,” over a hollow-hearted digital organ. Warped, distorted synth fills the atmosphere, and from a ghostly parallel universe, Barrance’s dystopic vocals croon and hum on “Excess and Expenditure.” The track epitomises the feel of the whole album, a dark masterpiece.

Flying Nun Founder Roger Shepherd On Forty Years of The New Zealand Label’s Highs and Lows

Flying Nun Records’ office circa 1982

This story begins a long time ago, in a faraway land. Not Narnia, that’s another story. But, like the C.S. Lewis classic chronicles, this story has all manner of magical creatures, wild wardrobes and wondrous landscapes.

Forty years ago, Roger Shepherd founded New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records in Christchurch, the largest city on the Southern island. It was at a time when the university city of Dunedin was providing fertile ground for post-punk and indie pop acts to form and flourish. He’d worked in record stores throughout high school and when he began university, his dedication to working in record stores trumped lectures and textbooks.

“I’d dropped out of university… I don’t know if it was just me, but the music was just so exciting at that time that university became a sideshow, really,” he tells Audiofemme. “My musical experience is that of a music retailer. I never learned a musical instrument, I was never in a band, I can’t sing, I can’t keep time, I’m not a dancer.”

In the early 1980s, post-punk bands were only beginning to emerge. Their frenetic, DIY attitude to making music and performing was catnip to a young, impressionable New Zealand boy who’d grown up with his parent’s Beatles and Bob Dylan albums on high rotation.

“When I was about 17, we’d driven to Dunedin in my incredibly unreliable car. I can’t believe that we even attempted it,” he remembers. “We patched up that for the five hour drive to see this band called The Enemy and they were a kind of punk rock band that had a ferocity about them that was unmatched by anything we’d had any experience of; devastatingly good. The support band was The Clean, playing their first support show, and they were ramshackle.”

He returned to Christchurch, where years later The Clean would show up in 1981. Shepherd’s freshly minted record label was waiting with open doors for them.

“The Clean turned up in ’81 and played, and they were just so clearly the best band in the world,” he says. “You have that moment, when you’re young. They were just so devastatingly good, everyone was gobsmacked. I was up on that stage, I think, before they’d even finished playing. I had agreed to release that Pin Group single, but I hadn’t released anything else, and there was nothing else in sight, but I just knew that I had to do something with those guys and they were open to that.”

The fledgling label struck out with some memorable and chart-recognised releases, making an early impact that would imprint the label into the hearts and earholes of New Zealanders for decades to follow, unbeknownst then to Shepherd. The first release, “Ambivalence” by Pin Group, was followed by “Tally Ho” by The Clean, the latter of which snuck onto the New Zealand charts at nineteen. It was an unexpected boost for the freshly founded label, providing publicity and income.

The idea, 40 years ago, of record stores in regional cities was a novelty. Until then, major record labels with a purely commercial, mainstream agenda had their offices in cities like London, Los Angeles, Berlin and Sydney.

“One of the reasons I set up was that there was no other label in the south island for independent-minded bands,” Shepherd explains. “Nationally, there were only a couple… There was major record companies releasing records by really boring, middle-of-the-road bands, and we weren’t part of that world. The major record companies had offices here, mainly in Auckland, but they wouldn’t have had much of a budget for local stuff.”

Over the decades, the label was sold, merged into other labels, and finally bought back by Shepherd. In 1990, Australia’s Festival Records bought half-ownership into Flying Nun, before merging it into Mushroom Records in 2000. Six years later, Warner acquired it when it bought out Festival Mushroom Records.

“I didn’t really sell it,” Shepherd clarifies. “I was more pushed out. Mushroom were business partners and I think they were in the process of selling up to News Corp and I was part of the wash up from that, really, because I was in London at that stage. The Mushroom director that I was aligned to – he went, so the writing was on the wall for me. They pushed me out, I didn’t sell. If I’d sold, I would have had some money to show for it, but I really didn’t.”

Shepherd and his wife remained in London for another decade from 1995, raising their two young children, before returning to Wellington for his wife’s job in 2005. Happily a “house husband” at that time, he’d had no plans to return to the music industry until he was approached by Warner to compile a 25th Anniversary Box Set, which lead him to buy back the label in 2009.

“I found myself reconnecting with a lot of that music, really relating to it and liking it, and thinking about the people who made it. So I asked [Warner], would you sell me Flying Nun back? After a very convoluted process… they said yes, we’ll sell this back to you. Fifteen years later, it’s still going strong.”

The upstart 20-year-old who leapt on stage to sign The Clean back in 1981 was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to the music industry in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours. It was bittersweet, since Shepherd’s mother had developed dementia by that time and couldn’t appreciate that her punk-rock loving son had been approved by the Queen.

Shepherd is humble and seemingly nonplussed by the recognition. There’s an audible brightness and fervour to his voice when he is talking about the label and the artists, though. This is the beating heart of Flying Nun.

“As far as sound or an aesthetic, the label has become less identifiable with a number of music scenes. In the early days, we were closely aligned with what was happening with Dunedin and to a lesser extent, Christchurch. We’ve become less scene-centric and now it’s a bigger, broader community and that community idea is more of a description of what Flying Nun is now – likeminded people rather than likeminded guitar sounds,” he says. “We didn’t know what a community was 40 years ago but obviously now, that’s what we’re part of – creative, independent music makers and the audience, as well. That’s the label’s strength. It’s less about the sound, it’s a nebulous thing.”

Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings wrote a memoir of the scene and Flying Nun records, to which his band was an early signing, called Positively George Street: A Personal History of the Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound, released in 1999.

Bannister and the band met at the University of Otago in Dunedin. In 1981, a year after forming, they played at a hotel in Christchurch, where Roger approached the band. “He was offering us whisky, he had a white Jaguar, so we thought ‘this guy looks like somebody,’” Bannister recalls. “In Dunedin in 1980, the idea of releasing a record was our wildest dream so to have a record company come to our gig – that is, Roger – and say ‘I like you guys, do you wanna make a record?’ was the greatest thing ever, really.”

Sneaky Feelings featured on The Dunedin Sound: two 12” EPs that also featured The Verlaines, The Chills and The Stones, with a band on each side. “It sold reasonably well [despite the] weird format,” says Bannister. “It sold several thousand copies, which in New Zealand is pretty good.”

“The label has gone on to become pretty well known overseas, sort of famous I guess in a sort of indie way,” Bannister reflects. “The Verlaines, The Chills, The Bats have done pretty well. New Zealand has become known as a place that produces a distinctive style of music. I think that’s a great achievement.”

“We’ve always quite liked noisy stuff,” confirms Shepherd. “Quite early on, it wasn’t just jangly guitars, there was a lot of other stuff happening. That idea of just one sound early on… it’s always been broader than that.”

Godzone, by Auckland alt-rockers Sulfate, is still making big waves on Melbourne community radio after Flying Nun released the record in September. “Sulfate fit in with that whole world, that raucous, different way to make noisy music,” says Shepherd. “On the other hand, we do Reb Fountain who’s got a bit of a folky background and she’s been really successful in the last year. Vera Ellen, a young person from Wellington… I think it’s a good time for women in music.”

One thing that’s changed since the label’s inception is the way they discover new bands. “We spend quite a bit of time on Bandcamp, mainly because we’re just interested – not hard-nosed trawling through the internet!” says Shepherd. “The thing that’s stayed consistent is that we’re just fans of music, really. It’s never been ‘we’re gonna sign this band and take over the world’. We want to sell enough records to cover the costs.”

And despite worldwide pressing delays, Flying Nun’s commitment to vinyl records remains, for good reason. “We thought that was going to save us, the streaming thing, but it’s terrible for us and terrible for our acts. It generates income for the major record labels and artists with that mass pop online presence. For us, it’s almost not worthwhile doing the admin,” Shepherd admits. “Our business is based on vinyl, and even then, the margins aren’t great. They’re expensive to make, expensive to ship. [But] we split the profit on the budget 50/50 with the act. It’s a mature business that we’re operating and we know what we’re doing, what we’re dealing with.”

40 years and you haven’t peaked, Flying Nun. Happy anniversary.

Follow Flying Nun Records on Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Purple Pilgrims Find Comfort in the Past with “Ancestors Watching”

Summer 2021 began optimistically, shots in arms and money in pockets. This optimism, while not dead, has wilted in the face of the Delta variant, that science offered us a miracle and so many squandered it. There’s simultaneously joy in our newfound armor, and sorrow for those we needlessly lost. Whatever your perspective, it’s not the “Hot Vax Summer” that Megan Thee Stallion promised us when she dropped “Thot Shit” in June.

One might find a more appropriate summer anthem in the haunting but lovely “Ancestors Watching” by New Zealand “enchantress pop” duo Purple Pilgrims. Comprised of multi-instrumentalist home producers Valentine and Clementine Nixon, they offer a unique brand of sprawling, choral haze and angelic noise. Though this track was penned pre-pandemic, off of 2019’s Perfumed Earth, the sisters prove almost prophetic with this track in its ability to capture the alternatively remarkable and dire times we find ourselves in. They premiere the video, also produced in 2019, on Audiofemme today.

Filmed “with our ancestors watching on (amused we presume), on our favorite dormant volcano” and directed by American psychedelic synth artist Gary War, the video evokes the Maypole dance ritual, an ancient celebration of oncoming warmer weather and new growth. Despite the hope inherent, there’s something melancholic and eerie about the pairing of the song and imagery, especially in light of the 2019 film Midsommar, which is impossible to ignore in this context. The uneasy balance it strikes was intentional – as in every song Purple Pilgrims write. “We always think it’s important to incorporate some element of darkness in everything we make, as we do light, it’s the natural balance of everything,” they explained via email. “There’s always something devastatingly sad in the most beautiful things – dualism is ever present.”

And what could be more devastatingly sad than to squander a miracle? The sisters’ harmonic vocals soothes the nerves, while sultry, gentle riffs, fuzzy around the edges, articulate the languish of this hazy humid August, teetering on the edge of uncertainty and soaked by torrential rains. Thematically, the song “is largely about being kind to oneself, and the idea that muddling our way through life can feel less daunting when we consider all our family branching out behind us, holding wisdom and strength,” they say. “It’s an idea that can offer comfort when we’re feeling lost.” Perhaps their relationship with their ancestors granted them the clairvoyance to write this song before we so desperately needed such beauty in our lives.

This comfort is something to cling to through these long summer days. The reality that our ancestors faced all manner of war, pestilence, and uncertainty – and survived – shows us that we are very much capable of doing the same, a mirror from the past that can anchor us to our present moment. As for Purple Pilgrims, they remain positive, noting that their next album is very much underway, something they can’t wait to share in the “not too distant gleaming future.” While we ultimately cannot determine how bright the future will gleam, we can still acknowledge our inherited resilience, and the way these trying times may hone it even sharper.

Follow Purple Pilgrims on Instagram for ongoing updates.

New Zealand’s Georgia Lines Makes Directorial Debut with “Call Me By My Name” Video

Photo Credit: Nicole Brannen

“Once the tide has changed for us/Will you swim out and hold me up/No pressure,” sings New Zealand artist Georgia Lines on her latest single, “Call Me by My Name.” In a stylized split-screen video (her directorial debut), she stands knee -deep in the crystalline waters of the West Auckland beachfront, at turns playful, expectant, and unsure, reflecting the conflicted emotion held within the song. She tells Audiofemme that the song “is about the frustration I had felt trying to find my feet in a relationship, wondering if what the current landscape of the relationship was how it was always going to be.” She sings, “You’re under my skin/But that’s what I would miss from you,” a familiar emotion of dread in an uneasy relationship.

Georgia Lines teamed up with producer Djeisan Suskov to write the track; the two also worked together on her previous single, “No One Knows.” Though the pair worked through “many different versions” of the song, they eventually landed on the original demo version created the day the song was written. “[That] was actually one of our first sessions together back in 2019 after coming out of the NZ COVID lockdown,” she remembers. “The day before sending it off to mixing, Djeisan had reworked and added some more textural sounds and percussion to the chorus.” These last minute additions, she adds, really made the song come alive.

With the help of funding from NZ On Air, the video for “Call Me by My Name” came to fruition. “NZ On Air makes it possible for artists like myself to actually be creating music [and] videos,” Georgia explains. “This was my first time directing; I loved it! I think my inner bossy 12-year-old self came out when I was swiveling around in the chair, piecing all the footage together. I really enjoy the creative process with releasing music and it was really exciting to be a part of that process in the video too.”

Georgia has always put emphasis on tapping into universal experiences and emotions as a means of connecting with people. With her usual busy schedule, her empathetic nature pulls her in a million different directions, without hitting the brakes. Just before the pandemic hit, Georgia Lines released a self-titled EP, but as New Zealand entered lockdown, creativity took a bit of a backseat. “I had every intention, having all this time, [but] I didn’t have it in me [to be] musically be creative. I was sleeping and teaching online. I was baking every day – my processing was baking,” she says. But coming out of lockdown – which, luckily for New Zealand, was not as prolonged as much of the rest of the world due to low case numbers – that feeling of being in limbo changed, and Georgia felt herself moving forward once more.

“Coming out of that space, I had a lot of time to think and reflect,” she reveals. “You’re kind of stuck with your thoughts. It captures something a little bit deeper. Not that I’m afraid of digging deeper… but permission to articulate something deeper. [I have] a bunch of singles coming out this year. I was able to capture myself creatively.” She adds that she has more videos planned, too. “At some stage I’ll be working towards an album, but for now I am loving releasing singles,” she says.

She’s also excited about her upcoming tour with Deva Mehal, and will be playing a few headlining shows as well. She may not have a detailed map of where she is going, but that is part of her creative process.

“I feel like it was a combined of a bunch of little moments. In every creative industry, there’s no exact pathway to a career in creativity,” she says, noting that at first, pursuing a career in music felt daunting. “It took me a while to figure that out. Deep down inside me [I knew], if I don’t do this, then I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It was a trusting of the internal conversation. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I love the whole entire process – the initial ideas when you’re writing, and pulling everything together that you need for the release. It’s so fun, [and] I get to do this all the time.”

Follow Georgia Lines on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Sarah Mary Chadwick Makes Friends with Ennui

Photo Credit: Simon J Karis

Multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and intrepidly candid singer-songwriter Sarah Mary Chadwick will release her seventh full length studio album, Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby, on Friday, February 5th, via Ba Da Bing Records/Rice is Nice. Known both for her solo work and for a decade spent as frontperson of Batrider – which formed while Chadwick and her bandmates were still in high school in New Zealand – Chadwick has explored some dark places and difficult terrain. Going solo certainly sent her on a new trajectory – one that has kept listeners compelled to discover what she’s just done and what she’s doing next. Her latest album justifies plenty of curiosity and attention, not only for its exploration of intense emotions – she is, as ever, starkly honest, articulate and unfiltered – but also for the approach to recording it.

Ennui is almost entirely singing and piano, all recorded live in one day with Chadwick’s friend, bass player Geoffrey O’Connor. Chadwick and O’Connor recorded on a Yamaha upright piano in her friend’s studio. The upright added to the “bar-roomy feel of the record, which wasn’t intentional but definitely came through when we were recording,” Chadwick says.

It immediately follows 2020’s Please, Daddy – a painful, introspective work that, according to Chadwick, was more ambitious in terms of instrumentation. Though it seemed a logical trajectory to do something more complicated after its release, the stripped-down nature of Ennui is a result of Chadwick’s conscious desire to free herself of expectation. “The last record had Geoff engineering, a drum and four other musicians. This was just me and Geoff sitting in a small, intimate room for a whole day,” she says.

“In terms of doing it in one day, my thinking has always been that there’s only so good I can play and sing a song,” explains Chadwick. “It doesn’t get better if I do it 50 times. I think you lose a lot of energy if you iron things out. I wanted to capture a lot of energy in this record. I usually only record in one or two days, with only two or three takes of a song.”

It’s all part of Chadwick’s effort to retain some of that “demo energy” when recording songs for her albums. “My process is the same for music and visual art. Working fast, you’re not afforded the space to second-guess decisions, so you get into the habit of making decisions quickly; you just make choices to realise what you think is important,” she says. “For me, that energy is so important. If you’re doing it right, you’re making good decisions that enable you to realise what is important about art.”

Even while making choices that seem intuitive rather than heavily and lengthily considered, Chadwick is deliberate. One of those choices is the cover art for the album, revealing her parted legs in shorts that don’t cover everything. It’s quite brave, confronting even. “I wanted to free myself up from having to put my own artwork on the cover every time,” she says. “It’s a candid photo that my partner took. I like the colours of it. It works well as a cover and as an image. The album itself is quite earnest in parts, so it’s a nice counterpoint to have something a bit garish, a big vulgar, as cover art.”

Chadwick is very much in the practice of constant creation, always engaged with visual art and music. When putting together a record, she books the studio three months prior and works each week on new songs, which typically take half an hour to an hour. “When I was quite young, I was concerned with stagnant periods and writing block but now I don’t encounter that ever,” she admits. “Doing lots of work subsequently makes me feel not guilty for when I don’t want to work or can’t be bothered. It makes my downtime guilt-free. I have always been in the habit of having something ticking over.”

Having the deadline ensures she has selected songs which are in the process and refines them in preparation. She’s already working on the next album and is considering doing demos to prepare, in contrast to the off-the-cuff nature of Ennui. “I’m always writing,” she says. “Because we’re just about to put this one out, I don’t feel pressure to rush the next one, which means the next one will come pretty easily.”

Perhaps, for Chadwick, there is a security in constant creation and self-analysis, working hand-in-glove to keep her on an even keel. Readers, beware: the following discussion may be triggering or difficult; those struggling with mental health issues may want to take a breather here.

Both Ennui and Daddy are the continuation of a trilogy of albums, beginning with The Queen Who Stole the Sky, that focus on Chadwick’s attempt to take her own life in 2019, following the death of her father and a close friend, as well as the intense breakup of a long-term relationship. They openly explore the event itself as well as the trauma that precipitated it, and continue the healing process Chadwick has undergone in its aftermath, particularly her views on psychoanalytic therapy.

“I’ve always had, since a child, depression and anxiety, but it’s gotten a lot better in the past six years. I’ve always seen psychologists on and off since I was a teenager but never found it particularly useful and was disappointed by it no matter how much work I put into it,” admits Chadwick. “It became clear that it wasn’t my fault. I started psychoanalysis and that was far more rewarding. The more I put into it, the more it gave back.”

Rather than process first and write later, Chadwick made the writing of these albums part of her journey toward healing. “Did I want to explore it? Definitely, I did,” she says. “I was in treatment five times a week afterwards, and the experience only informed my creative process. I draw unconsciously and very naturally on day-to-day things.”

Chadwick has released her latest batch of records through Rice Is Nice, run by Julia Wilson and Lulu Rae. Chadwick met Jules through an ex-girlfriend. “Jules is a really, really dear friend and a great person,” Chadwick says. “We’ve worked together since 2015 and done over four records together. Jules works super hard on things for me and she’s not doing it for finance, since I’m a relatively small artist, so I’m really grateful for the fact she does so much because she loves me and she loves my work.”

Chadwick is scheduled to do a series of launch events, in which she’ll play music from the trilogy of albums for small crowds in Melbourne. The events will be live-streamed so international audiences can tune in.

Despite the emotional weight of Ennui, there’s something triumphant in its self-deprecating tone. Perhaps Chadwick’s Bandcamp describes it best: “On Ennui, Chadwick is free, there is nowhere for her or us to run from the need to very presently and repeatedly articulate her trauma until it is simply, ‘articulated out.'” Another brave choice from an artist who, decades into her career, still stuns with her bravery.

Follow Sarah Mary Chadwick on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Emily Edrosa Dives Deep on Another Wave is Coming LP

Photo Credit: Alea Balzer

When Emily Edrosa moved to Los Angeles 2016, she left a lot behind in New Zealand: a partner in a committed relationship; the early acclaim she’d enjoyed with Street Chant, a band she’d started as a teenager; government-subsidised healthcare. “I could just see the rest of my life. I don’t know if you’re into astrology, but I was about to go through my return of Saturn,” Edrosa says, when she began to feel inexplicably drawn to the American West Coast by some force larger than herself, like a current, or a wave. The force of that feeling inspired the title of her debut solo LP Another Wave Is Coming, and eventually – once her green card came through – she rode it to LA, where she dedicated herself more fully than ever to her career as a solo musician, despite the immense challenges the change of scenery posed.

That new emotional and physical terrain is fully explored on Another Wave, which whips through eleven fuzzily punk-inflected garage-rock tracks, a stream-of-conscious meditation on queerness, adulting, culture shock, and the general absurdity of human behavior. Edrosa began writing while still in New Zealand, after breaking up with her then-partner and moving in with her mom to save money for the move. “I was just kind of sitting there going, What the hell am I doing, have I just destroyed my life? That was when I started writing and I just didn’t really stop until I had a record,” she explains.

“It’s a bookmark for this period of my life. The last few songs I wrote were about the difficulty of suddenly being in LA, the culture shock… missing my community at home. I just felt so out of place. I was basically having an anxiety attack the whole time. I can’t drive, and the political anxiety [of Trump’s 2016 win] got to me. It was definitely overwhelming,” she adds. “I go on Twitter all the time so I think that probably informed it because I feel like that’s what a lot of people [tweet about]: I’m in the supermarket, and I am having a meltdown. Everybody’s having a fucking episode.”

That being said, Another Wave is Coming only sounds dramatic on paper. Frenetic album standout “Action” starts off, “No time to walk around or find a heartlands sound, singing poverty and mental health” to ultimately conclude, “Should we feel so bad getting up in the evening, when there isn’t a lot that we can do? Sometimes it’s not enough, but we’re in love.” Her deadpan delivery and audible accent won’t easily avoid comparisons to Aussie Courtney Barnett, but Edrosa’s lyrics have a diaristic specificity that communicates both their heartfelt origins as well as a wry surreality.

“I walked the streets and they walked me,” she sings on “Springtime’s Stranger in a Strange Place,” her dreamy post-punk ode to arriving in LA. “A fresh start into the blue/I’m loose and chewed and out of tunes…It’s best to never look them in the eye in a strange place.” On “A New Career,” one of several songs on the album that subtly explore the nuances of long-term relationships once the dopamine wears off, she sings, “Like ghosts that just won’t leave this town/We were born upon our burial ground/So what did we expect?”

Nowhere is Edrosa more straightforward than on album opener “She Agreed,” which recounts the true story of her first love, whose homophobic parents broke up the relationship because their daughter was “not allowed to be gay.” The first three verses sprawl out over sparse guitar, laden with bitterness and nonchalance in equal measure until distorted feedback obliterates both. “It was nerve wracking to put it first, because I feel like people could get the wrong idea about the record,” Edrosa admits. “Some people really love it, but some people could be put off by how open it is. I had mixed feelings about that experience for a lot of years. But after I wrote that song I was like, okay, I don’t care anymore. It was cathartic.”

She still sees the person it was written about around Auckland from time to time, and knows they don’t appreciate the song. “I feel bad about that,” she says. “But as far as my being shy… I’ve never hid my sexuality and I can be quite brash about what I’m feeling or who I am.” In part, she says, that’s because of the experience she depicts in the song. “It is formative for you to feel really happy and then for quote-unquote society to tell you that the way you’re feeling is wrong. Maybe I need more therapy, but… I guess, in a way, it sort of made me be like, well fuck it, here I am.”

Coming to terms with who she is included owning up to the fact that she’s meant to be a musician. She tackles feeling left behind by schoolmates with normal lives on power-poppy single “NCEA” (named for a New Zealand program similar to the United States GED). “I lost, but at least I never had a boss,” she snarls, pitting herself against those with “cell phone plans” and “university common sense.”

“I wrote it about five or six years ago, I guess maybe because I was more fresh out of high school. I would go on Facebook and see people with business degrees or whatever,” she recalls. “I think being an artist, you’re always going to wonder if you should quit, because it is difficult. So I guess that was me [asking], am I barking up the wrong tree here? But now that I’m older I’m just like, oh well, who cares? I’m just gonna be an artist until I die. I couldn’t not be an artist, that would be like asking me to not be myself.”

Edrosa leans fully into that identity on Another Wave – not just with clever observations and personal storytelling in the lyrics, but by writing, playing, and producing almost every part of the album. “I wanted to do everything, but I can’t physically play the drums that well, so I did all the drums in midi and sent them to drummers and said, can you learn this?” she says, getting some initial help from Bosh Rothman (Kim Gordon, Santigold). “I would take the drum stems back and overdub the guitars and the bass and the vocals, and I did it all in my home studio.”

This meticulous approach is one of Edrosa’s trademarks. “A lot of artists write and have throwaway songs, but I work on a song until it’s done and it’s good,” she says. “I really like working in the DAW – I used ProTools at the time and now I use Logic – cause it’s fun; you open up your computer and it’s like, a project you’re working on and you can just mess around with it forever.” Unfortunately, working on a record forever means it never sees the light of day, so she set a deadline with producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.), working remotely to mix the record in a five-day long-distance session.

Still, she wasn’t completely happy. “You get demo-it is, which is when you like really like the demos you’re listening to unmixed, and then suddenly there’s all this compression and reverb on them and you’re like woah, that sounds so overdone, I can’t handle it,” she says. “I wanted to make a record that sounds like a band, but it’s just me on my computer. That was the end goal – I was like, I’ll make an album and I’ll put it out really quickly, and it just took forever, cause I go deep.”

Though she wanted the album to be lighter and more rhythmic than Street Chant’s grungy, heavier vibes, Another Wave ended up being relatively “dense” as Edrosa pushed herself into new territory. “I tried to be a shredder in Street Chant just to prove that I could, and then on this one I kind of stepped back and was like, I already proved it,” she says with a laugh, noting how much fun she had playing bass and “tapping away on those midi drums.” Her confidence and joy in playing music is hard fought; Edrosa confides that she was bullied in school for being the odd “girl with a guitar.”

“Every year I would play in the talent quest, and every year they would laugh at me. And every year I would come back,” she remembers. “It was my moment to be like, well fuck you. I mean, they laughed the first year, they laughed the second year, you know, they kept laughing. But eventually, I did win it. You just keep going.” That’s part of the reason she gravitated toward mentoring young women in New Zealand’s Girls Rock Camp.

“Since I was like sixteen, I’ve always been a guitar teacher. I can’t read music, but I can teach someone how to play their favorite song and how to read tablature. Working with teenage girls is cool cause I feel like I perpetually am one,” she says, noting that her teenage years were formative in that it’s when she fell in love with music, learned to play guitar, and realized she was queer. “I was so painfully shy, and so unsure of myself… I wish I’d had [Girls Rock Camp] for myself because when I was bullied, music became something that I did in my bedroom alone, and played really quietly; it wasn’t really like a community thing and it wasn’t something to be proud of.”

Like the Carrie-referencing character in her video for “NCEA,” Edrosa got her particular revenge when Street Chant took off. “I just wanted to be in a band cause I was watching other people do it, but I didn’t think that I could do it and it kind of made me annoyed,” she admits. “It’s not like I started music for the sonic experience – it was just about songwriting and getting out there and doing it. The first Street Chant record, we went into a studio and just sort of banged it out; that was more of a live-sounding one.”

Released in 2010, Means won the inaugural Critics Choice Prize at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards, was shortlisted for the Taite Music Prize, and nominated for “Best Alternative Album” at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards; a tour opening for The Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray 20th anniversary American tour commenced the following year, and in 2013, they released a follow up EP, Isthmus of One-Thousand Lovers.

By then, Edrosa had bought her own recording gear and started making songs at home. She wrote a solo EP “really quickly, cause I just wanted to learn how to record better” and released the lo-fi DIY affair in 2014 as Street Chant was finishing up its second LP Hauora; it wasn’t released until 2016, and by then Edrosa had already started planning her move. “Not to sound arrogant, but Street Chant did kind of hit a ceiling here where the critics really liked us. But to get three people to tour around America or England or Europe several times a year was quite expensive. So I was like, I’ll just move to America.”

Four years later, a different wave – the second spike in the ongoing COVID crisis – has returned her to the blissfully pandemic-free Auckland, where Edrosa’s planning real, live shows, which she confesses was difficult at first, having gotten used to people in the States keeping their distance. “When I first came back I really just wanted to go straight back into it which I think was a mistake, because I was going to bars, and people were standing really close to me, and it was really strange. I do sort of miss not hanging out with people, as strange as that might be, because people are so lonely… I can be a bit of a hermit,” she says. She hunkered down, putting the finishing touches on her record – Liz Stokes of the Beths engineered additional drum sessions with Alex Freer behind the kit, and Edrosa got a friend to mix the album one more time before Another Wave is Coming finally washed ashore in late November.

“I feel like when you’re working on a record you love listening to it, and then once it’s done, you need to give it like, two to five years before you can listen to it [again],” she says, noting how bizarre the concept of a career in music really is. “If you’re writing a song that you want people to hear, it’s silly. It’s silly to get up on stage and sing a song about your feelings, and expect that other people are gonna want to hear it. I try and add a little bit of my sense of humor – silly and dark, yet relatable.”

Follow Emily Edrosa on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Eden Iris Sings About Loss and Hope on “Blue Home”


Photo Credit: Ko Zushi

Eden Iris’s crisp, soothing voice sounds like it belongs in the soundtrack to a Disney movie, and her latest song “Blue Home” is appropriately vivid and mystical. Her words paint a picture against electronic beats and string instruments: “There’s a storm coming in, grab your coat / I’ve found my shelter and I won’t let go / There’s a girl in the sky / And she calls your name / You hear the thunder but you don’t feel the rain.”

“Blue Home” will appear on the New Zealand-born, LA-based artist’s debut album, coming out later this year. She’s also been hard at work releasing several singles over the past year, including the meditative “The Love That Still Lives Here,” following her 2018 EP Demons. We talked to Iris about her songwriting process, what inspires her, and her upcoming music.

AF: How did you get started making music?

EI: I started learning classical piano when I was six years old. My mum told me, “you’re going to take lessons!” and I was resistant, which, looking back, I find amusing. I picked up the guitar when I was 12 years old, and from there, I starting busking on the streets of Auckland, New Zealand. One day, someone told me I would make more money if I sang, and that’s really what gave me a push to get started. I got into songwriting during my teenage years because it was fun to play and write in bands. I’ve kept writing ever since. I find it such a rewarding experience. And I love stories.

AF: What is the song “Blue Home” about? 

EI: Like most songs, I wrote “Blue Home” to process what was happening for me at the time. The events are personal, but the song is about feeling shut out, rejected, and wanting to be loved. It’s also about holding onto hope, which is what the bridge lyrics “dreams will leave the room” are about. I wanted the song to feel melancholic but also uplifting to the listener.

AF: Musically, how does this differ from your past work?

EI: “Blue Home” has a little more of an electronic/indie vibe than some of my past work. Sophie Stern, who produced the song, recorded live drums in her studio, which created a bigger, more cinematic sound. I love the mesh of organic and sampled sounds that she brought to the table. There’s also a live string quartet playing that I have had a recording of for many years, which she worked in there.

AF: What else do you sing about on your forthcoming album?

EI: This will be my first album release. I talk about impermanence and letting go. There are a few love songs. The last few singles I have released will be on it. I was able to play the songs live at shows before I recorded them, so I think that helped me get to a place where the studio performances felt natural.

AF: What themes tend to come up most frequently in your music?

EI: I have written my fair share of love songs, but I have just as many songs that are about dealing with loss, change, and holding on to hope. I’m also kind of spiritual, so I tend to write about that a lot, too. Sometimes, when I’m playing music, it feels as though I’m channeling a higher power. When it happens, it’s instinctive, an unstoppable force, and when I reach that place, I know I don’t have to do anything but just be present and take it as a gift. Music has helped carry me through some of the toughest moments of my life, and after that, it was hard to not feel it spiritually.

Being in nature also helps me keep in touch with my spirituality. When I’m immersed in it, I feel as though I can reach an inner state of calm that is hard to find in the day-to-day grind. I guess I’m a bit of a hippie at heart, which is why I have so many lyrical references to nature!

AF: Who are your musical influences?

EI: I listened obsessively to Kate Bush and Tori Amos when I was a teenager. To name a few more… Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile, Maggie Rogers, and Matt Corby. Lyrically, I have been very inspired by Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, and New Zealand poet Sam Hunt.

AF: I know you moved from New Zealand to LA a few years ago — how do the music scenes in those two places compare?

EI: They are very different! LA is much more saturated with artists, which is cool because there are a lot of great opportunities for collaboration. New Zealand doesn’t have the same number of artists, but that can also work to your advantage because there is less competition for gigs. I think no matter where you are, it’s important to find a supportive community that you feel a part of. I’ve been lucky enough to find that in both places.

AF: What are you working on now, and what are your next plans?

EI: Right now, I’m finishing up mixing my album! So I am preparing for the release in the summer. There are no gigs at the moment, so I’m live-streaming from my Facebook Page every Friday night. My next plan: I’m going to keep writing, and see what songs I can catch!

Follow Eden Iris on Facebook for ongoing updates.

ALBUM REVIEW: Yumi Zouma “Willowbank”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Yumi Zouma photo by Aaron Lee

It’s only been a year since New Zealand’s Yumi Zouma debuted with Yoncalla, a polished batch of ten disco-infused indie pop tracks. But the Kiwi quartet have already returned with follow-up Willowbank, a subdued collection of dreamy songs that explore the fundamentally modern confusion between perception and reality. So much of life these days is defined by how we wish to be perceived by others – the endless highlight reel that is Instagram, the urge to appear “chill” to friends and lovers despite internal floundering. Yumi Zouma expertly deals in what-ifs and hypotheticals on this record, floating in the gap between what we wish for and what we have. It delves into the past tense, like they’re recounting something with the wisdom of hindsight.

The low-key softness of this record is a marked departure from the first. While it retains some of the disco levity of Yoncalla, they tone it down here; lyrics aside, the music itself sounds like you’re telling a secret. This intimacy could perhaps be lent to the recording – Yoncalla marked the first time Yumi Zouma had been able to write and record music in the same place (a natural disaster in New Zealand having forced them to write earlier music across oceans over e-mail), but they were on tour, which infused the sound with a certain energy. This time around, they recorded Willowbank together in New Zealand, and it shows. It’s warm, muted; it feels cozy like home.

It opens with “Depths (Pt. I),” where Christie Simpson’s voice drops in with a more natural comfort, deeper and more self-assured. But she asks “If I was older, then would you still let me win?” Already, we’ve departed from reality “as is” and entered reality “if” as her voice flows into the chorus: “Under the boot of my desire to be / Never taking myself that seriously.” In other words, confined to the image we wish to project to the rest of the world, unruffled and “going with the flow.”

With this in mind, they play with the concept of an unreliable narrator on this album. If we carefully curate our self-presentation, who’s to say what’s true and what isn’t? Simpson sings, “I never struggled to be on my own,” but she also desires to never take herself seriously. If she did struggle to be on her own, would she tell us? As the record slides into the next track, single “December,” she espouses more of this guardedness. “You can’t rely on my past,” she sings, unpacking the way we divulge our baggage in bits and pieces to keep from scaring others away. It’s doused in feigned detachment, as though spoken to someone you once knew very intimately but haven’t seen in years.

The cool quiet of the album – its dulled percussion, swooping melodies – mirrors a world where the distance between real and unreal is always shrinking, where people blow off plans and mask isolation with social clout. On “Half Hour,” which FADER deemed “a love song about death,” she sings, “All my plans are flakes,” bemoaning anxieties about the solitude of dying. On “Gabriel,” she describes “a lie to protect my shame,” exploring the way we become lost when we define ourselves only by our relationship to someone else.

In the end, Willowbank circles back to its beginning with “Depths (Pt II),” which asks the same question: “If I was older, then would you still let me win?” To come back to this exposes the cyclical folly of it all and articulates the lesson Yumi Zouma were trying to impart all along: that unless you learn to accept the present as is, you’ll always be asking “what if?”

Yumi Zouma are on tour now, they’ll play Le Poisson Rouge on October 25th. Willowbank is out now via Cascine.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]