About timgruar

Music Journalist and Graphics artist. I specialise in writing about New Zealand bands, artists and theatre. I also run a book review site called http://groovebookreport.blogspot.co.nz. I currently write for www.13thfloor.co.nz; write and produce for www.groovefm.co.nz and https://www.booksellers.co.nz. Previously I've written for the Groove Guide, Rip it Up, Telecom's In house Magazine, Salient, Dominion Post, The Evening Post, and various blogs. I am also a graphic artist and design posters for theatre in the Wellington area. Contact me at tim_gruar@yahoo.com

Same Planet Different Orbit: A PLUTO Interview

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First appeared at: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/same-planet-different-orbit-a-pluto-interview/

There’s a famous line from that great Ackroyd/Balushi movie The Blues Bothers: “We’re getting the band back together!” That’s exactly what’s happened to Auckland based alt-pop crew PLUTO (Pipe Lines Under The Ocean)  who, after a 10 year break, have managed to almost seamlessly remerge back onto the scene. However, the reincarnation was not quite as simple, as Tim Gruar found out when he spoke to the band’s front man Milan Borich earlier this week.

Whatever happened to PLUTO? After almost a decade of silence the group made a surprise drop in August with a new single ‘Oh My Lonely’, followed closely by the release of their long-promised fourth studio album ‘IV’ in September. And now the original line up – Milan Borich (lead vocals, guitar), Tim Arnold (vocals, guitars), Matthias Jordan (keys), Mike Hall (bass) and Michael Franklin-Browne (drums) are now hitting the road to perform at album launch parties in Wellington and Auckland.

As they say, the past is another planet. Cast your mind back to 2001 (cue wavy picture lines) when PLUTO burst onto the music scene with their masterful brand of multi-layered rock that mixed and mingled indie, moody pop, hook-laden sing-alongs, angular, full-energy, anthemic rock and even Lounge. Borich delights in being impossible to nail down when it comes to being pigeon-holed into a genre.

The boys had just made ‘Red Light Syndrome’, which spawned the singles ‘Hey Little’ and ‘She’s Jive’. That was closely followed by the behemoth double-platinum selling ‘Pipeline Under The Ocean’, featuring the fist pumping ‘Dance Stamina’ and the 2006 Music Awards Single Of The Year ‘Long White Cross’. The album’s name came from the historic Second World War pipe lines under the ocean which supplied fuel to Allied forces after D-Day (Borich was a big history buff at the time). The band’s third album ‘Sunken Water’ gave us a combination of elements including ‘sci-fi-delic’ tones, rock’n’roll power and soothing vocal melodies, all influenced by a range of emotions ranging from morning to dusk, to love, to characters they’d met travelling. There were side projects like Borich’s ’07 cover of Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’ which was used in a Tourism New Zealand’s “100% Pure New Zealand” campaign. Then, there was extensive touring, more award appearances and high radio rotation. This was a band at the peak of their powers. Then, it all went quiet. So what happened?

“You want me go from the beginning?,” asks Borich, “ Ha ha! Well, settle in – (puts on a narrator’s voice) About 10 years ago, we released what was going to be the first single (Snake Charmer) for this new record. We’d been working for quite a few months on new material. And then suddenly it was all in a turmoil, with me, mainly. My ego got in the way. It all turned sour. I did things badly. Could have done them better.”

Around that time, there were a string of issues with their record label, royalties were being muddled, with the introduction of digital music revenue streams, and the poor sales of the last album also didn’t help.

“So the band, kind of, parted ways. I went to LA and everyone else did their own thing (starting other bands, session work, teaching, new jobs and buying houses). I had all these songs that were on my hard drive (from this time period), which crashed. So, we lost all these songs. I thought that was it. Then! Luckily, about five years ago, I discovered the songs on a back up hard drive. There they were again.

Then my father passed away last year. He’d been asking if we could put the band back together, as he really loved us. He wanted us to do it. And so, I swallowed my pride, begged forgiveness and got the boys back together, back in the room to start what we started, basically.”

I ask what Borich was doing in LA during this hiatus but I wasn’t entirely prepared for the answer.

“I signed a publishing deal with Chrysalis Music in 2011 to be a songwriter. But that all fell to pieces when Kenny MacPherson, who was head of Chrysalis at the time, had to leave when EMI and BMG took over the company. He was the main man who signed me, and after he left… so did I.”

It was during this time that Borich also did some work as a bouncer in a seedy bar, frequented by ‘Hollywood types’. “Now that might seem a strange thing to do. But for me, going to LA was like disappearing, you know? (after the band’s break up). I became a bouncer at the ‘hipster bar’ called Harvard and Stone on Hollywood Blvd. I was pretty good at it. It was a dark, seedy kind of backwash of LA. To experience life on the peripheral edges was very interesting. I got to see a lot of strange behaviour. Hollywood elites doing bizarre things. One night I had to kick out Santa Claus for hassling Lindsay Lohan. Another time I had an in depth conversation about the technical aspects of analogue sound waves with Joaquin Phoenix. Another time I kept Daft Punk waiting in line because I didn’t recognise them!” Who would!?

Borich tells me he also played music in a number of strip clubs to earn a bit of extra cash. Although he won’t elaborate on what went on during those gigs, he does elude to some pretty interesting times. He brushes it off, though – apparently entertaining punters in places like that was a perfectly acceptable way to earn your chops in the City of Angels.

However, when the Chrysalis thing fell through, he’d had enough of LA life. “And so I returned home in 2013/14 and did some session work on drums, and a few more things.” That included making a record with Tim Arnold as ‘Debbie and The Downers’. Borich says that he kept on with musical projects but had lost some of the incentive to a degree. But finding those recordings on the back up drive was inspiration enough to get back on the horse.

Speaking about the tracks he notes that most were simply demos, but there were a couple that were fully fleshed out. Many were missing lyrics and other parts. “The vision was there for some. A couple were almost good enough to release. We still had to patch them up. The first single, produced by Nick Abbott, ‘Oh My Lonely’, was one of those.”

So how does it work, when you unearth tracks that were recorded so long ago? How do you work with them? Do you add to what’s recorded? Do you copy the bits you like and play them as new? “We had the chance to double check if they were good enough. Some didn’t have fully formed lyrics, which was handy as I got to rewrite them. Give them a bit more interpretation of what’s going on in my head right now. Others, like Oh My Lonely, were fully formed. So, with that one, when you are performing it, then it’s like doing a cover version. The hard work is done. You are copying an earlier version of yourself, with the perfected article. And it’s like that playing the old songs, too. Muscle memory kicks in. You get to muck around with the way you sing or play a song. Just like a cover, give it a little nuance that wasn’t there before, change the tempo or the way it’s sung. Make it interesting for the audience.”

Borich has to admit that there are no ‘completely new’ songs on this album. They all link back to that set of demos on the hard drive. Albeit with new parts and lyrics added. With the help of Jol Mulholland, “he was able to hear these songs in a different way to how we may have played them earlier, especially those fully formed ones. He could lead us down a path that was new and fresh. So, Oh My Lonely sounds so different to our earlier interpretations for example.” Yet at the same time, Mulholland knew how to create the soaring epic moments (Rainbow Blood), techie noodling (Lonely Fall) and lounge room intimacies, like that in ‘Hey Sista’. That undefinable fluid genre of PLUTO in play yet again.

The album was eventually put together by Mulholland but was recorded all over the place, including Borich’s own home studio (now gone), The Lab, The Wall, The Oven and Roundhead. “The list of who contributed goes on and on. The evolution of the album is over 10 years. It’s a massive journey over a decade. It closes a chapter and opens new one for us.”

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Three Penny Opera – Wgtn Repertory Theatre (June 2019)

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From his lofty position in the lighting box Tim Gruar took a few sneaky snaps of this year’s production. He’s collected together the choicest cuts and created two albums that capture talent and magic of this show.

Photos – Part 1 & Part 2

Feel free to email him at tim_gruar@yahoo.com or befriend him on the Book of Faces (under ‘Tim Gruar‘).

3PO Full Cast

Review: Bailey Wiley – Bailey Wiley EP

Bailey Wiley

First appeared: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/bailey-wiley-bailey-wiley-ep/?fbclid=IwAR1EuYdYaR41rodCAu65HpZToA9-G5CrrUg1JzZVPY8YZmjHv4wkMqttJHg

Ambient Light

If the name is slightly familiar then it’s possible you’ve been to a Fly My Pretties show recently. That’s when this young, vibrant soul singer’s talent bubbled up towards the mainstream. But she’s been around for a while. A ‘Naki’ girl, originally, Wiley grew up with the vintage sounds of 60s/70s soul and the syncopated grooves of late 90s/early 2000s RnB. With stints in Dunedin, Christchurch and Berlin, she’s picked up some street smarts and blended it into her own template of sweet neo-soul. You get huge dollops of golden syrup, mixed with a little raspy fibre for body. She’s released three projects in the last five years, Inevitable, IXL, and S.O.M.M, and performed around the globe alongside Charlotte Day Wilson, SZA, Ladi6, Jess B, Tokimonsta, Rubi Du, Eno x Dirty, and Melodownz, and headlining her own shows. Then, of course there’s Fly My Pretties.

I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows lately, and I can’t help drawing parallels with the personalities and styles of the contestants and their individual cuisine interpretations. Wiley, it seems to me, is well on the way to becoming a master chef herself when it comes to mixing it up. Collaboration is the key to a good recipe. This e.p. is a collection of material that’s been brewing for a while now. Cooked to perfection at Auckland’s Red Bull Music Studios with producers and engineers such as Josh Fountain, 2019 Taite prize winner Tom Scott (Avantdale Bowling Club), High Hoops, Smokey and Eno she’s boxed up some delicious treats to brighten up your autumn evenings.

Her entrée, DWN4U, sets the table. Her sound immediately reminded of early Erykah Badu and made me sit up accordingly. Familiar and comforting, with a just a hint of challenge on the tongue. It’s a mid-tempo, rich, sexy beat set of love and valour, boosted with extra elements like Noah Slee’s cool-as-cucumber vocal turns. A tasty starter. I was well happy.

Last year, Wiley whetted our appetite with the syrup-sweet R’n’B tune Sugar, which featured extra flavour enhancement from the slick raps of Melodownz. This one features mid-point on the menu, as a palate cleanser after the weightier servings like Between The Lines and the bass heavy main liner Zaddy (her second single). The retro keys and flutes in the intro to this are pure gold and what a video! A stylish, very slick animation.

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According to the liner notes Zaddy is meant to ‘detail the battle of the sexes at the start of a relationship…a tug of war, a power struggle”. I was expecting salty, sweet, spicy, zingy and maybe some confrontation or irony. But instead, I got a more mellow, nourishing listen, with observations that paid respect to the hero, optimism for a coming relationship. Not quite the punch I was promised.

But don’t think Wiley isn’t capable of wagging her head and finger when she needs to. In the hot and fiery mole sauce of Afford This Love she finds her inner Ramsay and lets fly. “All you do is bore me, Love, You know talk is cheap, You can’t afford this stuff! Fuck your deposit slip…you wanna buy my company…you talk too much but you never talk to me…talk is cheap!” It’s a clever, caustic delivery. Yet it remains subtle. The vibe never gets wild, remaining slow and funky with lyrics that are pure scorn. She’s annoyed and not afraid to let us know. I don’t know who this player is but he certainly better stay out of the kitchen!

For all of the above, the best comes last. With hints of Randy Newman’s Broadway piano glamour through the intro, Yours Truly is the perfect way to sign out. Literally: “I love you but I’m signing off…” It’s a bitter sweet break up song dripping in seductive, velvet chocolate thick harmonies. “It’s like saying goodbye, here’s what you are missing.” Damn!

There are no outright fancy tricks or hooks. Still nothing’s undercooked or burnt either (unless you mean the partners that inspired the backstories to these songs). This is honest and satisfying. Wiley’s fare is pure soul food – delicious, flavoured and good to the last. As she sings in Zaddy, “My plate is full but I could make some room for you”.

Bailey Wiley you served up your self-titled ep, a gorgeous, rich take on neu-soul, and that’s why I give you…an 8!


NZ Music Month 2019


 

Stuff Of Inspiration: An Eyreton Hall Interview

Eyreton Hall

Originally appeared: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/stuff-of-inspiration-an-eyreton-hall-interview/

Ambient Light

Auckland-based duo Eyreton Hall’s upcoming album Spaces, will has just been released this month.  And it’s a collection of music that dives deeply into parenthood, pathos and philosophy.

At it’s core, the jazz-folk team is comprised of husband and wife team Toni Randle and Andrew Keegan. Their 2014 debut album Featherstitch garnered support from a niche of reviewers across the globe.  By their own admission Spaces sees Eyreton Hall tackle ever-evolving themes of loss and grief, alongside threads of new hope, healing and love that run parallel throughout this cathartic record.

However, until now the group have flown under the radar. So Tim Gruar though it was time to find out more about the group and their music, and took the opportunity to catch up with Toni Randle and get a little bit of history.

From musical worlds in different parts of the antipodes, Toni was born in Christchurch and Andy in Sydney. Toni reckons she had a bit of a misspent youth, filled with dancing and piano lessons, musical theatre, and classical voice examinations. So no hanging out in bars and pool halls, then?

I heard you grew up on a farm, amongst olive groves. An idyllic lifestyle, surely?

Toni: “Well yes. The olive trees came later. But growing up in Canterbury rural life was idyllic. But like al good things, I wanted to be in town. When you are young, you don’t appreciate what you have. I went to school in the city. I had no idea how fabulous it was until I looked back later and thought about how amazing it really was. The grass is always greener and all that.”

Then you went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where you studied jazz That’s proper music training, not just bumming around on a guitar.

“Well, yes (laughs). That’s where Andy and I met. He was 19 and I was 21. I studied under a New Zealand Pianist, Judy Bailey (She was well known during the 1970’s and 80’s here and in Australia as a jazz performer and on radio and TV, as well as and the pianist on the ABC radio show Kindergarten. She’s been awarded the Order of Australia for services to music. Her album You & the Night & the Music is still considered a jazz masterpiece of the early 70’s). I didn’t learn piano, though. I learned improvisation. She can’t actually sing but she could teach improvisation and music composition.

Interestingly, Andy and I did a stint teaching English is Japan after graduating and we learned that Judy is super famous over there. Who knew? In Japan every genre has its own little niche. That goes for jazz, too. There are mad music buffs, over there.”

You taught English in Japan as an excuse to live somewhere ‘weird and strange’?

“Exactly. A six months gap year with a few jazz gigs.”

And then you came back to Melbourne to start up The Portraits?

“Yes. We all shared a love of all things Rufus and Radiohead, dark and brooding messages of love and loss (haha). That was with Andy’s Brother, Tim on guitar, Jacob Cole and our good friend Lochay Robertson on acoustic guitar. Jacob also played on our first album (as Eyreton Hall), Featherstitch.”

Just as ‘The Portraits’ began getting some serious notice – Toni was pregnant with their first little boy. Life: Stopped. And, subsequently, so did all music projects. Toni and Andi were married in 2010 and things were looking pretty domesticated.

You guys had given up? You moved back to Christchurch to settle down?

“We did but, as we say, we’re musicians with an impeccable sense of timing. We arrived back from Australia just in time for the Christchurch earthquakes.”

Pregnant with their second child, surrounded by natural beauty and the aftermath of horrific events, the music began again.

They realised it was time had come to document their musings and experiences. So with a new baby (their second), a toddler, two dogs and two grandparents along for the ride, they recorded at Eyreton Hall (a former school hall – just down the road from Toni’s parents’ olive grove).

“We moved to Auckland, eventually. After creating Ereyton Hall (Mark Hughes, Sam Taylor and Tim Randle) where we recorded some of Featherstitch, which featured our Australian friends. It was a collaborative effort, to a degree.”

I read a reviews that describe the album as “homespun, dusty folk (The Marriage)” “sprawling, almost messy rock (Lovelessly)” and “plaintive, piano-driven ballads (Featherstitch). And listening to it, I can’t help comparing to bands like Over The Rhine – that warm, front room and parlour sound.

“Ha Ha. We get that a lot. Although I’ve never heard them. But the flavours, I guess are that. We draw on the domestic situation, of our experiences, and a little bit of a connection to the land. We’re not Americana, but not dissimilar, I think.”

The last album had a lot of musicians on it. But this latest album, Spaces, just features the five core players, more stripped back in that regard, yes?

“That was Sam Taylor (Nadia Reid), Mark Hughes, Stormporter’s Tim Randell (bass, banjo, guitar), myself (guitar), Andrew Keegan (drums), of course, Mark Hughes (Tim Finn, Bic Runga) and (former Goldenhorse band member) Ben King (has recorded Bic Runga, Tim Finn, Dave Dobbyn, Boh Runga, Brooke Fraser), who produced it all. Our touring band is Tim Randle my brother James Fistonich on Electric guitar (George After James) Ben King and Andy Nick Duirs (Keys). We change a round. We did quite a bit of recording out at his family estate, which is his recording studios.”

Ben’s known for that, isn’t he?

“Yeah. You can spread out all over the house. Different instruments in different rooms. Drums in the lounge, me in the wall way, guitars on the porch, etc. Wires up and down the corridors. It’s actually his parent’s house. They’ve now built their own house on the property but at the time we were recording in his mum’s kitchen (laughs). We also did some recording at our old flat and a couple of other locations. And Simon Gooding (who did Featherstitch, as well) mixed it for us, before running off to record and mix P!NK’s new album.”

The single Albatross is an interesting, atmospheric song. This song was written in dedication to your youngest son Orlie, and that video, so amazing. Those dynamic drone shots of the South Island coastline, allowing viewers to soar above the Tasman, weightless and gliding through the song’s ethereal narrative. No Samuel Taylor Coleridge Connections?

“Yes, it is. It’s directed by Jared Kahi, he did a great job. I think you feel like the bird, soaring high. It’s a song of hope and optimism. It’s that thing, we weren’t expecting a third child – “Oh, Surprise!” We thought our little family unit was complete. Orlie arrived and we thought “Hey, you’ve completed it even more, now.” If you look at a baby and you can see how they are these placid all-knowing souls. They just seem to be that mirror to your soul. Like an albatross, flying high above, watching everything. Although, as he’s grown, I’m beginning to think we could relabel the song ‘Hurricane” as he’s such a whirlwind of energy – haha! The video is about coming home, sailors, land is nearby, a safe harbour.

He was also born with my waters still intact. They say that is really good luck. My Irish midwife said he’ll be a sailor or such like. And, yes he absolutely adores the water! So the video had to have coastline in it”

And the title song, Spaces is a completely different beast.

“There were two themes when I was writing the album. One was Orlie being born and that who thing of newness and hope and the other was death. We lost a really dear friend in 2015, dying of skin cancer. She was a neighbour of mine, in Australia, before we came back here. It was juggling that and a really busy life. I was thinking of the grief that I felt. She was such a beautiful person. I needed time in my chaotic life to come to terms with that.

The title of the album is Spaces, just coming to terms and finding time in a busy life to take that time out to process all this and seeing what that looks like. There’s also a song on the album especially dedicated to her called Ilse, she was a Dutch-South African. She dedicated her life to working with mentally challenged children. I knew her in later life. On meeting her, she told me two things: That she loved Chardonnay and she had terminal cancer. So we became firm friends. That’s the stuff of inspiration for a song writer.”

yreton Hall’s new album ‘Spaces’ is out now at all good record stores, as well as online via Bandcamp and Spotify.

Spaces [Digital]
NZ Music Month 2019