Most of this somewhat delayed music post is the following interview Alexander Bisley conducted with Shayne Carter about his new album, Offsider, and life and music in general. I'm very grateful to Alexander for the work – RB.
Dimmer’s There My Dear, You’ve Got to Hear the Music, and I Believe You Are a Star is one of the 2000s’ great, formative Kiwi music trifectas.
With Dimmer, Shayne P Carter built on his Straitjacket legacy. Like Dunedin Sound classics such as ‘Down in Splendour’, Dimmer songs including ‘Don’t Even See Me’, ‘Getting What You Give’, and ‘Case’ still resonate. Frank and personal, both incendiary and reflective, Carter’s music has soul.
In 2016 Carter continues to push himself, with new album Offsider, influenced by classical pianists. He’s performing nationwide this month with Don McGlashan. Carter is a thoughtful, engaged interviewee. We talked humour, stalking, and WINZ.
“A very funny guy. Shayne’s got a very dry sense of humour, comes up with some hilarious things,” Mu told me, smiling insouciantly. How important is humour to survive in the Kiwi music industry?
Humour is important for survival fullstop wouldn’t you say? If you didn't laugh you'd cry/ comedy is tragedy etc. It's a great comfort, a relief, and, probably, a defense. Buckle up where you can man! All my favourite comedians were/are generally troubled people. Funny that. I come from a family with an excellent absurdist sense of humour.
In my modest acquaintance with Chris Knox, he was a generous man. What did you learn from Chris? And how was it working as his caregiver after his stroke?
I've always respected Chris for being unafraid in what can be such a straitlaced, square society. He was inspirational like that. I love him and his whanau. I was his primary caregiver for two years after his stroke. It was good to be able to give for/to a friend. I thought that was a valuable life experience. But to be honest it was pretty tough too.
I loved experiencing There My Dear, You’ve Got to Hear the Music, and I Believe You Are a Star live. Songs including ‘Don’t Even See Me’, ‘Getting What You Give’, and ‘Case’ still resonate. Any Dimmer songs moving you this month? What dimension does performing live bring?
Well cheers. I like ‘Case’ too. Its subtlety. I played a little house party a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed ‘What’s A Few Tears To The Ocean’. The lyric. Sorry everyone but I nailed that sucker! Playing live is The Dimension. You're a musician. Playing music is what you should be doing, not loading squiggles onto a computer screen.
Is Otis “The Greatest” Redding still in your thoughts? Your music has soul.
Well cheers again. If any musician performs with absolute conviction, that's usually enough for me. You can tell what's true and what isn't. Otis Redding has soul. People on American Idol generally pretend to have soul or do some imitation of what they think is soul. Usually hysteria and vocal gymnastics. It ends up meaning nothing.
“Shayno—gee, he’s written a lot of great songs hasn’t he? Hard to pick one. ‘If I Were You’ [Straitjacket Fits], that is a really great song: stalker song [sings some ‘If I Were You’]. I quite like writing those songs too. I’ve written quite a few stalker-songs myself, because it’s not appropriate to be like that in real life, but when you really have a strong feeling for someone that’s how you feel, you want to wear their clothes and steal their friends, just be psycho and love them in psycho ways. But you can’t, so you write a song about it. It’s cool, it’s really intense. I like intensity,” Anna Coddington told me. Does ‘If I Were You’ still speak to you?
Yeah that's one of my better ones. It was originally a different arrangement with different lyrics. There's a live version of that old version from Australian TV floating around somewhere. But we did a new musical arrangement when we recorded it and I had an afternoon to write a new lyric so in this case a deadline really worked. The lyric has a nice ambiguity to it that I try to incorporate in a lot of my work. On this new record I deliberately used very simple words so nearly every line has a double meaning. I guess people are never going to notice that but it was important to me.
“Rock n roll has taken me everywhere from the Winz office in Dunedin to the Arista offices in New York with both locations providing their own oppressive ambience,” you say. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side,” Hunter S. Thompson puts it. “Bang on. Haha,” Dolf De Borst adds. Further thoughts?
Yeah the music business can be a really shitty and cruel place to be. Artists are generally sensitive people and that kind of stuff can really knock you around. The judgement. The disposability. People way less talented than you deciding your affairs. Power to the artists! But music's not shitty and cruel. In fact it's completely the opposite. It's a powerful spiritual and social force that makes me feel better every fucking morning.
What should every aspiring creative person know about WINZ?
To be honest I haven't been on the dole for a long time but it always used to make me laugh when they'd be saying "So this music thing is all very well but you need to get a real job " and you'd be sitting there thinking "What, like yours?"
“A lot of artists complain about the limited space they have, rather than trying to find ways to say what they want within that space,” the Saudi female filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour told me. Comment?
Well there's a lot to be said for a limited palette. Is that what she's saying? Too many choices gets confusing. I've always liked minimalism and the idea of quintessential truths. It's all in the editing. It probably goes back to what I was saying about Mozart earlier. Cutting away the dross and finding the essence. Or if she's talking about the oppression or conservatism around her. That can be a very inspirational thing to react to as well.
Schubert’s lieder, Chopin’s Nocturnes, Debussy’s neo psychedelia, Mozart’s pristine classicism, Beethoven’s cosmic exploration. I agree this stuff is amazing. Can you expand on the essential influence and inspiration of one or two of these artists on your new album Offsider?
The fact their music could reach out and touch me across the centuries - I found that really profound and moving. I was also fascinated by their work processes, and how they produced so much. They were so young when they died - Schubert was 31, Mozart 36, Chopin 39, but they were mind blowingly prolific. I could go on for ages about these people. Schubert was a big influence. My album title is half a reference to the character in his song "der Doppleganger" or the figure of The Wanderer in "Wintereisse". Two of my favorite quotes - someone writing about Bach and saying how his note changes were "unexpected yet inevitable". Any songwriter should put that on their wall. Or another description of Mozart's music being like a deep crystal pool with no fake profundity muddying the waters. I'd put that on the wall as well.
What do you hope Offsider’s impact is? What do you want it to accomplish?
Personally just finishing the record and having it say what I intended it to say is the accomplishment for me. I can't predict or control beyond that. I suspect it's not music that gives itself up straight away but it's got depth and I guess I'd hope there were listeners with the patience and time to discover that.
How do you keep your edge? What’s your current philosophy on experimentation and adventure?
Keep moving. Try not to become an imitation of yourself. Try to find new angles to stay excited and passionate about what you do. Without that you're lost. I've recently played a bunch of improv shows with my old pals Michael (Morley) and Robbie (Yeats) from the Dead C. Sometimes we were flailing about but sometimes we hit these grooves that were utterly transcendent that you could never plan or write. It's all grist to the mill. It all informs my own stuff. I've done extracurricular things that range from singing backing vocals on a Bic Runga album to playing two hour jams with the Dead C. It's all music. Somewhere in any of that I can find a pocket where it feels good and I know that what I'm doing is true.
Base FM has joined Artweek Auckland this year wth Cover Story, an exhibition in which more than 80 of its DJs present their most prized record sleeves and the story behind their affections. It runs from tomorrow until November 5, at Studio One, Room 10, 1 Ponsonby Road.
There's a launch at the gallery tomorrow evening which you can sign up for via the Facebook event page.
For now, here's a taster. Peter McLennan (aka Peter Mac of Saturday morning's Ring the Alarm show) talks about his choice ...
'Chains', by DLT featuring Che Fu (yes, Che Fu was guesting on it, and if you are one of those eggs who credit it as being a song by DLT and Che Fu, you are forgetting what a huge landmark it was for a DJ to make his own album here) is the greatest song ever to come out of Ponsonby.
Then there’s 'Chains Remix' (including Mighty Asterix and Ras Daan), with its killer opening lines that burst thru from the pounding drums (DLT tunes always had great drums!)…
“Well I grew up in Ponsonby, they take the Gluepot now they coming for me, but hell no, I won't go away, Ponsonby, where I live, Ponsonby where I stay… I never asked you to put a cafe in my street…”
That’s some deep history right there. That is connected to what BaseFM is all about, and the changes we live thru. That’s the greatest song ever ABOUT Ponsonby.
I remember DJing that Chains Remix once at an afternoon gig at the KA a few years back, and two cats turned round and instantly started singing along. They were both BaseFM DJs. Shot.
Chains emerged in July 1996 and blasted to number one on the singles charts, at a time when there had only ever been one other local hiphop song to achieve that feat - Hiphop Holiday by Three The Hard Way, in 1994. Like that song, Chains arrived amidst a musical landscape where local radio programmers still thought rap music was a fad that would die out, and radio stations here had slogans like ‘No rap, no crap.’
This stinky notion ain’t a million miles away from the ugly 70s rantings of the ‘Disco Suck’s’ campaign led by the old white rock dogs - go look up the Disco Demolition Rally to see what kind of special brand of stupid rock radio DJs are capable of (as if you didn’t know that already - insert contemporary local example/s here).
The song came out in July 1996, only two weeks after Che Fu had been kicked out of his previous band Supergroove. Chains stayed at number one for 5 weeks. Must have been pretty stink for Supergroove to see that guy you just kicked out of your band at the top of the charts every week. Bet Che didn't feel stink tho.
Meanwhile DLT wasn't seeking out the limelight, going out to clubs going "Yo, I'm here, what's up?", instead he stayed home with his family and giggled his head off. "Every morning I woke up... 'It's still number one! Hee hee hee...'. (Quotes from Hiphop music in Aotearoa, by Gareth Shute - go buy that book and school yourself).
And that wicked chorus? Che made that up on the spot. In a 2005 interview with DJ Sir-vere for Back2Basics magazine, Che revealed how it came about…
"DLT was doing his own album and asked me to do a track. So I turn up at the studio to do this track. As far as I knew I was just going to bust a rhyme on one of his songs. I go in the booth and he says 'You got your chorus ready?' I was like 'Chorus?' I didn't want to look like I didn't know what I was doing, so I said 'I just have to go to the toilet.'
"I go into the toilet and am like 'oh my god, oh my god! He thinks I'm doing a whole track.' So I stand there, in the toilet, and came up with 'Come break my chains come help me out...' I went straight back to the booth and sung it even though I had made it up 30 seconds before!"
Che had never told anyone that story (apart from his manager and his lady) before that interview.
The other great story about Chains is that his label A & R at BMG, Kirk Harding, kept sending DLT back into the studio until he got the version that satisfied him. Apparently he sent them back to the studio THIRTEEN times. I’ve heard some of those other mixes. They are freaking awesome. Such great drums. That man knows his beats. True School represent!
Ironically, given the theme of that song, Base is facing a move away from its own Ponsonby HQ, which has been marked for development. And, as this backgrounder explains, the station doesn't have a lot of time to find a new home. You can chip in to their Givealittle fundraiser to help with the costs associated with the move. This video explains why it matters:
Another music-related Artweek Auckland event: as part of the Changing Lanes project, Paul Woodruffe and some of his Unitec students have printed huge versions of Jeremy Templer's photographs from the scene around the seminal Auckland punk club Zwines, which will be affixed in Durham Lane, where Zwines used to be. A Simon Grigg-curated exhibition in The Bluestone Room, the old Zwines site, opens today and has more of Jeremy's work from the time.
You can see some of Jeremy's pictures here on his website.
Rocknrolla Soundsystem go a new way with their latest edit – taking on Oasis! (Free download)
Hamilton's Terrorball comes through with a sweet little electropop-disco instrumental:
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