Hard News by Russell Brown

Whisky would be better

A little while ago, Samuel Flynn Scott of the Phoenix Foundation got in touch with "an odd request". Loop Recordings had suggested that he get a third party to write a press release to accompany his debut solo album. Would I be interested? They offered money but I said whisky would be better.

What did he want? Something "lateral" apparently. Righto, then. So, with the deadline looming, I wrote the press release below. But before you forge on, be aware of several things:

(a) Big Gay Paul says the new Love Is safe sex campaign is very cool. I agree.

(b) This is the new cryptic viral video element of the Department of Labour's New Zealand Now campaign, targeted at expats in Australia.

(c) The Phoenix Foundation play a fundraiser for their American tour at the King's Arms in Auckland tonight.

(d) Go the 'Canes and the Crusaders.

Righto. Read Keith (he blogs the Budget so I don't have to) and have a good weekend …



New Zealand's creative archetype is often reckoned to be the "Man Alone" - although as Rex Fairburn, Denis Glover and many others have demonstrated, the reality is more likely to be the Man Alone drinking heroically and having a yarn with his mates.

It is in the latter tradition that we might locate Samuel Flynn Scott, a direct descendant of 19 Listener editors who was swaddled at birth in back issues of Landfall.

"Of course, I'm a little different from those old guys," says Scott, who once kept a journal of his solo traverse, largely on foot, from Newtown to Courtenay Place. "They were always swanning off and leaving the wife to make dripping sandwiches for the kids for a month - or trying to get out of mowing the lawn by being gay. These days, we respect the ladies."

It so happened that in 2004, Scott, who once went to the TAB to put on some bets for Janet Frame, had crafted a handful of songs which did not quite fit the mould of the Phoenix Foundation, the popular Wellington-based rock band and seven-a-side rugby team of which he is a member.

"I was writing a whole lot of material that seemed a bit folky for The Phoenix Foundation," says Scott, a graduate of the seminal creative writing course founded by Wellington loose forward Jerry Collins. "Also, I was listening to a lot of improvised and angular music and somehow wanted to combine those elements into one project - fairly in debt to the Jim O'Rourke-Jeff Tweedy collaboration Loose Fur, which I mention solely because no other bugger will have heard of it."

In order to do justice to this haunting new material, Scott (who was once described as "kinda hot" by a female blogger) formed a new band called Bunnies on Ponies which, out of respect for the material, hardly ever played.

One gig they did play was at The Matterhorn (a famous bar in Wellington that was the location for a string of National Film Unit classics), where they were seen by the young entrepreneur and former MP for Wellington Central, Mikee Tucker, of Loop Recordings, who suggested that Loop finance an album of Scott's solo songs.

"Loop come from a very different musical heritage to myself, so I was sceptical but Mike assured me they would keep their creative distance in the knowledge that my project would be something slightly alien to the label, but nonetheless something they wanted to support. I also thought that being on a dance label might be a good way to meet girls. That 'sensitive' thing we do with the Phoenix Foundation gets old real fast …"

The bold nod to modernity implicit in going with Loop was balanced with an appeal to much older cultural traditions, in the form of an application for funding from Creative New Zealand, which was granted on the casting vote of poet and advertising mogul Graham Brazier.

"That paid for the musicians I wanted to work with, and an engineer," says Scott, a promising middle-distance runner in his youth. "Plus, some beers."

The recording ensemble included Tom Callwood (a double bass player who was integral in the development of the music), engineer Brett Stanton, producer and banjo player David Long and a succession of drummers: Craig Terris (Cassette), Riki Gooch (Trinity Roots) and Mike Fabulous (The Black Seeds, Bunnies On Ponies), who were variously imprisoned for sedition, killed in the war or went mad.

And then, says Scott, summoning the acute sense of drama he first demonstrated in 'Wingnut', his famous song cycle about Stu Wilson, "DISASTER STRUCK!"

The falling-out between King Kong director Peter Jackson and his composer Howard Shore saw the emergency secondment of Long, who correctly reasoned that there would be a hell of a lot more money in a rush job for a major motion picture than some beardy guy's solo album.*

"So a monkey stole my banjo player," Scott observes, wistfully. "I actually tried writing a song about it, but have you tried coming up with a rhyme for 'banjo'?

"It was sad to lose Dave, but he promised to rejoin the project at a later date - and left us his amazing collection of guitars and studio gadgetry as ransom, including his Vox teardrop guitar made famous in many Muttonbirds videos."

Recording proceeded at Phoenix Foundation HQ, the Wellington Car Club - formerly a brothel secretly owned by the New Zealand Labour Party.

With the recording completed in time for Christmas 2005 (allowing Scott to keep his promise to fly out and play a surprise festive gig for New Zealand SAS troops in Afghanistan), the project was put on hold until Scott and Long could re-unite to add finishing touches.

In March, Long (now the sixth-richest man in New Zealand) became available, and he and Scott settled in for "an intensive overdub and mix session" at Long's studio, The Swearing Room. The project was finished and blessed in time for Scott to go back to work on the soundtrack for the forthcoming Taika Waititi film Eagle Versus Shark.**

The result is the Samuel Flynn Scott album The Hunt Brings Us Life, a swirling collection of haunting moods and unusual textures, that ranges from country drinking songs ('Chopped Liver') to geopolitical laments ('War Over Water'), Celtic folk ('Boil My Bones') and stoned guitar songs about people on the television ('God's Legs').***

It exposes a new side of Samuel Flynn Scott, if perhaps one we all knew had been there since his reinvention of the Mackenzie narrative, 'I'd Steal Sheep Too, If I Was Really Hungry'.

And it is an exciting side. I have personally tested this album in several states of consciousness and can confirm that while it did not go at all well with an overdose of party pills, it had a most pleasing effect on all other occasions. By happy coincidence, it also made a perfect match for a new lounge suite my wife and I purchased around the same time.

So it is with the utmost confidence that I commend to you The Hunt Brings Us Life. If he can only get over his problem with compulsive shoplifting, this young man will go a long way.

APRIL 2006

Notes for Editors:

* This part is actually true.
** And this one.
*** This too.