Monday, November 29, 2010

The Dylan Storey Story

The first I heard of Dylan Storey was about six years or so ago, when my flatmate gave me a three-track promotional CD and said 'hey, check this out, I bet you'll like this.'  I had recently moved to Auckland at this point and maybe I was a little bit lonely, becuase I remember that I put the CD on and thought 'man, that's a really amazing guitar sound.  I wonder if this Dylan Storey wants to be friends with me?'  In those days, of course, we didn't have the Internet beamed directly into our brains yet, so if you wanted to be 'friends' with somebody, you had to go and meet them in real life.  This is actually a bit easier for musicians than it is for real people though, because whereas if non-musicians want to cultivate a friendship with somebody they have to try to think of interesting things to have opinions about, musicians can just invite each other around to their houses to play with their toys.

Dylan always says he doesn't like cats.  You decide.

I seem to recall that shortly after hearing this three-track promotional CD, I went along to the Odeon lounge to see the release show for 'Up  in the Rough,' Dylan's first album, and I became a fan.  This is probably a rare example of one of those little promo CDs actually achieving its desired effect, although the fact that I don't run a record label or a powerful music publication concern has probably limited the positive impact I have been able to have on Dylan's career to date.  What I did do, though, was ask him to join my band.  I may have at the time implied that we would shortly be making heaps of money or something to that effect, because he said yeah, OK, and suddenly I had a band.  The other person in the band was Ms. Kate Whelen, who is now the mother superior of the Sisters of Saint Rupertsberg, who I gather are a force to be reckoned with. It wasn't too long before we were loading everything into the back of Kate's van and heading off on this ridiculously error-prone tour around New Zealand in the dead of winter, during the course of which we dealt with snowstorms, landslides, lost wallets, empty gastanks and storms at sea, and all this before the second night when we got Christchurch to discover that we'd been double-booked with The Feelers.  Fortunately, we had Reb Fountain along, who is pretty good at driving in snow, and she also saved the day by finding us a better place to play that night, which incidentally is how we met The Eastern.

The other thing Reb did, though, was steal my band.  I am not bitter about this, because while having a band is quite good for things like getting out of the house and having regular contact with other humans, it does necessitate getting out of the house and having regular contact with other humans.  Also you have to organise things and it's sort of your fault when you book a tour that turns out to be riddled with snowstorms, landslides, storms at sea and The Feelers.  As well, since I was part of the band that she stole, I got to keep on playing in a band with Dylan Storey, it just wasn't my band any more.  That was actually pretty good, because a) I didn't have to organise anything much, and b) we got Simon Gooding in to play guitar too, so he and Dylan could play these really nerdy harmony solos and crack each other up on stage. 

Dylan explaining how glaciers work

So basically, I've been playing in bands with Dylan for about five years or so, and we've spent quite a bit of time hanging out in vans together.  He knows the names of all the birds and most of the stars, and he likes to play Led Zeppelin songs at soundcheck.  His song 'the water' was to my knowledge the only bFM #1 hit single ever to have both a 5/4 time signature and a flute solo, and he writes songs about awesome things like space.  He's got this way of playing guitar solos that pretty reliably makes me grin like a dog at a duckpond, and he knows all the words to 'Up On Cripple Creek' by The Band, even though they don't make a lot of sense.  Since I've know him, he's released two more albums, both of which are amazing, especially 'Out Of The Soup.'  I had a lot of fun while I was overseas playing that album to people, who would invariably say things like 'what?  Who's this guy?  This is awesome!  He's from New Zealand?'

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is that last Friday, Dylan released a new EP of some stuff he's been working on lately.  It's called 'the power of suggestion,' and I suggest that you will like it.  He's doing that thing where it's free to download, so obviously he's figured out something about economics that I don't understand or maybe he reads those blogs about the future of music distribution or something.  Anyway, what I'm saying is, it's really good, and you can have it for the price of a glass of water, so go get it from here.   It's got harmony guitar solos.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Multimedia Millicent

Last week Ms Millicent Crow and myself went to the opening of Sophie Oiseau's exhibition Ghoul Friends at the High Seas Gallery, and now I am the proud owner of half an artwork.  It's a screenprint that depicts Millicent herself, overcome by postprandial somnolence, having just devoured either a person or one of the higher apes.  People tend to think that she's a vegetarian, and mostly she is.  I suppose that sometimes she must devour her victims though, otherwise Sophie would be lying to us through art, which is a thing she would never do.  A lot of her other work, for example, is about animals that most people don't believe in but nevertheless probably exist. 

You're probably wondering what a lot of people are wondering: Are Millicent Crow's feet that pointy in real life?  The answer is no, dear reader, they're not.  In real life, her feet are less pointy than that.

I'm not much in the habit of buying art, not because I don't like it, but because I have a nerdy habit of paying my rent each week.  At the moment, that doesn't leave a lot left over to put in the art jar.  That will change of course once either a) we move to Whanganui, or b) I figure out a way to monetize my turtle.  Then I will have the means to buy so much art that I will be able to eat my dinner off it.  In case you were wondering, I do have some preliminary ideas for getting rich off my turtle, but at the moment they hinge on me owning a zeppelin and the turtle being able to fly it, so they're still very much in development.  It's having ideas like this, I suppose, that explains why I have not yet become rich through the natural course of events.

Ms. Millicent Crow is popping up all over the place at the moment.  When she's not devouring people or featuring in artworks lately, she's getting hounded by the press.  You could probably not find nicer press to be hounded by than the good people at Extra Curricular Magazine, though, so really it's not that big of a problem.  They were around here the other day taking photos of the cat and chatting about craft and the Nature of Art and so on, and now they've run a story on Ms. Crow's gocco prints in their latest edition.  It's a cracking read, and it's available from many reputable dealers (including the High Seas Gallery, in fact), so if your turtle has been paying dividends I urge you to rush out and buy a copy immediately.  As if that wasn't enough, there is also an interview with Millicent over on the Craft Country Wairarapa blog, in which she reveals why we're probably not going to get our bond back when we eventually do move to Whanganui.  I'm a tiny bit jealous of all this actually; nobody has put me in a screenprint for ages, and I certainly don't have anybody soliciting my opinion on the Nature of Art.  Fortunately, though, I have a blog, so my opinions are available unsolicited.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Analogue Starlings

An important development since last week is that now I have access to two analogue synthesisers.  I'm not really one of those people who can wax lyrical about the difference between analogue stuff and digital stuff, but I do get a strong impression that as a general rule, analogue stuff is more hip.  Having analogue synths on your record is a bit like buying locally grown produce from the market, or going to see a proper shrink instead of hooking down antidepressants and vodka - the effect is more or less the same as the bogan alternative, but it gives you something to talk about at dinner parties.  Ordinarily I'm more of a supermarkets and fluoxitine kind of guy, but the presence of analogue synths makes my studio look a little bit more like the bridge of a spaceship so I'm all for them.

Here is a picture of my studio, looking about thirteen percent more like the bridge of a spaceship than it used to.  It probably isn't the sort of spaceship you would want to take into hyperspace or rely upon to ensure the survival of humanity or anything, but I'm pretty happy with some of the sounds it's been making.  A couple of months ago, though, two pairs of starlings built their nests in the roof, and their chicks have just hatched.  That means that everything I record at the moment includes a sort of ambient chirping at around four kHz, which isn't really ideal.  In the nineteenth century, I would have solved a problem like this with a ferret; in the sixties I would have been able to purchase some sort of DDT-based bird repellent from my local hardware store.  In 2010, I can blog about it and download a parametric EQ to notch out four thousand Hz, which is good because I'm quite fond of starlings.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All animals are psychotic

What's going on in this photo is that for the first time in a long while, I don't have an out of town show this month. That means that Millicent Crow and myself have been spending as much time as possible hanging around down at the docks pretending to be in classic action movies and mucking about with the self-timer mode on the camera. There are probably other ways to spend a sunny weekend in Auckland, but we personally find this one quite fulfilling.

The docks can be more relaxing than the park near our house, because the wildlife is on the whole less disturbing. The other day, as we were running* next to the duckpond on a tranquil early summer evening, we witnessed two very unnerving incidents of duck-on-duck violence.  Those of you who actually listen to the words of my songs (and don't worry, I'm aware that most people don't) will be aware that I like to use birds quite a lot, often as metaphors for things like love. One of the reasons for this is that several species of bird mate for life, which is a handy fact to use in songwriting if you want an excuse to write about ducks. The paradise duck, in particular, has this habit, so I like to think about paradise ducks quite anthropomorphically and imagine them growing comfortably old together in their swampy paddocks, perhaps reminiscing to each other about how they met and telling the same stories over and over again but not minding.

Me, singing a song about ducks.  There are others.

It turns out, though, that there are problems with using ducks like this. Unfortunately, they're not mating for life because they're in love with each other. Actually, they're mating for life because they have adapted through natural selection in such a way as to more effectively pass on their genetic code and ensure the survival of their offspring, given the environmental conditions in which they find themselves. To this end, one quite effective strategy apparently is to eliminate competition for scarce resources. That means that at this time of year, as well as being all clucky and looking after their fluffy little chicks, they're also doing their best to harrass and murder the fluffy little chicks that belong to the other ducks who live in their pond.

See the love in their eyes?

Did you ever wonder why you see a mother duck waddling along with between seven and ten little yellow ducklings in tow? It's not because she got a bulk order; nobody wants that many ducks. They have this many ducklings every year, but we are not yet, as far as I can tell, up to our necks in ducks. The reason she needs so many ducklings is that if she wants even a couple of kids to look after her in her old age, she has to factor in attrition. A lot of this attrition comes at the hands, or beaks, of other ducks. That's right - those ducks you feed, those ducks I carelessly turn into symbols of undying love in jolly little folk songs - if they were humans, they'd be in jail or working as bouncers. They are basically just vehicles for genetic code, and if they see a threat to the survival of that code they will move swiftly to neutralise it. The word for this if you're a human is 'psychopath.'

So the other evening, as we were jogging through what should have been an idyllic pastoral scene, we were confronted with the sight of a male paradise duck (that's the one with the dark head) holding at bay a pair of mallards (those are the ones with the green heads on the boys and light brown heads on the girls) and systematically drowning their fluffy yellow offspring by holding their little heads under the water. This elicited an immediate crisis, to whit:

'He's killing them! what shall we do?'
'Um. Maybe nothing? This is probably how come we're not overrun with ducks.'
'No, we have to stop him! I'm going to hit him with a branch.'
'Really? That's not very vegetarian.'
'I won't kill him, I'll just teach him a lesson.'
'He's a duck. I bet he isn't good at lessons.'
'But we have to try to stop him!'
'I mean, do we? Probably if we scare him or whatever he'll just get more stressed and then he'll want to kill more ducklings.'
'How could you know that? You're just making it up and using your authoritative voice that you use when you're making something up but you want people to believe it anyway.'
'OK, you're right about that, yeah.  But it seems sort of plausible, doesn't it?'
'It always seems a little bit plausible, but you're still making it up. If we don't do something all these ducklings will die!'
'I think maybe that's what has just happened, in fact. Um.'

A little bit further around the lake, the scene repeated itself. This time, though, the principle actors were a pair of black swans. The difference is important, because it's a bad idea to interfere with black swans if they're on a rampage. Firstly, there's that thing that everyone knows about how they're super-strong and they can break your leg with their wing. Or maybe it's just your arm, but either way it's pretty serious. Then there's the legal question. The other thing that everybody knows about swans is that in England, all the swans are the property of the Queen. That means it's best not to hit them with branches because she can probably have you hanged or something. By extension, then, all swans in New Zealand must be the property of the Governor-General. His powers are mostly of the arcane constitutional kind, and probably don't extend to having people hanged for interfering with the viceregal swans, but we're pretty fond of the old G-G. We wouldn't want him to hear that we'd been going round hitting his swans with branches, so we just let that situation lie.

Watch out.  Insanely powerful and protected by royal decree.

Altogether, then, the park presents a much more stressful moral environment than the docks. No doubt nature is just as red in tooth an claw down there, but at least the baby animals are less cute - baby seagulls, for example, are pretty hideous; and I don't know that we'd get quite as exercised about a similar situation involving fish. When you're recreating and hanging out you don't always want to be faced with moral dilemmas or threats to the anthropomorphic order you've imposed on the animal kingdom; it's not relaxing.  I think we're going to have to avoid the park for a while, at least until the ducklings have become better able to take care of themselves.

On an unrelated note, the other thing I do when I don't have any out of town shows is play shows in Auckland - like this one for example, which is this weekend at Cafe 121 in Ponsonby, with Hannah Curwood:

The birds on the poster are sparrows - Danish ones - which Ms. Crow adapted from a Danish banknote.

*Yes, we run. I like to keep in shape, just in case I have to thwart something one day, like say a bank robbery or an assassination or something. It would be a shame to not be able to thwart something like that just because you were a bit puffed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Whanganui: the new Berlin?

When I said the other week that I was going to Whanganui for rock'n'roll reasons, you may have thought something like 'bah! How disappointed he will be, searching for the Devil's music in that forsaken pile!  There will be no joy for him on this journey, mark my words!'


Well, well, well.

To that I would reply that a) your internal monologue is really smug, and you sound a little like a cranky old wizard, and b) actually you're also Wrong, because is turns out that Whanganui is not only awesome, it's also quite rocking.  Because I like to keep my ear to the ground,* I had been hearing rumors that Whanganui was cool for a little while.  Mostly I had been discounting these, because you know how people will talk.  After a whirlwind seventeen-hour visit last weekend however, and some subsequent rummaging around on the internet, my opinion has changed.  I now feel like I've gathered enough evidence to justify a mental reclassification, which means that Whanganui has been officially added to the list of Places We Could Move To For A Little While Sometime To Make A Thing Of Some Sort. 

The first point in Whanganui's favour is how extremely grampire it is.  As we were looking at photos of some of the available rental property on the internet, Ms. Millicent Crow remarked of one place that it looked like somebody's grandad had actually exploded in the middle of the room, such was the degree and quality of Axminster carpet and floral wallpaper.  That kind of decor would be perfect for living in for a couple of months trying to write some songs or something.  If ever you couldn't think of something to write about or if you were bored or whatever you could just watch the cat constantly freaking out, partly about about how much the carpet reminds her of a snake-filled jungle, and also because of all of the scary grandad ghosts that only she could see.

Gampire as, and full of ghosts.
Whanganui is a proper city, you know.  It even has suburbs and beachside communities you can move to if living uptown on the dole writing the occasional song becomes too stressful.  Out by the sea there's a suburb callled Castlecliff where a particularly attractive cottage caught our eyes.  If we wanted to live there, for example, it would cost us exactly half of what we pay in Auckland, for a place twice the size.  In fact, right now, the most you can pay for a house in Whanganui is $380 per week, and that's for somewhere that's about the size of Graceland and comes with a full complement of monkey butlers and a shark tank.  The great thing about this place out in Castlecliff, though, is that as well as it being close to the crashing waves and the cries of the gulls and so forth, the ad says 'no pets.'  If you look in the photograph below, however, you will see most clearly that there is a horse in the yard.  I swear I didn't photoshop it cos honestly, look at the shadow, I'm not that good.  This is great, because what it obviously means is that in Whanganui, a horse is not a pet.  It's a car.
House with a horse.  If I had a job, I could ride it to work.
I don't want to give you the impression, dear reader, that life in Whanganui would be all about old person houses that smell a bit funny and riding your horse to town every Tuesday to change your library books.  There's more to it than that, and when I said above that Whanganui is actually rocking, I did mean it.  If you walk the echoing downtown streets on a Saturday night, between rows of mostly empty-looking turn of the century stone buildings with their faded advertisments for Epsom Salts and names like 'South Pacific and Orient Meat and Wool Co.,' you are likely to hear the sound of ghostly voices and laughter.  Follow the sound, turn a corner, and you'll start to see a drift of tight jeans and full skirts.  Just as you may begin to notice that the walls are covered with stencil art and photocopied A3 posters, you'll hear a 'one, two, you know what to do' crackling from a fuzzy PA upstairs, and the windows of the old Wanganui Chronicle building will commence to shake with the sound of a telecaster slamming the valves of not one but two towering and ancient Jansen amplifiers.  This will be followed half a bar later by a rattly snare drum playing the Johnny Cash freight train riff, then the rest of the band will come in and you'll suddenly realise that there's something seriously rockabilly going on here and if you'd better leave town quick before you put a quiff in your hair and get hooked on diet pills.

Or you could just jump right in and take the stairs, which would lead you to the headquarters of Stink Magnetic Recording Company, where there will be a party happening.  These guys are one of the things that make Whangnui a rock'n'roll town, and their commitment to fuzzy surfabilly psychowerewolf zombie music is a cedit to the whole community.  The building they're in, which I think used to belong to the Wanganui Chronicle, is a maze of art studios and open liftshafts, with a basement so haunted the locals look at you funny if you ask them about it.  There is talk of another venue opening next door, and if you ask about noise control they just laugh and open a beer.  When we played there last week the crowd looked like the sort of people you get in Oamaru or Lyttelton, or Berlin for that matter - people who can't see the point in working stupid hours for idiots in order to pay rent in a big city when they could live cheap in a town with lots of space and do things like build robots out of bike parts or work on their guitar sound.  These people are essentially my target market, which is a bit of a shame because their lifestyle choices mean they tend to have no money.  But: they usually let you stay at their house, and they often have heaps of cool things to play with in it.

So basically all I'm saying is don't be surprised next time one of your friends says they're moving to Whanganui for a little while.  They're not a junkie, and they're probably no more mentally ill than the rest of us.  They just want to live in a town where they can concentrate on writing and illustrating their book about birds and still have some money left at the end of the week.  Also, now that Mr Laws is no longer the president of the place, it has again become a safe envioronment in which to raise your turtle.

*this is an actual lie, the first to appear on this blog.  I hate keeping my ear to the ground; most of the time if I look like I'm listening I'm really doing something completely else.  Sorry about the lie, I will try to make sure it doesn't become a habit.  If I lose credibility with my readers I may damage my chances of getting rich by selling advertising here.