Interview with Music pioneers Garage land
When success and indie music meet
In July 1996, Garageland released their debut album, ‘Last Exit To Garageland’. In the wake of that release’s considerable success (it recently certified Gold, selling over 8,500 copies) they upped sticks to base themselves in London, giving us regular updates on their various achievements in various countries with various big name producers.
Nearly three years later, the band is back home to record ‘Do What You Want’, the follow-up to ‘Last Exit’ at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studio in Auckland. So relaxed is the atmosphere there that I find myself being coerced into playing keyboards on a couple of songs between bouts of spontaneous soccer.
Later, while listening to other tracks, a particularly machine-like drum sound catches my attention. Setting myself up, I ask how it was obtained. Over to house engineer and producer of this album, Sam Gibson:
“First of all, it goes through the infra-red port of the Pro Tools and then we put it through my cellphone.”
I smell a rat … “Then I go away and have a coffee, sit and watch a bit of TV, and when I come back, the sounds are there,” chips in singer/guitarist Jeremy Eade.
Okaaay … I feel like I’m in the lion’s den of acerbic wit and although recording sessions are famous for bringing out cabin-fever wackiness, one couldn’t really wish for better surroundings than these. There are rolling lawns, palm trees and fountains outside the studio and the relative hurly-burly of Auckland and London (where the band have lived for the last 18 months) must seem far, far away, along with grey snow and Underground delays. (Actually, the drum sound in question was a snare, played with brushes, going through an envelope follower.)
I’m chatting to drummer Andrew Gladstone while Jeremy “lays down” a vocal track, man. The mirror ball above the mixing desk vibrates in time to the bass and I’m curious as to how recording in London compares.
“We did Feel Alright in this tiny, pretty basic studio in Camden (North London), but it turned out reasonably well considering we did that, and re-recorded Nude Star in about two days. That’s got a slightly different structure to the album version and it gave Clanger (Andrew Claridge, the second guitarist who joined in London) a chance to play on a Garageland recording. We tried re-mixing the album version with various people but they had no success with it.”
Garage Fact #1:
The band have recorded a version of the Pixies’ Alison for an American tribute CD.
How then did the band wind up on the receiving end of Neil Finn’s generosity, as both Dave Dobbyn and The Stereo Bus have before them?
“It’s really expensive to record in London so we figured we could do it back here. Our manager, Campbell Smith, subsequently got talking to Neil, who was into the idea of letting the studio be used by other artists in the same genre. He said that being away for such long periods, he felt guilty having the studio empty. It’s very generous and a cool thing to do. This place has a really good, relaxed vibe and I don’t think Neil and Campbell have even worked out a deal yet.”
A month later, we are at Garageland’s current Auckland HQ. Since recording, the band has been to Australia for the second time this year, playing at three Big Days Out, and Andrew C. has had to return to the UK to please the uber Visa-masters at New Zealand Customs. The band was gratified by their warm Australian welcome, having last toured there two-and-a-half years ago and warm fuzzies go out to the Aussie chapter. Aaaah. Touring overseas (with record company support) has been a near fulltime occupation, with more dates added each visit. Sharing a house in Tooting, London, was very handy for instant mobilisation but must have been ‘close living’. They even finish each other’s sentences.
Jeremy: “We’ve known each other since we were 14, so even if we move to the other side of the world …”
Andrew G.: ” … we’ll still find a way of fighting.”
We stop for a chuckle about what would happen if painters collaborated in the way musicians do and decide it wouldn’t be a pretty picture …
Garage Fact #2:
The word ‘garage’ originates from the French word ‘garer’ which means to dock (a ship).
Garageland has played many clubs in many cities in Britain (40) and America (35), plus a few clubs and festivals in Europe. With an ever-increasing American profile, Garageland are keen to keep increasing the momentum.
“Even in the small American towns, there are always three or four people who know who we are because I guess we get a lot of underground press having been on (cool indie label) Foodchain. But every town has a goth, black-wearing, indie kid and they tend to come. Our profile in America is getting bigger so it was a little frustrating having to stop and do the second album.”
And stop, they had to. Three years is a long time between albums and a band’s got to move on. What knock-on effects has Jeremy noticed from this international acclaim?
“We’ve been given a lot of opportunities, but we’ve made a lot ourselves. When you start to get into the charts in New Zealand you tend to not get given the credit you deserve so that faded for us. As soon as you get overseas, it’s quite nice as you get that depth of inspection again. People start going to your lyrics and realising we’re more than a band that just comes up with a happy, melodic song.”
Did Garageland’s local achievements count for much overseas in Andrew G.’s eyes?
“They do stand you in some stead, particularly getting over there, but really I think when you’re there, it’s almost better not to be known as a New Zealand band. You should try and blend in with the British acts because the press will single you out as being New Zealanders. Some journalists will treat you like a second-class citizen because you’re not from Britain. They’re very protective of their own industry over there and even American bands get treated like that.”
Jeremy adds: “It’s not an overbearing thing, and it’s probably a minority of journalists, unfortunately, who are the loudest.”
Can you ignore it?
“Yeah, you’ve got to, that’s the real trick. Initially it really annoyed us, but to put things in perspective, most of the press we got, even in Britain, was really positive. A weird thing, though, is that musicians from overseas view us as a cool, cult indie band, then learn that we’re a Top 10 band here. They say ‘So are you a rock star in New Zealand? Do you get stopped in the street?’.”
The last time Garageland and I spoke, they had three record labels; Foodchain in the US, Dischordant in the UK and the Nun here. Not a bad scenario, according to Jeremy, but times have changed and Mushroom picked them up worldwide, bar New Zealand. Last year though, in an unusual role-reversal Garageland gave Mushroom the boot, as Jeremy explains: “We said ‘let us go’. We felt they weren’t in a great financial situation which was putting us in a really tight situation and since then the owners have sold it. We said we weren’t getting enough support or money and they were cool about it. We thought we were free worldwide but Flying Nun still wanted to keep us, and so did Mushroom in Australia, I guess because they felt they’d done a bit of work with us. Ultimately, we wanted to be free and just start again and, outside Australasia, we can go where we want with the new record, and will.”
Regardless of how glamorous a worldwide deal sounds, Jeremy feels that with each new territory, you’re starting again. His view of record labels is pretty condemnatory but, I think realistic.
“It’s hard to get really good deals and it means you’re always at the bottom of the roster, not being part of that label’s bands. You know how it works – if a band is signed to say, Sony here, as soon as they go to Australia, they’ve got to stay on Sony. They might be a priority here, but they’ll probably be the lowest priority there and almost certainly won’t be given a look-in in America. It’s taken us a long time to find out how it works, but now we have. The thing is to try and sign as few contracts as possible.
“Record companies are filled with a lot of people who maybe didn’t make the advertising company cut-off and don’t really have a passion for music. Not all of them, but as soon as they start getting into your hair … well, I didn’t go into a garage and pick up a guitar so some guy who wanted a career in entertainment administration can tell me how the song should sound.”
Garage Fact #3:
The band has no problems staying in Britain as Mark Silvey and both Andrews have British passports, and as Jeremy’s grandfather was born in the UK, he gets the nationality and can stay too.
Andrew advises: “You should try to own as much as you can. We’ll own this new record ourselves, so we’re free to go and let anyone we like release it.”
The production on the new album is far beefier than on ‘Las Exit’, with Andrew Claridge’s guitar style asserting itself. We’re talking the more anxious-sounding melodies and layered, distorted guitar sounds of Feel Alright and Pop Cigar than the altogether poppier la-las of Beelines or Fingerpops. Although Sam is the producer, the band can’t help co-producing, and far from being coloured by their recent urban lifestyles, Jeremy is very definite about one thing: “Some people are really affected by their surroundings, but generally our music’s about what moody fucks we are… and we’re moody fucks in every country. But as long as we can find a town with good supplies of alcohol and football, we’re alright.”
Having a steady supply of names like John Cale and Alan Moulder producing your songs can’t hurt either, can it, Andrew?
“For a band of our stature, they must’ve had an interest in our music because we couldn’t have paid Alan Moulder what the Smashing Pumpkins would have. The guy from Third Eye Blind told us that Alan wouldn’t mix one of their songs, and that sums it up. If they don’t like it, they won’t do it.”
And the Eade viewpoint?
“It gives you a great kick to think you’ve worked with someone like John Cale and we’ve had about six or seven ‘name’ producers work on our stuff now, just on a hobby or project basis. Just before we left, Phil Vinall, who just made the Placebo album, mixed some of our demos as a favour, through a friend, and that’s really nice because you get to hear what he can do with your sound. The thing is, mixers love to mix.”
Nearly all of the recordings for this album were done at Roundhead, but the “cosy” atmosphere meant that a third of the drum tracks were recorded at York Street Two’s massive sound-stage (the ex-Telethon TV studio) and the 24-track two inch tapes were brought to Roundhead for the overdubs. Tracking was a pretty live affair, and there, the little studio came into it’s own. Well, that and Jeremy being able to use Finn’s gear.
“We used a lot of different amps and guitars, and borrowed stuff from friends. The first album, I just used my Strat. This time, Clanger and I used five or six different guitars like Neil’s red Gretsch and a Bob Scott custom nine-string. We had a great time experimenting with sounds, but to give Sam his due, he’s one of the most competent sources of guitar sounds I’ve found.” The band will be touring here and in Australia once the album is mixed and then it’s back to the Northern Hemisphere to capitalise on all their hard work to date, aided, says Jeremy, by commercial radio, a medium they would love to break in their own country. The band has noticed the expansion of the New Zealand ‘yoof’ market and Jeremy sure wants a piece of that pie.
“We’ve had more commercial airplay in Britain and America and Australia than we have here, but we chart here and not there. We chart, tour, pull big crowds, but commercial radio here just went ‘oh, yeah … who cares?’.”