Blam Blam Blam, the Front Lawn, the Mutton Birds and,
now, two albums into a burgeoning solo career, Don McGlashan's
songwriting habit still provides a rush. Shane Gilchrist
Don McGlashan: "I don't have to really worry about how many
records I'm selling or whether I'm on the cover of this or
Let me finish one more mouthful ..."
Don McGlashan is having lunch in the inner-city Auckland
suburb of Grey Lynn when his fuel stop is interrupted by this
phone call. He seems unperturbed, happy enough to disengage
to chew the fat.
"As long as it doesn't rain I'll be able to talk at the same
time as I wander round the car park," he says.
It's been a while since we last spoke - 2002, in fact - back
when McGlashan's former band, the Mutton Birds, had just put
out a best-of album complete with tracks Nature and
Dominion Road. In the seven years since, he's been
pretty busy, soundtrack work for television series and films
helping to pay the bills.
McGlashan still lives in the same house, too, a place in
Kingsland (another inner-city suburb). He says he's not savvy
enough to know how to sell a house and buy another one.
Self-deprecation aside, you get the feeling he just can't be
bothered moving. To do so would mean packing up a home studio
into which he has poured much time.
Despite all his DIY efforts, there are some frequencies that
defy soundproofing. The noise from nearby Dominion Rd - the
thoroughfare, not the song, though the two are obviously
connected - still leak in. Listen carefully to McGlashan's
latest album, Marvellous Year, and you might just hear
a faint engine accompanying his backing vocals or acoustic
Then again, you might not: most of the album was recorded at
Roundhead, the Auckland studio of Neil Finn, who provided the
occasional vocal cameo on Warm Hand but largely left
the work to McGlashan and his band, the Seven Sisters, who
actually comprise four musicians: guitarist John Segovia,
multi-instrumentalist Dominic Blaazer, bass, cello and
accordion player Maree Thom and drummer Chris O'Connor.
Sean Donnelly, aka SJD, the prolific and talented writer of
pop songs, was also present, in the guise of co-producer,
asking the "what if?' questions that stretched, or at least
pushed, McGlashan's songs to outcomes that might otherwise
have remained unrealised.
McGlashan likes to discuss music. But he's also aware of the
danger of over-analysing, or of attempting to second-guess
what an audience might like.
That hasn't always been the case; in the days of the Mutton
Birds, much time was spent discussing the songs rather than
"The thing with the Mutton Birds was that what we all arrived
at was a sense that nobody was going to overplay. Because we
listened to a lot of music and we argued about music a lot
and we all had different tastes in music, the intersection
was a bit like one of those maths diagrams you did as a kid:
the intersection of all those sets is not a very big place.
"In a sense, the Mutton Birds ended up a fairly conservative
band. I think it was great band but it was a case of
communicating an idea precisely and with a minimum of fuss
rather than relaxing and showing off and having fun. But with
this band there is more freedom. It has a slightly more
relaxed quality to it."
To make his point, McGlashan reaches for the stars, Comet
McNaught, to be exact. He has named a song after its
astronomical designation of C2006P1, a track that features
"crazy transvestite falsetto backing vocals with Neil Finn,
Sean Donnelly and me".
He believes such an approach wouldn't have passed the early
committee stages in the Mutton Birds.
It is put it to him that perhaps he is more relaxed these
"You mean older?" he chimes in, a little too quickly.
How about more confident in your own skin, your craft?