Marvellous year for McGlashan

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 that magazine".
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 that magazine".
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 reports.

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 guitar.

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 playing them.

"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 days.

"You mean older?" he chimes in, a little too quickly.

How about more confident in your own skin, your craft?