Album slowly rises from the Seafog

Seafog is (from left) Nigel Waters, Martyn Sadler and Rob Sharma. Photo supplied.
Seafog is (from left) Nigel Waters, Martyn Sadler and Rob Sharma. Photo supplied.

Veteran Dunedin musician Rob Sharma's passion remains undimmed, Shane Gilchrist discovers.

Having arrived home after a day spent teaching English at King's High School, Rob Sharma is enjoying a cuppa at his Port Chalmers home before heading into town for the last instalment in a series of New Zealand Music Month performances at the Dunedin City Library.

Sharma's in an upbeat mood, thanks in some part to the impending arrival of the debut album by his band, Seafog.

Being released on vinyl by a little-known Austrian label, Zelle Records, Raise Your Skinny Fist opens with a song of the same name that holds another clue to the genuine smile that creases Sharma's face.

On it, Sharma sings the line, "going through your black vinyl 12-inch LPs ...'', evincing his love of, well, vinyl, of course, but also his hankering for things well-made.

At one point in his 49 years, he owned enough vinyl albums to fill a large room.

Such was his passion for sifting through stacks of records he set up a record shop in Dunedin, aptly named Sanctuary.

Raise Your Skinny Fist might be Seafog's debut album, yet the band has been around for more than a decade.

At its early gigs in 2006, the lineup comprised Sharma, fellow guitarist Nigel Waters and drummer Robbie Yeats, who has since been replaced by Martyn Sadler.

"I think Robbie played a couple more times but he had so many other projects. I then ran in to Marty. He was a natural fit.''

By that, the guitarist, singer and songwriter is referring to a shared pedigree that goes back to the 1990s, firstly when he and Sadler were in Jefferson, then the long-running Jetty, an outfit that continued his taste for indie-rock experimentation.

Sharma's list of musical vehicles over the years is long and includes The Screaming Sharmies, Destiny Brothers, Heavy 33, Jefferson, Jetty and, more recently, a new project with brothers Aaron and Mark involving working on material for a follow-up to the 2015 Robert Burns compilation Ae Fond Kiss.

Describing his meandering over the years as "a gradual progression'', Sharma recalls a recent Jetty reunion in Auckland: "We had a great time and I was so humbled by the crowd that had turned out. But after it had finished, I thought, 'well, Seafog are nothing like this band'.''

He says moving to a bigger property in Port Chalmers has given Seafog a regular place to practise, although Sharma says the band's Sunday afternoon sessions often end at a point far removed from where they started.

"We might call it band practice, but it's not. It more like a jam session. Sometimes it will involve the same songs; sometimes it's older stuff, new stuff. It's all mixed together and comes together as a set.

"When we get together, we have certain rituals. We also all speak our minds. If someone is feeling sensitive about an issue or an idea, you know to step back. It can get quite heavy in there, too. They can be my counsellors as well.

"It's a buzz. We end the weekend on a high note,'' says Sharma, who describes himself as a rhythm guitar player who "sometimes breaks into a frenzy''.

However, frenzied is hardly a word best used to encapsulate the sound of Raise Your Skinny Fist.

It's less spiky than seductive, a collection of propulsive, hypnotic, and meditative songs that distil the sound of friends finding a groove (albeit without the funk).

"When I'm playing rhythmically, that's when the lyrics come,'' Sharma says.

"I think most of the songs on the album came from that calm place when we were jamming.

"If you look into the lyrics deeply, there could be concerns about where they are going, but there is this feeling of inner peace, this feeling that things are going to get better.''

Raise Your Skinny Fist was recorded and produced last year by Forbes Williams at the Ante Room in Port Chalmers.

"Forbes is like another member of the band. He's also a tough master. We recently did some more recording and I thought it was going to be easy, that we'd just go in and play them. But Forbes would make us do things again.''

Still, Sharma admits, a bit of external pressure doesn't hurt.

"We've been a bit cruisy in the past. The three of us have been playing music for a long time. It's good to have deadlines, otherwise things don't happen. We'd just sit on the same songs until the next gig or friend's party.''


Label's founder smitten from afar

Arno Loeffler, founder of Zelle Records, says his label is "an Austrian one-man, vinyl-only'' operation dedicated to alternative rock and pop music from Dunedin and elsewhere in New Zealand.

Established in 2014, the label has released a handful of material: single Repentance Song/Flint and Tinder by Vorn (2014); Dunedin solo performer Darryl Baser's debut album Raw Selfie (2015); the Robert Burns compilation Ae Fond Kiss (2015), on which Dunedin musicians reinterpret songs and poems by the bard; and Jay Clarkson's album Spur (2015).

"My strategy, if you can call it that, is to put out the records I would want to buy myself as a fan,'' Loeffler says.

The label's next release is Port Chalmers indie outfit Seafog's debut album, Raise Your Skinny Fist, which is due to hit shelves later this month.

"The total run will be, as always, 300 copies,'' says Loeffler, who first became aware of music from Dunedin artists in 1990 when a fellow German university student introduced him to the Flying Nun compilation In Love With These Times.

"We were particularly drawn to the Dunedin bands on the album - The Chills, Straitjacket Fits, Look Blue Go Purple, The Bats - so we started buying New Zealand and Dunedin records via mail order and from a shop in Stuttgart we used to hitchhike to.

"I fell in love with that unique, salty, dreamy mixture of post-punky poppiness with a bit of psychedelia thrown in for good measure and combined with an unabashed DIY attitude. I just couldn't get enough. That fascination has never left me.''

Having first visited Dunedin in 1993, Loeffler has returned more than 20 times.

"I try to make the trip once a year but that has become increasingly difficult. There seem to be people in Dunedin who think I actually live here because they keep bumping into me. I wish.''


The album

• A limited-edition vinyl run of Seafog's debut album Raise Your Skinny Fist (Zelle Records) is due to be released this month. A digital version is available on Bandcamp.



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