Hearts set on a certain sound

The Broken Heartbreakers' latest incarnation (from left): Mike Stoodley, Sam Prebble, Myles...
The Broken Heartbreakers' latest incarnation (from left): Mike Stoodley, Sam Prebble, Myles Allpress (kneeling), John Guy Howell and Rachel Bailey. Photo by Louise Clifton.
For their latest album, The Broken Heartbreakers spent more time arranging their songs than they did recording them. Good move, writes Shane Gilchrist.

There is a mix of old and new musical approaches on Auckland-based outfit The Broken Heartbreakers' third album, Wintersun.

A combination of hard work and pride in their song craft has resulted in a release brimming with small details, many of which were brought to life by the band members' taste for more traditional methods of recording.

The 10 tracks that comprise Wintersun were performed over two weekends in an inner-city lounge, captured on former Verlaines member Mike Stoodley's computer.

The songs were, as they say, "road-worn", the band having evaluated them over time, pulled them apart then put them together again.

However, something was awry.

"We recorded it on to Mike's laptop and started the mixing process.

"To our ears, there was something missing," says John Guy Howell, guitarist, singer and songwriter.

"We couldn't quite figure it out.

"We compared it to our previous album and realised it was lacking the analogue touch.

"So we transferred the digital audio to tape, which was rigmarole, finding someone who had two-inch tape and a portable set-up.

"We love what tape does to the sounds and we love treating mix-down as a live performance rather than having infinite options, as you do on a computer.

"The mixing desk we were using doesn't have any memory ... you can't go back so it was a good incentive to not screw it up."

Howell, who first came to attention as a member of Dunedin band Tin Soldiers more than two decades ago, founded The Broken Heartbreakers with fellow singer and songwriter Rachel Bailey several years back.

The release of Wintersun follows country-heavy debut Everyone Is Waiting For Their Darlings and a 2007 self-titled effort which, with its warm harmonies and sense of space, received favourable reviews around the country.


Speaking from Lyttelton last week during a short national tour that included a stop at Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers, last Saturday, Howell says The Broken Heartbreakers prefer to take their time over songs.

"We stop and talk about what we want to put across.

"We have put a lot of thought into it and the songs have developed since they have been played.

"That is what separates this album from the last one: on the previous album, the songs were created in the studio and layered up, but this was something we collectively developed.

"A lot of the songs have been co-written, with Rachel doing the lyrics and vocal melodies and me doing the music and, obviously, the band helping with arrangements.

"That is a bit of a shift; there has been a lot more collaborative writing. Often, I'll have pieces of music lying around and Rachel is able to take these away and come up with things that I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams.

"Some of our strongest material is written in that way. Simmering Moon is a good example," Howell says of the album's closing song, which begins with a lengthy guitar line comprising just a few notes.

Alhough he concedes, "we were worried whether the listener would stay with us on this", he is proud of the outcome.

"Some of this stuff is outside our comfort zone and is the result of playing together."

The heavily processed, ambient drum sound on the track A B & C notwithstanding, there is a quiet cohesiveness to Wintersun, a simple elegance brought to life by the vocals of Bailey, in particular, and her harmonies with Howell.

Added to this are tasteful flourishes from drummer Myles Allpress (Heavy Jones, Dictaphone Blues), Stoodley and multi-instrumentalist Sam Prebble (Bond Street Bridge, Reb Fountain Band).

Prebble's contribution shouldn't be ignored.

Playing mandolin and 12-string guitar, he brings both an intricacy and delicacy to arrangements, tickling the senses with his accomplished musicianship.

"He puts a traditional instrument through these crazy effects and it sounds a little bit different," Howell says.

"We also borrowed a beautiful late-'60s Japanese electric 12-string, which Sam plays a lot.

"We'd been touring a bit over the last couple of years as a five-piece so we were really keen to capture that dynamic," Howell says, pointing to the fact the group's line-up has changed a bit over the years.

"We thought if we didn't get something out now, there wouldn't be a document of this period of The Broken Heartbreakers.

"What put a rocket under us is that Sam, who also goes under the moniker Bond Street Bridge and does his own thing, is off to Europe for a three-month tour.

"Myles, our drummer, is becoming a house dad and Rachel and I are off to do a tiki tour of Europe, doing some music there.

"Rachel is Irish so we are going to base ourselves a little bit north of Dublin.

"If things work out, Sam will be touring over there with Bond Street Bridge so we are hoping to hook up and play as a three-piece," Howell says.

"Things are really open-ended. We are all at that stage of our lives where we never say never.

"I hope we will play together again. But for now, it's a case of watch this space."


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