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What exactly is the Friend Ship?
Well, I guess, I mean obviously the title was in reference to the fact that we’ve all been friends for a really long time in this band, and doing stuff together since we were kids. But also it’s kind of a reference to just what it felt like we needed, post the mosque attack in Christchurch, just that New Zealanders really needed to carry each other along through that time, and just be really there for each other, really show up. And I think that’s something that’s relevant in these Covid times as well — that friendships aren’t these passive things, friendships are active acts that we do to help each other.
In terms of the recording process, you recorded it in lots of places. How did that work?
It was done over a long period of time, and that does kind of happen with us anyway, we like to take things away and fiddle with them in our home studios, but it was just a bit more of an extreme version of that this time round. Because between Give Up on Your Dreams and this album, we lost our recording studio practice space that we’d had for many, many years. Not having that space meant that we had to do things in our own way. The amount of time we like to spend on something, we’d never have been able to afford to do that all at a place like The Surgery. What we like to do is, you know, fiddle with things. Do stuff where we can, when we can, and then when we feel like we’re getting somewhere take it into The Surgery and work with Lee Prebble, who we’ve worked with since the first album. And then he gets to deal with our haphazard recordings and try to make it all sound cohesive and fancy, and he does a very good job of that.
That’s interesting, we have a similar issue in Dunedin with practice spaces ...
Yeah, I just don’t think we’d ever get one again now, but also we’re at the age where we have houses and things like that, and people have garages and whatnot, so it’s not so bad for us but I do feel for young bands coming through trying to find practice spaces because they were relatively easy to get when I was 18, there’d be all sorts of strange warehouse spaces available and I guess it’s just sort of reflective of the wider property issues we’ve got in New Zealand that the kind of artist-run spaces are no longer really practical in the way they used to be.
I assume recording yourselves was something you couldn’t have done 20 years ago. Has recording equipment become cheaper and better to the point that you can do that.
Yeah, but also we’ve got 20 years of collecting gear, you know. I guess that’s also another thing that’s sort of indicative of the privilege of age isn’t it, that we’ve had a chance to build up collections of microphones and synthesizers and all sorts of bits and bobs. I feel like my 22-year-old self would be really jealous of middle-aged Sam’s recording equipment and synthesizer collection.
Do you have any equipment that you’re still using from the first album?
Yeah totally. I mean my acoustic guitar, I’ve never managed to upgrade my acoustic guitar so my old Yamaha that I bought when I was 15 is literally on every Phoenix Foundation album. I would say Luke’s Juno 60, I think that’s always been around, that would probably be on every Phoenix album as well. Conrad’s got a Yamaha sampler, like one of those kid’s toy samplers, and we still try to use that whenever we can because it’s just got such a unique sound.
You also collaborated a lot on this album with Nadia Reid and others ...
Yeah, that was a very deliberate choice for sure, like, again I guess that relates to friendship as well in that we wanted our friends to come and make the album a bit more interesting and not be stuck in the world of, I don’t know, dudes. I mean it was amazing having the orchestra on there, I never imagined we’d get to record the NZSO for one of our albums. But possibly just even more rewarding was having some female voices on the album and how that changes the narrative, and what that does to the record.
Have you played Starters Bar before?
No, I’ve got no idea about it actually. It feels like every time we come to Dunedin there’s a different venue and a whole lot of opinions about where you should and shouldn’t play.
I mean, you know, I love being in Dunedin. We always have a great time, we never know what to expect, and it’s always sort of slightly harder to predict what sort of crowd you’re going to get, but it always ends up being one of our favourite shows of the tour and just some magic kind of happens whenever we come to town.
There’s always some mysterious vibe in the air.
The Phoenix Foundation, Starters Bar, Friday, November 13. Tickets $42 + booking fee from banishedmusic.com
For more from Fraser Thompson go to dunedinsound.com.