Zen Mantra is the domain of Australian born, Christchurch based 'bedroom' musician Sam Perry. Formed from the ashes of promising band Pysch Tigers, he released impressive debut album, intriguingly titled, How Many Padmes Hum? via Muzai Records late last month. We caught up with him recently to see how things are going post-release, what's up with the album's name, it's international release and the nurturing musical environment that is Christchurch...
Hey Sam, howís it going?
How did you first get into making music?It started as me just learning my favourite songs on guitar, and then once I knew enough chords I just felt a natural urge to write some music of my own.
How did Zen Mantra come about and what led you toward this musical direction?
I was recording my previous bandís album (Psych Tigers), and was starting to really doubt the music I had written, so in-between recording sessions I would write songs on my laptop; experimenting with new sounds that I hadnít previously tried. Something just clicked, so I rolled with it.
Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?
Not really, Zen Mantra drummer/best friend Harry Guy recorded this killer EP under the name ĎHush Houseí. I keep asking him to start playing it live. If that eventually happens Iíll be playing guitar or drums probably.
Christchurch is producing some great music, and always has really - why do you think this is?
Iíve only lived here in Christchurch for the last three years, Iíve lived in Australia for most of my life. Christchurch has been in ruins for most of the time in which Iíve been part of itís music scene, but I can comment on how friendly the scene is, there isnít any elitism or pretension or whatever, not that Iíve encountered anyway. I guess it just means (especially for a young musician such as myself) that you can make mistakes and grow as a musician without having to fear being ostracized from the Ďsceneí. This is going to sound super cheesy, but I wouldnít be the musician I am today without the caring nature of the musicians around me.
How is the live scene these days?
Pretty abysmal to be honest. There are a few great places to play (Darkroom, Wunderbar, Dux etc.) but the crowds are usually pretty shit. Hopefully thatís not more of a reflection on my band though haha.
What is your writing and recording process....
Whenever a try and write music it tends to just come out sounding like a worse version of what I am listening to at the time. I have to wait for the random moments when my subconscious spits out ideas. That happens quite a lot though, as my mind is thinking Ďmusicí most of the time. When I get one of these ideas I just record it into my laptop as soon as I can, and then try and let the song pour itself out. If it stops coming naturally, I leave it.
Tell us about the new album - whatís the story behind itís name?
I was talking to a guy called Valis, he runs the psychedelic music blog ĎTrip Inside This Houseí. When I was telling him about Zen Mantra (this was right after it was conceived) I mentioned I was having trouble coming up with an album name, he then suggested the name ĎHow Many Padmes Hum?í, basically itís a riff or a take off of the Buddhist chant ĎOm Mani Padme Humí. I thought the title was fitting, one of my primary goals of the album was to put people in a trance, taking them to a different place whilst keeping the catchy elements of pop music.
Was there a particular theme, inspiration or sound you were trying to achieve?
Not really, I was more so trying to achieve a feeling. As I mentioned before I wanted to put people in a trance, but I didnít want to do so at the expense of the energy. Achieving both these things together was my main goal. If I write with particular genres or bands in mind, I just end up recycling shittier versions of sounds that have already been made.
How long have you been working on the songs and where there many outtakes?
I spent countless hours on the recording and production of all the songs, I am a perfectionist when it comes to outtakes. If itís not perfect it gets scrapped.
The album is consistently pretty great but the last track is particularly good Ė tell us about it specifically...
The lyrics were all written around the theme of escapism, a theme that is shared by quite a few songs on the album. A common misconception could be that itís about romance, but itís actually just about getting away and doing exciting new things in new places with someone close to you, it could be about your best friend or something. I love 60ís pop, which is probably why I naturally just wrote it to sound like a love song about a girl. The last song on the album is defiantly one of my favourites.
The album is out on Muzai in New Zealand but has also been released overseas correct?It is being released overseas off of Crash Symbols (US) and a UK label which Iím not entirely sure if Iím allowed to talk about yet. Itís being released on tape and vinyl (as well as digital of course) internationally in late January, and the album has been re-mastered by Kody Nielson (Opossom) for the international release.
Exciting Ė so how did you hook up with them?
I was looking around for an appropriate label to release my album in the U.S and a bunch of people recommended I hit up Crash Symbols, so i sent Dwight (one of the co-owners) an email proposal, and he was really into it. So just the power of email really.
It was kind of the same with Kody, I needed somebody to master my album for the vinyl pressing in Jan and I adore Kody's production on Opossom's debut and Bic Runga's 'Belle', so i sent him an email asking him if he would master my album and attached a link to the soundcloud stream.
Have you been reading your reviews? Anything particularly surprising?
There havenít been a whole lot of reviews, as the album at this stage has only been released in New Zealand, and most of my fans are based overseas. The reviews of the singles that I released before the album have all very positive though. Iím just happy people like my music as much as I do.
How is your live show coming along? Do you enjoy playing live?
The live show is coming along well, the Zen Mantra live band is made up of Steven Marr (Ipswich) on bass, Charlie Ryder (Bang Bang Eche) on guitar, Elspeth Odum singing harmonies, Harry Guy (Hush House/Lucky Charms) on drums and I sing and play synth. The live versions of the songs and the recorded versions are quite different, theyíre more energetic. It keeps things interesting. Playing live is one of my favourite things to do, as mentioned previously though, shows have been pretty uninspiring lately.
What else have you got coming up?
We have a show at the Wunderbar on the 23rd of November with Teen Fortress and Yvnalesca, and we are coming up to Auckland to play a show at Cassette on the 25th. Iím writing my sophomore album at the moment, but Iíll save those details for later.
Whatís your view on the state of music in New Zealand...
Itís shit that there are world class bands that have to work day jobs to support themselves, but I guess thatís just a con of having a small population (which is great in a lot of other ways). The results of VNZMAís were upsetting to say the least, Six60 are FAR from the best group in New Zealand, címon.