Auckland-based band New Gum Sarn should be feeling pretty happy with themselves. This year alone they have signed to well-reputed Australian label Spunk Records, put out a mesmerising debut album, unveiled a cleverly shot music video for said album's title-track, and successfully completed a seven-show nationwide tour.
Comprised of Oscar Dowling on vocals and guitar, Durham Fenwick on guitar, Sophia Lawler-Dormer on drums and Dave Weir on bass, the tight-knit foursome deliver outstanding live performances but have also managed to translate their charismatic energy to their first record New Gold Mountain (a translation of the band’s name), which was released last month and has already sold out of the first vinyl pressing. However, as interviewer Sara Monty discovered when she sat down to speak with the group after their recent Wellington show, it’s been such a busy year they’ve barely had time get to the bottom of what makes their sound work...
UTR: Hey guys, so how has the tour been going?
Sophia: Pretty good.
Oscar: Yeah it’s been really fun.
Dave: Great to see the country.
What have been the highlights?
Dave: So good to play with Bad Sav, and also with Astro Children.
Sophia: So fucking great.
Oscar: Amazing, and then highlights not musically was just being in a foot of snow.
Sophia: We had like snow fights and we played with snowballs...
Did you make a snowman?
Oscar: No but we had Double Brown and made little snowballs and put Double Brown in them and ate them.
Durham: It was pretty silly.
Sophia: Yeah I made a whisky snowball.
Oscar: We had a very luxurious start to the tour…
Sophia: It’s gone downhill.
Oscar: Hahaha, we spent some money and stayed in some rooms as opposed to sleeping on couches… and then we got to stay at The Sherwood because we played there. It is a real nice ski resort in Queenstown, which is run by the same people as Golden Dawn… and then we got to Dunedin and started sleeping on couches...
Sophia: Being cold, being really sick...
Oscar: Driving lots, that kind of stuff.
Yeah. So you guys recently signed to Spunk records, which is a pretty big deal, how did that come about?
Oscar: Through Matthew Crawley.
Durham: He’s really good friends with the guy that runs Spunk Records.
Dave: Luckily the guy, Aaron Curnow, he really took a liking to the music and was like “yeah I endorse this” and gave us this good offer.
Were you surprised?
Sophia: Yeah, haha.
Did that kind of reinforce that you’re on to a good thing with your music?
Oscar: Yeah, we don’t really know what we’re on to, we’re still not that sure what people like about us you know what I mean?
Dave: But it does reinforce it though.
Oscar: It does reinforce our confusion.
Durham: We don’t know what we’re on to, but we should stay not knowing what we’re on to...
Oscar: Yeah it hasn’t made anything more clear - but I don’t think any of it really matters we’re just real happy, we’re just real happy… you know it’s good not to think about that kind of stuff too much…
Dave: Because thinking about why we were signed didn’t have anything to do with us being signed.
Oscar: Yeah… bro we’re getting…
Pretty deep haha… so can you tell me a bit about how you guys met and what made you decide to start making music?
Oscar: Deep. Durham and I are friends from school, Durham and Soph are friends from um… just teenage years...
Sophia: Parties yeah haha we were like sixteen.
Oscar: And just met Dave in Auckland and we all just clicked as friends, that was the main thing.
I know you guys must get asked this all the time, but New Gum Sarn is the name of an Asian supermarket near K Road, what made you decide to use that as your name?
Dave: What made you decide Durham?
Durham: We made the decision to change our name and then just after we decided that we were just throwing some ideas out there.
Oscar: We were sitting in a food court...
Durham: Yeah, haha we were sitting in a food court which wasn’t New Gum Sarn...
Oscar: Well, we were sitting in the Lim Chhour food court [also on K Road] and we were thinking about band names and then Durham looked at the Lim Chhour supermarket and he was like “what about Lim Chhour?” and we were like “no” and he said “what about New Gum Sarn?”, and we thought it sounded good. We liked the way it sounded, and then we went and asked them what it meant, and it meant something pretty cool we thought.
Yeah I like it. Durham and Oscar you work at Whammy Bar and Wine Cellar, how was it playing the first show of your tour there?
Durham: It was so great.
Oscar: Yeah such a great show, just some of our favourite bands in Auckland…
Durham: Playing in our living room pretty much.
Oscar: Yeah and lots of people came out and it was just big love everywhere eh? Such a great night.
Yeah it was such a good show. Whammy and Wine Cellar are key venues for the Auckland music scene, how do you feel about the music community up there are the moment?
Oscar: Vibrant eh?
Is it really supportive?
Sophia: Totally supportive.
Durham: Absolutely, we’ve been supported by a lot of people throughout our time.
Sophia: Ridiculously supportive, like people have given us their cars and their beer and their recording stuff, it’s just insane how much support we get from other musicians.
Oscar: Yeah, everybody supports everybody I think… I can’t think of one beef that anybody has with anybody else pretty much, it seems that everyone’s in it together.
That’s cool - and Durham, Oscar and Dave you guys lived together on K Road for a while, how was that with living and working and making music together? Was it challenging at all?
Durham: It was a pretty good time generally.
Dave: It was definitely really productive. Working on music… it never really felt like work. When I first joined, I got to just kind of absorb the music by Oscar and Durham going over things with each other on guitar, and I wouldn’t have to sit down with them to learn you know... I could just be doing anything, and then since we were all together we could just go over things.
Oscar: Yeah, and for me personally I think living in that neighbourhood and working in that neighbourhood was real kinda necessary just coming from the countryside and being real isolated all my life, I felt the need to be surrounded by a totally foreign environment and learn… I dunno… just learn different stuff, haha. Yeah, just be immersed in something that I didn’t really know existed, because unless you’re in that neighbourhood or know the people and stuff it’s not that obvious - like I never knew how big the community was when I wasn’t in it.
Dave: I feel like I’m still finding out. You go down sometimes to see a show in and around K Road and you find out that something’s been going on, which is really great, for a long time.
Yeah there’s so much going on up there. But you guys recorded the album in Puhoi where you’re from Oscar, what made you decide to go back there to record it?
Oscar: Just the space really, the quiet space. It was really nice just getting away from the city and being able to just focus.
Durham: Having that isolation to help us focus on just doing the album and getting it done.
Sophia: Yeah we did it in two days, so it was really fast.
Oscar: It was quite a spontaneous thing as well… We didn’t plan it for very long. My brother was in town, he travels quite a lot, and he offered to record it for us and we just jumped straight into it. We were kind of figuring out the songs while we were doing it. I remember having to write a bunch of lyrics just before we recorded because I didn’t have any for some of the songs…
Sophia: … and we recorded ‘Money Talks’ at least 15 times.
Dave: And there’s still an epic bum note in the bass, so keep an ear out for that... not that you even have to it’s right there.
How would you describe the album now that you’ve completed it, can you describe an overall sound?
Oscar: I try not to, haha. I dunno, it’s just the past for us you know, other people can describe it if they want to. It’s just hard to listen to yourself sometimes.
Durham: It’s finished.
Dave: It takes someone else as well to say what it is.
Yeah and it’s hard to put a label to things like that too... and I understand that you guys sold half of your vinyl pressings at the release show?
Oscar: Close to half I think.
Pressing to vinyl is pretty expensive, why was it so important for you to do that for this album?
Oscar: Just the opportunity to do it thanks to Rohan Evans, who runs and owns Wine Cellar, who has just been a massive pivotal person in our lives, and is just really supportive. He’s such a giving soul.
Durham: He mastered the album for us and then decided that it need to be pressed to vinyl.
Oscar: So he gave us the opportunity and we definitely weren’t going to turn it down… but we only did a run of 100 so selling half is… it’s a doable thing.
Still though! You recently released a new video for ‘New Gold Mountain’, where did the idea come from for that?
Oscar: The idea originally came from my brother. We were talking about doing a video for that song, and he said that his idea was to dig a hole and have a camera in the bottom and bring it out and we could be at the top of the hole, or something like that. It just got us thinking and we decided to run with that, and we worked with a friend of ours from high school, Anton Cosson, and found a location. It took a long time to plan it because… we’re trying real hard not to give away how we did it… just the logistics of like the camera going up...
It’s such a good effect...
Oscar: It surprised us.
Sophia: Yeah it came out really well.
And so what’s next for New Gum Sarn?
Oscar: Writing new songs definitely, keep on playing, hopefully go to Australia if we can save up a bit more money... and just really focus on the next album. Because it takes so long between recording and releasing it’s good to record sooner rather than later, and just keep pumping them out.
Photo by Sara Monty