Q & A with Rhydian Thomas about his new project The Body Lyre.
Where are you based?
Hi! We’re currently based between Wellington, Tauranga, and Christchurch, New Zealand.
What got you into music?
I’m not really sure, sorry. What didn’t? I grew up in a fairly desolate ex-coal mining town in South Wales, and music was a departure from my surroundings. I was obsessed, and would listen to anything. I suppose the first real bands that were forced on me were the Stereophonics and the Manic Street Preachers (national pride, etc). Later, the first big records were OK Computer by Radiohead and Mezzanine by Massive Attack.
Tell us a little about your musical history - Strangers and Actionman Records in particular?
I started AMR in 2003, and spent six years releasing New Zealand punk and hardcore. I pressed cds and vinyl, lost an incalculable amount of money, and Strangers began during that time. Whilst AMR almost destroyed my confidence in music, Strangers was always a vessel for catharsis. Strangers began as a near-reactionary project, in a lot of ways. It was the first band that I had considered myself to be really creating in, and this kind of indulgence is a necessity for me.
How did The Body Lyre come about?
It’s hard to even scrape the surface. The Body Lyre is a product of 3 months isolation. A simplification is that after everything collapsed, The Body Lyre was my way of rebuilding. Ana joined the band about halfway through the writing of December Marches. I’d asked her to provide backup vocals and cello, but she and I found ourselves on very similar wavelengths, so it became a fulltime thing. Ana completely influenced the writing of the record, and we’re continuing to work on the next album closely. We also have a live band – Ben Ward, Hywel Thomas and Callum Gay. We have a sort of flexibility with the live aspect – we can play solo or with ten people... as long as there’s time to prepare.
The Body Lyre seems to be quite a departure from Strangers – is it for you?
In most ways, yes. There’s some kind of thematic unification, but I don’t really know what it is. Maybe both are aimed to be affective to the listener in a similar way... both, to me, are meant to be pure expressions, but that’s essentially wank. Strangers and The Body Lyre would be musical opposites to most listeners, I imagine.
How would you describe your sound?
This is a question that happily, I still don’t know how to answer well. I hope that it’s stark. If I could have whatever I liked, I’m aiming for a kind of lush minimalism, if that makes sense. To me, it doesn’t sound happy... for others, it seems more hopeful. I like the fact that I’ve heard so many weird comparisons, and I want there to be a pluralism for how people hear the band.
How did your name come about and, if anything, what does it mean?
This is probably the only band I’ve done where the name has any sort of significance or meaning. It’s two words taken from Rimbaud poems. The idea is that the body is a malleable instrument in itself. We are able to play with our bodies and push them further than various social pressures would have us believe. We have so many taboos and ideals that aim for purity and teach safety, and we rarely examine our own capabilities properly.
What is your writing/recording process?
I have a ritual of draft-demoing. I record a track, add and remove instruments, and then re-record the track another three or four times. I guess it’s recording in the same way as I write – a process of reductionism. Ana and I often write lyrics and vocal melodies together, and we’re usually working on arrangements before even deciding on notation. It’s a strange way of doing it, but it works for me.
Tell us a bit about December Marches ?
The record was made in demos between December ’08 and March ’09 in a small room in Aro Valley, Wellington. Unfortunately, I have trouble remembering this time... the one concrete thing I remember is hanging a microphone out of my window to record dawn-noises at 5am. In April, we recorded the album over three days in Hataitai with the god-damn fucking legendary Tim Shann. He’s a little-known engineer, and he’s amazing. I can’t recommend him enough – he’s the perfect engineer to deal with musicians – patient, skilled, great gear, and he has a sweet vaporizer. Basically, the album has over seventy separate tracks, so it was a mammoth to mix, and it took about 4 weeks before it was ready to master. Tim did all of this. Cam Reid (Rifles) played drums on this recording, and Jason Post recorded theremin and ebow guitar. It was an amazing month, and it was as fun as it was stressful.
You’ve offered the whole album for free download – are you planning to release it physically also?
The physical version is available already – it’s an A5 booklet; essentially typeset as poetry, and it comes with a CD. Even if people can and have downloaded the record for free, I’d love for people to get a hold of the physical copy... it looks nice and I hope it adds to the overall aesthetic of the record. Also, I need the money. It’s currently out of press, but I’ll be printing another 100 copies at the end of the month – get in touch if you’d like one! They’re only $10. They may be available from stores soon, as well – I haven’t decided yet if I’d like to get back into the distribution side of things again (AMR really sucked in that sense), and apparently it’s quite difficult to get NZ’s wonderful print press to review a CD-R. Maybe I should have wasted another $1000 pressing a proper CD that people would just download anyway. Grrr...
What are you listening to at the moment?
Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans, Scott Kelly – The Wake, The Ramones – Anthology, Codeine – Frigid Stars, Cecil Otter – Rebel Yellow.
What do you enjoy most about music?
It’s unquestionable subjectivity. Music is for everyone.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt musically in the last year?
Playing solo versions of the Body Lyre set taught me a lot about dynamic in individual instrumentation. I guess I come from a heavy music background, and an attention to simple things like strumming dynamics, for example, isn’t something I’ve paid close attention to before.
What’s the best concert you have ever been to?
Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom at the San Fran Bathhouse in Wellington, and Low at the Kings Arms in Auckland.
Best or most memorable gig you have played?
With The Body Lyre, it must be the last gig – I played solo in the afternoon sun at an artists’ market in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. There were lots of old friends who’ve managed to escape New Zealand, and I had the best heckler ever. Overall though, it was a Lygon st Warehouse show (also in Melbourne) with Strangers, back in 2008. It was Schifosi’s last all-ages show, and it was amazing (even though we messed up a Big Black cover).
Most underrated bands at the moment?
Sharpie Crows, Rifles, Damsels, Neon Bastard, Freudoids, Wasteland, Psychic Jams, Black Tuesday, Malenky Robot.
The future holds…?
A new record (currently in demo/writing stage), a bunch of NZ shows throughout December – April, and an Australian tour to coincide with the new record next year.
The state of music in NZ is...