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Interview
The Pyramid Scheme

The Pyramid Scheme

date
Monday 9th August, 2010 2:36PM

Photo: Lennart Maschmeyer

There are a lot of musicians involved in The Pyramid Scheme, which might be the reason why the band has such a diverse approach to music. Citing North African rhythms, 1970's Rock, Motown and many more influences, this is a band only interested in doing what they think is cool, rather than what everyone else thinks is cool. In our interview they tell us a bit about where these influences come from, what kind of music video a band like theirs makes and what you can expect from one of their live shows.

How long has the band been together?

Well, we played our first show before we'd named ourselves in early 2008. We gave Ryan three options to apply to our bar tab one night and he came back with The Pyramid Scheme.

It's been about two and a half years.

What’s the current line-up?

Yikes - it's quite a list. Our current line-up is tailored for our massive album release shows and involves staple Scheme members Hamish 'Bones' Cardwell, Osaka Silenzio, David Randall Peters and Ryan Prebble. Having lost Richard Wise to Melbourne, we've wrangled the somewhat insane Reece McNaughten, who's playing skins for the shows.

In addition to the base five-piece, we have Chris 'Dos Sombras' Petrie and Richard 'Papercup' Robertshawe on tenor and baritone sax, and three stunning female vocalists; Gigi Barclay, Nikita Tu Bryant and Mila Salazar - our harmonic harem. That's like... ten people.

How did you all meet?

Osaka and D.R. met in court... Bones and D.R met on stage... We were all kind of swimming around in the Wellington fishbowl - you know how it goes in small towns.

Describe your sound for the uninitiated.

We're basically making approximations of North African rhythmic and tonal sensibilities and injecting them with nasty guitar licks and infectious grooves.

Some of our material is decidedly '70s rock, while other stuff draws from 1940s 'army bands' and still other stuff draws from Motown and songs of slavery. All of this gets a contemporary 'pop pass'. It's mostly about absurd atmospheres, possession and raw groove.

What endeared you to this kind of music?

For most of us, music creation and performance needs to feel like it's something more than a throwback. Whatever we create needs to feel like it's something really fresh. We're not too concerned with appealing to the masses. We just want to make 'cool shit'. So, of course, all the things that we each deem to be 'cool shit' goes into the mix. Much of this is ethiojazz, R'n'B, '70s thrash and so on. The references to North Africa help us to step outside of ourselves and become 'something else' musically. We're are driven by the 'idea' - more so than the act of employing 'instrumental prowess' or whatever.

Does living in Wellington have a bearing on your musical direction?

The so-called 'Wellington sound' doesn't seem to influence us to any great extent. It's pretty good to have such close contact with so many skilled musicians. It's a little like Berlin - with training-wheels on.

What other bands/projects have members of the band been involved in?

Previous or alternate projects include Spartacus R, The Inkling, Over the Atlantic, Silenzio & The Swift, The Night Show, Big Flip and the Massive, NZSO and the Charmaine Ford Trio.

Tell me about your upcoming album ‘Massive Reminders of a Virile King’.

We recorded the album at Lee Prebble's studio; The Surgery, here in Wellington. We had the run of the place for two ten-day stints starting in December of 2008. We hit the studio less than a year after we began, which in hindsight was an excellent move - it allowed us to capture a good deal of the band's initial energy - this always changes as bands age, and once you've moved on, you can never really get that back (whether you want to or not).

We brought in a few session musicians, but played most of the additional parts ourselves. Lex French hit some sweet Tex-Mex horns in Two Score and Ten. We asked Milo Haigh to make some haggard howls for The Electrical Powers.

There weren't any major altercations or transpirations to speak of - the process unraveled quite naturally and steadily.

Oh, somehow, we managed to record the centre third of Loins fo' Coins in the wrong key.. it was an excellent take... but we had to bin it. Stupid.

What is your writing/recording process?

Typically, Osaka or D.R. will pop an idea which is developed by the band at large. Bones brings plenty of fresh concepts too. Ryan's particularly good at identifying directions in which to take the tracks and it goes without saying that his skills on the six-string fortify things beautifully and immensely. Lately, Gigi Barclay has been actively contributing to the process. Most of what might be regarded as second-album material is Osaka's doing - since we recorded Massive Reminders, D.R and Osaka invested in a couple of MPC1000s which have been heavily used as songwriting tools. We've been using his sequencing as skeletons, subbing-in certain samples for live instrumentation.

In regards to the recording process, it's your basic 'drums and bass first - then guitars, keys, vocals.. leading into sprinkles and textures' formular.

There was a small amount of writing still taking place while we recorded Massive Reminders, but most of the material was already in the pocket.

What are you looking forward to most about you album release tour in June?

Releasing the album! Playing some well-publicised shows - they should bring some decent crowds (it's always a thrill playing to a good crowd). It'll be great to hear Dr. Colossus live at the Auckland show - we've only heard their recordings.

'Might limber up with some limb-shakin' to the Mantarays' set before our Wellington slot (we're supported by them and Mara TK).

What does your stage set up look like?

Big! We're packin' ten people on stage for the album release shows... none of whom are dancers (as has been the case in the past). We'll employ 3x female singers, 3x male singers, 3x electrical six-strings, a couple of MPC1000s, tenor and baritone saxesbass, drums, congas and other percussion.

In addition to the musical componentry, we'll have a massive lighting rig and Mr. Harry Silver working some creepy visuals - which we're developing at the moment. We've been shooting some film against a greenscreen with Bret Saunders - our favourite cameraman and film aficionado.

What can people attending your shows expect?

They're just gonna be really-fucking-massive. The Scheme hunts down and latches on to these 'possessed states' - or 'ethereal planes'.. We'll be sure to tow the audience up there with us.

What is the best or most memorable gig you have played?

The Holy Fuck show was pretty cool (we opened for them at San Fran Bath House in Dec 2008). But the most succinct was probably our Halloween show at Havana - a small venue packed to the brim. There was just some excellent energy happening that night.

Can you describe your video for St. Louis Woman for people who haven’t seen it?

The idea was to set it in some kind of Moroccan underground marketplace. We set up a dolly track spanning a the length of this factory apartment. It was shot in one take - ie. no cuts - just rolling the camera down the track, slowly, scanning details such as corporal punishment, a marketplace exchange, dispensing of knowledge from a massive tome, concubines assisting the swilling of ancient wines, hookah pipes, a snake charmer, and so on. It enforces the North African aesthetic. We're going to keep finding new ways to depict, tap into, or subvert that.

Who came up with the idea for it?

It's hard to say. Its genesis was during discussion around the table down at our rehearsal space 'The Boardroom'. Osaka probably inseminated the concept. D.R probably bolstered it.

Who directed / made the video with you?

D.R. and Osaka directed the video and collaboratively beat it into shape. Though, we wouldn't have got very far without the help of Bret Saunders and Barry Metin - these are two enthusiastic gents who just pushed and pushed us and gave up unreasonable amounts of time and money to get us through it. Tania Sawicki Mead's logistical skills were also golden assets.

Do you have any plans to release more music videos?

Yeah, D.R's just started work on a video for The Electrical Powers, but being a 7 min track almost qualifies it as a short film. So he's got his work cut out for him.

We've also applied for funding for Ghosts of the Sphinx, which is a more manageable 3 mins. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you about being a musician?

Take ownership of the music, but let it possess you. There's this sweet 'cosmic harmonic' in there somewhere. If everyone in the band is in that place, you need only flinch and you can bring the house down like a stack o' cards.

Who would your dream collaboration be with?

A colab with Calexico would be cool. Maybe reanimate Coltrane and Mingus. Get Pharrell along, Mulatu Astatke, The Andrews Sisters, Chet Baker...

In your opinion the state of music in NZ is...

Concerning. Funding tends to go to half-baked fluff, or to kiwis trying to assimilate whatever was trendy in Europe (or the Bronx) five-to-ten years ago. It's feeding our identity complex. It encourages musicians to copy rather than to attempt truly original works. There's heaps of gray area, of course.. eg. where does 'influence' end and 'plagiarism' begin? It'd just be great to see NZ music funding entities take a chance on some of the more avant-garde stuff. We could be that country! There's some seriously cool stuff happening in our neighborhood. The general public will listen to whatever they're force-fed. So let's feed them something interesting. Always something fresh - pop music doesn't always need to be four-on-the-floor... nor adhere to 'A-B-A-B-C-B' architecture to function. And this "instant pop-song: just add Autotune" thing has gone quite far enough!

Maybe it's idealism. The music industry is still quite fragile in the wake of the internet... and it's not that New Zealand doesn't have its own 'sound'... and there's nothing really stopping us from marketing ourselves - just a little more help diversifying wouldn't go amiss.

Gareth Meade

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