Interview

Bond Street Bridge

Bond Street Bridge

Thursday 12th May, 2011 10:49AM

Musical jack-of-all trades Sam Prebble has recently returned to his native shores after an interminable tour of Europe (90 shows in 10 countries!), brining his sweet-tuned psychadelic folk with him for us to enjoy. His follow-up to 2008's 'The Mapmaker's Art' is the equally entrancing 'Spring Summer Awesome Winter', and is due out next month. UTR managed to squeeze into the prolific muso's busy schedule for a quick catch up.

You have been a very busy boy over the past few years - tell us about all the things you've been involved in…

Well since my first Bond Street Bridge album The Mapmaker's Art came out at the end of 2008 I've been touring quite a lot - mostly alongside the other bands I play in, The Broken Heartbreakers and Reb Fountain's band the Bandits. What I usually do is open for those bands when we're on tour, so I've been doing a lot of Bond Street shows around the place that way. We put out a new Broken Heartbreakers album Wintersun in the middle of last year, which I'm really proud of - it's probably the best thing musically I've played on so far, it's a really good representation of the band sound. Right after that came out I went to Europe for a Bond St tour for three months alongside Tim Guy, which was really fun and took in a lot of cool places, and he was an awesome tour buddy. I also started playing violin for An Emerald City over there, and did some shows with Hannah Curwood, who I'm playing with now as well. 
Along the way I've been doing various guest spots on recordings here and there, like I played on White Swan Black Swan's album a while ago, and the one Flip Grater put out last year, and Dylan Storey's stuff as well - I also play live with him now and then which is a blast. I'm also getting into doing music for films; I scored a short film for Briar March last year that's been playing in festivals around the place. That's something I want to do a lot more of. When the new bond street album Spring Summer Awesome Winter comes out in June I'm doing an NZ tour along with Rosy Tin Teacaddy, then I'm going back to europe to play with An Emerald City again and open for them on a pretty epic tour through all these places I haven't heard of. But yeah, I've been pretty busy. I lost count, but I think I did something between 80 and 90 shows in 10 countries last year.
 


Your first single "Now We are 28", is a sort of ode to growing up - or refusing to. How do you feel that your music has changed as you have grown older?

I guess it's got better, I hope... Like sonically my new album just sounds better than the last one because I've picked up a whole lot more recording techniques and stuff. And my playing has got better, because I play a lot and perform a lot. Basically the new album has a very similar approach to the first one in terms of arrangements and sonics, though - it's still fundamentally a combination of acoustic instruments, vocals, and electronic beats. One thing that is different on this album though is that there are more actual drum samples - I took a take from the Broken Heartbreakers from last year's 'wintersun' recordings and chopped it up to get a lot of my drum sounds, whereas last time all my drum sounds were built up from pure synth waves. Also there's one track on this album that's just beats, vocals and a mean-as analogue synth, which is a bit of a departure.

Do you gravitate towards or steer clear of the label of "folksy" ?


OK yeah I wouldn't say 'folksy.' But I often find that I describe the projects I'm involved in with some sort of 'folk' tag. Like I'll say the Heatbreakers is psychedelic folk or Bond Street Bridge is electrofolk or something. Mostly that just means that they're song-based and there's some acoustic instruments in there though, so it's a pretty broad description. I play instruments that are strongly associated with North American and Western European folk traditions - fiddles, mandolins, acoustic guitars, banjos etc - but I don't really involve myself with any of the sort of folk club scenes or anything, and most of the time I play them in a way that's more textural and psychedelic than really folky. I use a lot of delays and distortions and stuff when I think it's called for. The main thing I do that's actually a folk music thing is that I've always spent a lot of time learning to play other people's songs that I like - like I'm not the sort of guitarist that learns riffs or solos or spends ages trying to get a sweet led zep tone or something, I like to sit down and figure out the chords and words of songs I like. That's how I learned to play, and I like being able to remember other people's songs. I try to write the kind of songs that people might want to sing.

Did you have a very clear idea of what you wanted the album to sound like beforehand, or was it more a result of natural evolution?

I'm pretty clear about how I want things to sound. I have a range of approaches to recording, but usually I start with a fully realised song - like the chords, melody, lyrics, structure and basic instrumental arrangement - all worked out, and then as I record it I try out a few different ideas for things like string arrangements, vocal harmonies, beats, and lead instruments as I go along. I've got a fairly consistent sonic palette that I used for this record though, do to with the sorts of drum sounds and the range of instruments I used. The risk with working by yourself the way I do is that you could spend too much time trying things out and never finish anything, so I try to start off with a pretty clear idea of what I want, to avoid getting lost.
 


You've spent a bit of time touring in Europe and have plans to return. How do European audiences differ from us Kiwis in terms of response?

The main thing is that there's just more people, so there's more venues I reckon. I really like NZ audiences, and you can actually tour for ages right here and play lots of small towns with really good crowds who listed hard and buy merch. It's the same in Europe but the crowds are just bigger and there's even more venues. One thing that's different is that you can make quite a bit of money in Europe in the summertime doing a kind of strolling busking thing where you just go up to cafes and play two or three songs and pass a hat, which isn't something you can really do here.

Did you manage to discover any musical gems while touring overseas?

Playing with An Emerald City was awesome because it meant I got to hear a lot of kind of psychy stuff in Berlin that I probably wouldn't have heard otherwise. Strange Forces are a bunch of Aussies living in Berlin doing some cool stuff. Sleepy Sun are a gem. It was great touring with Tim Guy as well and getting really into his songs - like I knew his stuff beforehand, but it really grew on me hearing him night after night over something like 20 dates, which is a pretty good sign.


How important to you is the commercial success of your music?

Well, you have to eat, but you wouldn't play psychedelic violin if you wanted to get rich. Having said that though, there's different ways to be successful - I'm probably never going to sell a ton of albums with the kind of music I make, but the thing about playing live and touring as a soloist is that you can make money without having a huge profile - you don't have the massive overheads that come with keeping a band on the road. One of the reasons I go to Europe is because there's really good circuits there of venues that will look after you and audiences who are keen to hear something new, so I can tour there and make money. Also touring opening for the bands I play in works really well. The main thing though is to make the music I want to make and let it find its audience, rather than trying to figure out what's going to sell. I wouldn't know where to start with that.

Do you prefer solo projects or collaborations? Why?

I try to make sure I'm always doing both, because I like different things about each. The great thing about playing solo is that you don't have to organise band practises and stuff, and like I said, it makes touring easier. But the best thing about music is playing with other people - playing in a band is basically the most fun you can have with your friends without making your life needlessly complicated. Also I like to play different styles, so playing in a bunch of bands is a good way to do that. One thing I don't do, that I plan to do in the near future, is run my own band. When I get back from Europe I'm going to put together my fantasy band for my next recording project and approach the whole thing quite differently - for my last two albums I've played and recorded it pretty much all myself, so next time I want to get an actual band involved and see what happens.


Tell us about who you were listening to/being inspired by when recording your latest album?


For Bond Street stuff, I get really inspired by solo songwriters who make an effort with their production and arrangements, who try to take it away from a straight ahead strummy band sound. So people like Bachellorette and New Buffalo, Jens Lekman, SJD, Don McGlashan, Stefanimal, and also back to Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen - the arrangements on their albums are amazing. I was also listening to Burial and James Blake, and Thom Yorke's solo stuff, which gives me a lot of ideas for beats. There's a duo from Melbourne called A Dead Forest Index who recorded here with a friend of mine, and I love everything about their sound - sparse drum patterns, spooky vocal harmonies and a loop-based approach. And Midlake, Yeasayer, Bon Iver and Iron and Wine, especially for the way they approach vocal harmonies. That's something I'm getting more and more into. From the point of view of the actual lyric writing, Don McGlashan is a huge influence again for the way he finds something evocative in everyday things. And Matt Berninger from The National - both of them inspire me to try to be more straightforward in my songwriting, whereas I tend to write quite allusively, more in the style of Michael Stipe or Thom Yorke.

Go on, confess a guilty pleasure….

I'm surprised that more people don't think that 'send me an angel' by the scorpions is totally awesome, but I don't feel guitly about it.

Who deserves less attention out there in the music world?


I'm pretty lucky - I'm not a music critic or a parent of teenagers, so I don't have to listen to music I don't like. I'm sure there's a ton of stinkingly average bands around the place making money and getting undeserved attention or whatever, but they're not really on my radar so I'm not too bothered by them. Annabel Fay baffles me though.

The current state of Kiwi music is....


I don't really know how to answer this. All I really know about is what me and my friends are up to, and I know that most of them are doing awesome stuff and keeping me on my toes.

What can we expect from a live Bond Street Bridge show?

Right now it's pretty exciting because for the first time in quite a while I've got someone else on stage with me - Nigel Wright, who makes amazing cavernous drone music, is taking signal from my vocal and instruments through his laptop and adding another layer of really beautiful reverby stuff to what I'm doing. Basically what I usually do is live guitar, violin, vocal, and mandolin played through loop pedals and delays to build up soundscapes around my songs. It ranges from just really simple fingepicked guitar to quite elaborate layered up string arrangements and stuff. I often get crusty old musos coming up to me after shows saying stuff like 'that was good son, but do you kids have to always be using the backing tracks? In my day etc...' But actually I don't use backing tracks at all, it's all live real-time loops, so then they have to apologise and usually buy me a drink.


Hayley Koorts




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