Interview

Pumice

Pumice

Thursday 6th October, 2011 10:14AM

Stefan Neville AKA Pumice is one of New Zealand music’s more fascinating and impressively understated iconoclasts. He’s released a whole bunch of great music over the last couple of decades via Pumice (and other projects). He’s planning on re-releasing his excellent 2007 album Pebbles on vinyl and is about to play a show or two in tribute.

Why music?

(laughs) Oh jeez, I don't know. Because I like music? I don't know. There's no big reason for it.

You've obviously been doing it for a while, what keeps you going?

I've actually been really slack lately to be honest. I've been on a bit of a break and doing other things, which has been pretty good. But because I've been doing it so long, there's some momentum that ticks along without much maintenance. It's always there, and I'm not about to stop doing it completely.

You're re-releasing Pebbles – why's that?

The label, Soft Abuse, that originally did the CD, I think it's one of his favourite Pumice albums and he always fancied having a vinyl version and I always fancied having a vinyl version, and that stuff is getting a bit cheaper, so we went for it.

Has any work been done with the re-mastering?

Yeah, it's been re-mastered. An American guy, Patrick re-mastered it. He did quite a nice job and we had to drop one song off the LP because it wouldn't fit with everything we did. But you get a download with it, so you get the extra song that way.

Were you happy with how the original sounded anyway?

Yeah I was. Yeah that sounded good, a friend of mine mastered that for free. I was happy with it. I guess for vinyl it needed another go, and I'm happy with it. It's not very different to be honest, we probably took some of the frequencies from it that were harder to listen to. I don't know, I don't know much about mastering.

So you're playing the album whole live, have you had to reacquaint yourself with the music?

Yeah, there's probably half and half. Half the songs I've played live a lot, the other half I've almost never played live at all. There's a bit of that. And Rosy Parlane is helping me out so we can play the full arrangements, so I've had to teach him the parts as well which is quite interesting pulling these old songs apart and trying to remember what's going on. It's been pretty fun.

Is it a weird process playing an album in its entirety live, does it leave much room for surprises and doing new things?

We haven't done it yet I guess, but some of the songs have an open-endedness to them so you can take them to different places. I'm not precious about that, I enjoy re-interpreting so there'll be a bit of that. It's a benefit of having Rosy there - I don't want to completely tell him what to play. I want him to have some input in there.

How do you find playing live, is it quite a different process to how you record?

It's not really, there's sort of the backbone of my recording in what I do live, and I sort of approach it like that, and I try to do as much of it live as I can. Because I'm recording and because I've got spare tracks and enjoy embellishing it and adding some layers, so it is a bit different. That's sort of the idea of this gig having Rosy aboard, so playing the album as the album is, rather than live versions of it. Something like that, that's the intention, I don't know.

You've obviously released a fair bit of work, has there been a way of recording that you're most comfortable with?

Yeah, I just like recording at home, 8-track tape machine, which I love recording on. There has been a few – if you go way back, I've started with tape decks back in the '90s, and microphones on ghetto blasters, and cassette 4-track and then another 8-track which was pretty crappy and now I've got a slightly better 8-track.

In terms of how you write, do you prefer to structure it beforehand…

Nah nah, recording live is how I compose, leave a bit of chance when you record it.

Is there a fair amount of editing?

I don't know, not really. Because I'm recording on tape, if something's not working, I'll just tape over it. I usually finish up with what I'm after.

Something like Pebbles, how long did that take to record?

I'm not sure, generally recording an album would be in a burst of a month. With Pebbles I went back to it a few months later with overdubs and piano and stuff like that. I like to do it in one big burst, and then sit with it for a while, and if it needs something else done, I look to go back and fix it up or add something else. There's no regular thing, it's what happens.

Has it been a struggle getting your music, and doing it for a while, and seeing a fair amount of change?

I don't know. When I started, I was just putting out cassettes and I'm not very ambitious with it, and firing out stuff and being content with whatever I could do. Over time the quantities of things I've released has got bigger and people listening to it has got bigger. There are always struggles, but since I've been hooked up with Soft Abuse, it's been really easy actually. He's been pretty good to me.

You haven't minded being marginalised to an extent? You've got a great reputation amongst the aficionados, but outside of that in a mainstream sense?

 Not really. I've had more than enough. And the best things that have happened to me have happened under the radar. Travelling the world and stuff. I'm happy not to have that much mainstream attention. It doesn't matter.

You've had a bit of attention over in the States, has that been gratifying?

From New Zealand you think someone is getting attention in the States, but it's just the same as here. It's small audiences and little bars and house parties and things. There is an audience there for me, but it's nothing huge. It's just like playing in the Wine Cellar.

Can you imagine your early cassettes getting a re-doing?

Occasionally I get asked that, but I don't know, I haven't had much motivation to go back there. I'd never say never. If someone really wanted to do it, they could make me an offer. I've got a suitcase full of tapes, I can't even open it.

Do you listen to some of that stuff and take a trip back?

I haven't listened to it in years, I'm sure there's some good stuff in amongst the terribly embarrassing things in there. It's not a priority.

Do you get frustrated with the term lo-fi being stuck onto your work?

Sometimes. To me lo-fi doesn't mean anything. It's a comment on technology which is kind of irrelevant to me. I understand it – there is a sort of aesthetic that goes with that term and to be fair, high fidelity is not a big concern. There is truth in it. I don't think it describes the music in any way.

Having seen you live, the way you sound live is nothing like whatever lo-fi is meant to mean

Yeah, yeah – it's a thing with a lot of the records as well. Chris Knox used to always say his ‘records weren't lo-fi, they were lo-tech’. Kind of like that. I do have really primitive gear, a lot of the hiss and static and hum on my records I put there intentionally. I consciously do that, it's not a result of poor recording. It's interesting. When Times New Viking were here, I went and saw them, their records, I'm not a big fan but they have a charm to them, they're all fuzzed out. But when I saw them live, they've got giant Marshalls and really slick amplifiers and gear and they just sounded like a really ordinary rock band. I'm not sure of the point I'm trying to make here. But I think I sound the way I sound, and that lo-fi is nothing to do with anything.

Do all of your other projects feed into each other?

Each project is its own things. The things that happen when I play with myself won't happen when I play with other people. Different projects, it's different stuff. You can't be a rock band by yourself, though I try.

Do you have any plans for Pumice post these gigs?

I have a new album of new material which is going to be out in January, that's called Puny. I'm excited that's coming out, I recorded it in late 2010, and part of being slack like I mentioned earlier is sitting on it and not doing the cover art. I actually got a test of the cover art and it looks really good and I'm excited about it.

Have you approached it differently?

This was done on my new 8-track, so maybe it’s a little bit sparklier. Just a little bit. Same old crappy microphones. It was done while I was house-sitting for a month. I set everything up and went for it. It's a bit of a funny record, a bit of a heartbroken, broke down record, so it's another reason why I had to sit on it for so long, so you don't know how much of that stuff you want to share with the world.

Concerts around for that release?

I'd say so, probably. I can't be bothered dealing with record shops, so the only way I can sell my records is by doing release gigs. That's the main reason why I'm doing the Pebbles one (laughs). That's not true.

Brannavan Gnanalingam




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