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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 7th August, 2012 9:02AM

Nightchoir formed from the ashes of Pluto, never dreaming that it would become their main musical focus. The band are now due to release sophomore album See the First Star and UTR caught up with singer and guitarist Mike Hall to chat about the new record and how it feels to finally step away entirely from previous projects.

It must feel great to have your second Nightchoir album finished and due to be released?

It feels really satisfying and quite surreal to have album number two for a band who formed by surprise.

So you didn't think you'd get that far with Nightchoir?

I suppose the thing about Nightchoir is that it started off as this solo side-project and a band almost by accident. Then Pluto went through our massive divorce and it’s kind of cool that after all of that the band has survived. When we decided to make this, our second album, there was such a different mindset [to the first album] from the beginning, so although we're the same band and thematically and musically it's similar, we approached this album like “OK we’re making this album as a new band; as our main project”.

Because was the first Nightchoir album written during the break-up of Pluto?

Not really, the first albm was written over a really long period of time – over five or six years. It was written while I was in Pluto and I was writing things that weren’t appropriate for what we were doing in that band. When I decided to put those songs down and then pulled in two of my best friends they really worked on that material with me and then we actually wrote more songs – probably about four or five tracks. Pluto was still together at the time so when we were making these new tracks we did with the knowledge that Nightchoir was going to a side thing. The fact that we had even become a band in the first place was quite an interesting thing, so when Pluto split and we decided to make another record, we wrote this record in the knowledge that it would be the three of us writing together for the Nightchoir band for us to then try and perform live, and that this was now our full time thing.

Tell us about your writing and recording approach for this album.

We got together and I guess we did the traditional jamming thing for a little bit. We had some ideas and we worked on those and there were a couple of turning points in terms of the writing process. Firstly, Mike (Franklin-Browne) emailed through a bunch of material he had been working on and there was one song that he sent through that’s on the record now. It’s called ‘Shift Up’ and it was one of the first tracks he had sent through and it was like “great” here’s a song that I can hear being a Nightchoir song. Because of his productivity – he was quite prolific – we had another angle which was great, and then I went into the studio and demo-ed some ideas. We got together twice a week – it’s like bridge club or something – and nutted out these ideas and when it came to recording we decided to put down the 15 strongest ideas. So we went to Roundhead and spent a couple of days putting down the rhythm tracks and then spent, I suppose, about four months just tracking in different studios when we had time. We all have families now so we had to work it around our families, too.

Is there anything going on thematically or sonically on this album?

Not deliberately. When you’re making a record and you’re listening back to them what feels like a million times, I noticed that we had invariably referenced our own experiences even though a lot of it is ultimately fictional. There’s a lot of love songs and break-up tracks, and a couple of teenage confusion ones in there. There’s a lyric in one of the tracks “I didn’t ever know why you didn’t go around with me” and I didn’t realize it at the time but there’s a lot of that teenage vibe going on. I’m surprised it wasn’t a little bit more down the alt-country angle of the first album, but I’m refreshed that we didn’t set out to do a certain genre or a certain style; we do sound like us and it is definitely connected to the first record despite the fact that the first record was written over a long period of time.

It must be refreshing on a larger level to have a project that isn’t restrained by politics, which seems to have been the case towards the end of Pluto, yeah?

Yeah you’re absolutely right. Matthias (Jordan), Mike and myself have this working relationship where we've played together as Pluto – and other projects as well – for over a decade. I think the three of us have learned from that and so I don’t think we really take offense to much and can be really open with each other now. There can be some heated discussions in the band because creative processes require a huge amount of emotional investment, and sometimes when you put your heart on your sleeve because you either think it improves the song or you think something isn’t working, that might be something really important to somebody else. You might be saying “that lyric’s not cool” and the other person is saying “well that lyric is really important to me”, but having been through everything that we’ve been through I definitely think that we’re happy to wear our heart on our sleeve while not being precious enough to think that our own opinion is any bigger than the sum of our parts. The most important part of this is the band and we’re just friends who get together with the focus of writing the best songs we can. That sounds totally lovey-dovey but it’s because it is: we love hanging out together and we just feel really privileged that we can make music that people want to come and listen to.

There wasn’t that kind of thing in Pluto sometimes. There were periods where we took things for granted or we didn’t realize how lucky we were to be playing shows in Timaru for example. Nightchoir would struggle to go to Timaru and break even whereas with Pluto we could go to Timaru and have a great show. So the three of us don’t take anything for granted.

So as well as changing your approach as a band is it fair to say that you’ve changed your approach to the industry and why you guys are doing what you’re doing?

I think that would be a fair assessment from the outside, but the refreshing thing is that although we may have had some times in Pluto where things got away on us, I’ve never had any objective to make screeds of cash, and I know that Mike and Matthias are the same. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the Pluto thing didn’t work; perhaps we weren’t focused enough on world success or money. I tend to think that once you start focusing on those things you loose sight of the fact that are lucky to be performing and to be making music. To be able to sustain a project financially, where you can continue to make records - that’s a pretty amazing thing and pretty unusual and definitely not to be taken for granted. As far as I’m concerned I’ve never played music with any other major objective opposed to enjoying the creative process of making and recording music. I’ve just never had an objective to be a squillionaire and there were times in Pluto where people got miffed about the lack of financial gain and to me that’s not that important, sustainability is important.

I hope I don’t sound like a wanker – I don’t want to sound like I’m bitching about those dudes, I’m just being honest. The thing about music is that although it's such an important part of our lives and we love making it it's not like being a paediatrician or something, so when you get too wrapped up init you’re going to get too wrapped up in yourself.

What are your plans with Nightchoir moving forward?

So we’ve put ourselves on an eighteen month cycle where we put a record out and we’re touring it with a release tour and then another tour over summer, and hopefully we’ll go to Australia then. In the mean time we'll put the record out and try and get people listening to it and spread it to as many people as we can. When you make a record you can put it down and when you continue to promote it you look forward to another 18 months down the track to when you can make another one.


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