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Shocking Pinks

Shocking Pinks

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 4th September, 2012 8:43AM

Nick Harte A.K.A Shocking Pinks is due to release a new EP - Guilt Mirrors - before the end of the year. It's the first sign of new material from the artist since his self-tilted album was released on seminal New York label DFA back in 2007. UTR caught up with Harte to discuss a hiatus that basically revolved around how terrible it's been to live in Christchurch for the last few years...

You're just in Auckland rehearsing for your show on Friday. How does it feel to be rehearsing with the band after such a long break?

Yeah well I met Tim (McDonald) – I’m staying with him on Waiheke Island – when I was 13 so we’ve known each other from 1993 and we’ve been playing music together since then. I met Vaughn Williams in 2006 or ’07. It’s 'the' line-up – and there have been many line-ups before that – that from six months ago I decided that if I’m going to do a gig it’s going to be with Tim and Vaughn because it’s the most fun and we have a great musical connection, especially when we play live.

So, what you’ve been up to in the last few years?

Well, I can say one thing – earthquakes. I was in Christchurch when the earthquake hit and I lived very unhealthily after that. I decided to stay in the place I was living in which was unfortunately in the centre of the city – I ended up getting evacuated and the place I was in doesn’t exist anymore, but it was a nice place to record. Anyway, I was recording my new album – the one that will come out after Guilt Mirrors – and I was there recording throughout all of the earthquakes – the 7., the 6., and the 5., - so quite a few have earthquake noises in the background. I blacked out all the windows and stay up for like five days at a time and didn't sleep, which is very stupid and very unhealthy, but I was just so focused on recording as much as I could: it was my escapism from what was happening around me. I ended up with 386 tracks and I’ve wound it down to…well…I’ve got eight CDs with me at the moment and for the album I’m going to have to ween it down again to a reasonable length. Even the idea of a standard 45 minute album so it can be released on vinyl scares me because I would like to release sort of 75 minutes of music at least. Some songs are 20 minutes long.

Yeah, I just heard the single – ‘Double Vision Version' – and it’s a decent length at 8 minutes.

Yeah and they're all a bit like that. It’s the first album by the way that I’ve done everything myself on - I recorded it using Pro Tools 2 and my four track and engineered everything myself.

And was that a purposeful thing or a result of your circumstances?

It was a result of the earthquakes: being a hermit and a recluse and blacking out the windows. I had no idea whether it was day or night – well of course I did I’d go to the shops and get food, but I’d usually go at 4 in the morning. I remember once I went down at about that time and a 5. Earthquake happened and I was walking in the middle of the road and a crack formed in front of me. But by that point I was so used to it I thought “ah, what the fuck” and went onto the footpath and kept walking to the shop, and the shop was completely damaged, but I got a pie or whatever else and went home again.

So it’s obviously fair to so that the earthquakes had a massive emotional impact on you: is your new material an escape from that?

Yeah well for me music has always been a form of therapy. I mean I’ve written more throwaway songs in my past – older songs – but I was just churning them out during this time, staying up for five days at a time, forgetting to eat. I was obviously just trying to hide from what was happening in a way. Thank God – well I won’t say thank God – thank whoever got me out of that city, I’m never going back to Christchurch. It's my home town and I love Christchurch but I’m never going to go back there. To me it’s not Christchurch anymore: the old city is just a memory.

How did everything that you were going through affect the sound of the music you were producing?

It’s all quite different because it was recorded over two years so it depended on what I was into at the time. I get far more inspiration for music from films or books than I do from other music. I mean I listen to a lot of music but if someone was to analyse my lyrics they would notice referencing from film. I used to make films – I made a feature length film and six short films and a documentary (directed and edited it), and I made the first six or seven Shocking Pinks music videos. When I got signed to DFA they changed the video for ‘Emily’ which I had made which was kind of ironic because they had said that they liked the visual aesthetic as well as the musical idea, as a reason for signing me to the label.

Anyway, sorry, the songs are all quite different. The five songs on the EP are all very different. I’ll go through them briefly:

The first one is an old track called ‘Not Gambling’ it’s all live except for a synth track.

The response that I’ve gotten from people who have heard the full EP say that they find the last two tracks - 'Take Me Home’ and ‘Glass Slippers’ - extremely intense. Those are the tracks that I recorded around the 6. Earthquake that did the most damage to the area I was living in. In 'Take Me Home' I sampled – I won’t say what it is – a disco track from the seventies and it’s just a very small drum piece, that I slowed down and almost tried to turn into a hip hop track. I originally just played acoustic guitar and sung and then I layered like seventy guitar parts through it and then it was a case of deconstruction: taking out all the parts I didn’t like. I studied digital music and classical composition at Canterbury University, so it was quite fun and a challenge to be my own engineer and be working with Pro Tools. I’m proud of the way it turned out. A lot of people will probably think it’s an improvised piece of music but it probably took five weeks to completele.

So ultimately all the tracks on the EP are very different stylistically.

You mention that you take a lot of references from books and films, are there any references from these across the EP?

Yeah, I mean OK, for example Chinatown is one of my favourite films. Polanski – I know for some people that’s a dirty word – was very particular about every shot and ultimately there’s a mood about that film that I love. Films like Blade Runner – I’m not a science fiction film in any way – because of the atmosphere and the narrative. That’s another thing: with the new EP even and especially in the album – which gets far more complex – they have acts like films have. In David Fincher’s adaptation of Girl With A Dragon Tattoo there are five acts so I will think in terms of that, like ‘this is a five act song’. I was listening to a song from the Drive soundtrack, you know with Ryan Gosling – you probably know the song as well – ‘Nightcall’ by Kavinsky. I just got the soundtrack yesterday and it’s the best thing I’ve heard in a long time.

So that’s how I write songs these days anyway.

So you structure through different emotional temperaments almost?

Yeah definitely, I watch far more films than I listen to music. I’m very nocturnal and I can’t go to sleep unless I’ve watched one of two films and I usually fall asleep while one’s on – white noise in the background. Flying Nun and I are going to be doing a bigger video with somebody else for the song that everybody finds the most intense – ‘Glass Slippers’ – I would like to do a video like that myself.

And you're going to release the EP on Flying Nun here. Are you still working with DFA internationally?

I’m still on the roster, yep. I’m still friends with the guys there and still keep in touch with James (Murphy). This isn’t saying anything too negative or anything but it got to the point where James was touring a lot – and he’s said this in interviews himself – and while he was away there were a lot of acts added to the label, and of course financially that has an affect on the label. The album that I had that never came out I asked “when can I expect realistically for it to be released” and they said it would be the upcoming November and I’d been waiting for a while and I just wanted it out so I just asked if they minded whether I looked elsewhere, but that was all mutual.

Now I’m still with them in the capacity of “send us your music and if there’s an album there we’ll release it tomorrow”. James is still DJ-ing and producing but everybody knows that LCD Soundsystem has finished and that has a lot to do with, something I would like to talk about, is a really sad thing, is the death of a friend of mine: Jerry Fuchs, the drummer in Juan McLean !!! and LCD Soundsystem. We toured with him and he played with the Shocking Pinks in New York and that had a big effect on James. If you read the liners to his last album This is Happening he mentions something to the extent of “I’m not going to be doing music any more” and goes on to talk about Jerry and his family: it’s almost like a realy nice obituary. He was such a lovely person and especially the way that he died as well was really nasty and sad.

So that made everyone re-evaluate what they were doing?

Yeah, certainly. He’s (James) been sounding more aggressive – maybe that’s not quite the right word to use – and sad, and wanting to get the reigns back on the horse, so things will be getting better with DFA.

So not to babble on about it, the relationship’s good and I’ll be releasing music with them in the future.

When is everything due out?

Radio single, then the EP in the next couple of months, then a re-release of my first album Dance the Dance Electric and then I have the task of finishing off my new full length album, which is going to be a challenge.

*'Double Vision Version' removed from post due to an unauthorised sample.