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Phelps and Munro

Phelps and Munro

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Thursday 24th January, 2013 8:31AM

In the early 2000s, Auckland based electronica producer and live performer Phelps & Munro briefly had everyone convinced he was a duo. As it was phrased at the time, "Roy Phelps and Jackson Munro met while both attending Art School in 1992. From that point on they have become not only formidable musical colleagues but also inseparable friends. Like classic acts Simon & Garfunkel and Kruder & Dorfmeister, they too decided to use their respective surnames, bridged by an ampersand, as their moniker."

With the release of the remarkable Phelps & Munro debut album Slowpoke it was revealed that this music was actually just the work of one man, Gerald Phillips, who spoke with Martyn Pepperell ahead of his first live appearance in many years at Laneway Festival next week...

It's been a long time since you performed live last. Why did you stop, and what have you been doing since?

I have a love/hate relationship with live performance. Hearing my homemade beats played ridiculously loud is always exhilarating, and I'm genuinely humbled by the times I've had an appreciative audience. But, weirdly I'm incredibly shy and get super nervous about playing live. Simply put, my shyness started to win the battle. I've worked as a graphic designer and copywriter for many years, so I've had plenty to keep me distracted in the meantime.

During the time that you've been away, how much of an interest have you maintained in music? What are your thoughts on how things have progressed and changed over the last decade?

In general, I've kept up an interest in music, though it's more listening than making. My tastes have definitely expanded, and I enjoy getting deep into some genre I was previously oblivious to. I'm sad to say I'm almost completely out of touch with what is currently happening in the New Zealand music scene. I don't really have any strong views on how music has evolved.

Is this Laneways performance just a one off venture, or does the herald a return of sorts for you? What exactly is going on?

I was lucky enough to be asked to perform, and I agreed before I gave myself time to talk myself out of it. I think a lot about releasing more music, but don't for some reason. Maybe Laneway will snap me into action, he says non-committally.

Listening back over your Slowpoke album, one thing that stands out is how well it has aged, in fact, it might almost be better suited to the climate of now. How did you feel releasing music in the early 2000s? Did you feel like there was much of a scene you could be part of here and abroad? Did you feel much of a kinship to any acts then?

Thanks! In my mind, an album ageing well is the ultimate compliment. Releasing music in the early 2000s was an exciting time for me. I went from making music at home for my own amusement, and from out of nowhere, found a small group of electronic music producers (such as the incredible Dooblong Tongdra) who were super supportive of what I was doing. From there, I met Stinky Jim who released Slowpoke, and has been tormented by my lack of activity ever since.

How long had you been making music for before Slowpoke? How did you get started, and how did things progress for you leading into that record?

Back in 1996, I started making a lot of four track recordings, guitar instrumentals along the lines of Pavement or Fugazi. I bought an MPC 2000 (a sampler with drum pads) at the end of that year, which is why my stuff ended up sounding how it did, guitar layers with jiggy beats and whatever. I ended up making a ton of throwaway tunes, but some were okay and got turned into more fleshed out tracks.

What did that album represent to you then? What does it represent to you now?

Slowpoke was very much a snapshot of the live set I was playing at the time, hence why most of the tracks flow in to each other. Nowadays, I still like it, but don't listen to it much.

Can we talk personal creative philosophies? What was your creative philosophy like around the time you did Slowpoke? What is it like now, has it shifted much?

Back then, I think I was trying to make the sort of music I wanted to listen to, music that combined my love of intermingling guitars and choppy electronics. I like moody music, so some of it was moody. And I like cheerful music too, so parts of it were cheerful. You get the idea. I'm still very much interested in music that treads the line between challenging and accessible.

You were supported by the likes of John Peel and Mr Scruff, and played alongside Kid 606, Amon Tobin, Luke Vibert. What were those moments like, how did they feel? Did they have an importance to you?

It was a real privilege play shows with those artists -- I am a big fan of all of them, and I still have all the gig posters. I remember both Amon Tobin and Luke Vibert being really nice guys, really supportive and friendly. Man, that seems like lifetime ago. It's only in hindsight I realise what an honour it was to be played on John Peel's show.

And finally, Laneway, what can we expect from your live performance?

I'm going to bust out some classic Phelps & Munro cuts, and a few new tracks as well. I'll also probably be grinning like a lunatic.