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John the Baptist

John the Baptist

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 22nd April, 2013 9:36AM

Wellington alt-country band John the Baptist released their latest EP, Bag O' Nails, earlier this month and celebrate this week by going on tour with the Gunslinger's Ball. UTR caught up with Shaun Blackwell to talk about the intensity of their new album, the state of the Wellington music scene and why they love being part of the Gunslinger's crew.

You've just released a new EP: tell us about writing this one.

The process for writing this EP was a little different. Where in the past our music has quietly touched on personal issues alongside songs about drinking and having a good time, this one delved a lot deeper into the issues of mental health and the issues of every day life that most twenty-something year olds face at one point or another. We tried to put more focus on our lyrics in these songs as we have often felt that our lyrics in the past haven't quite been up to scratch.

Tell us about the recording and post production process: where did you do it, what kind of sound were you going for, who did you use?

We recorded this EP in a few days at the wonderful Blue Barn studio in Wellington. We had Adam Ladley engineering while we recorded and he turned out to play an even bigger part than we expected as he took on a sort of producer's role in the recording process, suggesting ideas from an outside perspective and giving us free reign over all of the amazing gear at the barn. We were going for a very live sorta sound with minimal overdubs, as we wanted to be able to perform the songs live without too much difference to the recording. People often comment on our live energy when we play and we wanted to capture that energy in the recordings. Charlie Bronson (also of Blue Barn studio) took the songs after the recording was done and mixed them to sound better still and Mike Gibson from Munki Studios added the final elements with his mastering to bulk out the songs and give them that final polish. Overall we are extremely pleased with the result.

Was there anything you guys were particularly inspired or influenced by when writing and recording this album?

As a musician you have to constantly be inspired - even if you have to go looking for inspiration. Inspiration for this EP came from places such as music that we love and books etc. as well as the places you sometimes find yourself mentally.

Now that you can reflect on the EP as a finished product, is there anything you think comes across most strongly, either sonically or thematically?

While working out album art and the order of the songs we did notice a theme had emerged. 'HywelAttheMoon' starts off from the point of view of a cynical old man who is unhappy with how his life has turned out, warning a younger gentleman not to take the same road he has. 'Desert Lands' is the beginning of a narrative from the younger male's point of view as he is trying to remain unphased by the old man's words. 'Catch the Sun' brings the beginning of the impact of the old man's words and delves into the young man's mind as he comes to terms with his life choices and begins to confront his sadness. Walt's goes deeper into the young man's sadness. He dreams of happier and easier days and begins reaching out for help. 'Thoughts of Thoughts' brings a final realisation that his life doesn't have to be the same as the old man's as he gives up all his possessions and leaves the place he has always known in search of happiness and, to some extent, answers. But hey, I guess you could find any theme in a collection of songs if you're looking for one.

You guys are based in Wellington and have been for a while. Tell us about how the scene has changed down there since you've been a band?

The Wellington music scene is a funny thing. Since we've been here the majority of our musical friends that we have made have shipped off overseas and the music is almost in reverse, with great bands coming through playing a variety of music from as far back as the early 20th century and doing it all insanely well. It's been sad to see the loss of bands (and venues) in Wellington but you can't expect it to ever stay the same; the scene is still just as exciting as it was when we first arrived here four years ago.

More generally, Wellington has a really strong music community: why do you think this is? Who or what do you think are particularly important institutions in the Wellington music scene at the moment?

Being such a small city in such close quarters, it's hard to play music without meeting a lot of other musicians in Wellington. And with the loss of some pretty crucial venues the music culture here is getting squeezed still tighter together. The community of musicians here is great because most of the ones you meet are awesome people in a very similar situation to yourself - working a full-time job to fund a full-time passion - and can totally relate to your lifestyle.

There seems to have been a pretty big shift in the live venue scene down there recently: tell us a little bit about that?

Yeah, there has been quite a massive shift that we have witnessed. It started for us with the loss of our favourite bar - Watusi - which was the venue that gave us the opportunity to find our feet and was always so supportive, so when that closed down in 2010, you can imagine we were very upset. Since then we've lost great places such as Freds, The Garden Club, Happy (although, with Puppies occupying the old Happy space it's safe to say that it offers some comfort for the loss) and crazy things such as San Fran selling etc. But with venues closing down all over the show it seems that the venues that are still up and running are having to step up their games which makes for awesome shows coming our way and awesome opportunities for the bands that are here.

What are you guys working on at the moment?

At the moment we're just writing some new stuff, playing a few shows here and there and trying to have fun as always. Having just released our EP two weeks ago, it's nice to have some time to take a quick breather and clear our heads a bit.

You're part of the Gunslinger's Ball tour next week, you must be looking forward to that. What made you want to be a part of that and who / what do you admire about the other bands playing?

We are extremely excited about the upcoming tour. All of the bands on the bill are awesome and it's great to have such an event, rather than a show, to be a part of. With four unique bands sharing a similar musical taste and love of country music it's gearing up to be an awesome few shows. The Gunslinger's Ball is always such a good time and the organisers work so hard to make sure we're comfortable and having a good time so we truly are very excited.


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