click here for more
Team Ugly

Team Ugly

Interviewed by
Glen Meltzer
Wednesday 27th November, 2013 9:40AM

Team Ugly have just released new EP Screaming In Tongues, the first from the Auckland four-piece outfit. Having been extensively touring over the last twelve months, including an enormous trip throughout America, the group were finally able to sit down and record their debut release. We caught up with founding members Michael McClelland and Ary Jansen from the group and had a chat about the band, the EP and touring the US of A... 

You're both quite prolific individuals, what other bands have you been a part of before Team Ugly?

Ary Jansen (AJ): I've been in FATANGRYMAN, Onesie, Hissyfit, Milkshakes, and I'm still also in Ralph.

Michael McClelland (MM): I've probably spent more time thinking about bands than I have actually played in them. I tried starting a band called New Zealand Music Awards once that had eleven bassists and three drummers on one drumkit. You could probably anticipate that it was a little ambitious. It didn't work out.

How did Team Ugly come about and who else is in the group?

MM: Ary and I just kinda talked each other into it. We had all sorts of ideas about what kind of band we wanted to be in, so we were lucky to find so much common ground between us. And so while our old bands were fizzling out, we just recruited whoever we could find for this new one. Our friends Lawree, Tim, Devin and Chris were there for us along the way, but Sam's been there pretty much from the beginning though.

AJ: Then we heard Philip was moving up to Auckland from Dunedin and remembered him from his sludgy two-piece band Killmore Girls. He was keen to join Team Ugly as soon as we asked.

MM: It's a lot more egalitarian now, which is great, but that probably has more to do with there being a more stable lineup than in the early days.

Being a respected writer, journalist and occasional UTR contributor, how do you approach the form of writing lyrics to songs compared to your editorial work?

MM: I used to hate being a writer and a music guy at the same time. Y'know, the whole conflict of interest thing. But recently I just accepted the fact that I'm allowed to be whoever I want to be, so it's actually kind of a blessing that I can live out an artistic approach in a multifaceted way.

AJ: Lyrically, I think we try to be as honest as possible and also summarise a feeling of dissatisfaction as best as we can. A lot of our songs are kind of personally political, like talking about our own experiences of being disillusioned with the current political climate and the way people think. I guess we are fairly analytical and metaphorical but in the end we just want to write lyrics that other people can relate to.

MM: We like people knowing exactly what we're singing about. It's the lyrical equivalent of not hiding behind reverb and delay pedals.

Where was the EP recorded and how long have you been working on it?

MM: Rohan Evans kindly let us record it in Auckland's most lovable hive of scum and villainy, Whammy Bar. Our buddy Nick Graham helped us out with the engineering, and in my opinion his recordings have the best sound in the country. If not that, then at least he's the best for our particular band. Both of these guys did it for ridiculously cheap, so if the EP sounds tortured at all, that's the sound of long-suffering music supporters trying to shed their souls.

AJ: We recorded it on the 17th of August (according to my calendar), so it's been around for a while, and even some of the songs are pretty old. But we've re-recorded them and developed them heaps.

MM: And now Melted Ice Cream in Christchurch are being good dudes and putting the whole thing out.

Last year you toured the USA, how many dates and in how many cities did it end up being? Would you do it again?

MM: I think it was something like 20 different cities in four weeks... it's a big place. It costs a bit of money to get there but as soon as I get the money I'll definitely be doing it again and again and again. It's, like, the only thing I want to do ever.

AJ: Yeah I would definitely do it again. Next time I wanna make it more permanent though, maybe even move there. Last time we met so many amazing people and played with so many awesome bands, but it was so fleeting - we only got to hang out with them like one day each. I miss our tour buddies Lindseys and our drummer Chris every day.

MM: It really strikes you that people over there actually call themselves 'punks'. I kinda melt at the idea of that. I guess it's just such a huge place that it allows for self-identity to form like that.

AJ: At the same time, I think it really hit Michael and I just how amazing New Zealand's music output is considering how small we are, and I think it probably has something to do with our distance and isolation from the rest of the world.

MM: It's a pretty good place to go if you want to change your life.

Are there any bands over there you think we should know of and follow?

AJ: Yeah! Eccotone from Denton, Texas really blew us away - they have two drummers who play incredibly together. They were also cool as to hang out with.

MM: They reminded me loads of Kitsunegari from NZ -- they were our sludgy/doomy punk buddies from a few years back and I loved em. We actually ripped Eccotone off a little bit on the EP (with their permission). Check em out and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But yeah, lotta great noisy punk bands from Texas for some reason.

AJ: We also really enjoyed Man Hands from Phoenix, Arizona who are badass as hell. Kinda like Pissed Jeans. Ahh, so many other sweet bands too. There's a lot going on there.

MM: I just like wild, weird punk. Anything on the labels 12XU, Gilgongo, Zum, M'Lady's, Sister Polygon -- this is shit you'll never see on indie blogs and it's a hell of a lot more interesting. Would be great for NZ bands to investigate the US DIY scene more, there are some freaky sonic coincidences floating about.

Punk is a term that is molded into different meanings these days, with some bands denouncing the term altogether. What kind of genre do you prefer to fit Team Ugly into (if any)?

MM: Philip called us sissy punk, or punk for wusses... I can't remember which, but both work pretty well when for anxious middle class white kids. That's usually the punk demographic anyway, right?

AJ: It's like, yeah, we like being a bit angry, but never Henry Rollins style. We're never gonna beat anyone up and if anyone tries to beat us up I think we'd tell our mums and dads on them.

MM: My favourite thing ever is 80s post-hardcore in Washington, DC because it was so dedicated to subverting dumb macho bullshit. Thankfully there isn't a lot of that in our circle, but in my view it's still a pretty strong undercurrent of New Zealand culture.

AJ: Bands like Fugazi really seem to unite people in their anger, but in a really positive inspiring way. Anyway, I guess alternative or punk works for us as a blanket term... I mean, we are all into that kinda music.

MM: Basically anything as long as it's not 'indie rock'.

Where are your favourite spots to gig in New Zealand?

AJ: We all grew up going to All Ages shows and we prefer playing AA shows to bars, just because they tend to be looser, cheaper and often BYO. There were a few really memorable pop-up shows in the past like the one at Kelly Street Park in Mt Eden and the Mint Chicks show in the old Devonport WWII tunnels. It would be cool to get some more stuff like that happening this summer.

MM: Oh yeah the Mint Chicks tunnels show was pretty much the reason I started playing in bands. Me and Ary's old bands played a show in the back of my car once.

AJ: We had our EP release at 4 Cross Street last weekend and it was really cool because we had artists involved, so it wasn't just a music show. And also it just made the atmosphere more interesting.

MM: People were moshing to the first band, which is basically any show organiser's dream, I reckon.

Please talk us through the tracks on the EP...

MM: They all turned out pretty self-deprecating and sinister. Amusingly, the music itself is actually pretty whacky and all over the place. Makes me think of cartoon violence. I guess that explains 'Kill Me'...

AJ: 'I'm Possessive and Controlling' is probably my favourite song on the EP. We wrote it with our old bassist, Tim. I really like Michael's lyrics -- "I'm possessive and controlling, but at least I admit it," and "I might be a jerk, but at least I'm not in charge." It describes the way we as young people, who in our circle are often students or sickness beneficiaries, are treated by the current government as being basically unwanted. As if the fact that we're not employed full-time means we have nothing to contribute to society so their policies are getting harder and harder on us.

MM: I am gonna use this opportunity to say that I don't believe in evil, but I do believe in Work and Income NZ.

AJ: 'You Are What You Eat' is about being a product of your own culture. I wrote the verses which is why there are cheeky guitar solo type things in them, haha.

MM: I realised recently that 90% of our songs have something to do with how much neoliberalism sucks, so maybe we should start changing it up a bit...

AJ: In a similar vein, 'Duck My Sick' is about the western world's approach to mental health and the trend of immediately prescribing medication without talking through people's problems properly.

MM: I personally see it as a symptom of a sick society. It just reminded me of this thing in the news about a man in Wellington who tried to get his keys out of a storm water drain and got stuck in there and died of asphyxiation. It's quite an uncomfortable thing to imagine, but I figure that few things characterise you as well as what freaks you out...


See below for Team Ugly's upcoming shows and head over to their bandcamp to grab the EP.