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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Friday 16th May, 2014 10:00AM

In 2012, Sherpa released their debut album Lesser Flamingo to critical acclaim, despite hitting a bump in the road with their former record label Muzai. Two years on, the psychedelic pop four-piece still have no solid label or management, but they haven't let that stop them from following up that fantastic first effort with today's release of new album Blues and Oranges. The record was laid down with the help of a lot of vintage gear and the know-how of Kody Neilson (The Mint Chicks, Opossom), which helped capture a variety of sounds and "lots of light and shade", according to frontman Earl Ho.

To coincide with the unveiling of the album, the group are heading on the road to tour the country, and the day after the final show in Christchurch, Ho will be flying out to London to start a new adventure there. We caught up with the singer to have a chat about his new-found love of recording and he walks us through a few of the new tracks, which you can check out at the bottom...

Hi Earl! How are you doing? Ready for the tour?

Heeeeey, I’m doing just fine. I think I am certainly ready for the tour, just fine tuning the machinery at this stage.

To start off, for people who might be reading this and are unfamiliar with Sherpa, can you please tell us a little bit about the band?

Sherpa are four guys from Auckland been playing together as the current line up for around 2-3 years but two of us started the group about seven years ago when we were 16. We love rock ‘n’ roll and our music derives from this love and we try our best to put our own spin on things. We want our songs to touch your heart as well as buzz you out.

The album comes out today, how are you feeling about sending it off into the world?

It’s a big sense of relief to finally have it come out. When an album comes out the sensation is like going to the next level on a game that you’ve been stuck on for a year, where the boss is very difficult and big, and you’ve saved it when you don’t have that many medkits so you’ve got a a self inflicted handicap. We’re all very happy to be going on to the next level.

Your first album, Lesser Flamingo received rave reviews, did the fact that people had enjoyed that sound come into play when choosing the direction while writing the new album?

No, not at all because we are our own biggest critics at the end of the day. We lose enough sleep worrying about how to impress ourselves! As for the sound we never discussed which direction to go to, I think we must have worked purely on instinct. Basically our band’s collective conscious is in the driver’s seat and I guess we put our experiences in the gas tank as fuel. So in a way, the decisions we make and the way we choose to live our lives has led the direction of the new album.

You often get put in the psychedelic bag, but your sound also has really strong pop sensibilities, is that sound a conscious choice, or something that emerges during songwriting?

I feel like the unconscious dude in me is a really chirpy sunshine guy that just sings pretty melodies all day long, not really hung up on anything. So whenever I’m daydreaming or whatever, I tend to be singing or whistling random melodies. Sometimes your conscious mind butts in is like, ‘Hey get your phone out and record this, cause there may be a great song in it’. So it usually is that dude who comes up with the pop sensibilities in our songs and we all try to consciously sabotage him.

Earl, you are now sharing the song-writing duties a little, does do anything to change the dynamic of the band?

Yeah, it changes the dynamic in a good way for me cause a) my workload shrinks and b) it induces a very friendly competitiveness in me and all it take is a little bit to give you a kick up the ass to do better.

You worked with Kody Neilson to get this album down. How did that come about?

I made my presence known when we both played Laneway. He had a bottle of Jack Daniels and gave me a swig. Nek minnit…we’re recording together.

What was it like working with Kody? What did he bring to the table?

The first couple of day we were all very much in the “zone” most of the time to get the sweet takes and after each take we would know if it was good cause Kody would be smiling and nodding. We started to get more comfortable and relaxed when we went to do some recording at bach up north, cause we had most of the takes down. So more fun was had at this stage. Kody has an amazing ear for sound and he takes engineering and production really seriously. So he bought all that knowledge and experience as well. He would make suggestions when he felt like he needed to and he was usually always right.

Last time we spoke to you was back in 2010 and you said you had recently discovered you didn’t like recording… have things changed?

Did I say that? Haha. Yeah, I love recording!

What were some of the challenges unique to laying down Blues & Oranges?

There’s always doubt that gets in the way. You can really think yourself into a state with over analysis. I think I rewrote a verse 30 times or something to come back full circle to the first attempt, haha. But the more you do it the more it is easy to cope.

What three things help are essential to get through recording sessions?

I guess it is important to have some snacks. Maybe some cigarettes if you smoke and maybe some Ritalin if you suffer from ADD.

In a recent interview with NZ Musician your band spoke about your split from Muzai. How did that change affect the last couple of years moving forward with your music?

Well, Muzai always gave us 100% creative freedom and we still have that so I don’t think the music would have been any different at all.

Looking back to what happened two years ago, would you have done anything differently in retrospect?

There are no regrets and no hard feelings about that old chestnut.

Is there a goal to find a firm label and management for Sherpa?

Sure. It’s always good to have some help, especially overseas, where we know very little.

Once you have finished this tour around the country what are your ultimate plans as a group?

I’m moving to London the day after the tour finishes with the hope that the other dudes follow suit later on the line. I impulsively bought a one way ticket…

Please introduce us to a few tracks from the new album…

Beach - Ben came into the recording session with an amazing classically inspired guitar piece. We were very impressed so we started to work on it and finished it off in our bach at the beach. Kody was very driven in the search for the wooden clicky sound that you hear throughout the track; I think he trawled through a thousand sounds before finding it. This sound brings the whole song together for sure.

- Ben wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. I can’t praise Ben enough for coming up with the riff. Lyrics are a reflection on desires and their ramifications. I wrote a string arrangement and they weren’t recorded at Abbey Road.

Blind Buzz - A song about a blind man finding love, influenced by the amazing philosophy lecturer/keyboard virtuoso at the University of Auckland. Also contains some solid riffs, reminiscent of bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Miyunhey - My personal favorite on the album. Heavy use of vocoders and synthesizers to bring you the most psychedelic cut of the album. My mum talks about how she is afraid of getting dementia and the song is about how I would react if it were to happen. Miyunhey means “sorry” in Korean.

Die Jung - Ben sent me a demo of a song he wrote called ‘Sunrise’ and it blew my mind. I was very inspired and in that moment I wrote this song. Later that evening after I had demoed the song.


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