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Interviewed by
Anna Bracewell-Worrall
Tuesday 27th May, 2014 11:01AM

Popstrangers are back with a brand new album. Named Fortuna, the record came out on Friday in New Zealand, on Monday in the United Kingdom, and is being released today in the United States. It is the second full-length offering from the group, following on from last year's debut Antipodes, which gained the group plenty of media attention at home and abroad. The sprawling and melancholic Fortuna (which has a bit of psych pop thrown in for good measure) is the first release since the three-piece packed up and relocated to London. Last time UTR spoke to the ex-pats was just after the release of Antipodes and just before the move, so we caught up vocalist Joel Flyger to see how life has been treating in The Old Smoke...

UTR: How does it feel to have the album done and dusted?

JOEL: It feels good, I suppose. We wrote and recorded it really quickly, and that was a few months ago now, so it is nice being able to release it physically.

Back in 2013 you told us with the release of Antipodes, that it was partly about isolation and about living in New Zealand. Now that Popstrangers have relocated to London, have you found that your songwriting has changed?

I felt that the isolation thing wasn't just about living in New Zealand but just feeling isolated in some way generally. I don't think that has changed from living in London. I don't feel too different as a person. We still do similar things over here and are in some ways more isolated, because there isn't that network of friends or people you can rely on like when you are home. I'm not sure how it has impacted the songs, though. I find it hard to judge things like that.

The first single you released from the album was 'Country Kills', which Pitchfork commented was not very "civic minded". What other responses have you had to the song?

Well, for the record, that song has nothing to do with New Zealand. I think a press release or something came out that said it was, but the "country" that is referred to is, like, the government or higher power in the world that has control over certain things you do. Whatever.

Why did you choose to call your new album Fortuna? After the Roman goddess of good luck?

I think choosing an album title could sometimes be a challenge, but then there are just certain themes or ideas that are there from the start of writing it. Fortune and destiny and things like that were in books I was reading at the time of writing some of the lyrics for the album, and they became themes in some of the songs. It just felt like a good fit, and I guess for all three of us in the band, Fortuna was the obvious choice of words floating around at the time.

Did you set out wanting to make a record that was different than the debut, or did it just happen that way?

Yeah, I think to make the same record twice is pretty boring. Mainly for the sake of continuing as a band, I wanted it to be different in some way. I also felt like we got pigeonholed when people heard the first album, so wanted to move away from that. I spoke with Dave, our drummer, last night, actually, about making another record, and I think when we do it again, it will have to be completely different or not have any guitars in it or something.

You recorded most of this album live, within less than a week. Do you think that it came out for the better or do you wish you had more time?

When we recorded Antipodes we took our time, and I think the benefit of that was being able to change melodies on songs or change structures until we were happy. To tell you the truth, I've only really listened to the new album once or twice. Like you said, it’s done and dusted, and it's too late to make any changes, so we have to live with it. I guess there was no time to freak out about whether the songs were good enough to release or not, as everything moved so fast. I think we had booked the mastering slot before the album had even been mixed. Tom Healy, who recorded Antipodes, came over to London and recorded us here, so I guess if anyone wished they had more time, it would be him. But in saying that, I feel like he had a picture in his head of how the album was starting to sound while we were recording it. Even though he had no demos or anything to work off.

Tell us a bit about the part of London you live in...

We all live in East London - in the borough of Hackney. It’s fine. We managed to all find flats that aren't too expensive, and we all live within 15 minutes walk of each other. We were away for a month on tour, so when we got back I had no where to live, but stayed with some friends until I found a room. It’s not too different to flatting in Auckland.

How have you coped with the practical realities of London – finding a flat, making enough money to pay rent and buy warm shoes?

There have definitely been some tough times. But you kind of just always find a way, like anything. We all do different things, but its usually bar or cafe work or freelance stuff. When we were away on tour, someone broke into our hotel room while we were passed out and stole our phones, wallets and a nice camera. So coming back to London with no bank cards or anything like that has just been annoying. Finding a place to practice at the start was hard, but I think we have everything covered now.

Do you feel like you fit in now, among all the London bands?

Yeah, I guess so. We've made friends with some bands, and other bigger bands have helped us out with shows and things.

How does playing London gigs compare to Auckland?

It’s the same. People are either dancing and having a good time or standing and staring. Shows start earlier and finish early, so people can take public transport home, I guess.

May is New Zealand music month, which has got me thinking about what ‘New Zealand music’ means. What do you think New Zealand music is?

I think I would have to say, music that is made in New Zealand by New Zealanders?

Do still consider yourselves to be making New Zealand music?


What are you listening to at the moment? Any New Zealand stuff in the mix?

My Shocking Pinks LP arrived in the mail the other day, so I've been listening to that quite a bit. King Crimson and Kevin Ayers. Um, not sure what else off the top of my head. Some dance music here and there.

I heard you were asked to support Gary Numan... in New Zealand. Were you gutted you were on the other side of the planet?

Ah, yeah, we got asked. I don't think the promoter realised that we were in London, though. It would've been great, though. I think supporting an international band is always good, no matter who they are, just to kind of get an insight into how the whole 'production' of a big concert is put together. I find that stuff interesting, anyway.

So, what’s next for Popstrangers?

The album comes out this week, so get that out of the way and play some shows. We’re going to America later in the year, and I think we are heading back to Europe at some point. As soon as we can, we will be back in NZ for some shows, and then I suppose we might release an EP or do another record. Who knows?


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