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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Tuesday 1st July, 2014 3:27PM

Appropriating a moniker from a character in Joseph Heller's popular 1961 novel Catch-22, Kieran Brown and Michael van Dyk formed Minderbender a couple of years ago after relocating from Christchurch to Wellington. The music they create is steeped in electronic rhythms created by a drum machine and loop pedal, while the two artists work on guitar, synth and bass to build up post-punk tunes capped with industrious vocals from van Dyk. The Wellington-based pair have successfully captured this dynamically stratified sound on their debut album Emotions, a package which contains 12-tracks that each take their title from a human feeling.

Moving beyond the music, the pair have also married their sound to an intriguing aesthetic that for a large part is created by capital city artist Cameron James Brown. As well as concocting their album cover, Brown directed the recent video for 'Euphoria', which takes its visual cues from Gary Numan's crisp artwork for 1979 album The Pleasure Principle, but is laced with dazzling mandalas that pulse to the songs darting rhythm. We caught up with Michael and Kieran to have a chat about the process of putting their album together, and the importance of visual elements ahead of their album release party tomorrow...

UTR: How did the two of you come to make music together?

MVD: We first started making music down in Christchurch in a band called A Horticultural Society. I put an ad online for a bassist and Kieran responded. We didn’t know it at the time, but we actually went to the same school (Kieran was a year below). It was us two and our friend Julie who was our drummer. Unfortunately before we could get anywhere Julie moved down to Dunedin to study. We auditioned for other drummers but couldn’t find anyone that fitted with the type of music we wanted to play. So we jammed around for a little bit with different musicians before I moved up to Wellington. A year or so later Kieran moved up to Wellington and we started a new band with a friend of ours, James. We wrote some new material and played some house parties before James moved to Melbourne so me and Kieran just continued by ourselves (and a drum machine and synth!).

I read that the name Minderbender came from a character in the novel Catch-22. What attracted you to it? And how have you adopted it for your own use?

KB: We spent ages trying to think of a cool name, and we eventually settled on Milo Minderbinder. I don't know why. We'd all read Catch-22, but I think it was just the first name no one hated. Mike and James kept mistaking saying Milo Minderbender, and eventually it just became Minderbender.

MVD: In the book, Milo Minderbinder is an amoral full blown capitalist. I don’t think the capitalist thing has anything to do with why we chose the name (I’m not really into making political statements with my music). I suppose I like the amoral aspect of his character and I think the lyrics I write try to reflect this amoral aspect. I'm not here to tell people what to say or do, I want people to take whatever they want from our music.

Your new album Emotions was laid down in Wairarapa. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process and why you did it out that way?

MVD: We decided that we just needed one weekend without any interruptions or any hassles where we could make as much noise as we wanted and be completely free in the process of recording the album. So we hired a hut deep out in Wairarapa and took a whole bunch of a equipment with us and a friend of our Kevin Joyce to record. We wanted to try and capture the rawness and energy of live shows, so just set up everything like we do for a live show and recorded all the instruments simultaneously as we played our songs. We played the slower songs during the day and the more raucous songs later in the evening after we'd had a few drinks.

KB: It was really DIY. This was partly because we were too cheap to pay for a proper studio, but the hands-on approach really appealed as well. I think it created an energy that we couldn't have achieved in a traditional studio.

What was the most challenging aspect of recording the album?

MVD: For a long time we had plenty of material for an album but trying to capture the rawness and energy of the sound was the most difficult part. Previous attempts at recording the songs either sounded too clean and wholesome, or otherwise went in the other direction and sounded too distorted and incomprehensible. So trying to find that balance was the most difficult part for me.

Why did you decide to thematically string together the album with emotions?

MVD: We came up with the name for the album well before we had even got close to recording it. Cameron came up with a mock cover and the words and the image seemed to work really well together. After all the songs were written I could see there was a certain thread through all of them, so we renamed all the tracks together to reflect the emotion that each song was portraying. I wanted an actual album, not just a collection of singles.

How are the songs lyrically tied to the theme?

MVD: I didn't want to make a bunch of loud, distortion heavy songs and then sing about love, or how life is beautiful or shit like that. I wanted the lyrics to reflect the aesthetic of the sound. So a lot of the lyrics are reflective of the rock ‘n’ roll ethos of not giving a fuck, having a lack of emotions but then exploring that a little more deeply. Realising that there are emotions to the emotionless existence we try to live and the album explores this in the context of a night out.

Cameron Brown created your album art as well as being behind the recent video for ‘Euphoria’, which is simple but works well with the song. What was the concept for the clip based on?

MVD: It was originally inspired by the cover art for Pleasure Principle by Gary Numan and then organically morphed as it was filmed to whatever props were at hand. Cameron had a concept and a loose structure in mind and we just took it from there. It was a very relaxed approach to filming it but I think it worked really well.

What importance do visual elements have for Minderbender?

MVD: I think the audience is very much influenced not just by the music they hear but the images they see. Trying to get a consistent aesthetic between the two therefore is very important for me. That’s why working with Cameron Brown is great, he seems to understand our aesthetic without us ever having to explain much. He’s made our videos, album artwork and does a lot of our posters.

You guys are based in Wellington scene. How do you find the music scene there?

MVD: The Wellington scene is great. People like Blink help create an encouraging environment for news bands to give it a shot. He gave us our first gig and really got us into the live scene here. It’s a real shame that Puppies and Mighty have closed.

KB: The bands here are great as well. We found it really easy to get support slots when we were starting out. If you want to play, you can play. I would say the venues here are great as well, but they all seem to be closing. After playing at Space Monster in Wanganui, I'd love to have a venue like that in Wellington. I don't think the council would be too keen on a BYO venue though.

What local artists leave you feeling inspired about the state of music these days?

MVD: I'm really digging the new Phoenix Foundation track ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ at the moment, and Connan Mockasin's track he released late last year ‘I'm The Man That Will Find You’ is so smooth, I love it. And really enjoyed the massive double album that the Shocking Pinks released recently. In terms of bad ass rock 'n' roll, loving Ty Segall at the moment, listen to his cover of ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’, probably one of the most inspiring songs for me of late.

KB: Seeing Lawrence Arabia, Liam Finn, and Samuel Flynn Scott play together at Camp a Low Hum this year was pretty awesome. They set the bar pretty high for local musicians. Something completely different, but undeniably impressive, is Alphabethead. You can’t help be in awe when you see him perform.

Now that you’ve got Emotions out, what’s next for Minderbender?

MVD: Nobody knows! Not even us. I'm moving to Sydney for a little bit so there is a possibility that Minderbender will be based in Sydney for a while depending on what Kieran decides he's doing. Music is a passion for me so wherever I am I'll always be making music, whether it's with Minderbender or under something else remains to be seen. But in the mean time we'll be trying to do promo, will write some material and just keep trying to push Minderbender.

KB: I’m committed to Wellington until early next year. It depends how this album goes. If it gains a bit of traction, I'd be keen to get back into playing shows sooner rather than later. Guess we’ll see what happens over the next six months.

Minderbender are celebrating their album release with a gig at Meow, Wellington, this Thursday. Head over here for more details.


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