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Interviewed by
Nich Cunningham
Wednesday 11th March, 2015 9:41AM

This month sees the return of singular Auckland band Xanadu. Originally active in the early 2000’s, the band pioneered a distinctive style of guitar music that was fresh and helped reinvigorate a faltering local scene. They were exciting. And people noticed. But luck was never with Xanadu. Despite great music, a passionate fan base and excellent supports slots with bands like Mercury Rev, The Editors and Trans Am, the band struggled to achieve momentum. A sense of frustration, stoking interpersonal friction, and the inability to capture their sound in the studio caused the rot to set in: the band finally dissolved in 2003.

Leaving little in their wake but their reputation, Xanadu became something of an enigma. But the three original members, Bruce Wurr, Luke Stemson and Tim Lewton have remained friends. And to celebrate the release of Xanadu’s much anticipated long-player 1999-2002, the band will be touring the nation this month. UnderTheRadar managed to corner Xanadu to demand an explanation...

UTR: If someone had never heard Xanadu, how would you describe your music?

T: It’s really noisy guitar music but there’s also a focus on songs as well. It’s kinda both. It’s a cross between Luke’s aesthetic and mine and Bruce is the middle ground. He keeps it together.

B: I think kinda fun, exciting, dangerous. It’s hard to say: I’ve only ever heard it from one side of the stage.

L: I think it’s pretty poppy and melodic. But I don’t know: I think lots of things are pop that aren’t necessarily considered…

So is there something the music was trying to get across? Something Xanadu is trying to say?

B: I guess for us, we’re not really trying to impart anything in particular. It’s more about us playing songs we really like and us having a good time. And hopefully a by-product of that is the songs come across well outside. We just wanna really enjoy it.

L: It’s essentially pretty simple: We just wanna do stuff that’s just honest and earnest and not trying to be clever.

It’s been a little over a decade since Xanadu broke up. What prompted a reunion?

T: Luke and I met at Verona about a year and a half ago. And Bruce happened to be there as well so we kind of had a meeting. We just talked. And we decided that we wanted to put the old tracks online somehow. And that grew.

B: We’d had an offer from a couple of guys to put out some stuff. That didn’t quite work out so we just decided to do it ourselves.

T: And out of that, we were only going to do a vinyl album if we were going to do some shows. So, that’s how it happened.

At what point did Xanadu start jamming again?

T: We were just meeting up about once a month but we’ve been jamming pretty consistently for the last six months.

L: Has it been that long? Fuck...And I still don’t know the songs.

T: We’ve got four practices left...

B: Then the shit hits the fan.

So you guys were planning all this anyway, how did Blink get involved?

T: Yep, absolutely. I booked the show for Chicks Hotel. And then I basically just got a call from Blink. I can’t remember his exact words but he said he had heard about it and was excited. He asked if we wanted to do a whole tour in conjunction with his Movement thing. It was fucking perfect timing.

B: He came and said he’d do all the shows in the other cities. He basically said all we had to do was turn up. And Blink knows how to do tours.

T: We’re stoked - it was really, really awesome.

So the vinyl: Do you think Xanadu has finally made the record it always wanted to? Do you see this as an album or compilation?

T: Well, I’d say that it’s a compilation. It was a really democratic way we’ve put it together and we’re really happy with it. And that’s really all there is to it. I mean, cos we’ve never really intentionally gone 'lets make an album’ and so this is a way of collating that has a bit of brevity. Songs that we all agree we like. There are other tracks that didn’t quite fit in. But this is just a collection. And at some point we might put more songs online just so they’re there.

L: I don’t think this is the record we always wanted to make but it’s a really good record. And I don’t say that lightly. I’m probably my own worse critic. It’s not the album Xanadu would have done in it’s prime. It’s very very different. It’s arguable whether it’s better or worse. But I think possibly it’s better because it’s more raw and honest because if we’d been in a studio with the hi-fi capabilities that we would have wanted, it would have been a completely different album, and I’m not sure if it would have been as true.

B: From my perspective, I think it’s got really good cohesion. It’s a bit difficult to talk about something you’re part of but it does actually keep your interest. It takes on a life of its own when you listen to it. Simon Gooding did a really great job mastering it for vinyl too.

L: Yeah the mastering sounds really good. Mind you, my stereo is pretty shitty...

The records look great. Who did the artwork?

T: Luke directed it and I did the technical support for it. I was in photoshop and he’d be like ‘let's try somethings like this, put that over there..’

L: It was a collaboration. But I drew the logo. We both did the layout.

T: It was mainly you…I just...

B: Tim just put it where Luke wanted it.

Is it nice that people are still excited about Xanadu?

T: Oh fuck yeah. I’m surprised by that. I was expecting to play to ten people.

L: Yeah, hard out. In fact, it almost seems like people are more excited now than they used to be. Personally, I’m thrilled. There’s been a lot of good feedback.

B: We just wanna go out and have fun.Hopefully other people have fun too.

So what's the plan post tour? Will this be it for Xanadu?

T: There’s nothing planned. The idea was to put the album together, get it released and do some shows and give 100% and we don’t have any other plans.

L: One thing at a time…

T: There’s a possibility that we may do a show from time-to-time if we’re all into it, but we all have other projects.

L: It’s up in the air and we’ll see when we get there.

T: I’m just really happy to be playing with these guys again cos of the songs and it’s just fun and cool and it means something to us. It was just like we started out like ‘lets do something!’. And we created something that we wanted to see and hear.

B: And we’re actually doing it rather than just talking about it.

Xanadu are playing the following dates, head over here for tickets:

Sunday 15th March, RPM, Cuba Street, Wellington
Friday 20th March, The Kings Arms, Auckland
Friday 27th March, Wunderbar, Lyttelton
Saturday 28th March, Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers
Also at CAMP A MOVEMENT, Wainuiomata - see for details


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