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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Wednesday 15th April, 2015 2:48PM

This month saw the release of SJD's beautiful seventh album Saint John Divine. Graced with a striking artwork from Dunedin artist Kushana Bush, the new album is being touted as being almost the polar opposite of it's predecessor, Elastic Wasteland, which was a self-recorded and self-played album that took out the 2013 Taite Prize. To create Saint John Divine SJD, aka Sean Donnelly, gathered together a myriad of artists including James Duncan, Sandy Mills and Neil Finn to add their dash of magic to the recording sessions at Auckland's Roundhead Studios. With the album out and a handful of release shows on the horizon, UnderTheRadar caught up with Donnelly and asked him some probing questions based around the titles of his songs, and he came up with some very insightful answers...

Sometimes reading a great book or watching an incredible sci-fi film can make me feel like I SAW THE FUTURE or got good glimpse at the past. But if you had an actual time machine, where would you go?

If I had an actual time machine, I'd probably go back and buy shares in Facebook or something. I'd use the money to buy gear and take a documentary crew with me to film the future and then make 'science fiction' films with the footage that we'd gathered. I would then be hailed as a visionary genius on my deathbed whereupon I would reverse polarity on the machine and travel back to the year of my birth and relive my life with full adult consciousness… inventing non-stick pans, robot vacuum cleaners and the internet along the way.

If you had to dissect your new album Saint John Divine into LITTLE PIECES, what would those components be?

Hmmm…carbon, hydrogen, oxygen with trace amounts of gold, silver and uranium …maybe a little arsenic. On a musical level: Chris O'Connor's snare, kick and cymbals and various arcane magicks, James Duncan's elastic/ethereal guitar and skylight upon the stars, Mike Hall's melodic bass propulsion and superb blend of form and function, Neil Finn's bejewelled piano work and unparalleled harmonic genius…my half-lived, half-dreamt songs and the halting voice/guitar, which at times almost succeeds in putting them across…the beautiful, inspiring women - Sandy, Victoria, Julia and Anna who bring those nascent harmonies out into the light and make me sound so much better in the process. Ash, Miranda and Rob whose nimble, inspired fingers make my crazy string arrangements sound like the real thing.

JET PLANES are pretty good lollies. What was your favourite childhood sweet?

I liked K Bars, milkbottles, sherbet, snifters, allsorts, smokers, popping candy, mint imperials, tattoo bubble gum - all washed down with a crushed packet of potato sticks and a spaceman drink.

If you were called up by mtv to do an UNPLUGGED series of cover songs, which three tracks would be your first choice?

'Good Vibrations', 'Strawberry Letter 23', 'Wuthering Heights'.

Has there ever been a time when you thought, I WANNA BE FOOLISH?

Yes, pretty much all of the time that I'm not suffering the inevitable consequences of being somewhat foolish.

What’s the best thing about HELENSVILLE?

The best thing about Helensville is that it's a real place filled with real human beings whose lives could never be adequately summed up in a song. That, and the fact that I've written a particularly good song of the same name.

Tell us about a time when you just wanted to be an INVISIBLE MAN...

I think most of the invisible people that the song refers to attain their invisibility fairly effortlessly. Generally speaking, I count myself among their number - with great effort and some forethought I can force myself to become visible… but only for a brief period of time. I guess everybody wants to be seen for who they are, but some can cope with that glare of recognition for longer than others…before needing to retreat back into being theoretical or imaginary for a while.

What broadcasting crime really makes you want to CHANGE THE CHANNEL?

Television makes me want to change the channel. Most of the time my favourite channel is Channel Off.

CATSEYES have a reflective layer which allows them to see well at night, which is pretty great. What special animal ability would you have if you could choose?

I would love the ability to be inspiringly beautiful…like a tiger or an eagle or a Venezuelan poodle moth.

What thoughts or memories do the word THROUGH THE VALLEY evoke for you?

Well…it's "lo I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" transplanted onto Vim Valley (a nickname for the more suburban side of East Auckland). Full of young families and restless teens surrounded by gaudy looking evangelical churches looking to scoop up all those lost suburban souls.

Your album's closing song WAS I ALWAYS HERE has a very existential tone. What are your thoughts on fate versus free will?

Somehow I think they're the same thing…but I'll admit that's kinda hard to prove.

SJD has a handful of shows to coming up to celebrate the launch of Saint John Divine, see below for details.