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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Monday 9th May, 2016 11:06AM

Wellington trio HEX are on the cusp of releasing their highly-anticipated debut EP and as a taster have unveiled the captivating album version of their single 'Witches Of Hex'. Harnessing the power of feminine energy, the brooding song is hailed by the band as a "dedication to all the incredible wahine toa in Aotearoa" and a thank you to Papatūānuku - the mother earth who gives birth to all things. Soak up 'Witches Of Hex' below while you read our interview with bandmember Kiki Van Newtown....

UTR: Hi Kirsten!! So to get started, could you please tell us who you all are, and what role you each play in HEX?

KVN: HEX is Liz Mathews on drums, GG Van Newtown on guitar and vocals, and me, Kiki, on bass and vocals. Liz makes most of the spells, GG does most of the hardware organisation and fabricating, and I do most of the administrating. We all contribute to the songwriting and the cooking.

There seems to be something inherently magical about the power of three. Did you set out to be a trio? How did the band line-up fall into place?

It’s true that there is something magical about three. Being a trio seems sturdier than other band configurations I’ve been involved in - it’s a good mix of varying opinions without turning into chaos. So we started jamming together about six years ago in Auckland when me and GG were living in a big warehouse space and Liz would come over after work, take off her jeans and jump behind the drum kit. Originally we were trying to write a rock opera à la The Transfused. It was called Castle Gayskull and was based on the impossible love between a land dwelling ghost and a sea dwelling mermaid. HEX started after we all moved back to Wellington. We’ve all known each other for years, and we all love each other so much, it just makes sense that we play music together.

You and Greta are both from Newtown, the band… but you also resided in the suburb until recently when you moved out to the Hutt Valley. How has moving away from the central city, and Newtown which is quite a cultural hub, affected your creativity?

OMG the Hutt Valley is so great! I mean we love Newtown - it’s where me and GG met and started our first band together and had our babies and lived for years and years and also our last name - but Naenae eh. It’s so low key and real out here, it’s easier for me to concentrate, less distractions, a really cleansing river flow, and the hills behind our house are like great goddesses stretching their arms out and guiding us into the world. Maybe I’m still in total limerence with the Hutt, but so far living here has been really conducive to playing music.

You are parents to a young family, and I recently saw a photo of you playing a gig with baby on back (with earmuffs) and bass in hand. There were some awesome comments supporting your punk cred… were you worried you would get shade for it at all??

Honestly I didn’t even think about it. I mean, becoming a parent throws you right into the arena of public shaming with regards to everything ever anyway! For me it’s critical that parenting isn’t a roadblock to us pursuing our passions. And personally I’m not interested in parenting being my sole identity and occupation, like I know some people feel like it really completes them and helps them thrive, but becoming a parent just made me feel really lost. Music is such a lifeline for us, and I think it’s valuable that people see us up on stage with our babies so they know being in a band while parenting is a possibility for them too.

In general, has your experience as a woman in the music industry been positive?

In general yeah it has. I’ve met some of my best friends playing music. But I’ve also had some of my most shit experiences in the music scene, which I think is because like most industries it replicates the problems of the world at large - capitalism/patriarchy et al.

There has been quite a lot of discussion of late about providing safer spaces in the music industry for women. Are there any small things that you think people can do to make positive changes right now?

I think venues and bookers are in a really great position to make positive changes, to educate people they work with and to draw clear boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable in this scene. Y’know it’s exciting, that things can change, that given the opportunity we can make the music scene way more safe and inclusive. I’m also big on affirmative action. I think there should be diversity in every lineup for every gig. If you can’t find enough diversity in bands to meet a quota - well then you either don’t have the gig or you look harder and actually find the women and GNC peeps and POC and people with disabilities and queer people playing music. Because we do exist, we just don’t get the same exposure or opportunities as men. There needs to be a whole culture switch whereby the music community starts trying really hard to accommodate the needs of marginalised groups, asking what can be done to make the music scene accessible for these groups and then doing those things, because music should be accessible for everybody.

What are your thoughts on the Wellington music scene overall? What would help improve it?

The Wellington music scene is really flourishing at the moment. There are so many great bands and a real sense of community. There are problems too obviously, but it feels like a really energetic time where people are getting a lot of shit done. I am really into !No Venues! and would love for there to be more community-based sites that were set up for gigs without being in the bar/venue context. Gig buses or gig forest sound shells or gig community gardens.

You are on the cusp of releasing your debut EP. Can you tell us a little bit about how it was recorded and put together?

We recorded all the instruments live about three or four years ago with Simon Cuming, and it’s taken us this long to get the vocal tracks finished because it turns out babies are noisy and time consuming. We finally got all the tracks to Jason Erskine at Barong Mixing a few months ago and he’s been doing the mixing and mastering for us like a complete gem.

We’ve absolutely fallen in love with the singles HEX has released so far… when songwriting, is there something you specifically set out to achieve?

We pay a lot of attention to detail, like sometimes it’s a really small detail that needs altering which makes you be able to listen to a song a million times on repeat. But at the same time we don’t wanna edit our songs into absolute submission - we still like them to be a bit out of control.

In your earlier single ‘Albatross’, I understand you drew inspiration from the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Is 19th century literature a regular influence on Hex’s output?

I think all culture made by white men is an influence insofar as it’s inescapable. 19th century literature isn’t a regular influence, but I was reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the time and what struck me was the congruity of the two described downfalls of the albatross that I was looking at - killed by a singular man in the poem and killed en masse by the trappings of capitalism as seen in countless photos on the web. In both cases these birds are ultimately killed by irrational and impulsive human behaviour, which is embarrassing.

The single you are sharing today, ‘Witches of Hex’, is a re-worked version of an earlier demo. How have you changed it up?

It’s actually got all the instruments and vocal lines on it now! The original demo was all just me and GG and garageband and our kid’s toy drum.

Is there any particular message in the song that you hope it conveys to a listener?

It’s a dedication to all the incredible wahine toa in Aotearoa. And a thank you to Papatūānuku. I hope people listen to it and feel grateful for this earth.

Calling To The Universe is out this Friday 13th May via Sloth Records

Hex have two Auckland shows up their sleeves for this weekend, which will be preceded by an EP listening party at Death Ray Record on Thursday. See below for details.

Photo by Rose Marie Salmon