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Interview: Marlin's Dreaming Talk Dunedin Life + Releasing Music During Lockdown

Interview: Marlin's Dreaming Talk Dunedin Life + Releasing Music During Lockdown

Annabel Kean / Thursday 22nd October, 2020 1:33PM

Ōtepoti crew Marlin's Dreaming have had a bit of a wild ride the last two years, with band members going every which way, albums delayed, huge tours done and dusted, and new sounds discovered. Getting their start with New Band Jackpot, they found themselves featured on a handful of popular Spotify playlists, and have since played support for the likes of Kirin J Callinan, The Chills and Ocean Alley. Earlier this year the band managed to squeezed in a massive New Zealand wide tour before frontman Semisi Maiai jetted off overseas for a no-plans Europe trip, which didn't last too long before he ditched his car and returned home to Aotearoa lockdown.

In April, Marlin's Dreaming pushed ahead rolling out their latest album Quotodian on a gut feeling Covid wasn't going anywhere any time soon. Seventh months on the group have four out of five album release shows done, with the big finale this Friday as part of the Elemental Nights concert series, with support from new Tāmaki Makaurau favourites Phoebe Rings. Maiai took a break from latte art and fluffies to chat about Marlin's Dreaming's year so far, his miserable Auckland stint, and the parking fines he's got stacking up somewhere in Amsterdam...

Elemental Nights & Elemental Nights: Hopetoun Alpha Series

Friday 23rd October - Marlin’s Dreaming, Hopetoun Alpha
Friday 23rd October - Avantdale Bowling Club, Hollywood Avondale
Saturday 24th October - Troy Kingi & The Clutch, Hollywood Avondale
Friday 30th October - Friendly Potential : Catacombs, Wintergarden
Saturday 31St October - Friendly Potential: Catacombs, Wintergarden

Elemental Nights tickets via Live Nation

Annabel Kean: Kia ora, it’s Annabel.

Semisi Maiai: Hey!

How you doing?

Pretty good, just on a break at work.

Okay, I’ll try to keep this snappy [SPOILER: I did not keep it snappy]. Where do you work?

In Dunedin at a cafe doing coffees.

For some reason I thought you’d moved up to Auckland.

I did! Last year I was living in Auckland. Yeah, but I moved back down. I actually went away to Europe, then everywhere started shutting down, and I was like, there’s not much else I can do. My family’s from Dunedin so I just came back.

I think that was probably a good choice.

Yeah. Heaps of people are going back to their OG homes which is quite funny.

Fair enough! How was your weekend? Did you get to go to The Beths?

No, well, my dad went, but I didn’t go. I probably could have gone, but that was the same night as election night eh? I was at an election party watching the live results come in. It was actually the day after we’d done two back-to-back shows in Wellington and I was pretty knackered, don’t know if I could have done another gig.

I was thinking that. You were in Wellington, then back to Dunedin, and then you’re going back up to Auckland for this Elemental Nights show.

I’ve gotta do like 25 hours at the cafe between it so, a bit of flying. Not the most environmentally friendly option.

You kind of don’t really get given a choice. But yeah, that sucks. Will you just be busy working this week, or resting?

Working this week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then we go up on Thursday. Then we run through a rehearsal up there, then play the show on Friday then boost to Tauranga and play a little mini vegan festival [Vegan Vibes 2020] there. Then come back to Dunedin after that.

You grew up in Dunedin yeah? Did the whole band grow up there?

When we recorded our recent album we had this guy called Leith Towers (Charlie Freak), who’s from Auckland, in the band, but he had to say his goodbyes because he’s studying a pretty intense degree and he couldn’t commit to moving to Dunedin where we are, or coming down every other weekend to practise. We’ve got a new guy called De Stevens, he was living in Christchurch and he’s moved to Dunedin, living with the drummer Hamish Morgan. It’s been cool. De’s from Dunedin too funnily enough, I didn’t actually know him before this but we were the same age going through school and stuff.

That’s bizarre that you both grew up in Dunedin and don’t know each other.

I know! It’s random.

How much does growing up in Dunedin and living there play into your music?

I dunno, I think a decent amount. I’d like to think that no matter where I am it’s more about  it’s definitely an influence wherever I am, how my songwriting is just changes completely. It’s the architecture, it’s who you’re with at the time, how many different landscapes you’re getting to see. Being by the sea or not being by the sea to be honest is a bit of a thing for me. It sounds pretty cliche but it’s quite different. I feel like being next to the sea, for me it feels like a big open space. As opposed to anywhere else really, if you look out to the horizon it’s endless, it feels less claustrophobic. Whereas living in Auckland last year was really quite claustrophobic feeling in the city. I was living on Karangahape Road and it’d never done that before. That definitely influenced the music a different way as well. I’d say Dunedin does influence, and a lot of the old Dunedin bands as well that I’ve come to listen to. I’m not sure if that’s directly because I’m from Dunedin that I listen to those bands, I think it would have happened anyway. But you can see a certain sound that has evolved in Dunedin and I’d say that in some way can be attributed to the layout of the city and the people who live here and the lifestyle for sure.

I’ve been saying to people the last couple of years that there’s this new ‘Dunedin sound’ that’s come up. There was the old one in the ‘80s, ‘90s, whatever, and now it’s like you guys and Soaked Oats and Mild Orange.

Yeah I agree for sure. I mean, with our mates we kind of came up together as bands playing together, in the same way that an Auckland or Christchurch or Wellington scene comes up with maybe three or four bands, getting some good crowds and being able to inspire each other. That’s definitely happened to us with the likes of Mild Orange and Soaked Oats. I mean, as well as being really influenced by each other we kind of hate the idea of being pigeon-holed into a sound that just sounds like each other. It’s hard to get away from that though. I’m definitely at a point where I can acknowledge that there’s some similar soundscapes and we were hanging out a lot living down here, so it’s undeniable really.

And when people talk about the old ‘Dunedin sound’ and Flying Nun and stuff, they’re linking those bands together but they’re not saying they sound the same. So would you still say there’s this 'Dunedin-ness' in Quotodian?

I think so. Last year in particular actually I listened to a lot of Flying Nun stuff, the likes of Shayne Carter and The Verlaines. Bands that have actually really influenced me, especially in my songwriting. So yeah, for sure. With songs like ‘Alike’ on that album I think really pay homage to some of the older bands in Dunedin, as well as probably the UK to be honest. I love a lot of that stuff. I love ‘80s, ‘90s rock’n’roll music.

For sure. And you feel a bit proud of it coming from Dunedin or Christchurch. Have you listened to Dimmer much?

Yeah! That wasn’t a big influence on this recent stuff, but I’ve listened to a lot of Dimmer since I was growing up. And actually the guy, Justyn Pilbrow (Elemeno P.), who mixed Quotidian, he was in Dimmer. So maybe there is some sort of flow on effect.

Was it a bit of a bummer to release your album during lockdown? Did you consider pushing it back?

Well we did delay it. We were gonna release it at the top of the year, but we just had some issues with like  it sounds stupid, but just getting the artwork together and getting the right audio files.

That stuff takes way longer than you think.

And we were touring at the time and it was kind of hard to fit it all in. As soon as we finished touring I was away to Europe. We ended up just doing a slow release, where we released a few singles then the album, but we were thinking about delaying but it got to a point where I just knew in my head that this Covid situation was gonna be a bit of a long haul thing. By the time we released the album, it was very much a thing. Which was completely coincidental that a lot of the album’s themes were centred around an air of despondency through getting stuck in the same cycle, and people being stuck inside for weeks on end. We were probably feeling the same way, similarly detached from the real world. It’s funny how it worked out like that.

Cos you were living in Auckland and feeling very stuck yourself.

You know, songs are whatever people take from them, but for me it was more of a feeling I was writing down in Auckland when I was living in a city apartment. But by the time we actually released it, it was almost a year on from that.

What did you do in Europe?

It was me and my friend, we were just kind of bumming around really. We went over without any purpose at all, we were just like ‘I wanna go to Europe’ and we did it. We bought a car over there in Berlin, and ended up doing a lot of driving, just circling. We drove from Berlin to Belgium, then down to France, then decided we were going to leave for New Zealand all within about four days. Bought a car, drove like 3000 kilometres, all within four or five days. And then left the car parked up in Amsterdam somewhere, and haven’t thought about it since.

Did you just leave it?

Yeah, I’m just thinking about that now and it’s kind of stressful.

If it was going to be an issue surely you would have heard about it by now.

Apparently not eh, they just stack up fines and apparently next time you go over you’ve just got huge fines.

Oh no! Don’t think about it. Just don’t go back.

Exactly. They probably bank on the fact that if someone’s going to buy a car over there, they’ve probably got enough money to go back over again at some point.

You should find someone who’s living there to find it and take a photo.

That actually reminds me… I might write a little note to myself.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Marlin's Dreaming sort of got their ‘big break’ through being playlisted on popular Spotify playlists, right?

Yeah yeah.

How do you do that? I think there are so many artists at a total loss on how to sell their music, get their music heard, it’s seemingly impossible. What’s your advice?

My advice is just to go hard on emailing everyone you can when you’re releasing music, and don’t think it’s just going to get picked up. Behind all of the Spotify listings that we have is a lot of nights of endless emailing to pretty anyone and everyone who works at Spotify, who works at iTunes, who works anywhere, and we’d hardly ever get replies, but sometimes we do and sometimes it’s great. I mean it’s definitely circumstantial to a lot of different peoples’ situations but for me it was like, ‘I’m just gonna email anyone that I know’, and just try tee up meetings and get to the bottom of how to do it. It’s just emailing and hounding people, hounding reporters to listen to our music, post our music on blogs, people to share it on social media, ya know? We’re definitely a product of a lot of help from friends and from people seeing my emails and being like ‘Okay, I’ll listen to them’, and ‘Okay I’ll chuck it on an editorial playlist’, and we’re just so thankful and stoked that that was able to happen for us so early on.

And of course you’ve got to make good music and have the confidence to push it, then it can work out.

Yeah. I think it’s just luck. A lot of it’s luck. Not with who’s gonna end up listening to your music and really love it and connect with it, and who’s gonna really connect with your live shows, I don’t think that’s luck, but I think there’s definitely some luck that comes down to getting in an editorial playlist on Spotify. It doesn’t seem like there’s any right or wrong way to go about it, it’s a hard one.


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Elemental Nights - Marlins Dreaming
Fri 23rd Oct 8:00pm
Hopetoun Alpha, Auckland