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Her Make Believe Band

Her Make Believe Band

Monday 9th August, 2010 12:44PM

I caught up with Vanessa and Cy from Her Make Believe Band just before leaving the UK. After the successful release of their debut album Am Radio last year the NZ-born duo are about to embark on a 15-date New Zealand tour.

Current line-up?

Cy Winstanley - vocals, guitar, harmonica.
Vanessa McGowan - vocals, acoustic and electric bass.
Sebastian Weiss – vocals, piano, fender Rhodes, wurlitzer, Hammond organ, glockenspiel, accordion.
Tom Greenhalgh – drums, handclaps.

Where are you based?

London. Cy - 6 years. Possibly getting near the end of our stay though, maybe Canada next. Vanessa – about 3.

What got you into music?

Cy – I started with Guitar lessons at school which I was getting into and then injured my hand. I couldn’t play for a while and so I started singing and it was just natural. I had a real job when I first came to London and while it was a good experience Music is definitely what I want to be doing.

Vanessa – I’ve played my whole life and really have always wanted to do music, well apart from the short-lived desire to be a lawyer when I was about 10. I played in bands with friends and it was so much fun. I never actively decided I was going to do music, there has just never been anything else I enjoy as much.

How did you get together?

We were friends when we were 16-17 and then sort of lost touch. Then we came back together. Cy was writing songs and he’d ask me to sing harmony to sort of test them out. I wasn’t a singer and I hated it but Cy was a really good teacher and he helped me to understand my voice and how to use it. We started playing as a duo and getting gigs and then we got the band which led to the album. So really, it’s because of Cy.

What other bands/projects have you been involved in?

Cy – I was in a band with Alan Gregg from The Mutton Birds. And of course functions and gigs doing covers.

Vanessa – mostly jazz groups and albums, this is the first major one.

How would you describe your sound?

We got asked that recently... what’d you say last time Cy cause that was pretty good?

Oh yes. Like a country vein, layered with some pop sensibility and garnished with a bit of jazz. We don’t want to have songs that just get boxed into a genre, more about having the freedom to let them and the sound evolve. And maybe it’ll keep changing.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Cy – Will Oldham, Ron Sexsmith, Kathleen Edwards.

Vanessa – Gilian Welch, David Rawlings, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor is great for composition. It’s easy to keep listening to the same people all the time so I am trying to listen to new young people in London too, like Laura Marling.

What do you enjoy most about music?

Cy – I think everybody wants to be doing something that contributes to their life in a positive way and that they love and for me it’s music. Don’t want to waste my time just doing something as a filler and that I’m not 100% into.

Vanessa – I remember saying “freedom” in answer to this sort of question years ago and I sounded like a bit of a dick... but I really tempted to use it again. It’s freedom to create and not to be bound by societal conventions of a normal job.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt musically in the last year?

Cy – reading and songwriting. I’ve been trying to read alot of classics and come at writing from a more lyrical perspective. Life is so busy, especially living somewhere like London and there’s so much clutter. So I put aside a few hours everyday for reading and song writing. David Vann, Edgar Allan Poe (heavy going), Salman Rushdie. Oh and drinking coffee, which I started when we started recording the album. It’s great, like a mid-day shot in the arm!

Vanessa – the singing aspect without a doubt. Doing bass is a completely different ball game. Sining is so honest, you can’t hide behind anything. It’s changed my musical output and even the type of music I listen to.

Best or most memorable gig you have played and why?

Last year when we were in Auckland playing at the Bunker. I was so nervous but we became super focused and it actually helped having the nervous energy. And there was a sticker on the wall by me saying “Disappear Fear”, it seemed very appropriate. It’s a great venue, you can really feel the history... the whole thing, it was just such a cool vibe.

If you could share the stage with anyone (band or person) who would it be?

It would be a three-band gig. Us first, then Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and Paul Simons last. And then we’d all come back on and have a jam for Slip Sliding Away!

Most overrated band/artist at the moment?

Lady Gaga

Most underrated band/artist at the moment?

Devon Sproule, a singer from Virginia, she has amazing songs.

What do you think about the music scene in NZ compared to London?

Over here there’s quite a focus on presentation, fashion, what’s trendy. That seems to be less prevalent in NZ. The size thing, while being an obvious one really makes a huge difference in many ways. In NZ there’s just not as many gigs or opportunities and you don’t get the same variety of places to build a following and learn your craft. Compared to here, where you can play a showcase every other night if you want.

Also Auckland is really widespread, Wellington almost seems to have more of a scene really. Sometimes it seems when we’re in Auckland there are less places to play each time, like places close down and nothing new sort of comes along to replace them. But maybe I just don’t hear about them?

It is all a double-edged sword though... in London everyone’s extremely busy, all the time! It’s hard to organise people, it’s takes so long to get places and it’s expensive. Also the nice thing about being in a smaller place is that it’s easier to have bands with friends – and that’s what it should be. Hnaging out, jamming, creating stuff together and having fun.

What are you eager to get your hands on once you get to NZ?

Cy – Lisa’s Hummus, a decent short black and the Puhoi Pub.

Vanessa – sushi, it’s not very good here and pretty expensive. The Ponsonby Road cafes. And the beach. I know it’s getting colder but I really want to go swimming while I’m there.

Keep an eye out for Cy and Vanessa playing in a town near you, definitely worth a listen.

Ren Kirk

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