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The Adults

The Adults

Monday 11th July, 2011 9:44AM

Jon Toogood recently joined forces with a myriad of seminal New Zealand musicians for The Adults. He is taking the resulting collection of tracks on tour with Julia Deans and Shayne Carter. We caught up with Toogood to discuss the logistics of undertaking such a project.

Tell me what you've been up to?

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling so my brain is a bit fried. I don’t know what time it is and my body clock is completely screwed. I was really excited when I got to the hotel last night though and the record label had left me a couple of copies of The Adults record because I haven’t seen the artwork or the proper thing. I’ve seen it on a computer screen but I haven’t held it in my hands, so I was pretty stoked, so I'm totally up for doing interviews because I’m totally pumped on the record.

What made you want to start The Adults?

Well I constantly write music, whether it’s for Shihad or for myself; it’s what I do to chill out at night. I thought it would be quite nice if people could hear what I was doing because some of it I thought was quite good. Basically I thought maybe I could jam this with some musicians who I really like as people but who I also respect as musicians. As soon as I started doing that the most interesting thing was writing music with those people and starting something new from scratch. I started with Julia Deans and it didn’t sound like me and it didn’t sound like her and it was way more exciting than anything I could do by myself, so I just followed that through. The next thing I knew I was out at the drummer of Shapeshifter’s house with a KorgMS20 bass keyboard and his drums in his lounge and we recorded some stuff that sounded totally left of centre but I really liked it. Then I travelled to Auckland and rented The Killing Room and got Ruban and Kody to come down from The Mint Chicks and play guitar and keyboards and then went to Shayne Carter’s house and played him some of the stuff and he went ‘maybe you could try this and try this’ and then all of a sudden we were writing lyrics. It just totally snowballed. Modern technology allows you to have an idea in some bogan living room in some suburb of Melbourne and then you’re in Auckland jamming with two completely different musicians and then you’re in someone else’s house and they’re adding to that.

It was just really exciting watching how other people play their instrument, or write words or form songs. It’s like I’ve been playing music since I was 18 years old – for 22 years – and sometimes I just go ‘I think I’ve used all the notes here’ and with this it was like ‘wow, there are so many more paths that are open to me now.' And just playing with them and trying to keep up and keep worthy I had to play differently. I also played instruments I wasn’t that familiar with. On the album there’s a song called ‘Nothing to Loose’ with Ladi6 and I got to play bass. I don’t know what I’m doing on the bass but I could feel what I was doing, so it was less about theory and more about what my ears were telling me.

It must have been great to approach things from a creative rather than technical angle?

Oh without a doubt. The calibre of the musicians I’m playing with is really high. Luckily for me I’ve made friends with people who come from all different musical backgrounds but they’re all really good at what they do. Also, when you’re singing with someone like Ladi or Anika or Julia, they’re really good singers. I’m a guy who had to sing out of necessity – not a natural singer – but I’ve worked at it over 22 years and I can sort of do it now. These guys are total naturals, and so to sing with them or sing duets with them I’ve got to really concentrate and be as good as I possibly can, and it’s really good to push yourself to do that.

I assumed that you went out and chose the people you wanted to be on The Adult’s album, but it sounds like it was more organic than that?

I definitely wrote a wish list at the start, but it was weird because my wish list started with all drummers. It was like Riki Gooch, then Gary Sullivan - I’ve seen him play with JPS I’ve seen him play with Dimmer, I really wanted to play with him. I’m such a massive drum fan, when I listen to music I hear drums because it’s what you move to and it's what you dance to. I couldn’t believe when I saw Shapeshifter for the first time that someone could do that live so I wanted to jam with them. Then after that I was like that’s cool, but what about words and melodies. Well Shayne’s written some of my favourite songs of all time, I was a massive fan of the Crystalator 7” that came out on Subpop and I also think that I Believe You Are A Star is one of my top ten favourite New Zealand records of all time, so I thought I’d love an opportunity to see how he works. Then I just had to get the balls up to ask him, I was very nervous because he still makes me feel a bit like a kid even though I’m about to turn 40 - he’s from the generation before me so it was a little scary but it was sweet and he was totally up for doing something different himself.

Was the songwriting process for each track completely different?

Yeah, it was just totally on a case by case basis. For example, there’s a song with Anika and it’s a little lullaby where she gets to sing about the fact that Azaria her partner was away from her and how she filled up her time while she was waiting for someone she loves to come home. The music arose because the rental car that I had made this little melody when you turned the key on it went ‘do do’ and I thought that track should resolve with ‘do do’. I worked it out on guitar and showed Anika and then she had ideas and it flowed from that. With Shayne I played him this weird bagpipey keyboard loop that I’d written and then he picked up a bass and put the bass line to it and then we worked out some lyrics and it just flowed. And then there were other times where where we got into a proper studio with Gary on drums, Shayne on guitar or bass guitar, me on guitar or bass guitar and we got Nick Roughan from Skeptics to record – I’ a massive fan because they made two of my favourite records. We just jammed to music and it wasn’t about the lyrics, rather about creating ambient music. Then I got lucky on top of that where Ladi6 came round to the house I was staying at and I played her some stuff and she was like ‘ I think I’ve got and idea for that’ and they turned into great tracks. It was totally right time right place situation a lot of the time.

Tell me about stepping into this new project. Was it scary doing something new after so long with Shihad?

It was an absolute pleasure, I hadn’t put this much new information into my brain for years. I love playing in Shihad and we get on really well and we make a really big sound for four guys and I like being inside that sound, but I know how that process works. It means at the end of the day I can listen to The Adults record as a fan. Even though I was involved in it it’s still got that mystery to me. I don’t quite know how Anika did those vocals or how Shayne made that guitar line so I listen to it like a fan and that's really exciting.

How do you want people to enjoy it or what do you want them to take away from it?

For me it’s a story. It does have its quiet moments and its sonic moments but it’s all dealing with really basic human shit like love and death and loss and love and all of that, it just so happens that there’s different musicians on each track. As eclectic as it is I still think it rolls like a nice story. Music is a selfish thing and I do it for myself and we need it because we’re all freaks and we do it because we love it. I think it’s quite a listenable beautiful record and I think people should listen to it and really like it.

Just before you were saying the tracks are eclectic but it does work together as an album. How did you achieve this? Is it something you thought about while writing the tracks?

No I didn’t think about this before hand. Every song was done separately in different times and different spaces but having someone like Tiki at the end to mix it all was great. Whether it was recorded in a lounge or in a lab he brought a unique sound to the mixing that allowed it to work together. Me and him were going back and forth working out the listing and it took us a while to get it to sit. Every song sounded great by themselves but it had to be complimentary to the other tracks. I think we got quite a good track listing in the end.

You're aking The Adults on tour, tell me how that’s going to work.

I knew from the word go that I wanted to play this stuff live but I also realized that Ladi6 is living overseas, Anika is having children soon and everyone has their own careers, so I thought we’d go in a completely different direction and strip it right back; a soundsystem sort of version, where I use technology to do the rhythm tracks. I chose Shayne Carter because I know he can play bass guitar, keyboards and he can sing like a motherfucker and then Julia who has a beautiful voice and can play instruments and then myself. I didn’t realize until afterward that there were three front people, but we’ve done rehearsals and it works really well; no-one’s the main focal point and it’s all about the song.

- Courtney Sanders

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