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Wednesday 28th September, 2011 2:49PM

Punches is the ongoing - seven years and running - project between James Duncan (now in Berlin) and Kelly Sherrod (living in Nashville). We caught up with Sherrod to talk about their recently released debut album, what it's like working with Duncan and how they manage to work creatively when they live - until recently - hemispheres apart.

Punches has been an ongoing project between James Duncan and yourself for a while now. Tell me about its inception and history.

I had wanted to get some demos done when I was in art school and I knew James and I were similarly musically minded, but I didn't know him that well apart from seeing him play in a band while I was in high school. We spoke finally at a party downtown, in a doorway in Auckland, and pretty much from that weekend in 2004 on, we have been connected with different musical projects. After recording the demos, I was a bit nervous when I asked James if he would play guitar in Punches, but it worked out. We eventually found a drummer instead of using backing tracks live, but turned out I married the drummer and now I live in Nashville with him.

You've been working on this album for a while, too, tell me about the writing of these tracks.

It has been a mixed bag. I think the universe and magic collided so common threads are weaved through the album, having all the tracks themselves being written in different ways at different times. After we did a tour in America with Dimmer and got back to New Zealand, we threw ourselves back in to demos for Punches. We had the bones of some songs before i left New Zealand and I re-did a lot of vocal and bass tracks from here in Nashville.

'Give it Up' was pretty much a finished song before I showed it to James, then he put some integral guitar parts and backing vocals on it. Songs like 'Hold your Head' and 'Downtown' had the main structures and some hooks written, but James went forth with a lot more production to make them into fully blossomed songs. It was a nice way of working; I would give James what I had and he would refine it, or literally make a song out of a small idea. Other songs though, like 'Tools of the Trade' I watched James while he came up with chords in his studio in Auckland then I put some vocals on it, I think its one of my favourite songs on the album, partly because it was the last song we worked on. There is a finality to it for me, a lot happened from the start to the end of this record.

The songs are quite melancholic, tell me what they're about?

I guess some are a bit melancholic, it was definitely a cathartic experience for me, writing and now listening to the album. Some songs like 'Give it Up' are about a specific moment in time, but while writing it, i see how 'Give it Up' can apply to different things. You're pretty lucky if you get through without being addicted to something in one form or another, at some point.

Lyrically, the last few songs that were written, like 'Tools of the Trade' and 'Hold your Head' reflect the fact that as time goes on people pass away, and that was happening around me at that time. Because of that I felt closer to understanding my friend James better and things that he has been through. The album was a unifying experience for our friendship, a large part of the reason we play together is because of our friendship, which in turn makes for a great musical relationship.

Musically what were you guys inspired by? Did you bring different things to the table musically?

Yes, James' musical ocean reaches lots of different places and I am naturally drawn to mellow and minimal, which i think complements James' sometimes intricate production. I love soulful and raw music.

Tell me how the collaborative songwriting process goes down between the two of you based in different cities.

For a few of the key songs on the album, James and I had already created the bones of them, together in New Zealand; demos that we had recorded. But when I came here, it was a matter of me recording a demo then sending it to James and he would apply production, then I would re-record vocals. The last track on the album 'The notes you don't hear', I put vocals on it and James facilitated everything else.

The big thing is that we had faith and trust in each other to stay affixed and active on the project, otherwise we never would have been able to finish it.

Tell me what you like about the collaborative process with James.


He's one of my closest friends, so it always feels natural hanging out, but its nice to learn more about someone close to you, and I never stop learning about James. As time goes on, musically I learn different things and tastes may change, so it's nice learning those things together, especially living different places, its always nice getting back together with new fresh perspectives.


How do you think living in Nashville has affected your output and your contribution to Punches?

The level of musicianship is high here in Nashville and there's so much of it. It's a big musical hub with a lot of creative support so you definitely get a sense of competitiveness out there - perhaps not the most chilled out of atmospheres. In saying that if people like what they hear they will go out and watch shows and it's not hard to go out on a weeknight here and the audience is packed, watching local bands they have maybe only seen once or twice.

America's a different beast on some levels when it comes to being a new band and playing live.

James and I had committed to finishing the Punches album before I left New Zealand, so it hasn't affected my output with James necessarily.

Tell me about your other musical output and how it differs from Punches, and, ultimately, why you like having Punches as a separate entity to your other work.

As far as keeping Punches separate from other work, the distance between James and I is a major factor, but James and I will always be connected musically. He is now a much cheaper plane ticket away, he is now living in Berlin. I think it's good to be involved with different creative ventures, because that's what makes me happy, as far as current musical output, I play in a very new band here called Pinky Gray, we sing three part harmonies, so learning to 'blend' has been challenging. I know James is now working on another 'James Duncan' album in Berlin, last we spoke he was recording at Anton from the 'Brian Jonestown massacre' studio in berlin.

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