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Black City Lights

Black City Lights

Interviewed by
Michael McClelland
Tuesday 6th December, 2011 11:23AM

After lurking in the background of the Wellington music scene, learning the ropes from the likes of  Daniel Johnston (Red Steers), Calum Robb has finally released his own project unto the world. Now permanently joined by Julia Catherine Parr we spoke to the pair recently to get the whole story...

When did you start writing music?

Calum Robb: Properly since the end of 2010. I've always been playing around with music since I was a kid, but I only took it seriously last year after seeing what my friends were able to do with good software and a midi controller.

Julia Catherine Parr: I've been writing since I was in primary school, but never really did anything serious with it until I was about 16.

What turned you onto this kind of music?

CR: Seeing bedroom producers from all over the world creating amazing stuff just with a cheapish set up and a lot of patience. The “sound” that I’ve got now developed over quite a long process but also kind of by accident. It was mostly playing around with ideas, sounds and beats that kind of created what it is now, with my original idea still firmly there as the backbone.

JCP: I really liked what Calum was creating and it was nothing like the music I'd made previously so when he asked me to sing with Black City Lights I was pretty excited to try something new.

Anybody you look up to in the local scene?

CR: Daniel Johnston (Red Steers), who pretty much taught me all the basics whilst showing me that I had to teach myself to create my own thing. Plus: Secret Knives, Blink, Sunken Seas, Tommy Ill, Jon Lemmon, Diving, South City Sushi Cop, Glass Vaults, Nik Brinkman, John the Baptist to name a few. Every one of them I look up to in some way or another.

JCP: There's too many people to name – most musicians I meet seems to have something to offer and every time I go to a show I'm always inspired to go home and write more music.

Who else have you played with?

CR: I played for Red Steers last year and had a small project with a friend Ryan Harte (Sunken Seas) a few years ago, but mainly just DJing around Wellington.

JCP: I've played some of my own solo music for the last few years. Currently I also play in a country band and sing occasionally with a “neo-soul, experimental, hip-hop” group – so I get around a few different styles. I just really love to sing.

Where do you draw this kind of sound from?

CR: Actually from a lot of 80’s movies that I used to watch as a kid. Especially Michael Mann movies who liked to use Tangerine Dream a lot. At the moment I’ve been listening to a lot of Blackbird Blackbird and M83 which is always interesting to listen to.

JCP: I'm influenced by a lot of soul, jazz and blues singers. Recently I've been listening to artists such as Zola Jesus, Little Dragon and Steffaloo for ideas as to how I can better produce my vocals.

What’s your writing/recording process?

CR: There's no real process I guess. Sometimes it might be an idea that I want to emulate through certain beats, bass or synth. Sometimes it’s just sitting down and playing around with Ableton for hours till something happens. It just really depends, too many possible ways where I don’t really want to set a formula for.

JCP:: We've started writing vocal parts and lyrics together, which has been great in making sure we both get the sound that we want.

Do you have any releases out or on the way?

CR: Originally I was solo and have been working on an EP since January this year. However, since doing 'Collapsing Horizon' and all the live performances with Julia, it’s made me take a step back and realise that it works way better with her and that BCL should be the two of us together, not just me with a featured vocalist. Plus I feel far more confident working on an EP with Julia, which should be released mid to late January 2012.

How far do you plan to take Black City Lights in the future?

CR: I’m happy with what’s happened so far within such a small amount of time and would like to make something out of it - but who knows!?

JCP: We're planning on travelling together mid next year, it'll be good to see more of what's happening overseas, take some influence from new people and new places and perhaps make some more music while we're away.

What’s the best gig you’ve been to lately?

CR: Disasteradio at SFBH a few weeks ago. He has the whole package down, lights, performance, music and just a really good overall show.

JCP: John the Baptist EP release at the Garden Club – that venue isn't used enough but they used it well and they put on an amazing show.

How do you feel about local music at the moment?

CR: Really good – there's all sorts of styles of music in Wellington and such a strong network of peers with the majority of them willing to help out anyone so there's a lot of knowledge sharing going around I guess. It's just such a shame that Wellington is such a small dot on the map. Everyone should use Bandcamp!

JCP: Yeah, it's nice to see so many styles come out of such a small city and to see everyone working together to put on shows as well as produce and record music. There's just so much to choose from. I really love going to a gig with three or four completely different bands playing.


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