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Monday 9th August, 2010 1:30PM

Undertheradar interview

Been around since?
Rifles has existed in different shapes for the last three or so years. Simon, Thom and I had been jamming off and on that whole time under a number of different monikers such as Ferocious Gaze, Audition, and Black English. However, I would say ‘Rifles-proper’ has been around since August, 2007 when I joined permanently on drums. Ben joined in September, 2008, picking up bass duties. Simon’s guitar-work had to be very low-end driven before that and since Ben joined he’s added this heaviness and fluidity that was only hinted at previously in the live setting. He’s also given Simon a lot of freedom as Si’s now able to dance around the fret board without having to compromise any ideas for fear of a lack of low end. We're a heavier band now, it feels and sounds sweet in my opinion.

Current line up?
Ben Ward, bass; Simon Middlemiss, guitars; Thomas Brown, vocals; Cameron Reid (me), drums.
Simon, Ben and I provide back up vocals as well. Thom also does live percussion on a couple of songs which makes some of my time real easy. I think the theme here is that we’re always looking for the easier route. I apologise, punnity-pun-puntastic! Musical history? (influences, other bands you’ve been in, how’d you get together, etc) Well, I touched on this briefly in the first question as I have a tendency to get sidetracked with my own thoughts. Basically, I met Thom and Simon through Uni. Thom was a bright spark in my English classes in first year and we ended up studying Theatre together at Vic. He was flatmates with Simon at this time in this horrible but cute-as-a-button flat on Are St in Wellington. The third flatmate at the house was Alex Backhouse of DIAL. We’d all sit around, geeking out and bonding over music, theatre, film… you know how it goes.

Eventually they formed a flat band with me on drums and our mutual friend Kieran Clarkin on bass. This was Audition/Ferocious Gaze/Black English. It was fun, but short lived as Alex ended up pilfering me to play in DIAL. This put music with Si and Thom on the backburner as Alex and I left to wander the heavy musical plain that DIAL offered. In the meantime, Simon made a fun times rock ‘n roll band called Colonel Mustard with some friends, including Thom McGrath from Neon Bastard.

I think Simon was very bored and just really wanted to get his own music out there, playing other people’s wasn’t good enough. So Jackson Hobbs (who would go on to Sharpie Crows) jumped onboard with Thom and Si and together they formed Rifles. Jackson was living on the floor in Thom’s room at this time. These early days were full of excited murmurs. No one really knew what this band ‘Rifles’ was going to sound like. I was one of the fortunate few to see the one and only live performance by the initial trio at a friend’s 21st. I was blown away. It didn’t make any sense how three people could make music as good as that and with no bass either. Two songs, just two songs, that’s all it took.

So I joined the band already an avid fan and believer in what Rifles is about which is playing good, hard, melodic rock ‘n roll with furious hooks. We played as a three piece for over a year before Ben joined. He was the same as me, I think. Fan before he joined. The other two have no idea, really! Ben wanted to join from the first time he saw us if I remember correctly. He sent me an email. Nice one Ben. Well, it worked didn’t it?

As for influences, well they vary obviously. We don’t all share the same musical palette. However, those that we have bonded over are bands such as Hot Snakes, Lords, Young Widows, The Hives, Rocket From The Crypt, Jawbox, Mission of Burma and Supergrass. And with most of these bands, I’m mainly talking on their approach to playing and writing, whereas vocally and melodically, it’s a whole different thing where we look more to bands like Deftones, The Smiths, Supergrass (they rule, what can I say?) and even Hot Water Music to some degree. Simon, Ben and I bring this quasi-D.C. sound along and Thom hits us with his amazing swagger for Brit-pop melody. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such a versatile singer before. He is a friggin’ sasquatch, the dude has lungs. Massive lungs.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Meterman, Kid Dynamite, Jawbreaker, NoMeansNo, STREET CHANT and Torche. Oh, and of course My Disco’s Paradise LP. So beautifully crafted, performed and captured. Some of Albini’s finest work. I guess it helps being a Shellac worship band, huh? (JOKE) What were you listening to at high school? (This may not be relevant) Deftones, Kid Dynamite, Refused, Mr. Bungle/Faith No More/Fantomas/Tomahawk, Good Riddance, Soundgarden, Supergrass, Blur and AMEN (swoon. Oi, Sharpies, who is the best band I’ve ever seen at the Big Day Out, huh? Huh? Sorry about that. I’m so sorry). It was a real mish-mash, from SoCal punk, to hardcore, to metal, to Brit-pop. It was a time of really working out one’s taste, and the search was expansive!

What is your writing/recording process?

It’s nothing very exceptional, Simon will come up with a riff, and we’ll jam it out and see where it goes in the practice room. If we can, we’ll demo it once it sounds about right so Thom can start thinking about vocals and we can also start thinking of changes. One of our most enjoyable songs came together through a blundering set run-through at practice. I was still green in the band and had no idea what song we were playing at the time so just started doing this plodding beat and Simon improvised some cool new riff and Thom shouted nonsense. That was I Ate Gandhi, written in 5 minutes, still one of our best songs in my opinion. Man, I totally miss those practices at the Shelley Bay Barracks. We’d literally play so loud that some of the frequencies would make me almost pass out. Simon, I hate, seriously HATE those solid-state Fender combos of yours. They’re marvellous!

Thom lives in Auckland now, so that’s also changed a lot for us. We’ve had to start thinking a lot more professionally about the band, seeing as we don’t have the workshopping ability that a full band practice allows. The idea for writing is to continue to demo, just using Garageband and emailing Thom our scratch recordings so he can do his thing. Our priority is also to start touring, I love Wellington but it’s about time we saw what else is out there. So I guess we’d practice for a week beforehand, then go on tour.

As for recording, well, let’s just say some people learned very quickly that they needed to step up their game. Simon and I recorded our tracks predominantly live with Jackson Hobbs at his parents’ place in Northland. That barn was amazing. Overdubs and vocals were done in Jackson and Thom’s flat on Ghuznee St in Wellington which was very, very fortunate for us. It took a very long time to finish and I still don’t know when it’s going to get its proper release. Finances, they’re the death of us all. We’re stockpiling songs to record with Tim Shann (Fighting The Shakes), we’re hoping to get a 7” out there soon but I’d most like to start demoing for an album.

Your Dream Collaboration?

This one was a tough one to answer. I’d love to get Kurt Ballou behind the desk to record us, and make Big Business be in our band. Actually, I don’t particularly like the idea of being made to look like an amateur. I’ll rethink that. Give me a moment…

…I’m sticking with the Kurt Ballou call, that guy continues to amaze me. His production is damn near impeccable and I’d really like to hear him tackle something not so heavy. His emphasis on the analogue capture makes his work sound so real, yet he manages to NOT sound like one of those “I want to be Albini” dudes. As well as Kurt being along for the ride, I’d love to get Richard Burns and Alex Backhouse from DIAL to write and play on a song with us. Their sound is so far from what we do, however, I think something really exciting could come out of it. PS, DIAL needs to hurry up. We’re all waiting.

Do you have any releases out or coming out?
Our debut EP Sketches can be bought by emailing us at

Thom had an overly optimistic answer for this which was that we’ve got an upcoming 7” and possible album coming out this year. Well, what with him living and working in Auckland now, things are a lot harder to co-ordinate and I honestly don’t think an album would be finished (going by the Sketches rate anyway) until next year. However, do keep an eye out for that 7”, some exciting stuff!

Where’s your favourite place to play?
Thom reckons that San Fran is his favourite place to play, however I’d say Happy is mine. Mighty Mighty looks after you well, and a decent crowd turns up, but I get real annoyed at the noise restrictions that place has. I fell in love with Casey Latimer the night we played there with Sharpie Crows and The Wilberforces. He was getting turned down all the time, but he just kept turning it up even louder than before. Swoon! I also miss Room 101 at Bodega. I think Bodega of late is rubbish, absolute rubbish. Room 101 was its last redeeming feature. Future Days (Bernie Galaxy’s festival he put on last year) was the last (and only?) time that the whole venue, Room 101 and the main room, was utilised to its full capabilities. Whammy in Auckland has to get a notable mention as that place is brilliant. Great sound, great bar, and connected to the quaint Wine Cellar. Beautiful, thank you for the good time(s). Oh yeah, and Hole In The Wall! Valve was a shit-hole, we always played terribly there, however we recently did a gig with Alphabethead and I-Ryoko at the new Valve and it was incredible. Great sound, great vibe, the space is so well utilised now.

Your favourite show so far?
CAMP A LOW HUM takes first place as my favourite show so far, and most likely collectively also. It was very surreal, waiting what seemed a lifetime before we got to play, seeing scores of amazing acts and swooning over them (yes, I am a swooner as you may have noticed), then seeing said dudes and dudettes having a huge, sweaty party to your own band! Now there’s a sweet lil nod and wink of approval to keep on doing what we’re doing. Also getting to hang out with our Auckland and Hamilton buddies was a dream. Much love goes out to Damsels, The Wilberforces and of course the gorgeous Mean Street/Street Chant girls and guy.

If you could share the stage with anyone (person or band) who would it be?
SUPERGRASS. Easily. Oh, Thom and Simon wanted in on this one. Sigh. They reckon they’d want to be onstage with Graham Coxon and Jarvis Cocker. YAWN. (JOKES) Coxon rules, he’s such a wonderful dork. Also, add Paul Weller for Thomas Brown’s wish list of stage sharing. Hahaha, oh dear. Style Council! Hahahaha! Shame.

When are you playing next?
We’re playing the Wellington album release show for The Insurgents at Mighty Mighty on the 23rd of April. Let’s see if they still hate loud noises...

The state of music in NZ is...?
Great, so long as you ignore the mainstream and keep looking to the underground. I don’t really care about the state of NZ music because there will always be people that are pushing the envelope. People are constantly whinging about stagnation, that there isn’t enough going on. I refuse that entirely. It’s ridiculous to think that just because you can’t see it around town, it doesn’t exist. There are so many projects in the works, even just running out of people’s garages or sheds that are world renown in their own right (see Birchville Cat Motel/Black Boned Angel as terrific examples from one man). Myself, I’m in five bands, and they are all entirely different. My approach is to be proactive and to be playing music that you genuinely love and believe in and when I see bands like Damsels, Street Chant, and The Wilberforces I can see that. I’m not concerned at all. There always has been good music, and people will continue to make good music. You just got to get good at filtering and editing, and if you don’t like what you hear, get out and make something yourself you useless buggers. At least then you’ll only have yourselves to blame if its rubbish.

Love from Cameron Reid RIFLES.

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