One of Backseat Mafia’s favourite bands from New Zealand is Modern Chair– a collaboration between two veterans of the NZ music scene, Andrew Thorne and Wayne Bell. Modern Chair can best be described (and indeed have been) – as dirty, stomping squalls of pure joy laced with a healthy attitude redolent of sweaty leather jackets and disdainful sneers.
Thorne has now released a solo self-titled EP under the curious moniker of Stingy Brim and I’m delighted to report it is as fun and joyous as Modern Chair, with a touch more guitar, a little less electronica and a comforting layer of Beatlesque harmonies.
First track and first release is “Gun Monkey” – a driving, thumping anthemic rock song with layered harmonies and a blistering guitar solo and touch of wry, dark humour.
“Made Up” is a hard edged riff-ridden gem that seems to combine Oasis with Crowded House with Slash on guitars.
Lyrically, “Rising Sun” continues a slight obsession with Japan seen in Modern Chair over a Cult Electronic era riff and a George Harrison vocal with a chorus bigger than Godzilla.
Final track, “Rolling Back” sees Stingy Brim take some of those strange multi-coloured pills and float off in a psychedelic haze. I want some.
This is a great release – pop sensibility with a thumping rock spine that manages to combine a lot of Thorne’s influences into a unique package. Thorne’s lyrics are wry and humour-laden, a breath of fresh air. You can – and indeed you should – get the EP here.
In the meantime, I threw a few deep and meaningful questions to Thorne:
Q1. I recently reviewed NZ band Fazerdaze and wondered if there has been a renaissance of NZ indie music in the last few years since the heyday of the eighties, or whether I was just unaware of the scene in the intervening time. What’s your view?
I think the indie NZ music scene has been ticking quietly along for the last 30 years and every now and again something just breaks through to wider recognition which is great for everyone. Possibly the quintessential jingle-jangle Noisyland style of NZ music has been a little quiet with the predominance of synth based hybrid pop being created in the wake of Lorde. There are some fantastic new artists however creating material that draws on all sorts of influences and that sound completely original (Andrew Keoghan being a particular fave). Hopefully artists like Fazerdaze can bring the guitar back to the fore.
Q2.In between your work with Modern Chair and this solo work, what occupies your time?
There may be a lazier man in New Zealand but I have yet to meet him. Really, by the time I’ve got my daughter off to school, tidied the house, coffeed, Facebooked and strummed the guitar a bit, it’s time for dinner and a glass of wine. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve come to terms with my complete lack of ambition and days just seem to dissolve before me. Once you learn to let go, it’s quite liberating. As well as rock I do have a soft spot for the new wave, new romantic and synth pop hits of the 80’s, so play in a quite frankly excellent 80’s covers band www.80sX.co.nz which is a lot of fun.
Q3. Has Modern Chair been put on eBay or is it just in storage?
Maybe we should put ourselves on eBay although I can’t imagine the BUY NOW price being very high. Modern Chair is currently reclining, taking a break . . . My old pal Wayne Bell is kept incredibly busy between running the New Zealand music industry and being the drummer with the best anecdotes in the business here. So finding time to write together takes expert time-management and commitment which unfortunately is in short supply (see Q2). We both play with the most excellent alt.country artist Greg Fleming which is great fun and we’re set to record a whole album with him later this month. He’s incredibly prolific and put us all to shame with his prodigious, quality output.
Q4. Where on earth does the name Stingy Brim come from?
Although it sounds like a euphemism for a bizarre sex act (Alabama Hot Pocket ? Rusty Trombone ?) a stingy brim is actually a fedora (hat) with a smaller brim than normal. Like a Pork Pie hat (again, don’t look that up on Urban Dictionary). I just liked the assonance of the words and it kind of sounds very English to me; pints of beer in an old pub, full ashtrays, whippets and cloth caps. A little bit grimy and in keeping with the 70’s pop-rock vibe of the music.
Q5. Stingy Brim takes a far more guitar-oriented direction than Modern Chair: does this direction more reflect your tastes?
Yeah. Never been very high brow in my musical tastes. I like the rawk. I once said to a friend that I never got Radiohead after ‘The Bends’ – I’ve really tried with OK Computer onwards but never really liked them half as much. She said “Oh, you’re one of those kind of guys…” I guess I am, maybe I’m just a bit thick ? Stingy Brim has been described as Cheap Trick backing John Lennon – I would never presume to include myself amongst such esteemed company but to me it sounds like bloody good blueprint to try and work from.
Q6. Did you play all the instruments yourself on the EP?
I did for this set of songs. Listened to no one, took no advise and indulged myself fully. Got a fairly good idea of what I want the songs to sound like and with my production and engineering backgrounds can go about getting things to sit pretty much where I want them to.
Q7. Rising Sun continues a very Japanese theme prevalent in your lyrics: where does this come from?
I find it a fascinating culture with so many people crammed into pockets of such a small land mass. I really dig the modern Blade Runner meets ancient aesthetic and of course the food. It’s one of the last places on earth you can go to smoke and drink too. I’ve visited but never toured there. It would certainly be a fantastic thing to do. I guess it’s a romantic vision which bears no resemblance to reality but that’s fine for song inspiration.
Q8. What’s next for you, Modern Chair and Stingy Brim?
Very, very busy. Got a letter to post and I need some new guitar strings – and that’s just this week !
I’ll keep fishing for some new Brim songs and when I’ve got four, go in to a studio somewhere and record them. Four seems to be the limit of my concentration these days. Modern Chair will be back I’m sure; Wayne’s down to his last Aston Martin.
Q9. What is your recording process?
This set of tunes started as guitar riffs in the case of ‘Made Up’ and ‘Rising Sun’. ‘Gun Monkey’ sits around the use of a new (to me) Pete Townshend chord I hadn’t seen before, banging away at full tilt. I flesh the songs out on acoustic to come up with a basic arrangement then move onto Logic X to work out parts and drums to really give the songs some push and pull. Logic is used as a writing tool to rearrange, try different vocal melodies, feels & sounds. When the song is demoed up to where I’m happy I move into a ‘proper’ studio (this time http://www.labstudio.co.nz ) with all the tasty vintage gear, Marshall stacks, hot and cold running guitars and spend a glorious day or two swapping out Les Pauls, Telecasters, Strats and Jaguars, Voxes, Fenders and boutique amps and effects pedals to get different noises and do vocals. With these songs I spent some time trying to get some fab harmonies; Paul on top, George in the middle.
Then back to mine on a hard drive for mix down before going to audio whiz Olly Harmer to master. His ears are younger and considerably more efficient than mine. My pal Mareea Vegas took some cool photos of me around the house and studio which was great as I didn’t need to leave home for the cover artwork.