Range memories

Range memories 1994 –

In late 1994 I was invited to a few jams at Riccarton Road. Hayden and his friends were into what they called ‘good quality rock’. They loved My Bloody Valentine, Palace, Sebadoh, Fugazi and Teenage Fanclub. Hayden asked if I was interested in playing drums in a country rock band.

Hayden flatted with Fiona, Steve, Manuela and Hamish near the synagogue in Durham Street. Their garage had an attached room they called ‘the studio’. It housed Wadd’s Rockit vocal PA, drums and amps. Hayden and I  spent our afternoons playing music, kicking balls and eating toast or oranges. We began to build a set. Bert was keen to be involved. One cold night he joined us in the studio to record the ‘cold and slow’ backing tracks to two tracks on the Fostex.We recorded more songs in the next week, and finished them over a few days in Hayden’s room. The room smelt strongly of the small dogs he looked after during the day. We worked quickly.

range cold and slow

Some friends and I became involved in street performances as part of a marching band Mark created. Mark made a dozen identical powder blue soldier masks. When worn with berets, the masks gave us a creepy authoritarian anonymity. Our semi-coordinated drum bashing made us even less approachable.

We had a few established rhythmic grooves and threw in a few of our own amateur marching band moves. It was a great situation. We earned reasonable money for a few hours work with our identities mostly hidden behind masks. We were paid around a hundred dollars each a performance. Car grooming paid less than $10 an hour.

The anonymity my mask provided was integral to my enjoyment of the performance. One Show Weekend evening I was drumming as one of a dozen roving Mariachi figures in the City Mall. As we wove amongst the tables in a bar I was recognised by a car painter from my working life. Keeping in character was difficult with boozy guys yelling in your face. I avoided bars after that.

For the Buskers Festival in 1995 we augmented our masks and berets with long socks, big shorts, white shirts and ties. We changed and prepared for the show in an upstairs car park. We took the lift down a few floors to emerge through the lift doors into a fabric shop. Sometimes we began drumming in the lift,   other times we walked silently though the shop into the city mall We were weird and loud. Our job was to attract attention.

John and I also performed as drummers in a production of Jeremy Roake’s ‘The Stations of the Cross’ one Easter in Cathedral Square. Our drums sounded fantastic echoing around The Square. Carey, Campbell and Mark acted. It was extremely cold, especially for Carey, who was Jesus.

aerobee

Aerobie became a big part of my socialising. The Aerobie sprint is a Frisbee-sized, ring-shaped, flying disk, best thrown like a Frisbee. It has a solid plastic core edged with a rubber bumper bar. Aerobie design allows throws of accuracy and distance unimaginable with a regular Frisbee. Amanda gave me my first Aerobie for Christmas. My family lost it to the top of a tree within minutes of the first throw.

I played most of my Aerobie in Little Hagley Park, near our place in Carlton Mill. Hayden, Tom and I were regulars. Aman and Steve played a lot. The Aerobie got easily stuck in the Little Hagley trees. We would knock it back down with a stick if we could. We found out shoes got stuck. Aman brought James’ large Aerobie around one afternoon and we gave it a spin. It was inferior to the Aerobie sprint.

We often followed Aerobie sessions with a bottle of Ocean Spray Pink Grapefruit Juice from the ‘Red Coke Dairy’ in Carlton Mill Rd. I went to the dairy most days. I bought a Cookie time cookies, ice creams and lollies. I bought snickers bars everyday for a while. I wrote ‘Dollar Mix’ and “Red Coke Dairy’ about the shop.

Corduroy was my fabric of choice. I was advised to limit things to one corduroy item at a time. I had several choices in pants, shirts and jackets. Earthy forest colours dominated the Bluestone range from Hallensteins. Fawn or mustard Levi pants were understandably cheap on occasion. I bought them.

Our flat was upstairs on one side of a large, turn of the century, riverbank house. I’d known heaps of people who’d lived there. Our neighbours in the other flats were great people. Johanna, and later Sam and Chrissie lived downstairs. Jenny and Billy were  upstairs. Aaron from Ashburton lived downstairs. We were of a similar age and with enough common ground to afford consideration and friendliness. Billy restored vintage motorbikes; Aaron was a graphic artist also interested in old cars. Sam and Chrissie had been to Arts School and were doing film work. We had a large garden, cats and old cars. We chatted and drank coffee. We had reasonable rent. Demolition hovered in the background.

range nightshift

By the end of 1995 we had an album’s worth of Range songs ready to record. Hayden and I earned a small amount of money installing a garden sprinkler system for Ian and Sally. Bert chipped in, and the three of us recorded a dozen songs one hot night at Nightshift . Hayden and I overdubbed bass, vocals and mixed the songs between ten and five the next day. Arnie was kind and only charged us $100 for the whole day. The recordings captured a good feel and swing, but we mixed the kick drum way too quiet. ‘Nothing’, ‘Stand’ and ‘You know She loves you’ ended up on Wrong Records Dollar Mixture compilation.

dollar mixture disk

We were getting much better recordings from the Tascam 424 II four track than I’d ever been able to manage on the Fostex. The Fostex had been reduced to three tracks when I ‘fixed’ some of the machine’s belt issues. Three tracks were enough to record an idea with drums, bass, vocals and guitar, but left no room for embellishments. Embellishments were usually the fun bits.

The 424 had a three band EQ with sweep-able mids, two auxiliary channels and a separate monitor out feed. Damian made me a useful set of leads, and Hayden and I started recording regularly in the lounge at Carlton Mill. We each bought a Shure sm 87s, and for a time I also had a few of Damian’s good microphones. The new gear was inspiring.

424

I was learning about some interesting things at university in American studies and watching a few Australian soaps. I wrote about some of that. Other songs were about the Wilson family. We loved the production techniques of Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. We payed homage.

Our usual recording method began with recording guitar to one track, and kick and snare on to two additional tracks. We bounced the drums down to one track, then played as many instruments as we could, while singing lead and backing vocals onto the remaining two tracks. We needed to balance our sound and volume carefully during performance, stepping closer or further back from the mic. as necessary. We tried to avoid clashing frequencies.

After a few months we had an album’s worth of great, roomy acoustic-y recordings. We borrowed a reverb from John and mixed it to his Dat. Sam made a cover with an old photo from Hayden’s family. We named it Range AhM #413 and sent it away.

range ahm#403 cover

We decided on AhM as a label name to release the Creeley cassette ep.s. For the Range #413 release we added a fictitious head of company, Henry Rivers. This gave us a name to sign letters with, should we ever need to write any on the label’s behalf. We didn’t.

ahm logos

We heard a small meow in the darkness of the evening of the 4th of September 1996. It was a cold wet night and across the river we could see a little cat that was soaked through. I put my shorts and sandshoes on and waded across the river to get her. I’d been in the river a few times before, so the cold wasn’t unexpected. No one claimed her and we eventually named her Henry Rivers.We thought she was a boy until Rebecca told us otherwise. She had a science degree.

hr range idea

We played live a few times. We had a different line-up for every gig. Our first gig was as “The Space Rangers’, supporting Creeley at the Dux. Hayden and I did four or five songs, playing acoustic guitars with pick-ups. I borrowed John’s Yamaha and Hayden used his Takamine. It convinced me not to put a pickup on my Hofner.

We shortened our name to Range for our next gig supporting Wadd at The Dux. Bert joined us on drums and Hayden and I moved to electric guitars. It felt much better.

Hayden and I spent a lot more time playing loudly at Durham Street. By the time we played with Hawaii five O at Quadraphenia, we had a brash new confidence. We had a blast. After the gig we drove home, dropped our gear off, picked up Amanda, Penny and Justine and drove out to spend most of what we earned on a 3 a.m. meal at Dennys. Our waiter was an American, so we called him Denny. We were dicks.

We played at the Dux for Wadd’s ep release. Our afternoon pre-gig practice in Durham St. was interrupted by a visit from the council’s noise control unit. The guy was good to deal with and politely suggested we really did need to find somewhere else to practice.

Later in the evening before the gig I sat outside the Dux on the grass, and had a beer with Kriston and his dad. It seemed a shame to go inside and play music, when it was so good outside; but we did. Bert had moved up to Wellington, so Hayden, Steve and I were the shuffling line-up. We swapped instruments all the time at practice, so when Hayden’s mic. failed during ‘forever’ I carried on the singing. It was good fun.

Not long after the Dux gig, Hayden’s flat broke up. Hayden moved in with Tom a couple of hundred metres up the road in a big, green, wooden house on the corner of Durham Street and Bealey Ave. It was typical of Clifford flats – a large old house divided into seven or eight, one and two bedroom flats. Garish carpet and solid wooden bannisters led up through Formica-clad corridors to numbered doors. Old mail, bikes, and occasional cooking smells hinted at the occupants within. Over ten years I’d had three different sets of friends who had rented the same upstairs flat as Tom and Hayden. Trish, Dean and others lived there in my All Fall Down years. I crashed there for a few hours on New Years Day five years earlier, when Carey sublet it,.

At the end of University I got a job painting ‘Bird of Passage’, Henry ‘s boat. Henry was an excellent boss. He paid me $12 an hour, which covered my travel to the boat in Lyttelton. Bird of Passage had been taken out of the water and was kept in a yard near the moorings in Magazine Bay. Before painting the hull I had to grind off the old paint. Henry supplied masks, goggles, earmuffs and an angle grinder. It was a physical job. I could only do it for three hours before I was exhausted. I drove home covered in red dust. It got in my saliva, stuck to my scalp and went all through my clothes.

The boat job took a few weeks. The final two coats of paint on the hull were done with a copper paint system to inhibit algal growth. I tipped a large bag of copper powder into the paint, just before applying it. The bag of powdered copper was unexpectedly heavy and beautiful.

My scalp was covered in a fine layer of boat dust when I was interviewed for a job as a library assistant in December 1995. I started work a month later – four mornings, an afternoon and an evening a week. It was great to be earning.

tropical fish s

I stayed at the library for seven years working in circulation, interloans and displays. I sold six of the fish I used in a Ripcurl  display and used the money to replace my broken black bike with the red Ha ha bike.

red bikes

Hayden took a job as a primary school teacher in an international school in Kohn Kaen, North East Thailand. We continued to record, posting four track cassettes to each other for completion. The new tracks began to have an exotic quality about them. The rooms Hayden recorded in had a different acoustic. They had hard surfaces, high ceilings, and they sounded hot. Hayden’s electrical set up and power fluctuations added interesting buzzes and hisses. Quiet instrumentation, high gain and room recording techniques accentuated the new space driven sounds. Strange Here and Happy dad sound distinctly different.

Hayden came back to Christchurch for a few weeks the next year. We spent a couple of days with Bert doing basic tracks for a dozen songs at The National Grid, John’s new eight track studio. The studio was on the third floor above Whitcoulls in Cashel Street. There was a good-sized studio / live room and a separate control room. Hayden added his vocals and some of the overdubs before he headed back to Thailand. Over the next month John and I finished the overdubs and mixed the tracks. It was always amazing to emerge from the studio at two a.m. on a freezing morning, wrapped in my raincoat, scarf, hat and gloves, to see the city mall teeming with young people in tiny clothes, shouting, shivering and giggling as they waited in queues to enter bars.

We added a few songs from our 1995 Nightshift sessions to the National Grid recordings. John and I spent an evening at his workplace mastering. I painted a cover, Ian assembled and printed it. It was great to finally get the music out through Wrong records. ‘All the way to lunch’ got positive reviews and was a finalist in the best album category of the 1999 Bnet awards. My invitation arrived the day after the event.

lunch front

lunch inner

SANY0005

lunch back

Hayden was back visiting Christchurch in 1999. We recorded a few synth and drum tracks at Carlton Mill, then set up our gear in Hayden’s parent’s lounge when they left town. The lounge had deep shag pile carpet and sounded great.

We set drums up at one end of the room, the guitar amp in the middle, and keyboards at the far end, in ‘intellectual corner’. We drank coffee, ate oranges and had a lot of fun for a few days. Richard biked over one afternoon and overdubbed saxophone harmonies over drums and synth on ‘Beautiful Saxophone’. Bert joined us for the last day of our set up. We recorded a couple more pieces together and then ran through the four or five songs we planned to record at the National Grid the next day.

Campbell made a video for whose that girl? Neither Bert or Hayden were in town, so John, Steve and I mimed the live band shots. Campbell’s sister Sonya played ‘the girl’ beautifully. Sam made a video for ‘coming to rain’ in and around the shunting yards behind The Old Mill in Addington. We spent money hiring a video machine to convert the videos to a broadcast format. ‘Whose that Girl’ had a couple of plays on Cry TV, the local music station. No one played ‘Coming to rain’.

In 2002 we had further sessions at The National Grid. We dumped the tracks for dozens of songs from four track cassette onto four of the eight available tracks on John’s machine. Bert added drums to most of them. We added bass to a few more. John and I mixed 36 songs in our five hour mixing session. It allowed us a little over seven minutes per song for each real time mix. They were short songs. We aced it. We applied for a grant to finish the tracks with a proper mixes. We were unsuccessful.

Hayden returned to Thailand. We continued recording on to four track cassettes and posting the results to each other to finish. Over the next few years I gradually gave up on the idea of playing in bands. I had tired of the chore of practicing and trying to get and keep a band together, finding gigs and promoting them. I didn’t like the non-musical work involved in being in a band. I loved writing songs and recording them, but that was about as far as it went for a while.

Hayden moved to London. Our joint musical out-put slowed down. I kept busy releasing a solo album and ep on Wrong records, and cd albums with 103, thomas : parkes and The L.E.D.s. The L.E.D.s gained momentum in 2007, playing regularly about the country for the next 18 months. Our electropop required a lot of work – composition, production, rehearsal and performance were time consuming. In 2006 I began recording simple, acoustic range songs on Sunday nights to relax. I’d not played a lot of guitar since 103 ended in 2003. It felt ok picking it up again.

I burnt files of some new songs onto CDRs and posted them to Hayden in London to finish. Hayden emailed me musical backing tracks and I sung over the top. I preferred these to my own musical efforts. Hayden payed for a guy in London to master ‘speeches,’ a song I’d written about  some family events. We started thinking about a new album.

Hayden and his family returned to live in New Zealand in late 2011. Hayden set his gear up a tiny concrete shed across the road from the sea in Days Bay. I recorded in my own shed, 100 m from the sea, 500 km down the coast from Hayden. We began some new recordings.

Over the course of 18 months we whittled fifty or sixty new songs down to a new album, Henry Rivers. We recorded three old songs to go with the new ones. The new songs sounded just like the old versions, but better. Hayden sent the songs away for mastering and pressing.

hr album sides

Hayden and I started to rehearse our songs soon after he returned to New Zealand. Every few months we got together to run through a possible set. Initially we both played acoustic guitar and sang. After a while I stopped playing guitar and things sounded a lot better. In 2013 Hayden began rehearsing in Wellington with Bert, Aman and Marcus. They sent me recordings and I began practicing at home in New Brighton. In April 2014 I flew to Wellington to join them for a few days of rehearsal.

range rehearse at gallery

We debuted on June 13th at a party celebrating Andy’s 45th birthday, at The Lucha lounge in Auckland. It was our first gig in 19 years and my first as a lead singer. It was fun.

range at lucha lounge

Henry Rivers is out now through flying out or bandcamp.

Range_henry_1

more range

return to musical memories

 

 

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