Big in New Zealand: An Interview with OdESSA


This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on November 6, 2006.

One of the best parts about writing this column is getting to feature bands that are not only great, but that you truly do enjoy as people. A friend sent me this album from a nationally recognized (in their nation, which is New Zealand) band earlier this year. I absolutely fell in love with them, and they became the soundtrack for my summer. It’s rare that a band captivates a person so thoroughly that their album becomes seminal to a period of your life, but that’s how good these guys are. On the other hand, the soundtrack for E’s summer of 1992 was Def Leppard’s “Adrenalize”, so you can take my opinions for what they are.

To me, however, OdESSA epitomizes everything summer feels like to me. They’re simultaneously sunshine and sultry, fun and funky. Yes, I’m being purposely cheesy, but the first time I popped these guys in, I thought to myself “These guys sound like what would happen if 1980’s Prince threw a dance party, and the original lineup of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the P-Funk All-Stars showed up to dance.

The problem with interviewing working bands is that they’re, well…working. And often too busy to give you a moment of their time. This interview was a couple of months in the making, but worth the wait. OdESSA is:

Matthew Pender (Vocals)
Matthew Armitage (Guitar)
Paul Mouncey (Bass)
Matthew ‘Puba’ Swain (Drums)

Two of the three Matts (Pender and Puba) were kind enough to share some of their thoughts. Thanks, guys, for taking the time out of your insane schedule to do this.

OdESSA: OK. First things first, we are SO sorry this has taken so long (its been at least a month now.) We’ve been so insanely busy with touring and pre-production for our new album that my brain keeps giving this interview the slip. HOWEVER…… We are currently hurtling down the motorway in a small cramped metal box with 14 people en route to Dunedin, which is one of the most southern cities in New Zealand. To my left is sheep and grass. And that’s it. Maybe the odd pitch-forked farmer chewing tobacco and polishing his shotgun. On my right, it’s more dumb sheep and more dumb grass with more dumb farmers chewing their dumb tobacco and polishing their dumb shotguns. The southern alps are gorgeous, gleaming in the midmorning sun but we are far too sleep-deprived to be thinking about the beautiful scenery. The van is littered with every pie wrapper known to man and through the hazy fog of old band farts (not OdESSA’s- we have a van Geneva Convention) you can just about identify the source of the snoring in the back row. We are nearing the end of a national tour with The Ruby Suns and the Bengal Lights. Tonight is the last night, Hulk Hogan’s 90’s rap masterpiece “Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band” is blasting on the stereo, and it’s safe to say that cabin fever is starting to set in.

E: OdESSA has a sound unlike any band that’s popular in the U.S. right now – would you say that your sound is typical of New Zealand’s music scene, or are you unique across the board?

PENDER: We (Note from E: rest of response cut off in email. I would have eliminated this question from the interview completely, but I’m hoping that one of the band members will comment and complete this question.)

E: You’ve done well over 300 shows in the last few years, ranging from lengthier bar sets/house band stints to shorter club sets. Which type of gig is your favorite, and why?

PUBA: My favorite gig is a small packed club or party when we are on the same level as the crowd. You just can’t beat that level of intimacy with an audience. Although it can get kinda messy…

E: What’s your favorite story from a show you’ve played/favorite show you’ve done?

PUBA: One story comes from our first trip to Auckland -The most northern and largest city in New Zealand. We were playing in a small room upstairs which was part of a three-level party with heaps of other bands. We had played seven smaller shows the week before and had built up some hype for this gig, which was the main show of the tour and the room was packed to the brim with eager sweaty punters. It was a small intimate gig (about 150 at a tight squeeze) and we were on the floor on the same level of the audience. We played an absolute blinder totally surrounded by the audience and when we finished we had the crowd baying for more. We couldn’t do an encore as the show was running on a tight schedule, so we staged a total rock star exit by standing up and strutting single file through the backstage door behind the drums, leaving our instruments in a wall of feedback. The problem, unbeknownst to us, was that the back stage door was actually a tiny broom closet, but it was far too late to back out of our rock n’roll exit, so we piled in and shut the door (only just.) We stayed huddled in that closet for about half an hour whilst the other band set up and everyone left downstairs to the other gigs.

There’s a lot juicier rock ‘n’ roll tales but unfortunately you will have to wait for the book to come out when we are old and have split up and hate each other and have got nothing to lose.

E: What bands have influenced your sound, both personally and as a group?

PUBA: Its hard to actually know what influences you. We are music lovers and listen to such different music and I think the music that really influences you does so on a subconscious level, so you don’t really know. Common groups that we all love would be the same as every band. The Beatles. The most common van album (apart from the Hulkster) would be the White Album. Also Gunner’s “Appetite for Destruction.” Those two albums are compulsory van albums for any trip. I am confused as to why they brought out a ‘best of’ Guns and Roses ’cause that album right there is the best of Guns and Roses. Right now The Eagles of Death Metal are really pushing my buttons. If any one knows them tell them I will cook them a BBQ dinner if they ever come to Wellington, New Zealand.

E: OdESSA’s unique sound and wide range of styles make you an incredibly diverse band that’s very interesting to listen to. Do any of you have formal music/vocal training?

PUBA: Paul, Army and myself all went to music school together during a jazz performance degree. People often turn their noses up at music school and it is stupid to learn music in a classroom, but I think the real part of music school is being around other talented musicians who are dedicated to playing music 24 hours a day for three years. The real learning came from jamming and hanging out with these people all day, every day.

E: What are your ultimate dreams / goals as a band? Are there any plans for touring outside New Zealand?

PUBA: My personal dream is to get big enough so we can make a indulgent record company-funded album that costs 30 million dollars and takes 10 years to complete. All the songs will be 6-8 minutes long and feature strings, glockenspiel, grand piano and blazing (I’m talking on top of a mountain) guitar solos. The result will be so terrible it will reverse on itself and become awesome. All the videos will be directed by me and will have a deep underlying story that no one will ever understand. Someone will get married, someone will die, but all will be interweaved with blazing guitar solos. The rest of the band have a dim view of this but I will kick them out, copyright the name, and dress like Kid Rock.

E: Does one of you write the lyrics and music, or do you write as a group?

PUBA: Most of the music comes from jams. Sometimes when you’re jamming in the practice rooms, entire songs just fall out of the sky and into your lap. But there are no rules of course. Pender writes all the lyrics.

E: What’s your favorite song that you’ve written? Favorite to perform? Why?

PUBA: For me it changes every week; every song has its turn of being in good form, and those ones are the best to play. My favorite tune to play live is the one we make up on the night.

E: What’s next for OdESSA in the coming months?

PUBA: After this tour, we were going to go back to the studio but now it has been pushed back to January. This means we have a few months off to do some more writing, demo-ing, and catching up on some well-needed rest. We have such bags under our eyes people are starting to yell “EMO’S” at us when we walk down the street.

E: How would a person outside New Zealand get their hands on your CD, “Oak Park Avenue”, or on your upcoming releases? Where can one view your music videos?

PUBA: At the moment you can visit us on OdESSAMusic, to find out what we are up to, download our vids, and hear a few tracks. From there you’ll be able to find the other bands on the tour who are also great. Our first CD is available online at Amplifier where you can also view all our vids. Oak Park Avenue is also available on iTunes.

Check these guys out. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Also, don’t forget to check out part two of today’s Live At E’s double feature – “Random Rules with OdESSA”!

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