First Watch: Carnivorous Plant Society's 'Chambers and Cathedrals'
Auckland's Carnivorous Plant Society have just set off on a 15-date tour of New Zealand in support their new EP 'Phantom Finger'. Today we premiere their new video for 'Chambers and Cathedrals' and chat to bandleader Finn Scholes about what goes on inside his head.
Hayden Eastmond-Mein: Where are you right now?
Finn Scholes: I’m in Christchurch in an alleyway outside the Darkroom while we do a bit of soundchecking.
HE: Your tour looks pretty huge.
FS: Yeah, it’s like 15 dates or even more.
HE: How did that come about?
FS: It’s a government-funded programme called Arts on Tour. I just filled in a pamphlet online. I’ve done the tour before with another band so I kind of knew the guy a little bit and he liked the way I filled in that pamphlet.
It’s just another universe where things are weird, you know?
HE: We’re premiering the new video you’ve made for your song Chambers and Cathedrals. I’m interested in what your process is for your animations, and whether they come from the same place or the same world as the rest of your music?
FS: Yeah they do. Often the piece is written at the same time as the video. They’re maybe not all from the same world, but Chambers and Cathedrals is in a post-apocalyptic world and has a lot of the same elements as the worlds of the other videos. I guess they’re all places where anything can happen and strange monsters exist. It’s just another universe where things are weird, you know?
HE: A lot of your videos seem to be imagining a journey through a post-apocalyptic world, and they also have an element of masochism. The main character always seems to suffer.
FS: I don’t know why that happens. I think it’s just a good ending, you know? It’s actually just an easy way to have something dramatic happen. It’s like “ok, we’re coming up to the end of the video, what should happen? What would be intense?” I quite like it to be as intense as possible. Anything really bad.
HE: So you develop this story and that generates the visuals and the music at the same time?
FS: Yeah - it’s kinda like if you have an idea for a story, and you have a few tunes that you’re working on, you can be like “that one would be perfect for that.” Then when they get linked together they both help each other develop. The story can sometimes help shape the music, and the music can definitely help shape the story.
HE: Because you’re writing instrumental music and you haven’t got a central vocal, what do you use to drive your songwriting?
FS: Well I guess these videos help with that. Whenever I listen to music I don’t really hear lyrics anyway. So to me there’s not actually much difference between our music and stuff with singing. A lot of our melodies are similar to vocal melodies. They’re not jazz trumpety bebop things. They could be songs, but they just don’t have words. It’s kind of like Radiohead, you can never hear their words. I guess if you write the song about something and give it a title, it ends up being about it.
HE: Do you feel as if your videos stand in for a singer?
FS: A little bit. I think it comes out of a little bit of a fear of people not liking instrumental music and a need to compensate. But I also really like playing the set without the videos. They’re a nice extra element, but I think the set still really works without them.
HE: Yeah, there’s definitely enough happening on-stage without them. Do you find it restrictive to play along with the videos?
FS: Yeah, because I really like to extend things out when we play. Without the video you get to jam out. It can be quite stressful with the video too, because you can get out of sync. In fact, it’s likely to happen tonight because our headphone extension cable doesn’t reach our computer, haha.
The story can sometimes help shape the music, and the music can definitely help shape the story.
HE: Your music is quite cinematic; in fact you worked with Lawrence Arabia on a live soundtrack to the silent film Lonesome in last year’s film festival. Do you think you’d like to make soundtracks for a living?
FS: Yeah I’d love to. I mean, maybe it’d be more fun to just have a cinematic jazz band as your job, but nah, I think that’d be really fun. In fact, two of the new songs are TV show themes. ‘Daytime TV’ is inspired by the good elements of daytime television music – if there are good elements, I feel like there are – and the other is called ‘Hospital Drama’, which is very similar. It’s a theme song for a hospital TV show that doesn’t exist yet. It’s trying to be a little bit cheesy but cool at the same time.
HE: What would be your dream film to work on?
FS: A western would be really awesome, like an Ennio Morricone sort of thing. I also quite like the idea of working on a musical - I think that’d be really cool to write for.
HE: A stage musical?
FS: Yeah, or science fiction would be really cool. I guess just anything where you get to be quite creative with the composition.
HE: Did you enjoy the process of making the soundtrack for Lonesome?
FS: Yeah, it was really cool. There were no rules and it was actually quite a forgiving movie to write music for. A lot of different genres could have worked. Some scenes we’d have arguments about what could work and each of our opinions would be completely different. One of us would say “this scene should be really sad”, and the other people would be like “no, it should be really happy”, and whichever you tried it felt like it worked in the end. It was like the music forced the visuals to be in the style that you chose.
HE: The new EP is aurally more varied with a much broader pallet and more forefronted textures than your debut. What was different about the process?
FS: I think our sound has just matured. The band went into the studio a lot more ready than the last record. Last time we only had two or three run-throughs, and we didn’t actually have a band that was performing the songs live - it was all kind of session musicians. The songs weren’t even really written before we went into the studio, so we had to do a lot in the edit. This one was a lot more bandy to start off with, but we still got quite creative with adding lots of layers, and [producer] Tom Healy did lots of cool effects and whatnot.
HE: It sounds like it’s a lot more overdubbed than the last record.
FS: Actually, our debut probably had more overdubs because when we finished the original recording sessions at The Lab it didn’t even sound like music. It was just a whole lot of comping with no melody. So it spent ages sounding really dumb before we started working on it, and adding layers to meld it into what we eventually released. Whereas this EP just sounded like a bandy recording straight after we’d done the first session. And yeah, I guess we did do quite a few overdubs as well, quite a few samples.
HE: So what next after this tour?
FS: We’re playing at the Auckland City Limits festival, which is pretty exciting. And there are a few other little things. We want to do some more storytelling pieces. I’m trying to write some Aesop’s Fables-style stories and maybe get my dad to record them. We’d really love to collaborate with some proper writers to make an entire album of stories. Other than that I’m definitely keen to keep making some more music videos – but I think I need to get a proper program to make them a bit slicker, a few more frames per second, because at the moment I’m just making them on Photoshop and iMovie.