By Poppy Tohill
Whilst Gareth Thomas is best known for writing the ‘sure fire pop hits’ of kiwi band Goodshirt, 2011 saw the talented artist form a solo path for himself, releasingcritically acclaimed debut solo record, Lady Alien. Now five years later, Thomas returns with a cohesive collection of tunes which make up his long-awaited sophomore album, Fizzy Milk, set for release this Friday (17 June).
Between rehearsing for his upcoming national album tour, to the preparation leading up to the release of the record, Thomas was kind enough to sit down with us for a chat about everything that has happened in the past five years and the ins and outs of how Fizzy Milk came to be.
“It has been a while!” Gareth responded with a laugh, when asked where he’s been for the past five years. However as happy as we are that he’s releasing a second record, Gareth admits that he never actually intended to. “The songs were originally written for Goodshirt as a way to encourage the band to get back together. But they didn’t really pick up on,” he chuckled. “We did get back together for a little while, but following the release of the Skinny Mirror EP things started to slow down again. Although they do have a few co-writes on Fizzy Milk,” he concluded.
“Things are a bit more difficult for Goodshirt now, which is fair enough because Rodney [Fisher] has two kids and we all have grown up things to worry about,” Gareth explained. “But I’m just so compelled to keep doing music and I’ve got this urge that just made me realise I had to find a way to do it and, well, this seemed like the most logical way, so I just focused on creating an album of my own.”
Fuelled by a plethora of clever instrumentation and grooving bass lines, Gareth opens up about the symbolism and strength of his love for distinctive instrumental sounds. “I really like the construction of a song, which I think has something to do with the fact that I work as an architect. So I’m all about building this complex multi-dimensional sound-board. I really like to think about every single part and all the musicians you’ve got to make work together, because I love all the bits of fabric that help bring a song together.”
“I’m also quite a confused musician, because I play a lot of instruments myself and can’t just really focus on one, it’s a bit of an obsession” he laughed. “Goodshirt was more about the sound waves than the actual instruments themselves, as we really focused on the tonal qualities of the instrument rather than the type of instrument it was, so playing around with lots of different sounds and tools on this record has been a really fun journey for me,” he admits.
“It’s always ‘melody, melody, melody,’ like Kurt Cobain said,” Gareth reveals when asked about his songwriting process. “It’s great when the melody and lyrics come together at the same time, which happened for me with All Eyes In The Room, for example, because they’re so intrinsically combined you can’t separate the two, but overall there’s quite a few steps when it comes to songwriting.”
“First of all, after originally writing the song, I jam it with a band to see what works. Then I record it how I think it should go, just at home, before taking it back to the band who then go off and learn all the parts. Next we record it all together and then I throw more stuff at it,” he laughed, “So it’s quite backwards and forwards.”
“'I’d Like' was probably the most difficult song to record, because I was singing so low, in my talking voice, it was hard to get all the vocals to cut through the guitars,” Gareth replied when asked if he faced any struggles in the pre or post-production stages. “A few of the songs were actually particularly easy to write,”he continued, with a laugh. “If you’re in a good mood and the right headspace it can just flow right out. 'Girlfriend On My Hofner' was probably the easiest one as I’d just gotten a new guitar and as my girlfriend picked it up, I just started singing along to what she was playing, while recording it on my phone and that was that song done!”
Continuing on to talk about the process of songwriting, we went on to discuss the difficulties of writing cheerful songs in comparison to emotive ballads and the struggle musicians face when looking for a unique sound.
“You’ve always got to have a bit of happy coated in with the sad to create some friction between the two and make it more interesting, although it is tricky to write a happy song without it just becoming cheesy,” Gareth declared.
“Basically everyone is just trying to do stuff that hasn’t been done before. Rather than writing from the glossary of tools that a songwriter uses such as, singing particular notes, including pentatonic scales and singing, ‘I’m down on my knees, begging baby please,’ because that rhymes, it has all been done before. So if you find a wonky chord pattern or notes that jar in an interesting way alongside coupling words and lyric ideas, you have to hang onto it because that’s what adds depth to your sound, rather than just sounding generic.”
Inspiration wise, it’s all the greats. “Lou Reed is a big one because he proves that you don’t need to sing in tune, if you’ve got something to say,” Gareth replied, with a laugh. “Then of course Bowie, John Lennon and all of the Beatles, really.”
“They’re all quite old but there’s been a few since,” he adds. “I’m mainly into New Zealand bands at the moment, because there’s just so many good ones. I really like what SJD, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Silicon are doing. Voom was also a cool band that not many people knew about.”
Having recently announced a national album release tour for the first week of July, our interview drew to an end as Gareth talked about his plans for the tour, how rehearsals are going and what’s next following the tour.
“Yeah, it’s a bit different live than in the studio and I don’t think people want to go to a gig and hear the songs played exactly note for note anyway,” he exclaimed. “They want to hear something that is a bit different and unique, so that’s what we’re working on at the moment. I’ve got a great line up of musicians in my band for this tour, except the only problem with really great musicians is they’re always busy,” he laughed. “I’ve got a four piece band at the moment - Tom Broome on drums, John Burgess and my girlfriend Amelia who is also in Fazerdaze, but I think I’m going to try and call on some brass players for the tour too!”
“I’m just getting all excited about doing another album now,” Gareth excitedly declared. “I just want to keep doing it and I’ve got another album of songs ready to go, I just need to find the time to get them down, but I’m trying to hold back until Fizzy Milk is actually released,” he concluded, gleefully.
Friday July 1st: Moon 1, Wellington
Saturday July 2nd: The Darkroom, Christchurch
Friday July 8th: Whammy Bar, Auckland
Tickets via Under The Radar