As I talk to Shapeshifter co-founder, keyboard and sax player Devin Abrams over the phone, he excuses himself for a minute. A painter knocks on his door with a new type of paint. He then pops back on the phone, apologises, and we start a very casual interview, covering new album Delta, Rhythm and Vines, and the connection between band and crowd.
It made me wonder, as humble as Kiwis are, how our successful musicians live. We only associate with them in energetic, uninhibited moments as punters. A lot of us pay for our tickets, drink, dance, then go home and move on. We don't think of their lives beyond the stage. So it's a strange feeling to talk to the guy that has been responsible for one of the biggest, most rabid fanbases in New Zealand, not to mention some of the wildest gigs I've ever attended, from his house in Wellington. It's also nice to have a yarn about music and geek out a bit. He likes Bill Withers and Jai Paul, and has a background in jazz. He knows more about this than most - music is his job.
"Yeah, we all get a wage and get bonuses, things like that. I mean, I get paid to turn up and play music. It's pretty fucking awesome" says Abrams. The band is one of our homegrown success stories, now with a massive following overseas. They're playing some European shows next April, with their first stops inCanada and the US to follow. "Next year is pretty chocka...I feel very lucky. I'm at a good place at the moment."
It's great to hear how humble Abrams is, especially with the amazing response to latest album Delta, album number five from the Christchurch group. I say to him that the album's sound definitely borrows from every ‘Shifter release since their debut, Realtime. "Yeah definitely. It's kind of a culmination or a cocktail of all the albums but presented in a new format." And whilst previous outing The System is a Vampire employed live drums, "the one goal we set before recording (Delta) was that we'd do the drums electronically".
The album also sees vocalist Paora "P Digsss" Apera at his most melodic since Riddim Wise and Soulstice, with ‘Gravity', ‘Monarch' and ‘Endless' being perfect representations of the Shapeshifter sound. There is a two song suite, Stadia and Arcadia, which pushes their aural envelope.
Eclectic as the Delta material is, it's also destined for a huge live show. Gisborne based New Years festivalRhythm and Vines is gearing up for a huge set from the boys. How does Devin feel about the history between the band and R&V? "Well I think the main difference in terms of (Rhythm and Vines now) and the last time we played, which was in 2005/2006, is that it was 90% Kiwi acts, so the promoters have built a good homegrownfoundation on the back of that. There has since been a lack of opportunities for international acts with the absence of Big Day Out, so R&V has taken the mantelpiece as New Zealand's big festival. It's where all the electronic, hip hop and soul acts come to play."
I mention to him that Rudimental, who are also playing R&V, have taken more than a few pages out of Shapeshifter's book. "Well back when we started in 1999, we were the first drum and bass act to use live instruments in the world. Roni Size was doing something similar, with computers and drums, (but) when we started there was literally nothing. You could say we were pioneers in that sense."
With Rudimental's success on the world stage, it could bother him - but it doesn't seem that way. He sounds content with where his band sits. "We chose to live in New Zealand and not migrate north. Maybe, had we taken a gamble and moved elsewhere, we could have had a different path of success. But we are who we are, living here. It's part of our story."
"I feel like it's the way it was meant to be. We get a good audience and a lot of respect overseas too, especially in drum and bass. People know who we are - it's not like we're in the middle of Antarctica. It's a good place to be."
So with everything on the band's horizon, I ask if there's anything coming up for him personally. Besides Shapeshifter, he also has a side project Pacific Heights. The stellar single ‘Peace', featuring Fat Freddy's' singer Joe Dukie, was one of the outstanding moments of 2008.
For fans of PH, Abrams has been tinkering away at a wealth of material that won't see the light of day. "I've actually just finished two albums worth of Pacific Heights music that I decided wasn't good enough, so I've gone on a different path." He was about to release one of the albums, then shelved it. There may be a smaller offering though. "I've nearly finished an EP which I'm trying to complete by February. I'm really feeling the stuff I'm writing at the moment, and pretty confident it'll be released by the end of next year, depending on how the sessions go."
With two projects on the go, and yeah, touring around the world, I then ask him about how difficult it is to live off of music - he is suffering from a near embarrassment of musical riches for at least the next two years." I think your question is getting harder to answer as the industry changes. I feel luckier knowing (Shapeshifter) had a profile ten years ago and had established a foundation and a fanbase before social media."
"The way I like to describe it, since the recession, is that there's a smaller pie and more people want pieces of it. Unfortunately, that's where (the music industry) is at the moment."
It is the solid connection between Shapeshifter and their fan base that gives them longevity in the marketplace. Abrams definitely feels this, especially with the new material. Speaking of Delta single ‘In Colour', he realises why he makes music for a living. "I've always felt that Shapeshifter has a perfect symmetry with the crowd, which is part of the joy of playing onstage. Playing (In Colour), the joy that it brings when I play those first chords, it's amazing." He also feels this connection coming from older material, especially ‘Tapestry', a Realtime song given an emotional overhaul on their Live album from 2006. The song also has a personal connection to him.
"I wrote that one for my grandfather, who got me into music at a very young age. When he passed away, I was in a bit of a slump. That was the very first song written for a Shapeshifter album. To me, ‘Tapestry' has a special significance because it totally captures an emotion - I feel that it represents everything about Shapeshifter."
I enquire about the version of the song on Live with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and singer Lisa Tomlins. "I literally cried - when I first heard that version, we were playing this free gig in the Auckland domain just before (third album) Soulstice came out. There must have been 25 to 30,000 people there. When we played it live and heard the whole arrangement, we hadn't even had a proper rehearsal. I just bawled my eyes out on stage. So amazed and stumped by it."
It's a gig that I attended, and I remember this moment well. Shapeshifter shows have that effect on you. They tap into a different part of your brain.
Looking back to that moment and seeing how far the band have come, it seems there's no stopping Shapeshifter's massive scale of the electronic music world. There is already talk of "work on a new album next year", and possibly a digital remix album to look forward to. But for now, it's summer time. The tour is nearly full speed ahead, Rhythm and Vines is just over a month away. Abrams is still a humble guy from Wellington.
"I don't feel like I need any more than this. I've got enough to pay off a house in New Zealand and support my wife. That's more than enough for a human being."
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are gracing our shores on the 28th of November at Galatos. After a 4-year hiatus, they have burst back onto the scene and headed straight for the spot they are most familiar with, number 1 on the Billboard Christian Rock Charts.
Breakups are never easy - whether it's a romantic tryst, a teenage crush, or with a young Mark and his favourite band Dream Theater, that dark moment when founding keyboardist Kevin Moore left the group in 1994.
There's no denying that at my core, I'm a lover of progressive music - whether that means I love "prog" music or not is a question for another day, and is a topic which I touched on whilst talking to Steven Wilson the other week regarding the upcoming To The Bone show at Auckland's Bruce Mason Centre.
Auckland-based quartet Openside have added an extra date to their first, all-ages, nationwide tour. The group headlines The Seamless Tour will now perform a final show in Tauranga on July 20th featuring special guests DUNES .
Consisting of drummer/vocalist Cat Leahy and guitarist/vocalist Leisha Jungalwalla, This Way Northwill be a part of a very special night in Auckland called ‘Sass the Patriarchy’ an event they have been running in Australia.
As the days and nights get colder, we need something more to laugh about than the unpredictability of Auckland weather and lucky for us, The New Zealand International Comedy Festivalreturns (kicking off this Thursday 26 April).
I Am Giant’s have recently released their third and final album ‘Life in Captivity’. Featuring the singles ‘Dead Flower’, ‘Playing With Fire’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’, the band are currently touring New Zealand; their final tour and last hurrah in NZ.
To this day I still remember my introduction to Sepultura - camped out in the granny flat bedroom of long-time friend Kerry - a live version of their cover of Motörhead's Orgasmatron, and from there it continues to this day
Due to incredible demand, internationally renowned award-winning musician, comedian, actor, writer and composer TIM MINCHIN has today announced a third and final Auckland show as part of his Australasian tour of his live show BACK.
Legendary, GRAMMY-award winning band FLEETWOOD MAC today announced an Australian and New Zealand tour, set to kick off on August 9 with two shows in Auckland on September 16 and 19, along with a welcome return to Dunedin on September 21.
California’s radical sons, The Growlers arrive in the country this week for the start of the Australian leg of their mammoth worldwide ‘Beach Goth’ tour. In what is guaranteed to be a rollicking, majestic wave of movements all around our golden coast,
Timaru’s iconic Soundshell in Caroline Bay will host two of the most well-known bands in New Zealand in a one-day entertainment extravaganza this January. Katchafire and The Black Seeds will headline the R18+ event at the Soundshell on Saturday, January 26, 2019. They’ll be joined by The Butlers.
In true kiwi summer tour tradition Marlon Williams will now take The Tūrangawaewae Tour to a further six markets this February making it a total of 12 shows - Marlon’s most comprehensive New Zealand tour ever!
With sounds primed for a hot summer ahead, Christchurch four piece Mako Road have arrived with the perfect soundtrack for long nights, cold drinks and hazy days with the ‘Local Safari’ EP, which releases today.
“Music can bring us all together, it bonds us, it strengthens us...” this song “Your Guardian Angel” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus has been dedicated to Toyah Cordingley.
Please spread the word to anyone who loves the song, or has lost someone too early also, feel free to leave any dedications in the comments of which we will share direct for Toyahs’ family and the band to see.
On the heels of releasing several collaborative hit tracks this year, five-time Grammy Award-winning artist and producer Mark Ronson returns with a brand new single of his own ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ featuring Miley Cyrus.
George Ezra toured the world nonstop for more than two years following the release of his debut LP Wanted On Voyage, finally making it to Aotearoa for one of the standout sets of this year’s Auckland City Limits.
Colin Mochrie, Brad Sherwood and Greg Proops the popular stars of the Emmy nominated Whose Line Is It Anyway? have teamed up to present an evening of extraordinary improvisational comedy for one show only at the Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland.
In a New Zealand first, five of the stars of Twin Peaks, Sheryl Lee, Kimmy Robertson, Michael Horse, Al Strobel, Dana Ashbrook and the Executive Producer of Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series, Sabrina S. Sutherland, will visit Auckland and Christchurch for an exclusive and unique CONVERSATION WITH THE STARS evening.
Singer Elaine Paige has announced an 8-date series of concerts from October 10 to October 25 2018, which will see her perform songs from her illustrious career along side an array of her favourite tracks by contemporary songwriters.
The critically acclaimed, award-winning comedian and actor, Catherine Tate, is bringing The Catherine Tate Show - Live to New Zealand for the first time, with shows in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch commencing November 28, 2018.
It has been announced overnight that Last Tapes Theatre Company's original production Valerie has been selected for a month-long season in the prestigious Summerhall programme at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.
Featuring Brouhaha: choreographer Malia Johnston, composer Eden Mulholland, AV designer Rowan Pierce; In Transit: choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant, composer/AV designer Paddy Free; The Geography of an Archipelago: choreographer Stephen Shropshire, composer Chris O’Connor.