Swamp Thing

By Ben Doy

Rotorua based Swamp Thing are embarking on their first Southern Tour August 2013.  This two headed musical monster heads southward from August 7th until August 18th for a full on twelve date tour in under a fortnight , including an outdoor performance in Queenstown to open the New Zealand Winter Games on Thursday 15th August 6 PM and with first ever shows in Wellington , Palmerston North and most of the South Island centres .

They're the two left in the juke joint when the hurricane's about to make landfall, when the revellers have gone home, sweat-soaked and exhausted. The bulbs are blown out, the floor's full of glass, but two men are honour bound to keep playing, pouring their sweat into the parched earth like libation. In the best traditions of two man blues and roots, Swamp Thing is a duo that you know are playing to stay alive.

A former member of The John Butler Trio and touring drummer for Tim Finn and Split Enz , Michael Barker (drums/percussion/ Key Bass/Vocals) formed the power blues/roots duo Swamp Thing with Grant Haua vocals/guitar in 2010.These two unique musicians share a wealth of experience to craft blues flavoured music with a deep groove and soulful spook.

Swamp Thing will be featuring and promoting their recently released second album 'Primordium' on this trip in recognition that they are themselves growing and spreading their sound and selves right across the country building to bigger and better things .Over the Summer months the duo have played a number of Australian festivals and shows including WOMADelaide, Woodford Folk Festival, Blues at Bridgetown and Nannup.... Now's the chance for the South of New Zealand, they come highly recommended don't miss it.

We caught with Michael Barker last week and found out more about the band and the tour. 

How was Swamp Thing Created?

It came out of an interest of playing blues / roots music, and the freedom that it can offer. I moved back to New Zealand three years ago after living most of my life in Melbourne. I met Grant Haua about two and half years ago. I heard him sing and was completely blown away by it, and asked if he'd like to jam. So we jammed and started feeling each other out. We did a gig and people danced and they said all the right things. We started writing music and had enough material for one album, so we recorded that and then toured it in Australia and played some festivals. And here we are now, have finished our second album and are looking to do the same by touring New Zealand in the coming few weeks.

Is there a story behind the name?

Yeah, it's kind of tied up with the blues genre of swamp, which was defined by Tony Joe White and in more recent times Seasick Steve and that kind of vibe. So the spirit of swamp blues is with us, although we're not strictly that, but we definitely take a bit of that spirit. And there's also the comic book character ‘Swamp Thing'.  Both Grant and I share a philosophy that we weren't placed here by God, we actually evolved out of the primordial soup of life and out of the swamp. We see the swamp as a fertile place.

Did you think about getting other band members in or was it always going to be a two-piece?

Essentially we're going to stay with the two-piece. We've enlisted the help of my left hand which plays a keyboard/bass, and is quite quirky. It was actually made by the hot water company Rheem. Back in he day Ray Manzarek from The Doors was the poster boy for this keyboard. But I saw one of these for sale on Trade Me so I purchased it. Paul Crowther fixed it up for me and got it operational. I run it through a big distortion pedal and it is our bass player now... the bass player travels as carry on luggage when we go overseas.

Was it hard getting your head round that while drumming at the same time?

Yes, quite difficult. You're hitting something hard with one hand and playing something soft with the other, that creates another challenge in itself. Initially I was grappling with it, but now I'm getting the hang of it. I have rehearsals with my left hand and some songs actually get born out of me jamming with my left hand.

You mentioned that you've finished your second album?

Yeah, it's called Primordium.  We're selling it now at live shows and if people want it they can contact us at Facebook. So we haven't released it to any commercial outlets. We're looking at doing that now, ramping it up and try to reach a wider audience with it.

Where did you record it?

In my studio. I built a studio in Rotorua at my home... what I would call my dream drum room. It's calledTwisty Pole, because a friend of mine built me a pole which is twisted. It looks like a tree that's been twisted a little bit each day, but in actual fact he cut it so it looks like that. I sort of run as a semi commercial concern and recorded Maisey Rika's album there. That was the first album we recorded in that studio and it went to Number 1 in New Zealand, so that's a god omen. So we now just have to get Primordium to Number 1 (laughs).

And you've got the tour happening now...

Yeah, we're playing a couple of weeks in the South Island. We've hired a motor home and enlisted the help of one of my drum students who's going to be our stage tech, so it's kind of exciting for us.

And you're opening for the Winter Games?

Yeah, the New Zealand Winter Games. I hope they get some snow for that!

What's been your stand out show so far?

There have been a few, but most recently was playing on the main stage at WOMADelaide. It was a stand out for a number of reasons. It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon and 39 degrees in the shade and on stage it could have been more than 50 degrees I reckon. At a great expense we wore these suits that we had made that we call our "Swamp Vegas" look. We decided that we'd wear our suits on stage and take off our jackets after the first song... but Grant forgot to take his jacket off. Third song in he went to a verse where there should have been a chorus... he'd never done that before. I looked over in alarm and noticed he hadn't taken his jacket off and was probably in the early stages of heat stroke. He then made the comment "I have played at many Barbeques, but never on a barbeque".

But surprisingly we had a really good turnout and people were dancing in that heat... which says a lot. Unless they were just really wasted or stupid... or both.

Swamp Thing Southern Tour

Wed 7th August Bent Horseshoe Café Tokomaru Palmerston North 8 pm show
Thr 8th August Meow Café 9 Edward St Wellington 8 pm show
Fri 9th August Deville Café 22 New St Nelson 8.30 pm show
Sat 10th August Dharma Bums Club Wairau Valley Blenheim 8 pm show
Sun 11th August Strawberry Tree Café 21 W End Kaikoura 4 pm arvo / early evening show
Mon 12 August Blue Pub 1 Barkers Rd Methven 8 pm show
Wed 14th August Cadillac Club 12 Church Lane Queenstown 7 pm show
Thr 15th August Pog Mahones 14 Rees St Queenstown 9pm show
Fri 16th August Bullock Bar 71 Ardmore St Wanaka 8pm show
Sat 17th August Mannys Bar 91 St Andrew St Dunedin 8 pm show
Sun 18th August Churchills Tavern 441 Colombo St Christchurch 4 pm arvo / early evening