The Bats will play two shows this weekend - Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Friday November 2 and Bodega in Wellington, the following night, Saturday November 3. The gigs come as 2011's Free All The Monsters continues to impress. In fact, I found out from the band's guitarist, Kaye Woodward that the gigs come on the back of an appearance at this year's Music Awards. "We are really just making our way back down the country", Woodward explains from her Christchurch home. "We don't get out and about around the country all that often these days so we thought we'd do a couple of shows while we're away from home".
Home for three quarters of The Bats is Christchurch. Woodward and bassist Paul Kean share their home, and with their second child about to leave the nest Woodward says they're looking forward to being free to explore, to gig more, to ready another Minisnap album as well as more Bats material. Drummer Malcolm Grant is also in Christchurch and Robert Scott is based in Dunedin.
"We don't really all get together that often", Woodward explains. "But it's fine. When we do it all comes back together. It always feels like The Bats. It's a sound we know and a sound we love. And we all have our other projects - and our lives - outside of the band."
The Bats is - as far as Woodward can tell - something of an anomaly; lead singer/songwriter Scott dashes off the songs and sends them to the other three for scrutiny. "It's pretty much how it's always been; how we've worked. It just works that way. Bob just writes - and writes. And he gives us the songs to look over and choose, to make wee suggestions. He's been generous with co-writing credits over the years but actually the role we play is more like editors" - I cut in and use the word curatorial - "yes", Woodward continues, "it's definitely something like that. It's mostly me and Malcolm really that select the songs from the pile. Well, we do the most listening."
From there the band will set about to shape the songs. Scott has other outlets - two solo albums so far and his other band-gig is with The Clean.
"I don't know if anything we've passed up has ended up with The Clean or on his solo records" Woodward says with a chuckle. "Maybe. But I've certainly not recognised anything. I'm not sure how he does it - but the songs arrive and we do the listening. I don't know if he has a way of knowing what will be a Bats song rather than something for a solo record or The Clean. I've never asked. And Bob is very good at taking our word on what we think will work." In that sense The Bats' material is not really born from jamming, although the songs may be fleshed out by a group-approach to an arrangement - but it all comes from Robert Scott's original idea.
Scott formed The Bats with a view to releasing material outside of The Clean. He needed a home for his songs. It would be his band - his chance to be the songwriter. And his chance to play guitar. Woodward was flatting with Scott at the time and says she looks back on this time fondly, she was learning guitar and says "Bob encouraged me. It was all pretty exciting to me. I had not played much. So there were discoveries - 'look, I can play D!' - and then I could play D and G and suddenly that's a song, you know. And I liked it. And then more and more songs. It was very exciting."
She believes her distinctive guitar approach - the quiet shimmer, a waiting-in-the-wings focus, came about from the way she learned and the way the band evolved. "Bob and I learned guitar together and he's a bass player so his approach was to create this rhythm, a strong, steady rhythm guitar part and then Paul was playing the bass more like a lead guitar player at times, a lot of the bass parts are really melodic, so I was just filling in space, learning to find my space. And I always concentrate on melodies - that's the thing that hooks me in with music. So anything I can do to bring that out, to support that. That's how I've learned to play. Very much in support of the song."
Woodward says she was never too interested in collecting music - "I never coveted it. I wasn't that much of a collector. I like music. Obviously. But my discovery of a lot of music came from learning to play and then from the bands we played with. The bands that were our friends; became our friends...it was an exciting time, definitely. But one that we never really had a big picture for. We see that now looking back I guess."
She continues, "The Verlaines and Sneaky Feelings and DoubleHappys, these guys would stay at our house as they made their way up and down the country. And you just took it for granted at the time. We were all friends. We stayed with them, they stayed with us. But looking back on it now it was a privilege. It was a special time. Very insular, but very exciting."
The Bats released Daddy's Highway in 1987 - with the enduring classic North By North (Woodward says they'd never get out of a gig without playing it) - and there were EPs and other albums. Right up until 1995's Couchmaster (containing one of my favourites, Afternoon In Bed).
And then the big hiatus.
"We decided to stop - or slow down - touring in the early/mid 1990s", Woodward explains. "I was pregnant with our first child. And so - yeah - that was basically the reason." From there family responsibilities meant that real work was required. "Paul went off to a job and I was home with the kids", Kaye says with a laugh. "But, yeah, that was basically it. Time to raise a family and so we could play music now and then. But it had to go on hold."
Now with children grown ("Our eldest is a bit of a cheerleader for the band now, she'd help us get a good crowd in Melbourne") Kean and Woodward are freed up for music again. But it's something that has been falling into place over the last few years.
In 2005, ten years after Couchmaster, the band released At The National Grid. Three years on Scott had another big batch of songs and the band chose the right ones to create The Guilty Office. Three years on from that we had last year's Free All The Monsters. So it's been a solid, almost prolific, half-decade for The Bats. And Woodward says she's enthused for it to continue.
"I don't think we ever imagine wrapping this up - it's just something we do. We've also been removed from the industry too by having families and jobs. It means we come to the music when we want to and I think that works really well. We get together when we can - which is probably not enough - and when we make an album or play a show it's because we want to be there. That part has always been very good. We're in this for the music. I don't think we've ever lost money - on a tour. And that's really the aim. We don't make a lot. But we try not to lose money. If we don't lose money we're doing well. And then we can tour again. Or make another record."
There are other projects - including life left in Free All The Monsters, the band midway through a project that Paul is driving, to make a video for every track from the album. Some of the results are on YouTube - See Right Through Me, In The Subway. Great songs too.
I'm looking forward to hearing plenty from the Free All The Monsters album - and material from across the rest of the band's catalogue this weekend. Are you? Will you be going to see The Bats? Are you a fan? What's your favourite album or EP? Do you have favourite songs in particular? Have you kept up with the "comeback" albums? And do you have happy memories of seeing the band back in the 1980s or early 1990s? Or have you never been a fan? What do you think of The Bats?