Craig Terris has often been the supporting player. Many know him as the drummer - be it the drummer for Cassette or with Luke Buda; maybe it's from way back with Hell Is Other People - or from a tour of duty as part of Fly My Pretties. Terris is a great drummer, one who plays with personality shining through. He has punk and metal on call and he's a sympathetic skins-man for a range of pop, country and rock sounds and feels too. But he's always played other instruments as well.
Tomorrow night, at Wellington's San Francisco Bath House, he will lead his band through material from his soon-to-be-released debut solo album, Bleat Your Heart Out. It's a great band. Terris will sing and play guitar with Benjamin Cole (The Datsuns) on drums and Andrew Bain (ex-Fur Patrol) on bass. Jeremy Taylor (food blogger and "recovering singer/songwriter") will also provide guitar and vocals.
But this is no folly from a drummer desperate to show he can do more than just play drums. This is the solo record that Terris has been living with for a long time - squeezing it in and around session and band work, fatherhood and life in general. And he's been playing guitar and bass and anything else for as long as he has been playing drums.
"I started playing drums, guitar and bass at the same time really - although I wasn't really playing bass all that well back then," Terris explains with a chuckle. "I was 13, you know, a great time. It was all about just wanting to rock out. I had some formal training, some lessons at school, but I learned a lot from other people, you know, from the riffs you hear from the dude with the cool guitar who lives down the road."
He tells me that "playing along with records" was crucial too. "AC/DC - I love that stuff." He was singing in the school choir - "roped in", as he tells it now. Someone at that school had already spotted his potential as a musical jack-of-all-trades.
Then there was Hell Is Other People and Baconfoot - from there the work has piled up.
But even when Terris was known as a drummer first and foremost he was working on ideas, writing songs - and dreaming of the day he'd put together a band to perform his own music.
"Some of the material on this album is old - even when I was playing drums in other groups I was playing guitar. It was off to the side, off stage but the songs came from playing guitar, from learning from other people."
"I imagined that as a rock-opera," Terris says laughing. He's referring to the album's first single. "I guess where there's that bit in the middle there's a touch of The Who but it's really absurd to think to write a rock-opera about yourself." But what he has written is something bizarrely and brilliantly majestic. A symphonic pop piece that uses rock-band instruments and arrangements to tell its story.
Variety is the key with the songs that make up Bleat Your Heart Out and if Terris looked to any other singing drummers or multi-instrumentalists for a form of spiritual guidance it was Dennis Wilson and Shuggie Otis. His main plan in making this album was to ensure that "the feels were not the same across the tracks". He explains the writing/discarding process: "This album comes from about four albums' worth of material. I'd write in bursts but each burst of songs would end up sounding the same, so I'd take one or maybe two from a session; the best ones. The rest would be gone. And then I'd do another burst of writing and recording, pick another couple." And he wasn't sad about jettisoning some of the cargo. "Actually it was very liberating."
Bleat Your Heart Out clocks in at under 40 minutes, a short blast of alternative pop music - as much an alternative to pop music as an alternative form of pop music.
"It became really exciting just thinking about getting a band together to play these songs," Terris says. There are a few helpers on the album but Terris is present across several instruments. He's very used to wearing several hats.
"A motivation for making music is that I'm obsessed with the writing and recording process; it's infinite. You can't get bored. There are so many combinations and ways to create and capture, so it's always possible to be experimenting."
The first album is done - it's on its way and the second is swiftly on its heels.
"There are more songs and the plan, at this stage, is to finish them off shortly. Some of them are done already."
There will be a show in Auckland in December, opening for Goodshirt. The Terris band recently played its own show in Auckland and after this Wellington gig there will be an in-store performance at Slow Boat Records on Saturday November 24; a way to mark the official release of the album.
From there Terris plans to play South Island shows in early 2013 if possible - and then it's to work on album number two.
"The solo career is the focus now," he says. "You can't keep everything on your hard drive - you have to get out there and play it, perform and record and release music."
And he doesn't miss playing the drums live - he's pleased to be out front running things. "I've got very good players working with me, it's a great band so that instantly relaxes you. I'm not as good at playing guitar as I am at playing drums so that means I need to think about it more and that's a good thing."
I've been listening to Bleat Your Heart Out daily for the last week. I have a new favourite song every time I play it. There are a lot of ideas on this album - there's a lot of space too. A lot happens but it's never too busy, too crowded.
I can't wait to see Friday's show. There will be opening sets from Samuel Scott and Griffin Point - check this clip out, Griffin's set is sure to be interesting. There will also be supporting music from DJ Melfunction. All this for only $10.
But hey, if you're in Wellington and you'd really like to go I have two double-passes to give away to keen Blog on the Tracks readers. Just leave a comment below telling me why you want to go. I'll choose the best two answers for the double-passes.
So what do you think? Have you been a fan of Craig Terris' work to date? What do you think of the single, Ahead of the Storm? Have you heard anything else from Bleat Your Heart Out? Are you looking forward to the album? And will you be going to the show?
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