A hardworking Dunedin-based duo are eyeing a Nelson gig for some live recording, reports Naomi Arnold .
The best way for Jo Little and Jared Smith to while away those long hours in the car is to listen to new music and read chapters of The Lord of the Rings aloud.
"I get a chapter each drive," Little says. Smith, her partner of three years, even does the voices. "He's awesome!"
The Dunedin musical pair have been on the road for the past nine months.
Lovers of flying low, they are revisiting places they have been to already and are taking in a few new ones, fetching up in towns such as Te Anau, Haast, Picton, Milford Sound, Luggate, Hot Water Beach and, this week, Nelson.
At each stop, they are playing new material, with Smith on electric guitar, producing soulful, harmonious solos in the vein of 60s and 70s blues rock, his gritty cowboy vocals interweaving with Little's velvety soul voice and heartfelt lyrics.
Before that, they were in Australia, touring Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. It sounds like a hellishly long time to be on the road, but the pair love it. "The best bit is the locals, the people we meet along the way," Little says.
They keep a little book in the car to write down song ideas, play plenty of music, and take breaks for a few weeks at certain spots. This tour is their third time around the country, and they have been staying at peoples' farms and orchards, getting in a few days out on the land and doing some gardening.
"Staying and learning stuff," Little says. "It's something we'd like to get into in the future, so we're enjoying the little breaks here and there."
Smith and Little have been together about three years, although both played extensively with bands previously, Smith with Soulseller and Ash and the Matadors, and Little with acoustic-folk-bluegrass outfit Bellebird & the Handsome Gypsies and alt-country-blues band Midnight Kitchen.
When those came to a natural end last year, the couple took the opportunity to do something together, stretching their songwriting wings.
"All the songs are from life experiences, from our friends and things that are happening to us," Little says. "They have a message that carries through."
They are now working on songs for an album to be called The Journey Home, which will follow their respective solo debut efforts.
Little's Till the Blue Skies Come and Smith's Bare Bones were both released in March, just as the duo hit the road.
That album might have a Nelson touch to it. While at The Boathouse, Little and Smith will record a potential live release.
They have been planning meticulously for their time here, picking out "the cream" of their original music for two 40-minute sets of their best, with singer-songwriter Sahn Bishop the opening act.
"We're a bit nervous about this one, because it will be the most produced and put-together show of the whole tour," Little says.
Why record here? Little says it's because they are assured of the quality of the audiences.
"The Boathouse and the Mussel Inn are definitely the places to play in my experience touring with bands before," she says.
"This opportunity to play at these places is really awesome. You have a really sit-down, attentive, music-appreciating crowd. The whole [focus] of the venue is to appreciate the music. They're really watching.
"That makes you feel amazing because some of the time when we're playing, [it's] in pubs and people are watching the rugby. You have to fight a little bit harder to get heard."
The hard-working pair will return to the region in January, playing again at McCashin's, the Moutere Inn, the Hardy St Sprig & Fern and more. They will finish about February, with one of their last dates the Catlins River Festival down south.
Then they will look for a place to live, soaking up the mix of bands and general air of creativity. "Really good juice to be around," Little says.
There, they will sort out their next Australian tour, planning another string of happy months on the road.
- Jo Little and Jared Smith, The Boathouse, Friday, 8pm, tickets $10 on the door; McCashin's Brewery, Saturday, 1pm, entry free; and The Mussel Inn, Sunday, 8pm, tickets $5 on the door. For more information, check out facebook.com/jolittlejaredsmith.
- © Fairfax NZ News