Dark in Brush Park
Vicki Anderson talks to Matt Scobie and Sam Hood of T54 about finding their way through In Brush Park.
Christchurch trio T54 have just released one of the best albums of the year.
Brush Park is in Detroit, Michigan. Everywhere you turn in Brush Park there are deserted, rambling, historic mansions from the "Gilded Age".
T54, who share their name with a 1940s Soviet battle tank, describe themselves as "fascinated by spookiness" and it is a fitting title for their debut album. Comprising Joe Sampson, Matt Scobie and Sam Hood, the trio teamed up with Tom Bell (David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights) to record In Brush Park, released via Flying Nun Records.
In February 2012 they shut themselves away in a Dunedin venue, Sammys, under the guidance of Hood, having borrowed a bit of gear from Tex Houston. Five days later the album was done, to be mastered by Steven Marr (Doprah/ Ipswich).
"It was recorded live at Sammys," Scobie recalls. "It was dark and spooky."
Hood, whose marvellous hair stands on end as if he's just put his finger in a light socket, describes the recording experience at Sammys as having a "strange vibe" and "like being in a cave".
"There were no windows or natural light. It was like spending several days in an abyss," Hood says thoughtfully.
"Joe swears he saw a ghost," Scobie laughs.
There were five songs left over from the recording session, Scobie says: "Darker tracks, I don't know what we'll do with them."
But certainly some of the dark vibe of the popular Dunedin venue has wound its way onto the record.
Opening track Nails Painted boasts exquisite dynamics, the song kicks up a notch in intensity about 60 seconds in, transforming into something quite spectacular. As album openers go, it's unforgettable.
Life is Swell is underpinned by Scobie's deft drumming, an infectious bassline and is all wound together with Sampson's plaintive vocals. There's something maudlin and heartbreaking about this song. The way Sampson sings "never really try". . . that bit gets me right in the throat.
Return of the Worm is the most accessible song, beautiful breezy pop - the Flying Nun sound delivered by the new generation of artists who deserve to wear the crown and who wear it their own way.
And the worm ruled the next thousand years in darkness.
The video, which features a couple of cute children battling a giant sock puppet amongst cardboard buildings on "Gloucester St" was created by a former Christchurch mate, who now lives in Melbourne.
"It's great," Scobie says. "We're really happy with it. We weren't expecting much as we had no money."
I listened to AC Parade just a handful of times before chatting to Hood and Scobie but as we speak, the song plays pinball around my mind.
"AC Parade is the next song to be released of the album," Scobie explains. "Single with quotation marks, we don't really do singles."
While Kill Red was released to accompany a beer of the same name at the Dux earlier this year.
Hood and Scobie ask each other about their current favourite song off the album, which has been a long time coming due to "technical delays".
"Nailspainted and Jennifer Hands," Hood says.
"Jennifer Hands is way more furious and angsty than I thought it was," Scobie agrees.
Final track Biscuit City Sisters is quite different from anything else bearing the T54 stamp.
"On that track Joe and I swapped," Hood says. "I played guitar and he played bass".
Comparisons are inevitably made to T54s 2010 EP, Drone Attacks.
Hood and Scobie describe In Brush Park as "quite stripped back, a more natural sound."
"What you hear is what happened," Hood says.
After recording, the trio took a year off. It wasn't a deliberate break, Hood moved to Dunedin to study and play in another band, Space Bats Attack. Scobie plays in Motown Junk and Brown Leaves and is a sonic artist at the University of Canterbury.
"Just me in my bunker, mostly. It's quite lonely," Scobie says.
Sampson, for his part, is also in Salad Boys and Dance Asthmatics.
He couldn't make it to the interview as he was busy working with the Transistors, but Flying Nun sent this gem through on his behalf: "You wouldn't believe how many people tell me to turn the vocals up, like there's a law against having them buried. Imagine Loveless by My Bloody Valentine if the engineering police turned up and made them do it by the book, or Murmur by REM or Aladdin Sane by Bowie."
Taking a break from the band was refreshing, Hood says.
"We were tired, collectively we weren't enjoying it. Instead of carrying on and killing it, we took a break."
Back in 2011, after a life changing, show stopping, business devastating earthquake, T54 teamed up with Evil Genius to make four EPs, each with a corresponding poster. T54 provided the music, Evil Genius - Oscar Guerrero and Leo Beckett - provided the poster artwork.
Evil Genius was a record store open in Lyttelton from February 17 to February 22, 2011, run by Guerrero and Beckett, also of El Santo Porteno - T54s home base prior to the earthquakes.
Fittingly, Guerrero and Beckett also have a hand in In Brush Park.
"Originally we had democratically decided on the title Room Full of Mirrors but Oscar said that was a shit title so we ditched it," Scobie says.
Beckett provided the album artwork.
"Leo had done the artwork of the spooky abandoned house, we Googled Brush Park and the pictures that came up were of spooky abandoned houses. It was serendipity."
A few months shy of two years since recording the album, Scobie and Hood are happily chattering about playing live together again.
"The album's been a long time coming, we're happy with it now."
T54, In Brush Park release party at the Darkroom, Saturday. In Brush Park is out now. If purchased through Flying Out, it also comes with a free download of bonus live T54 album, Live at Dux Live.