Chant grab their chances

BIG NOISE: Street Chant vocalist Emily Littler performs at the Auckland Big Day Out in 2011.
BIG NOISE: Street Chant vocalist Emily Littler performs at the Auckland Big Day Out in 2011.

Auckland band Street Chant have a busy few weeks ahead, starting with their show at Laneway Festival, and a new album due out. Guitarist Emily Littler talks to Matthew Littlewood about playing live and the "difficult" second-album syndrome.

When Emily Littler begins our phone interview, her energy levels are not the greatest.

She is still recovering from the previous evening: she did not get home until 3am, after doing a DJ set and then watching the support band.

"I really wish bands didn't play so late," she said.

Yet she suddenly picks up when talking about the coming few weeks. Littler will need all the energy she can get. Street Chant's second album is almost finished, and they have also been practising intensely for the set at the Laneway Music Festival in Auckland on January 28.

"Yeah, but last year was really quiet, we spent our time trying to get our lives in order: 2012 was mostly working on the new album, and an awful mix of procrastination and perfectionism," she said.

Street Chant's year-long fug came after a whirlwind two-year stretch, starting with the 2010 release of the debut album, Means, to rave reviews - the New Zealand Herald and Listener placed it in their top 10 for the year, and it won the critics' prize at the New Zealand Music Awards. Means was fast, frantic and often sardonic - much like their live performances. In 2010 and 2011, the band - which includes bassist Billy Rogers and drummer Alex Brown - toured Australia, Europe and America (twice).

"When you write your first album, it's really quick, because you want to have songs for your live set," Littler said.

"The second time around is more self-conscious, but I am really proud of it, there's a lot more heart. It's not just me sneering."

Street Chant was started as Mean Street in 2007 by Littler and bassist Rogers; the band's online biography says it "saved Emily drifting into a life of alcoholism".

When drummer Alex Brown replaced Mikey Sperring at the start of 2009, the band changed its name to Street Chant.

"I tend to write the skeleton of the song and give it to the rest of the band. Alex is really disciplined, he's meant Billy and I have to be really good," Littler said.

The second album's title, Hauora, refers to the Maori philosophy of the four wellbeings of health (physical, mental, social and spiritual). Littler hoped it would be released before April.

"A lot of the record is looking back on childhood in a nostalgic way. It's a hard time to be a New Zealander in your early-to-mid 20s right now. You grew up expecting to be richer than your parents, or getting a better job, but it's not gonna happen," Littler said.

She could not think of many recent New Zealand albums willing to engage with the political climate, apart from hip-hop group Home Brew's double album.

"I can't relate to a lot of modern rock music. It's all mumbling and heavily processed, almost as if they're embarrassed to stand for anything. I really want our music to stand for something."

The band have produced Hauora themselves, another sign of them going it alone - veteran Bob Frisbee produced Means.

"It's difficult not having someone to tell you whether or not you're on the right path. But my singing has improved. I'm not just incoherently shouting."

More than 10,000 people are expected to attend Laneway Musical Festival in Auckland, which will feature performances from acts such as Bat For Lashes, the Phoenix Foundation and Tame Impala. Street Chant's set would be a mix of old and new material.

"People say we're high energy. We really get off on the audience. I get nervous and say stupid stuff, but we've always been pretty disciplined," Littler said.

The Timaru Herald