Who Are…Ghost Wave

Hilary Hughes

By Hilary Hughes

on 08.27.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: A straightforward, exploratory rock trip that does New Zealand's alt-rock legacy proud

For fans of: Arctic Monkeys, The Clean, DIIV, Widowspeak, and Mac Demarco

From: Auckland, New Zealand

Personae: Matthew L. Paul (vocals, guitar), Eammon Logan (drums), Mike Ellis (bass, vocals), Jamie Kennedy (guitar)

Inking a record deal is a major milestone for any band, but when it’s with the quintessential indie label that’s touted the talents of some of your country’s favorite alt-rock icons, it’s a distinction on another level. That’s exactly what happened to Ghost Wave with Ages, their full-length debut. In New Zealand, Flying Nun Records has been the revered home of incendiary alternative rock, punk and reverb-ridden noise since 1981 — and the paradoxical perfection of Ages‘ straightforward riffs, cut-to-the-chase choruses and haphazard DIY approach fall right in line with the label’s stylistic tendencies.

A handful of bands Ghost Wave counts as influences have cut some of Flying Nun’s most beloved titles — the Clean and Snapper are two of frontman/guitarist Matthew Paul’s favorites — and though the label hasn’t issued a new release in nearly 15 years, Ages marks both the label’s first as a joint release with their American DIY rock brethren, Captured Tracks, and the start of a new era for the New Zealander institution. In that way, Ages is primed to be the release that puts New Zealand’s rock scene — and Flying Nun — back on the international map, and Paul in particular is thrilled to return to the States to give American’s a proper introduction to a new Auckland sound.

On the endearing qualities of the Auckland scene:

It’s amazing to be surrounded by people who really care about expressing themselves. There isn’t really anyone in town that I don’t like talking to about what they are doing and everyone is supporting each other. I think that is something that we have gotten better at as a town over the years.

You have a lot more space to shape up your music over here, because [the scene] is just not as big. That’s generally worked to our advantage, because we’ve had enough time to get our shit together and stay in and play without sort of playing haphazard shows so much. You can get away with fucking up here quite a bit, because it’s so small. If you’re going to play music over here, you can use shows as practice, in a way, whereas when we come over to the States it feels less that and more showy.

On pushing themselves with Ages:

It’s always kind of weird to look at a song and figure out what it was about later on, and a lot of the stuff on Ages is about what was happening in our band at the time. We were living in the city; we’d just put out a record and then weren’t too sure of our direction beyond making another record. None of it was challenging in a “We can’t do this!” kind of way, but because we recorded it in these air-tight sessions, it was sort of a challenge to remember all our ideas and lay them out, whereas now we have gone back to producing our own stuff and so recording sessions are lax and fit in with our lives. That’s how we prefer to do it.

On their favorite Flying Nun bands:

We’ve seen the Clean play a couple times and we played with them once or twice. What I like best about them is that they seem entirely natural about what they are doing; they seem to be pretty level-headed people when it comes to thinking about doing music as a career. Starting out, it was always the Clean that we looked up to in this way more than, say, the other bands who we love who sort of imploded from not having a grip on reality. Peter Gutteridge and Snapper are influential in a musical sense because these guys are like our uncles: In the ’70s and ’80s, they were getting turned on to the power of minimal song style and drone, and that is something that will always resonate with me and our band’s approach to get the most of out things.

On the culture shock of American touring:

New Zealand is pretty slow. If you watch our news, you’ll see stories of firemen saving cats from trees, if you know what I mean; it’s just that there’s not a whole lot going on, whereas you come over here, and you get absorbed into this crazy melting pot. It’s a bit of a cultural shock. I’d say that my experience playing shows in Auckland always involves needing to get the audience to let their hair down a bit, whereas folks in the States are a little less concerned about what their hair is doing, which I like. I find the crowds in the States to be a lot more pleasant. I don’t want to sound like I’m unhappy playing shows or making music at home, but because it is so small you will find that either you’re doing what’s “in” or you sit outside of things completely. I’d say we basically sit outside of things, and I know a lot of other bands who I really like from home who experience the same thing. There’s not really a psych/rock ‘n’ roll/folk scene here, whereas in the States, it’s like rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well under the surface of every day life. I like playing shows to people who know where we’re are coming from, and I feel a lot more connected in that respect [in the States].

On sounding like a New Zealand band (or not):

I guess we have a pretty good grasp on getting a jangly sound when we need to, but other than that I’m not really sure if we sound like a New Zealand band. I have always felt like the music we wanted to make was supposed to fall into a lineage that eventually became the blues, and then from there to rock ‘n’ roll. I really detest most music coming out these days because I think it is vapid and soulless. The ’60s stuff and earlier rock music is what I was raised on and makes most sense to me, and it just so happened that some other people felt the same way in Dunedin in the ’80s. With our first record, I can see how some people would think, “Yes, this sounds like New Zealand music!” because it’s kind of open — our skies are quite big over here and the cities are kind of small. I think we had that in common with other New Zealand bands that came through kind of spacey sounds, but to be honest, I don’t think about it all that much because no one is really doing our style.