Formed in 2009, Popstrangers started off as a low-profile local Auckland band fueled by a dislike for their day jobs and a passion for playing music. Very quickly, however, the noisy psych-pop trio found its footing: A nationwide band competition landed them a coveted slot at Auckland’s 2010 Big Day Out fest, and they released two EPs by the end of 2010.
Still, this forward momentum wasn’t without its setbacks. A record deal with legendary label Flying Nun only yielded one single, and Popstrangers cycled through a long line of drummers before settling on David Larson in 2011. The band’s debut full-length, Antipodes, reflects this restlessness. The New Zealand band rarely settles on one style; stormy jangle, gloomy post-punk and grungy riffs contrast with vocalist Joel Flyger’s sleepy-eyed croon and moments of brittle guitar-pop are balanced by languid shoegaze.
A few weeks before Antipodes was officially released, Flyger answered some questions via email about his ultimate goal as a band — “To play lots of shows, release lots of records and never have to work a proper job again” — and about Popstrangers’ place in music.
On recording Antipodes in the basement of a 1930s-era dancehall:
It was dark. There was a lot of concrete. But the studio itself was great. [There were] lots of rugs on the ground, and equipment everywhere. We were able to feel at home there and come and go at any time of the day or night. It’s very large, as well, with other people coming and going. There was always something happening. Mostly, people hanging around trying to find acid.
On how restlessness and dissatisfaction inspired his lyrics:
A lot of my lyrics for Antipodes came from just wanting something different and more than what was on offer at the time. I wasn’t very happy with what I was doing, the room I was living in, or what I was doing for a job. And at the time, I couldn’t really see anything changing. Most of the themes on the album are about unrest, or lust or certain people in my life during that period.
On how Antipodes emerged so cohesive:
It’s a document of what we were doing about midway through last year. The songs came out fairly quickly in the recording studio, and we knew what we wanted. We had recorded more, but the 10 songs on the album were the cohesive ones and fit together best. It’s taken longer to release the album, but we are very happy with that, too. We recorded it over two or three weeks, with a little more time spent on guitars.
On being influenced by the Cure:
I’m a big fan of the Cure, especially the melodies. Three Imaginary Boys is one of my favorites.
On the current New Zealand music scene:
There are a lot of great bands coming out of Christchurch at the moment, which suffered due to an earthquake a few years ago. It’s good to see the music scene there going well again. I think the NZ music scene is diverse, genre-wise, and there are not prevailing trends as such — but [there are] lots of shows that need more attention by the general public here outside of the music community.
On other New Zealand bands they admire:
I admire the Clean and Bailterspace, as they started something different and developed a “sound.” Also, Bic Runga is a talented vocalist who still makes great music.
Deer Park, Rackets, The Transistors, Salad Boys and Males are the bands we are playing with during our New Zealand album release tour. They are all great people and play a good mix of music.
On how New Zealand has had an impact on its music:
I guess, of course, the surroundings of where you make music has a direct impact on things, but it’s not something I think about or take into account. Perhaps the isolation plays a part in the themes and energy in the music.
On his unexpected musical influences:
I think perhaps ’80s and ’90s mainstream pop music has an influence, as I lived with my mother and sister growing up and they listened to a lot of pop music. A lot of that has stuck with me. Also, opera music and its different movements and journeys are personal influences.