The first thing I discover when talking to Garageland’s drummer, Andrew Gladstone, is that they pronounce their name “GAH-raj-land,” instead of the more American “ga-RAJ-land.” Their new album, Last Exit to Garageland (Foodchain; email@example.com), is a hook-laden guitar shimmer in the best New Zealand tradition. Combining an all-important NZ guitar credo with more exuberant pop elements, the record is a collection of infectious singles, waiting to wrap themselves around your ears.
The band relocated to London following a whirlwind string of successes, but when I spoke to Andrew they were back home for a quick tour before heading for the United States. The line was crystal clear; less obvious was the time difference…
What time is it over there?
It’s 25 past 2 in the afternoon…
What day? It’s a Wednesday over here.
That is so strange. I feel like I’m talking to the future… You’re touring back in NZ?
We’ve come down here to catch a bit of good weather and play a few shows, keep our face here so that people don’t forget who we are, since we’ve been away a year. We don’t seem to be forgotten, though.
How would you compare audiences in NZ to audiences in Europe or America?
We’ve played a couple of outdoor shows, and there’s a lot of young kids that we’ve picked up. I suppose audiences in London are a little bit standoffish when they don’t know who you are.
I’m intrigued by how New Zealand produces so many quality bands, for being such a small country, population-wise.
Over the years, it’s been an interesting scene, because it’s quite isolated. There’s no real big music industry here, so a lot of local music is done out of the love of playing music. Whereas having spent a year in England, we’ve noticed that although there’s a lot of bands who are doing it because of their love of music, there’s also a lot who do it out of wanting to be rock stars. Here, over the years, there’s been a different motivation for playing, and people have not been really heavily influenced by a national scene. You get your own little scenes here — especially the Flying Nun scene — which produce bands that do what they want to do, not even wanting to be part of something, just wanting to play music. I get the feeling, from being back here a couple of weeks, that it’s been a lean year. But I still think it’ll continue to be an interesting place for music.
How much music that is heard on radio and TV would you say is from outside the country?
To be honest, most. That’s always been the case, even from the early ’80s when Flying Nun got going. No-one could get played on commercial radio. We have quite strong college radio, and that’s entirely how we got our success. I can remember, when I was very young, the Clean had a single, “Beatnik,” which went up to number 5 in the charts. I was just a kid, and I was in someone’s dad’s car, driving to football practice, and they were running down the chart on commercial radio. When they got to the Clean, they didn’t even have a copy of it — they just mentioned it and got on to the next one. It’s not quite as bad as that now, but it’s still pretty hard to get your songs noticed.
On television… there’s government funding to make videos, and that’s important, because we get more videos played on TV than we get songs on radio. That seems to have improved over the last couple of years, but it’s still heavily British and American.
It’s difficult to get a sense of scale. In the United States, when you see something from New Zealand it’s either on Flying Nun, or it’s from someone who is established, like the Clean or one of the Kilgour brothers. It’s difficult to see if that’s all that’s going on, how prominent that music is back home…
It’s still a cult thing over here. I mean, there’s a reasonable audience, and there always has been, but I think that because it’s good, it translates overseas very well. Everywhere you go, there’s people who know the Chills, and the Clean, Flying Nun… it’s got amazing respect around the world even though it’s always been relatively small over here.
Would you say that some of those bands — the Clean, the Chills, the 3Ds — have been more influential to New Zealand music, and the New Zealand “sound” because of that isolation?
They haven’t sold that many records, but they’re always name-checked, and I suppose it is what people know about New Zealand music, apart from someone like Neil Finn and Split Enz, Crowded House. They obviously put New Zealand on the map.
Well, the first video I ever saw was Split Enz. “I Got You,” where they’re in the painting…
That’s right… great song, too.
Great video. I must have been 10 or 11 — I saw it in 1980, on an Israeli show.
That was a bit of a seminal song that year.
How have you, as a band, evolved against that scenario? From the sound of it, it happened quite suddenly.
I guess what happened is that we pulled the band together because there had been nothing happening at the time. We recorded some demos, and those started getting played on college radio, did a few shows, and then Flying Nun asked if we wanted to do a single with them, which then became an EP, then an album… it was quite simple. I suppose it was good timing for everybody. It was a bit sparse at the time, especially in Auckland. There wasn’t a lot happening, and we did it because we couldn’t stand what was [not] going on at the time.
You’ll be coming Stateside in the next couple of months. Have you already played over here?
Yes. We’re looking forward to the tour.
What are some of the stranger places you’ve performed in?
Probably Chapel Hill. Flying Nun have a little office there, and we played in a tiny little bar/restaurant for about five people. That was kind of a strange one. I think we expected a little bit more…
It being Flying Nun’s US headquarters and all…
It was still good fun. There were a couple of people from Superchunk, and a couple of people from their label. And that made up all five people.
In an ideal situation, who would you like to tour with?
It would be really good to tour with Guided By Voices, or Superchunk. We did a show in England with Guided By Voices, and it was really good. We’re doing this tour with Spacehog… I really don’t know much about them, but I hear they’re doing alright…
Spacehog? They’re the ones who lifted that riff from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra for their single.
Yes, from “Telephone and Rubber Band.” It just loops over the whole song. They didn’t credit it either, which I didn’t like.
You still hear Penguin Cafe Orchestra showing up frequently in advertisements down here.
I hear their music used by IBM or someone like that about once a year.
It’s good work if you find it.
You can catch Garageland as they swing through the Southeast in late March