It was one of those insignificant days of the week – a Tuesday let’s say, afternoon – when The Trendees knocked me on the head.
From the safety of my kitchen table I’d discovered the thumbnail & followed the link and found myself in some other room in some other house in bloody Oamaru. Ah yes (!) at a house party. And really at first everything seemed pretty proper: loose live music n big bottles of beer, and the normal sort of dressed down crowd was there. But the drummer.. how he held his sticks was off. Not right. Like the way a jazz person might – an oddity, yeah – and then actually the guitar’d one too seemed wrong. She kind of pushed her strings around with a thumb and looked gone. Not distant. Gone. She teetered & tipped and grew increasingly not in her body, like perhaps she was having the best dream right there and then in the lounge, unfussed completely by the smattering of watchers or the gumbooted children, fleeing outside now, or the fully loaded noises her own instrument was letting go. Weird. Different. Not right. Furthering my discomfort was a thin man in a beanie hat, who sang into a microphone the way a person with nothing to lose might do it. How a person unaware of rules or boundaries, or unaware of why rules or boundaries even exist might sing. POWERWAVES!! he went, POWERWAVES!!!!! like he HAD to tell you, and I felt it.
Smacked on the head.
The whole scene – the spectacle of daytime rule breaking & the sonic confusion seemed impossible somehow, and vaguely sped up; how Buster Keaton might’ve played music if he had played music, and been born in the eighties to South Island parents instead of American ones. Was there a trick with the footage? I rewound. Paused – over flung arms and crazy, skidding sticks across tom-toms, over that brilliantly cracking voice – and the mystery held. It thickened. I went looking for more – I listened to Nightmare City and We Are Sonic Art, and I got the giddy twinkly ‘I am living, this is living’ feeling that POWERWAVES had supplied. The bigger the chunks of Trendees I tore off, the more THEY consumed ME. feet over head frustrated I went. Intrigued, bothered, caught in their tangly net.
And so, yes, I tracked them down – what choice did I have?
*When I talked with (singer) Matt Plunkett and (guitarist) Eden Bradfield, the future of the band seemed uncertain. Eden had split up with her wife, whose father, Austen McMillan is the groups drummer. Nevertheless I was excited to, and I hope you are excited to Meet The Trendees! Or two thirds of them anyway.
There’s an essay in that Dead C. comp ‘Vain, Erudite and Stupid’ which talks about NZ’s attitude toward the group – “their critical reception bordered on the non-existent. On the rare occasions when anyone wrote about them, the reviews were negative or uncomprehending, or negative and uncomprehending.” How does it feel like the music you make has been perceived here?
Matt: Yes, I think I have that comp tucked away somewhere. We have a ‘small but dedicated’ following you might say. Many people who come see us play live come away in a kind of shock.
Do you reckon bands like that helped open a few eyes in this Country?
Matt: Dead C, yeah that whole Xpressway thing. Xpressway was sort of an interesting thing ‘cos it sort of happened side by side with Flying Nun and seemed to be characterised by even more damaged and desolate sorts of sounds, which were less encumbered by any sort of commercial imperative or idea about making a breakthrough than Flying Nun was. Not to say that Flying Nun was trying to make glossy pop, but it was still trying to sell as many records as it could and make breakthroughs etc. whereas I always assumed Xpressway groups were just making their music without too much thought about audience. I think we fall somewhere in between these two camps.
Eden: I like glossy pop.
Matt: When we started, me and E did talk about making pop music but I think it’s just our own version of it. Clearly.
Eden: My fav’ album is Nicki Minaj ‘The Pinkprint’ so I actually actively try and make pop music but to other people it doesn’t sound like their conception of pop.
Matt: Yea. But we don’t, you know, record raps or use big throbbing synths and have bass drops or whatever. A lot of that stuff i.e. Nicky Minaj is predicated on bass, and we don’t have bass.
Eden: TBH I’m not that familiar with the Dead C.
Matt: I think the Dead C. thing – well it’s not an influence at all. But I can see how that kind of damaged oblivion did open a few eyes.
Eden: There is that Prince song where he took the bass off it.
Matt: That would be When Doves Cry.
Eden: Yea, When Doves Cry. I guess pop music without a bass is inherently different.
When you say you’re aiming to write your own kind of pop music, what do you mean? Like, catchy songs? Or music that is popular? How much do you think about an audience?
Matt: More like catchy songs.
Eden: Like three minute songs with a riff and a catch.
Matt: Out of those two options.
Eden: I think pop music has always been essentially about three minutes long – like Cole Porter or Bo Diddley or whatever. Our aims aren’t much different to those people except we’re not focused on commercial success obviously.
Matt: I would like our music to be popular though ‘cos I think it’s fucking good, and hopefully in turn it can make people happy and joyful and wild etc. etc.
Eden: When we play a gig and people dance and I hug everyone afterwards it’s kind of Dionysian and euphoric. Like, we are not making deliberately obtuse music.
Matt: I do love music, and I’ve been consistently inspired by it and it helps me in numerous ways to be alive and I want other people to get things out of it as well, and don’t believe that the ‘current state of things’ services many of humanities needs in any kind of way – most people are only half listening and walk around in a zombie state.
Eden: I really hate, like, Six60 because it’s only made to be half listened to by people who have probably had their head bashed in with a refrigerator, and that’s a lot of current music and it’s really bad and boring or a rehash of something else. Why I like Ariana is like—her song ‘NASA’ where the chorus is “n! a! s! a!” is that the songs are clever, and the chorus bears a resemblance to that Fall song ‘C.R.E.E.P.’
Matt: We seem to have settled into a vacuum of mediocrity which is stifling in its banality, and is sad, because there is so much more that people can be getting out of this particular thing we call music.
Eden: I come from a classical music background which is very elitist, and I think popular songs or whatever you want to call them are a tonic to that when they’re really fucking good. Like ‘Hey! Bo Didley!’ – whatta song.
Eden: Or Hank Williams’ ‘Cold, Cold Heart’. That song is like, 2:40 and it’s perfect.
Matt: I have not heard a bad Hank Williams song. I like ‘Alone and Forsaken’.
Eden: Every Hank Williams song is perfect, and the words are not fancy or complicated. He does so much with so little. It’s really incredible.
Is there a way, do you think, to sort of knock people free from that ‘zombie state’ that you mentioned? Kick them awake to something which is powerful and vital feeling? My girlfriend and I run a small venue in Blenheim and often people say to the musicians after a performance “that was good” or “you were tight” is one – it isn’t very often that people are trying to communicate how they were affected by what they’ve heard/seen. I think you have to be vulnerable to tell somebody that they’ve moved you and to try and describe that feeling.
Eden: Is it mostly men who say ‘you were tight’ lol.
Matt: Hmmm, you can surprise people easily I think but not enough bands are willing to take risks or push themselves beyond some sort of practice room perfection. That’s a good question ‘how?’ – basically people can be amazing and disappointing all at once in their capacity to waste the possibilities of living.
There’s this quote by Albert Ayler where he is saying “music has nothing to do with people because it’s a natural force.” He says “When I made Spiritual Unity a long time ago, people were saying that it was very bad – now I notice the new generation in America, they’re free minded, and they think like the music is, y’know. And I’ve noticed a number of musicians . . . now they’re playing free music, they’ve incorporated certain ideas with pop music, see, so I see that the music (his music) perhaps was ahead of its time, to a certain extent, and I believe in the years to come, it’s gonna be beautiful. It’ll be . . . just like a great composer would bring out some music, and they would say “No, no, no!” then in years to come, it’s beautiful!” – he seems genuinely joyful at the thought of this idea “music has nothing to do with people” – what do you think of it?
Matt: Okay I am fascinated by this – I will go away and listen and respond in the next hour or so, might have some lunch. I love Albert Ayler. Ornette Coleman is also good for these kinds of quotes and ideas.
E: And Cecil Taylor.
Matt: “music having nothing to do with people because it’s a natural force” I can see what he’s saying. Like, when you are in the midst of something good you are not aware of yourself, you get lost in there. This happens often, playing live, it’s just this big slab of elemental force that puts out in reaction to the sounds and noises around and you are hardly aware of existing which is why when you finish you can hardly talk, you are so spent. But on the other hand, a part of me needs to believe, also, that music has everything to do with people – I need it to exist, myself – art in general has this function for me – I don’t see it as superfluous, I see it as necessary.
Eden: There is this great book ‘gardens are for the people’ which expresses similar sentiments. By Thomas Church, in 1955. Gardening, music, it is all about people and not about people at the same time.
Matt: Part of the thing for me with this is the sense of community and sharing ideas, and whatever. It has always been a conduit for empathy / feeling like I am part of something, as well as at the same time, strongly linked to my identity and individuality etc. – both of these things are important. Another thing is it can give marginalised thoughts / people a voice and power where they might not normally have it.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about playing live. The live Trendees footage I’ve seen is so tantalising!! Something I wanted to ask about was control. What is your relationship with it (in a live or recording type setting – do they differ?). I’ve heard people describe this idea ‘you have to know the rules to break them’ or ‘you can go out on a limb only if you know how to get back’ etc. What’s your take on that? Personally, I like to see a group on the verge of collapse, and I don’t even mind if they fall into total collapse . . . and I don’t like to be tricked into thinking they’re on the verge of collapse. Ha!
Matt: I think our ‘verge of collapse’ is real.
Eden: Yeah I agree with that. I think total collapse is an actual thing. Every time we play we are on the brink.
Matt: Especially when I play guitar alongside E and A – which normally happens on 1-2 songs per set. Because, although I think my ideas and instincts are good, my musicianship is light years behind and so I am only just barely keeping up – this also comes through on some of the recordings i.e. Boring Party. But on the ones where I am just singing, well Eden and I both are somehow quite naturally uninhibited and Austen is masterful with being able to improvise and keep it all together – A is incredibly versatile. I see this kind of music we play as a form of destruction. I am always reminded of the early rock n rollers i.e. Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, absolutely bashing the hell out of their instrument. Right through to people like Link Wray sticking a screwdriver in the amp for distortion etc. etc. This kind of lack of respect for the instrument but complete respect for the moment… the moment is paramount. I think this also works for those free jazzers you mentioned.
I’m also reminded of watching David Mitchell play guitar where it seemed like he was wrestling a volcano the whole time – this reminds me of Eden’s playing as well.
Yeah, that’s beautifully put – about the moment being paramount, and if you can upset this possible audience shield of “that was good i.e. that affirmed my beliefs about music” and pull a person, or a crowd of people into the moment, isn’t that music doing its job?
Matt: Yea but you have to be open about what that job might be. I guess asking the question is the important thing – exploring the possibilities etc. Always be suspicious of people who claim to have the answers ha ha. I haven’t claimed that have I?
Ha I don’t think so mate! How did the Trendees come about? When and how did you figure you wanted to make music together?
Eden: Oh Matt and I always wanted to make music together and they were mostly failures where we’d just get drunk instead… then Matt came to my old house and we recorded this little ep with just the two of us. Songs we don’t really play anymore – ‘he stares at curtains’.
Matt: Yes it’s all true – the cutest thing ep – the thing is we just did an interview a couple of weeks ago where we went into this whole thing in detail so I think we are tired of telling this story. Actually I think that’s still a great wee ep. I can remember that session quite well – weren’t you living over the road from kfc?
Eden: Yeah I was living in this quite nice house but it was behind a crazy hoarder who threatened me with a gun eventually. We just sat in the sunny lounge and tried things out.
Matt: It clicked there – from this point I think we both knew we had something worth pursuing
Eden: ‘He stares at curtains’ was directly influenced by that corny guitar guy with the telecaster – Roy Buchanan – how Roy Buchanan would drop volume up and down to make the guitar sound like an organ.
Matt: Weren’t you also into fancy rum at this stage, or something like this? It was so special we could only drink a very small amount. Because every drop was a million dollars.
Eden: I was into v expensive bourbon.
Matt: Bourbon that’s right – I don’t think I’ve had any since.
How did you bring Austen aboard? He is such a frenzied drummer!
Matt: He is the best. It seemed obvious we needed a drummer, and he was already playing music with Eden. He is perfect for us – yea very adept at improvising. As well as just hitting the drums very hard, he is central to dragging the songs forward into the abyss they often end up in – or something like that.
I wanted to ask, Eden – because you mentioned that you are into a lot of the glossy pop stuff. I was wondering what was the music that got you into the guitar, and how did you develop that style? Were there touchstones along the way or is it pretty intuitive to you?
Eden: Actually, sonic youth. ‘Specially the Marc Jacobs show they played at in like 2008 – I was really into fashion and that show was a real turning point for me. I didn’t know anything about them so I listened to Daydream Nation at first, and bought like, a cheap guitar off trademe – a Chinese one that came with a shitty tiny amp, and I sanded it and painted it seafoam, and googled like Sonic Youth tunings and Joni Mitchell tunings. And at first I was just into making noise which felt so transgressive, coming from a classical music background, and slowly I got into Bo Didley and stuff. So over time my approach to guitar has become more about making an interesting pop riff. But yea, I guess that’s how a lot of people get into guitar.
Through fashion? Or Sonic Youth?
Eden: Yeah, Sonic Youth.
Are there any other music makers that you’ve taken a punt on because you like how they looked?
Eden: Probably, like Bikini Kill or something. Kathleen Hanna is pretty iconic.
Matt, do you write poetry or anything outside of music?
Matt: Yes. I have always written poetry but have never been very confident with it but yes for a long time I have done this. When I was 20 if you had asked me ‘what I wanted to do’ I would have said poet. I have also written reviews and done a few things over the years on blogs etc. I love poetry and good writing in general. And bad writing. I am an English teacher so that’s where I have ended up in this world of words. I am a scraps of paper and backs of envelopes kind of person – always looking around frustrated for a pen at odd moments, before the line escapes me – I will also write stuff down sometimes in the middle of the night in bed, so it’s always there, these lines and words and poems and songs etc.
I cover my hands in vivid.
Matt: O yes – you have to use whatever surface you can find. Hank Williams used to do this. Wrote up and down his arm etc. I think when he was found dead in the back of a taxi or whatever he had lyrics on his arm. Or maybe I am misremembering that.
Wow. Might have been a shopping list.
Matt: Possibly. Going out for toilet paper etc.
Here is a last thought which has just been floating around and I am wondering what you think. I haven’t ever found much to love about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Flea’s bass playing even, but Flea (the man) seems to be a deep pool. He has a great eye and ear for art I reckon, and seems also to have lots of integrity and yeah just feels very deeply (I saw a clip where he starts to cry, talking about how powerful J-Dilla’s music is to him). I’ve been thinking about how not all ‘deep feeling’ people make for deep musicians—how, there are some musicians who gain artistic depth as they develop on their instrument and go from being not great to really great. Some show a lot of depth and can do lots with not much technical ability at all. Some, with all the good taste and technical ability in the world, can’t make a single thing sound good. Does any of that resonate with you? Is it something that you ever think about?
Matt: Well I know that good people don’t always make good music, and if you don’t like a band it doesn’t mean the people are gonna necessarily be dicks, vice versa – many heroes, too many probably, were not that nice to be around. Like, Mark E. Smith – who we are all fans of – I have seen interviews where he is a sweetheart and others where he is a monster. Is that what you’re getting at? I would say though, that most – if not all – of the people in the little nz community we are part of are lovely people, and have been amazingly supportive and kind to us – we don’t have any problems organising shows or getting help to do stuff – there is a great community here, despite our isolation. I think hmmm – I guess that Mark E. Smith example – I mean, basically I think he is a nice person but sometimes the drink or speed or whatever made him a fuckwit – it is so much easier to like music if you know the people making it are good people – I have found it hard teaching James K. Baxter after finding out he was a rapist, for example… I think it’s a case by case basis – but yea, Flea – I don’t like his stuff or his style either. But I mean if he is a nice fella then that’s cool and good but also not really relevant to me, because I am never going to have him over for dinner so it doesn’t really bother me either way (is that what you were getting at?)
I guess what I meant is that Flea, with all this technical prowess, and great taste, and and joy for music can’t seem to get it too right.
Matt: Yep well that’s the thing about a band, is that – as a bass player he might well be into Sly Stone and Black Flag and whatever cool stuff but if your mates are like whiny, douchey dudes then it’s pretty hard to make much of a difference there… Maybe the Flea solo record would be killer?
Eden: I don’t really care for technical prowess and taste – they seem like only tools, you know? When I played classical a lot there were so many good musicians who had no heart. I think “notes on camp” discusses not caring for taste better than I can. There are lots of people with expertly curated tastes in art or music or whatever, but it doesn’t mean they’re a great writer or musician or something.
Matt: Who is the world’s most tasteful filmmaker? John Waters of course!
You can find music by The Trendees on their bandcamp page https://thetrendees.bandcamp.com