September 4, 2011
The first ever interview with the seafaring duo of Antony Milton and Stefan Neville as Sunken denies darkness, discusses their lost live album, reveals Rosy Parlane's organ harvesting scheme and suggests that we may have an ear problem. Their 'New Zealand Eels' LP is available now through Emerald Cocoon. Also be sure to check out the link at the end of the interview for an exclusive mp3 of a Sunken live set at Cross Street Studios September 2007 originally slated to be part of their ill-fated live cdr ‘Burley’.
Emerald Cocoon: When did you guys first decide to do a project together, when did Sunken first come about?
Stefan Neville: All I remember is not long after I met Leighton Craig & became a fan of his organ duets with Eugene Carchesio, Antony got a reed organ off Marcel Bear & I went to Wellington with my reed organ on Pumice business. I knew Antony loved Leighton & Eugene too so we decided to copy them.
Antony Milton: That’s right. I was pretty obsessed with organ tones at the time- that reed organ from Marcel in particular (the A.M CD Orla was recorded the day after I got that actually…). Stefan suggested an organ jam.
EC: Orla is definitely the most Sunken-esque of the AM albums. Do you still own the Orla? Any chance of an 'Orla II' album by AM ever appearing someday?
A: I actually gave it away to Rosy Parlane when I moved house a couple of years ago... I have a slight regret about that now as there have been times when I’ve thought it would be the perfect thing for some texture or another I’m trying to realize… One of my favourite things about it- and in hindsight this may actually have played a part in the nautical themes of Sunken- was that it had a monogram of a sailing ship on it.
‘Orla II’. It's possible actually. I recorded a whole lot more on it the day after the day after I got it from Marcel… Those files are on disk somewhere and I’d always thought they would make a good release one day. They were much more raw than the ones that came out on Orla.
S: I found another of those Orla organs on the side of the road in Mt Wellington. I gave it to Rosy Parlane. My reed organ has no brand name but it looks like a small coffin or a big primitive laptop.
A: So Rosy's got 2 Orlas??? Or did I give mine to someone else?? Ha. I remember he wanted it but the details of who got it are kind of lost in the haze of the move itself…
S: I remember where Antony's Orla went! I drove up to Hamilton & gave it to Sugar jon!
EC: What are your motivations for Sunken and how do they differ from your solo projects?
S: I just like playing with Antony. Its different for me cos its got Antony in it.
A: I reckoned there was something about our music that sounded somehow seashanty-ish – I could hear ocean swells and the wind in the rigging... So that became something like a guiding principal in terms of thinking about that project. For me anyway- I was pretty engrossed in the Patrick O’Brian books at that time.
EC: Reviews of New Zealand Eels describe it as a shipwreck, a feeling of drowning longing sad blues and sinking vocals…was this your intention (I understand you considered it a pop album?)?
S: Well yeah cos its all sing songs & groovy. I was actually singing about dancing after a few pints, having a tepid spa & then filling out my census form all pissed. I think those reviewers are reviewing the press release more than the record.
A: I never thought of it as a particularly dark record.. Maybe next time we should set out to do a dark record specifically and see what happens? Haha. And I agree that Stefan seemed particularly hearty that day. His singing was super-pop I thought- like an especially sublime Pumice set. It's possible I sabotaged his exuberance with my minor key sensibilities?
EC: What's the story behind the legendary lost Sunken live album?
S: Legendary? Nah just some useless label apparently put it out on CDR, never sent us copies & never replied to our emails. What were they called again?
A: They DID reply to emails- sometimes- in which they promised to send copies. But these never arrived- the postage costs from Canada to NZ must have been too much for them, couldn’t scratch together the requisite $10… It was frustrating- I had had a hard-drive melt down and lost my own files for that record so I can’t even burn copies for ourselves… Maybe it's on a filesharing blog somewhere? I’d go and have a look but for the new downloading laws here in NZ that mean I would likely be fined for downloading our own record… I can’t actually even remember the title now though. Haha.
Corps Mort was the label.
(ed: if anyone reading this actually has a copy of this please contact us via Emerald Cocoon)
EC: What is the Sunken recording philosophy? It seems like the recordings are recorded in such a way that the recording process itself is important to the musical outcome?
S: Its real casual and careless. throw a few mics around the room & get cracking. All done live & made up on the spot. Quick mix and a bit of editing and it's done.
A: A common approach in the Sunken recording sessions was to have at least one of the mic’s running through a reverb or delay pedal, feeding back through some computer speaker or something giving everything a woozy slipping feel. As often as not one of the mics would be my contact mic’d violin- the room sound as it resonates in old varnished wood… All the recs so far have been to cassette 4trk.
Try to give it your all- not hold back due to any shyness at weird facial contortions or embarrassing ecstatic states.
Editing is a BIG part of it - there's a lot of dross to be cut away and I’m a big believe in putting time into shaping albums so that they work according to some sort of internal logic…
S: I didn't know you did that with the mic's Antony. Makes sense. All my stuff happens in the air before it gets to the recording mic. Again small speakers are important.
EC: Is the violin the strings I can hear being plucked (I think) on 'Census'?
EC: New Zealand Eels sounds radically different from the previous two Sunken albums, is there a reason why? How did this change come about?
S: It changes a little bit with different keyboards used for different sessions. We used this rubber floppy roll up keyboard on NZ eels. Good bass on that thing. I didn't think it was all that different to our other releases? What's so different?
A: It's less spacious perhaps? Busier and more overdriven. It's all from a single session and a particular arrangement of instruments and mics in a room. The mood of that day. Stefan's drunkenness… My own drunkenness (is that the session where I spilt a beer on my analogue echo unit??)
EC: It's different in that it feels less laminal/horizontal and more active than the other ones. The other two have a kind of surging upwards feel to them, whilst NZ Eels is sort of simultaneously more concise and more exploratory (there seems to be more sound sources on it than there were on the previous Sunken albums?). I could, of course, be making all this up.
A: It was a slightly different line up of instruments- Stefan's roll up keyboard. Not so many taped down organ keys maybe?
S: You guys got weird ears. I don't reckon it's that different. I wasn't drunk at the session tho. I think I was passing through Wellington after touring down south with The Nothing & was singing about a horrific hilarious night Id just had in Nelson.
EC: You both live in different cites, Stefan you're in Auckland, while Antony, you just moved to Wellington from Christchurch. How often do you get to play together? Does the fact that you live in different cities mean that when Sunken does get together, the recording sessions are particularly focused and intense?
S: No its like I said before, just real casual & easy. It happens when it can happen which isn't that often. That's a good part of it too I reckon. I saw Antony last week for the first time in ages & no one even mentioned Sunken.
A: No, it's like all good friendships- when we sit down to do Sunken it's just us sitting down and doing Sunken.
EC: Do you consider yourselves more of a recording or live project?
S: I dunno. It's a band.
A: I with Stefan on that answer- what else to say? I like making the records and enjoy playing it live.
EC: Could you ever imagine Sunken touring?
A: I would love to tour Sunken. I’ve really enjoyed the live shows. Getting the ducks to stand nicely in a row has been the problem so far… Every time we have some vague tour outline in mind something crops up. One or other of us will sink into abject poverty, illness, or some other kind of life crisis. We are a genuine shipwreck band!
S: We have talked about it. We nearly went to Australia last year but I had dramas and cancelled. I'd love to do a short tour. I'm not paying for it.
EC: Apart from the live album which may or may not exist in the physical world, are there any other Sunken recordings waiting to see the light of day?
A: YES!! Stefan recently found the great ‘lost session’ tapes down the back of his couch and as I remember it these recordings were amongst the best we ever did. And I think we are both keen to get together to do more recordings soon as well.
S: The last session we did which was after NZ Eels but still ages ago is pretty good. I keep forgetting to send it to Antony. Who wants to release it?