Based in Newtown, but originating from the Bay of Plenty, Prizegiving are part of the latest wave of upbeat kick-ass Wellington bands. They may have only existed under that moniker for the last months – but Prizegiving have hit the ground running with their own particularly exceptional brand of emo-pop. Their debut album, ‘No Harm Done’, was released in June by Papaiti Records and Sleepover Records – and it’s a doozy. Briar Lawry talked with guitarist Miles Sutton and keyboard player Ali Burns.
Round of applause, it’s Prizegiving time. Prizegiving started out life as Tuff Wizards, consisting at the time solely of Whakatane brothers Miles (guitar / vocals) and Zac (bass / vocals) Sutton. But expansion came soon after, explains Miles.
“I think that a lot of it was practical concerns. There wasn’t any really mysterious reason, but I wanted the live performance to be more colourful and have lots of different parts and textures.
“Because I’ve played in punk bands and stuff beforehand, I didn’t really just want to have the drum and bass thing. And it’s also more fun to play music with people, of course. It was pretty organic – everyone joined the band in a really natural way. It was never forced, we weren’t putting classified ads out, or anything.
“I’d played in bands with our guitarist Riley [Brightwell] before, and he just fit in because he’s a really good musician and I knew that he had experience in bands. Then, in the Wellington earthquakes in 2012, my flat was condemned, so I moved into a flat with another close friend from home – and that was Wynn [McLaughlin]. And I knew he was really good at drums, and we were into the same sort of music.”
Co-vocalist and keyboard player Ali Burns came into the picture through a bit a little more serendipity, as she herself explains.
“I was just hanging out at the flat, and they needed someone to do a couple of weird things on the keyboard, and no one had any hands to do it. So they got me to do it, and then they were telling me, ‘You’re in the band, now’.”
Their quite expanded musical incarnation eventually needed a new name.
“We wanted something a little more palatable,” Miles explains of the choice.
“I think it’s kind of funny for a band like ours – it kind of pokes fun at the emotional nature of the songs. And I think that being self-aware is so important.”
“It’s also a pretty NZ thing,” Ali adds, “… to call something a prizegiving.”
The five members had come to the band life through a variety of pathways, from parentally endorsed drum enthusiasm to general musical appreciation, to the classic Kiwi school trajectory of Rockquest. Together though, they have a shared appreciation for the same kinds of music, especially from fellow NZ artists.
‘I just wanna write the next Fiji Baby, fly out to Nashville, meet Renee-Louise Carafice,’ they sing on opening track Mid-Year Planner.
“We get excited about ‘Nature’s Best’ and stuff. Growing up, a big one for most of us with Die! Die! Die!. We organised a show at 16 in Whakatane, and they came, and it was great – and it was really our first experience in that space,” Miles recalls.
With connections to other bands and artists like Trust Punks, Career Girls, Mermaidens and Carb on Carb, they occupy a space currently full of fresh faces and brave new sounds. The specific brave new sound on Prizegiving’s album was recorded in Palmerston North all-ages venue The Stomach.
“The actual recording was pretty swift – we did most of it in a weekend,” Miles says.
“But then it was all the little things,” Ali adds. “Making the little changes to make it more dynamic.”
Ali plays a Roland keyboard as well as an older Casiotone MT-70. There’s some Fender Rhodes on the record, because as luck would have it, there happened to be one at the studio. And as well as the regular guitars, keys and drums of their line-up, the album also boasts a little bass trombone and French horn, courtesy of Patrick Di Somma, and Daniel McBride of Sheep, Dog & Wolf.
‘No Harm Done’ was recorded, mixed and mastered by The Stomach’s Cameron Wilkes, who the band were friendly with. Their trust meant open communication channels, though as Miles reports, there was a lot of emailing back and forth, so that took time.
According to Ali, ‘No Harm Done’ wasn’t written as an album.
“I think it was really the songs that we had, that we wanted to do something with – those that fit together and had similar themes.”
“I think some of it was written with a record in mind,” Miles elaborates. “The last track [Favourite Singer (Snow)] was really designed for that place – I couldn’t imagine it going anywhere else.”
Relaxed, unpretentious and spontaneously energetic, ‘No Harm Done’ is far from polished, but is nonetheless a fully-formed debut recording from a band who are already truly owning their sound.