Billy Robertson and Daniel Kerr played in high school bands together, connecting with Dahnu Graham back in those days too. The three decided to start a new band once their uniform days were behind them, and after seeing Suren Unka perform mustered the courage to ask him to join as drummer/beatmaker. And so we have Beach Pigs. With their Bob Frisbee-produced debut album just released, Michael Cathro found the singer and guitarist on Auckland’s K’ Rd.
When I meet with Daniel Kerr (guitar) and Dahnu Graham (vocals) there’s an Auckland overcast that hangs, insulating the day’s warmth. I’m greeted and led upstairs where things are still taking shape – Beach Pigs have only recently relocated to this new studio space above K’ Rd.
A broom is still chiseling some of the space, carving out the band’s new base, which I am assured is a considerable improvement on the New Lynn space in which their freshly dropped album debut, ‘Grom Warfare’, was recorded.
“It was a crazy place where the studio was,” says Dahnu. “It was out of control.”
“If you were outside you would think that’s just some shitty building next to Mag and Turbo Warehouse,” Daniel continues. “Then you go up the stairs and it stunk so bad because downstairs there were all these alcoholic dudes living in a hovel.”
The band tracked there for around six months, creating the bones of the album before fleshing it out with overdubs. A surprisingly considered approach meant they often spent long hours in said studio, indeed it became a home.
“There was a period where I was in there every day for about three to four months, even when I had a job,” says Dahnu. “I was working at the office and would take the train in after work. Sometimes I’d be out of there at 12 at night, so it was pretty intense.”
“It was pretty hard juggling the job, I’d turn up to work just real fuckin’ tired. At the tail end of the album Dahnu, Billy and I all lived in the studio. I had a room that was like a little Harry Potter room in the studio, using acoustic baffles and record stacks as a wall. Not ideal for privacy if you have a missus,” jokes Daniel.
If the ‘Beach Pigs’ EP was like your first nitrous oxide bulb, then ‘Grom Warfare’ might be likened to your dentist leaving the room and you finding the whole tank. The four-track EP’s longest song was a smidge over two minutes while ‘Grom Warfare’ is bursting with three to four minute songs, indicative of the album’s prolonged and considered gestation.
“It was just over two years including planning and recording,” says Daniel. “But the last 10% of an album takes as long as the first 90%, just tweaking and shit.”
All that tweaking etc. has resulted in a hook-laden, fuzzy, pop-punk record that reveals more of its character the more that you spin it, click it or otherwise consume it. Single Nightsurfing, like much of the album, features an abundance of vocal hooks both in the lead and bvs.
“We wanted to create really nice textures, a wall of sound that didn’t clash with the guitar and bass,” Dahnu explains. “It was an ongoing process and it was good listening to albums like the latest Bic Runga album. What Kody Nielson has done is diabolically good. It was an awesome journey.”
Any use of a spoonerism is good news to me and mid-album track Big Peach certainly is a big peach. Opening feedback gives way to some underwater guitar runs, swells and a warm vocal. Eventually the bass gives in to the fuzz and opens a minute and a half worth of squelchy shoe-gaze outro, with repeating lyric before it collapses into what may be an acoustic guitar but sounds like a lute. Daniel explains it is actually Billy [usual bass player] playing a 12-string Yamaha acoustic through an octave pedal.
“That’s a swap around song – Suren played guitar and I played drums. Billy was the most onto it in the whole band, he gets player of the day on the album.”
Overall the guitar work is more delicate, spacious and hooky than the EP, with much credit surely due to perennial underground producer Bob Frisbee.
“I was listening to lots of bands like The Cure and The Buzzcocks and I [played through] this Vox AC30 which has a really clean sound,” Daniel explains. “I sat down with Bob and experimented with a lot of plug ins.”
“Bob had all sorts of tricks up his sleeve and we almost exhausted his wizard’s sleeve trying just about everything,” adds Dahnu.
They first met producer Bob Frisbee at a gig and he joined them on their Full Mango tour following the release of their EP in 2011.
“He was our sound engineer and tour manager, and took care of the money, thank god,” Daniel laughs.
In May and June last year Beach Pigs undertook a four-week tour with fellow Aucklanders Rackets, encompassing both islands and about 20 dates. It was this tour that no doubt tightened them up for the recording time.
“The van was like Tetris,” Daniel recalls. “It got so scientific that if a stand was not in its right position, the door wouldn’t close.”
I ask whether they will ever go full mango again and the pair offer with their usual self-satire “Only if it’s the luxurious version of that – with a bus, heaps of groupies and a plane.”
At the time of our interview the band were two days out from their ‘Grom Warfare’ CD launch gig, the album having been digitally released six weeks earlier. As is the way with many self-releases Daniel says Beach Pigs also grappled with timelines.
“There were stressful things, like three days before the release we got the masters back… but that’s because you book the show and you think you’ve got heaps of time and then a month goes by. During the mixing there was a point where I was like, ‘I don’t want to listen to this record anymore, it’s done, I’m never listening to this record again. It is done. Send the fucking thing to the masterer.’
The video for single Night Surfing was filmed in various locations during a night (or many nights) out. Through its simplicity and particularly the skating scenes a mosaic opens out which seems to encapsulate not only the nature of the song, but the band itself. It was directed by Dahnu.
“There was no-one better,” Daniel explains.
“Chur,” laughs Dahnu.
“There were raw dog scenes where the girl whose party it is was angry as fuck. Because we just took a film shoot to her party? In the name of art?” Daniel shrugs disbelievingly.
“We didn’t want to just set up parties and have guys drinking champagne. We wanted to capture the real parties that we really go to because they’re way more interesting,” Dahnu adds. “The skateboarding part was hitting up people on Facebook. ‘Hey do you wanna come to a video shoot in this Newmarket car park?’”
Beach Pigs’ DIY ethic also permeates their promotional activities. In a recent video to promote their upcoming gig they plead with Kate Winslet to make them a video, citing Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures as a reason to return here.
Clearly Winslet diehards, it burned me to know what rates as her finest, most affecting role?
“Although Titanic is great, The Reader is her most stern and strong performance… but if you want something fun and light she has a movie called Little Children,” replies Daniel. “I sleep with my phone taped to my hand so that I’m ready to pick up the call.”
If Kate does call, Beach Pigs’ mix of carefree, DIY attitude and infectious pop songs will likely endear them to her long enough to acquire a taste for their musical NO2.