First getting together way back in 2006, Christchurch rock act Ashei produced a few decent recordings over the following decade, most significantly their 2014 five-track EP brashly titled ‘Music Is Boring’. That independent release may have proven a turning point because the band re-invented itself a few years later as Decades, a much harder-hitting rock version that puts songwriter/guitarist Emma Cameron front and centre, and has attracted major league support and already produced an album. She talked with Darryl Kirk about her own journey, finding the truth and …other people.
In the challenging environment of a music industry beset by shrinking revenues, artists need more than just solid chops and an original sound to attract attention. Decades’ debut album ‘The Truth And Other People’ shows the way for aspiring bands – a mix of grit and determination, focused songwriting and good musicianship.
Signed to Warner Music NZ since October last year and guided by Tom Larkin’s management company Homesurgery, Decades is the hardworking rock combo of songwriter/guitarists Liam Muir and Emma Cameron (vocals), with a rhythm section of bassist Curtis Booth and Dan Perry on drums. A tight unit that has demonstrated that getting to the next level is achievable a single-minded drive and a never say die attitude. Social media skills sit next to the traditional endeavours of writing songs, playing gigs and recording.
“So I got into dancing, I started when I was five. I credit that as my way into music because my dance teacher was into eclectic styles. I got to learn about all sorts of rhythms,” Emma Cameron remembers of her origins as a musician.
“I wanted to play an instrument. I told mum I wanted to play the violin. A lady at her work said the violin was hard and suggested the guitar. I just wanted to do something, it’s got strings, it’s a similar shape, so yeah, I picked that up straight away. A bit like a duck in water!”
Turns out female guitarists weren’t exactly sought after at that time, and Emma found joining a group something of a struggle. She proactively checked out all-ages gigs, Rockquest and caught live bands wherever she could.
“So I was meeting these other musicians. I was 15, and we formed this group – we have been together ever since – it’s been 11 or 12 years now.”
Longevity and stability seem to be one aspect of the band’s success. That attribute sits beside obvious warmth and affection for her bandmates and their shared contribution to the music they make.
Originally known as Ashei, their transformation into Decades was not some Phoenix-like reinvention, more the kind of gentle course change a sailing crew might make. Tacking away from the more pop sounds the band had previously embraced, all members intact, they started charting their way into a tougher rock footing.
Despite that experience and all their hard work in planning the new venture, she laughs revealing the debut Decades album got out of control.
“We had a pool of about 20 songs. Then Liam showed up at the studio with other ideas and we had to explore those songs too.”
Emma has moved firmly into the front-woman role for Decades but admits Muir is the main songwriting force in the band.
“Liam is a natural songwriter, whereas I have to be pushed to it.”
They were in pre-production for two and a half weeks, but Muir’s new song ideas cut their studio recording time down dramatically.
“Curtis didn’t even get to record bass. He was live in the room while Dan was tracking his drums, so Dan had something to vibe off. We didn’t have time to re-track all the bass, but we are lucky Curtis and Dan are amazing, and those takes are great.”
The album was produced at Tom Larkin’s The Studios In The City in Melbourne. A heavyweight of the Kiwi music scene, Shihad’s drummer has taken Decades under his wing as both adviser and producer.
Studios In The City engineer/producer Sam K (Samuel Sproull) took control of the technical aspects of recording and producing the album, assisted by engineer Jon Grace. Larkin assumed a more advisory role, giving guidance on arrangements and the general terms of engagement with the studio environment. He also acted as a foil to the band’s doubts, insisting they write more.
“Tom recognises that we would have gone out and done stuff on our own. His knowledge of the industry and ability to reach out to the right people has helped us. He also gives us, pure unadulterated, ‘I-don’t-care-about-your-feelings’ feedback around our writing, music and how we go about our live show.”
Meanwhile, working with Warner Music NZ has opened up new audiences for Decades, providing major act support possibilities and giving them more direct access to important digital platforms including Spotify and iTunes. Their album follows Emma’s relationship tribulations, lead track and first single, Terrified, detailing the night she made the decision to change her life.
“‘The Truth And Other People’ describes a period of time where you really start to figure out your own life path, your values and passions,” says Emma. “It’s a hard story to tell. Growing up, growing apart, the effects other people can have on each other, and finding the strength to tell the truth to people, but more importantly, to yourself.”