With origins in a project based around the recording of one member’s EP two years ago, Glass Boat are a trio whose ethos is to bring out the beauty of their songs. Their success is evident in that they regularly manage to mesmerise audiences and keep them spellbound. Karin Vincent caught up with two of Glass Boat’s crew, Missie Moffat and Matt Harrett, on a Sunday afternoon to hear more about their project – a harmony-infused, melody-driven guitar and voice trio that has quickly drawn admiring comparisons to the legacy of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
The core members, songwriters Matt Herrett, Missie Moffat and fellow Irishman Diarmuid Cahill, each already have a strong presence in the singer/songwriter circles of New Plymouth, but Glass Boat headlined their first show at 4th Wall Theatre only in August last year.
“It was quite an undertaking,” remembers Matt Herrett. “We played our rehearsed songs to a packed out audience and the night finished with a standing ovation of genuine applause.”
“I thought they were just being nice,” smiles singer Missie Moffat. “But after a while I realised it was genuine.”
The theatre’s engineer, Brett Carter, recorded the two hour performance through the live desk, for Herrett to work on in his home studio.
“I wrote down a list of songs I thought were the best, but I didn’t tell the others. Missie and Diarmuid came up with the same conclusion.”
The three reworked the raw material, pulled out some parts and produced a raw edited version, which Dave Carnahan of King Street Studio mixed and added final touches to.
“I didn’t know we were going to record on that night,” Moffat admits. “All three of us were so fussy with the arrangements and we kept on reworking it to what we felt was the beauty of the song.”
In December last year Glass Boat released their debut EP, ‘Glass Boat – Live at 4th Wall Theatre’, to a packed-to-the-rafters house concert audience. As one attendee commented, “It was spiritually awakening.”
The year has brought delirious performance highs for this newly formed band of experienced songwriters. Glass Boat played at New Plymouth’s prestigious Festival of Lights at Pukekura Park in early 2015, and again silenced onlookers with their performance.
Explaining the choice of name, Moffat leans forward and starts to laugh.
“I always loved the name ‘boat’. It can mean a smooth ride or a rough ride. A transparent boat, that is what we were looking for. Beautiful imagery with the promise of a journey.” She laughs again and cheekily grins. “Obscure, but beautiful.”
On and off over a five year period, the three have worked alongside and together. Two years ago, Diarmuid Cahill started serious work on his EP and the others jumped in to lend a hand.
“It helped solidify what they were creating together for all those years and strengthened our abilities,” remembers Moffat. “I felt like the fifth wheel for the most of it.”
“Missie had heaps of vocal suggestions and that is what attracted me to the Glass Boat project. The voice is an instrument in itself and her input should not be underestimated.”
“We had no intention of being a band when we worked together on Diarmuid’s album,” Moffat takes up again. “Are we writing together? Is this a new project? Let’s keep on turning up to rehearse and see what happens!”
“If you hang around each other long enough you start writing together, and the songs that we did end up writing together became our strongest songs. Matt is the musician and Diarmuid and I are the songwriters. I am as much a musician as I am a mathematician. I know nothing about maths and I know nothing about music. There are formulas you can use to help you out, but I am an intuitive musician and I can work it out as I go along. Glass Boat does not stop us from being solo, but knowing that it is a band now, we feel stronger in what we can do.
“The fact we had three songwriters and we were all keen on harmonies, that is what the big thing was for us. That is what we really, really wanted,” says Herrett.
A folk guitarist from the UK, Herrett grew up in a musical family whose upbringing was based around a folk club his mum started. Listening to their live debut it’s clear that his intricate fingerstyle technique is the backbone of the project.
“Mark Hollis [Talk Talk] said that before you play two notes learn how to play one note – and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it. That’s sage advice. Missie Moffat is a free spirited and fearless musician. She will try things I will not on stage and in the studio and that adds a fresh dynamic.”
“We have a simple set up, it’s only three of us. I feel the music is intellectual, we work until it’s beautiful enough and that in itself is highly satisfying,” Moffat adds.
The Song In You is the group’s ‘oldest’ song and the stand out track on the EP.
“Some of the other songs are quite new. We are always reworking our songs, discussing what we can add or what we can take away. Sometimes it takes four hours to work out the arrangement between bridge and verse. It is really important to make sure you have got something to give people for 45 minutes and not make it too intense.”
Glass Boat are taking their EP and live show on the road as summer fades. They supported The Eastern over Waitangi Weekend in the Taranaki Cathedral Church. Harrett sees Adam McGrath as a mentor to his work as a musician.
“Folk is about playing music to other people, and few demonstrate it so well as Adam does.”
He recalls a gig where McGrath stepped off stage and stood right in the middle of the audience and sang his heart out.
“So many musicians in NZ are playing music without a label, independently, and are willing to support each other… you can go a long way if you are nice to people.”
He says the idea is to have a plan, but not to rely too much on anyone else.
“I’ve learnt this year to basically brush off criticism and come up with those ideas that keeps it fresh.”
“I know I am in this for a long time,” finishes Missie Moffat. “We’re still in the beginning of the relationship, but I also know we are not a band to just sit around… we are at the start of something.”