Riding high on the back of a series of nation-wide musical victories, including taking out the national championship at the 2014 Smokefreerockquest (SFRQ) finals in Auckland in September and winning theaudience.co.nz’s July 2014 WildCard funding grant, Wellington-based four-piece, HeadChef, are carving themselves a niche in our alternative music scene with their unique “psychedelic-skank-drum-n-buzz” sound and tight, entertaining group aesthetic.
Formed in late 2013, the current HeadChef lineup consists of Carlos McQuillan (vocals, guitar, sometimes-bass), Leon van Dijk (every instrument under the sun, apparently, but primarily vocals and guitar), Ted Bartley (bass, some vocal) and Dylan Quinn on drums.
Though a large percentage of bands formed at high-school are notoriously awful, and few survive to see the light of a recording studio or even the lights of a non-all-ages-rave venue, HeadChef are determined to join the likes of Kora, The Datsuns, The Phoenix Foundation, Black Seeds and Nesian Mystic and become part of an exclusive list of musicians and groups that have used their SFRQ experience as a platform to kick-start successful music careers.
Despite being your standard, goofy, laid-back bunch of young men in person, HeadChef’s stage performance is a surprisingly mature marriage of reggae, psychedelia and blues, and, somehow, it just works.
Their sets have been compared, by fans and the boys themselves, to “hour-long jam sessions” that just happen to be on stage, and are simultaneously chilled-out and high-energy, dance-inspiring and mind-soothing performances that span across a variety of genres. Van Dijk’s smoky, delicate vocals counterbalance the gritty, raw tone of McQuillan, creating an enigmatic and exciting sound, filled out by subtle harmonies from all three vocalists. Oh, and Bartley raps. Though at points the performance can start to get a bit bizarre, overall Quinn’s relentless and subtle percussion keeps everything together and the band on track.
“We all are into completely different kinds of music,” explains McQuillan,” so our sound just kind’a ended up being a combo of everything.”
He wasn’t kidding – the band listing Drake, Incubus, Wellington’s own Drax Project, The Phoenix Foundation and Brockaflower (among others) as primary influences. Eccentric as this may sound, the result is a sound that is very much at home within the current movement by many Wellingtonian musicians towards a more mellow, psychedelic reggae-punk scene.
With their school days behind them (well almost… at the time of the interview they had a few exams left), all four look forward to taking HeadChef in new directions in 2015. As part of the prize-package from SFRQ, they already have two high-quality recordings of their singles Icarus and Think Of Me ready to release in the near future, though seem to be happy to wait until they have enough recorded material for an EP before releasing anything.
“We just got to write some better songs,” McQuillan jokes. “The only two good ones we had won the competition.”
This doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, however, with the band already working on new material in the hopes of having an EP together by mid-April next year. In the meantime, they are looking at booking some more gigs over Summer – though they will have to fit them in around their expenses-paid trip to Fiji (another prize from SFRQ) and several solo side-projects. For now, it’s just “watch this space”, but with good things likely to come.