May/June 2018

by Sam Vegar

Hopetoun Brown: Just Down The Road

by Sam Vegar

Hopetoun Brown: Just Down The Road

Despite the ever-increasing climatic confusion the Kiwi summer holiday beach tour remains something of a ritual for established rock and pop bands. Brass-based duo Hopetoun Brown fit neither category and further stand apart from the norm in plenty of other ways. Dubbed ‘Round The Horn’, their January tour saw the pair sailing a ketch to venues dotted around the Hauraki Gulf. It was a wind-driven preface to the release of their third album in three years, ‘Don’t Let Them Lock You Up’, about which clarinet/saxophonist Nick Atkinson talks with NZM’s Sam Vegar.

“We have very different personalities, Tim and I. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we are very different. He loves structure and routine, and I can’t stand those things. He likes to get up at 6am every morning and have an elaborate breakfast, and I’m more an instant coffee and out-the-door kind of guy.”

Nick Atkinson is describing some of the little things that make him and Tim Stewart, the two members of acoustic blues-y duo Hopetoun Brown, hugely different. With recorded instrumentation largely dominated by their brass and a live performance consisting of only Stewart’s powerful vocals accompanied by Atkinson’s bass clarinet, the band is created by the contrasts between the pair.

“He will have an immediate emotional reaction to any kind of art form or any experience, and it will be very absolute. Whereas I take a wee while to make up my mind about things,” Atkinson elaborates beyond his breakfast analogy.

“If you look at the song Sticks And Stones, it’s really fast and doesn’t have any brass on it. That’s sort of Tim’s personality in a nunutshellAnd then you could hear Ashes In The Street that I wrote, which is a piano ballad with Steve Abel singing, and it couldn’t be more different. You might even say, ‘Why are they on the same record?’”

And with those new song titles being dropped, the focus topic of the third album arises. Atkinson and Stewart, long time friends previously the brass section of the band Supergroove and these days the whole of Hopetoun Brown, released the 2016 debut album ‘Look So Good’ and follow-up ‘Burning Fuse’ (2017) within only a year of each other. With ‘Don’t Let Them Lock You Up’ they have a third album in three years. It seems like a hectic schedule but they did have a break after the last album Atkinson explains.

“We thought, ‘Let’s just take our foot off the gas. Maybe we just write an EP, maybe we will completely change direction and not use any horns at all, and it’ll be fruity.’ But when we took the foot off the gas, nothing happened!

“I was kind of working on the solo stuff. I recorded two tracks and I thought, ‘What am I doing? I don’t want to be a solo artist! I want to keep this great thing going with my good buddy!’ So I said, ‘Look I’ve got these two solo tracks and I kind of feel a little silly, can we just make them Hopetoun Brown tacks? Who cares about EPs, let’s do an album, let’s release it on this date.’ Tim was like, ‘Yeah’, and once we have the plan… boom!”

Unlike the band’s previous albums, both recorded by Lyttelton Records’ Ben Edwards, ‘Don’t Let Them Lock You Down’ was produced in Auckland, by Jol Mulholland.

“The key differences in the records is Jol Mulholland, and the other key difference is we weren’t thinking about live performance when we recorded it. We will perform them live, but we were just thinking about recording, and how far we can go with that,” Atkinson explains.

His bandmate’s encouragement has been a driving factor in developing Atkinson’s songwriting, the new album featuring pieces they collaborated on but more so pieces they worked up individually.

“On this record Tim and I probably only collaborated on two of the songs. Put It Down I suppose I probably wrote the majority of, but I wouldn’t have finished it without Tim. Tim really encouraged me with that tune to follow through with it, and he recorded it all and did all the engineering, before we turned it over to Jol. Jol makes it all beautiful!

“The chorus was really difficult for us. Tim had a go at writing the chorus, and neither of us were really stoked on it.”

Having described some of the difficulties, Atkinson reveals a little inspiration sourced from ‘90s television show, Seinfeld.

“Kramer had had an issue in his life and Jerry said to Kramer, ‘One day you just got to put that bag down,’ which I thought was a really nice image for anything that was troubling you. So I basically stole that off Jerry, and when I had that, ‘put it down, that bag looks heavy, don’t carry it around no more’… boom!

“Sometimes you’ll have a story in your head that you just want to play out in song. A story in your life, or a story you think could happen in your life. You hope with a song that you might be able to capture somebody else’s experience. I guess because we’re all world people. At best we can try and make something that people haven’t heard before.

“I hope people put it on in the car, when they’re driving to their favourite place, that sort of thing.”

Now with a third album under their belt the timeless and unique duo are themselves set to take to the road with an autumn tour taking them all the way from Kaitaita to Invercargill, accompanied again by Auckland trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Finn Scholes.

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