You know their music. You’ve probably found yourself humming along to one of their tunes in the shower or absent-mindedly chanting through one of their hooks at the supermarket. Their songs have been featured quite heavily on our television, whether it’s Good Good Feeling on KFC’s summer ad campaign, or the ridiculously infectious The Lotto, which received heavy rotation on stations across the country. Homegrown power pop group Kingston have just released their debut record, ‘Black and Bloom’, after three years of eager expectation for the band and fans. Mohamed Hassan managed to hunt down Dan Gibson and Scott Cleary, singer and guitarist respectively, to find out why Kingston has been off the radar for the last year, even though their music continues to be heard.
The Kingston sound is so damned Kiwi and familiar that you’d reasonably expect to find them hanging out daily in any musician-hip Auckland café or bar. That would make them easy to talk to, and make sense given that the already successful four-piece band’s overdue debut album is due to drop any time now. But they’re not, in fact contacting them for this interview proved quite a challenge.
Part of the reason is that two of the band’s musicians are living in the United States for now. Guitarist Scott Cleary is married and living in Los Angeles, while vocalist Dan Gibson is touring New York in his new band Streets of Laredo, together with his brother Dave Gibson (of Elemeno P fame of course). The two originally met as school kids at Rangitoto College, surfing, writing music and too often failing to stay out of trouble.
Gibson recalls an encounter he had with the school principal after being suspended.
“He said to me, ‘Daniel, you’re gonna be a prefect one day’.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t that interested and didn’t become a prefect. A few punk bands later, the energetic pair met bassist Shohan Hustwick and drummer Ben Barter, and they all decided to take their music to the next stage.
The band formed as Kingston in 2006, writing super catchy pop songs and travelling widely to get exposure. In 2008 they were asked to do the NZ Schools tour band, after turning heads at Rockquest, and in 2010 were taken on by music publishing company Native Tongue, giving them a platform to tour the country and overseas. Ford featured their song You Want It in an ad campaign, and their promo friendly songs have also been picked up for use on Australian and British television.
“It wasn’t so much luck as it was being in the right place at the right time,” reckons Cleary.
They can’t pin down their influences (though the similarity to Elemeno P’s fun pop formula is undeniable), but say much of their music is reflective of their personal journeys, their travels and the relationships made along the way. Newest single Miss You is a perfect illustration of their sound; loud, catchy pop anthems that speak of youth and energy. Far from setting out to rock stages, they say their pop sound is grown organically from being passionate, honest and young.
“I think as well, we’ve always been wary about who we take advice from and who we take criticism from, and that kind of shapes the band too.”
The songs on their debut album, ‘Black and Bloom’ were eventually recorded across several stages and in several countries, from a Native American reserve in Canada, to a “dirty dungy” studio in Toronto, to a flashier one in Hollywood. Final touches were added in a home-made studio in Piha and the Little Monster studio in Oratia, then mixed by US producer Brandon Friesen.
“It’s a world-wide thing,” Cleary smiles. “It’s been a journey.”
A few YouTube videos have surfaced over time from a notably bizarre show they did in Japan a few years ago. Most include poor audio quality and crazy incomprehensible audience reactions. One particular incident involved a man in leather pants head-butting the microphone.
“Well Dan’s got his unique stage presence, and this guy would’ve seen Dan and been like, ‘Tonight I’m just gonna go stupid’, and then he just took it to the next level, smacking his head on things, and hanging from stuff… We were like, ‘Is this guy gonna hurt himself?’ But that’s just what Japan was like, it was just a trip.”
Since then though, things have gotten a little complicated. The album that was once set to come out in 2011 was held up year after year. The realities of the pop music industry meant the band had to navigate through a series of hurdles before they could get the finished product out to eager fans.
“It’s a big world, and it’s a lot more confusing, and there’s all this politics and things that get in the way of that,” says Gibson, clearly not wanting to be drawn into any specifics.
“Out there in the universe, it’s quite complicated – and we were just two guys from the North Shore, one from Oxford (Canterbury) and one from Onehunga.”
The band has been patiently waiting to unveil the album to their fans and now it is finally seeing the light of day.
“We get messages all the time like, ‘When the heck is this record coming out?’ and we’re just really stoked to finally say, ‘Here it is’.”
Kingston has been on hiatus for several months, with all the members busied in their own pursuits; Cleary is married; Gibson working on his new band; Ben Barter is touring with teen hype Lorde, and Shohan Hustwick is employed in graphic design. There’s a glimmer of a future on the horizon though, the band members feeling like they’re finally ready to record some new material – they just need to navigate the oceans and regroup in one place first.
“It’s just all of us being in a place when we have the time to finish another record, and I think we all have this excitement to do it again – do the album that doesn’t take three years to put out.”