It does seem that power trios are much in local vogue right now and here’s one from Dunedin. The psychedelic-inclined trio of brothers Zach and Josh Nicholls plus Connor Blackie took their band name Koizilla from Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the hero fuses with a Koi fish. Amanda Mills joins them to ask if it’s like Godzilla with a koi head? Who did have to clean the kitchen? Which one really is the blunder brother? – and some other more pertinent questions.
Koizilla have been busy. Over the last 14 months, they have released three surf-rock/psych-rock EPs – ‘Blunder Brother’ in 2016, ‘Doomsurfsurfdoom’ (2017), and most recently ‘Clean the Kitchen, End the World’.
The Dunedin trio of brothers Zach and Josh Nicholls (guitars/vocals and drums respectively), and school friend Connor Blackie on bass, began in 2016 before the OUSA Battle of the Bands. They have been playing together for a while in various guises; the Nicholls brothers in Dunedin bands A Distant City, and The Violet Ohs (also with Connor), as well as side projects – both Josh and Zach are in Space Bats Attack, while Connor is in Beverly Drangus with Stephen Marr (formerly of Doprah).
“At the start, we were just doing songs for Battle of the Bands, and then we won recording time at Radio One,” Zach explains of their Koizilla persona.
Initially, the recording plan was for two singles, but they extended it to produce the five-track ‘Blunder Brother’ EP.
“We’ve only really recorded three times,” Connor expands. “The first one with Stephen Marr off the back of the Radio One thing, and the second one with [Thundercub drummer] Samdrub Dawa… The third one we did with Stephen at Radio One and the Attic.”
Last summer the trio toured the South Island, with recent shows in Arrowtown and Wellington adding to their live experience.
“It was all very small town gigs, so we had to play a three hour set at each place to satisfy the bar owners. We’d just write, write, write until we had enough songs, and learn covers until we had enough songs,” Zach explains.
The creative process begins with Zach, the band’s main songwriter.
“It starts in the bedroom with the guitar… playing one riff until it sounds good!” he says. “I try and write lyrics as I go because if I don’t… it’s really hard to add lyrics later. I’m not very good at lyric writing!”
The next step is more collaborative.
“If I already have the song completed, then it’s just a matter of reworking it with the band. A lot of the time I’ll come with half the song, and be like, ‘This is it, that’s half of it’, and they’ll go, ‘What’s next?’ And then there’s nothing next! Often I’ll write a riff first and bring it in and see if they like it, because often it will be turned down immediately!”
“It goes through quality control,” Josh adds. “We play them over and over again, and switch the order all up to see what works better… Then we play them live, and then change them again.”
“I think that’s an important part of writing a song, testing it with an actual audience,” Connor agrees.
The Koizilla sound has developed over the last year, changes in style evident over the three EPs.
“I’d say they are just all sounds that we play,” Josh argues. “Because we put them out so fast, it’s just sort of like the songs that we’ve got at the time. I wouldn’t say that we now play anymore like anything else.”
“It’s kind of like we wrote all those songs at the start of the year, and these are the group of songs that fit this kind of sound,” Zach adds. “Those on ‘Doomsurfsurfdoom’ and ‘Clean the Kitchen’ are all the happier, rockier ones.”
Again Connor thinks it’s a good approach.
“We could have sat on those songs and not released anything, and tried to curate like an album of one sound, or one particular idea. But it’s just easier to get out everything we have, and because we have three different… sounding EPs – everyone’s guessing! We’re still guessing,” he laughs.
Koizilla have signed to Trace/Untrace Records, the label of Richard Ley-Hamilton (Asta Rangu) and Julie Dunn, who have organised their physical releases and merchandise. It’s a happy marriage between band and label.
“It was a handy thing for Julie and Richard to meet and become friends. Those two… they’re not going to stop until it works,” Zach enthuses.
While future plans are fluid, further touring in the North Island is on the cards and they also plan to record and release a full album next year.
“I’m writing it at the moment, trying to get it all ready,” says Zach. “Now that we’ve got most of the songs that we’ve had for ages done and recorded, we can do the next one.”
A European trip may not be out of the question either.
“We’ve had some emails from French people asking us to go and play in France,” Josh says. “I guess we’ll see what happens when Connor finishes uni.”