Auckland four-piece Makeshift Parachutes have followed a trajectory that’s the complete opposite of most aspiring Kiwi bands. After forming in Austin, (yep, the one in Texas which annually hosts the gigantic SXSW music fest), the decision was made to move to Aotearoa in 2015. Brothers Sharif (guitar/synth) and Danny O’Connor (bassist) have citizenship here, and it seems this journey has paid huge musical dividends. Their first full-length release is one of the best guitar albums of the year, eight tracks of gigantic psych-rock recorded with the aid of Olly Harmer in Auckland. Mike Tweed conversed with Sharif and singer/guitarist Chris McCollum about their journey to ‘The Daily Absurd’.
“There was a point where we had to make a hard decision”, explains U.S.-born Chris McCollum. “
Danny was having some serious visa issues and we were trying to get him back to the States for about a year. Sharif and me were having a beer one day and he said that he was going back to New Zealand, and asked me if I wanted to come. Him and Arthur [Brewer, drums] came over, then me and my wife followed about a year later.”
Guitarist Sharif says the move has only helped bring the band closer together.
“We sort of found our sound more in NZ than in Austin. We only played 10 or so shows there before the visa thing happened, and we came out here. We’re still finding our sound now – we have that built-in commitment of having travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to play music together too!”
“We’ve had the worst of our arguments already,” laughs Chris. “At least I hope so, otherwise someone might die! They’re always only about music though!”
Like the vast majority of NZ musicians, all four band members have full-time jobs in order to make ends meet.
“Three of us abseil, and Arthur is with the helicopter fundraiser so we’re all up in the air during the day!” says Sharif. “Part of the theme of the album was influenced by that. Giving our tired and most exhausted evenings to music after working all day. We’re lucky to have gainful employment, but we love music the most.”
“It’s one of the more expensive hobbies out there!” Chris chuckles.
“There are two moments to me that make it all worthwhile”, adds Sharif. “The first is when you’re playing to people who really dig it, and the other is when you first come up with a song, a brand new thing. Something that was just an idea becomes a fully formed song.”
‘The Daily Absurd’ was recorded almost exclusively live, with no click tracks and very few overdubs, Sharif explaining it was really important for the band to capture their live sound in the studio.
“We had done previous recordings that didn’t really sound anything like our live shows, piecing things together ourselves and using a metronome. People would tell us that it didn’t sound like us live and we recognised that, so this time we did the bulk of the recording playing live together. We only pieced in a bit of synth and vocals afterwards. Recreating our sound at shows is what we were going for.”
Having the hugely experienced Olly Harmer in the producer’s chair provided a much needed outside ear Sharif continues.
“We’d play each song seven or eight times, and sometimes Olly would be like, ‘That was amazing!’, and we’d want to do it again. Before we went into The Lab we were trying to do the album ourselves, and it was taking so much time. We really needed someone like Olly to be there to say, ‘Hey, that’s enough!’ He’s a really patient man, and a good friend at this point.”
Their new album features shifting tempos and grooves, with Danny’s falsettos and Sharif’s spiralling guitar leads locked down by a rhythm section that adds more than a splash of funk to proceedings. Chris acknowledges drummer Arthur Brewer as a key part of that sound.
“Arthur has been playing his trade for years and years, starting with drumline way back in the day. His hands have always been really quick, but since he’s been in NZ he’s developed a thunder thigh on that kick drum! We’ll ask him to do really weird stuff, and he’ll always work out a way to do it.”
The band has never been afraid to experiment with sounds and equipment, both onstage and in the studio.
“There’s more to guitar than just distortion for sure,” Sharif smiles. “We use a bunch of phasers and choruses and delays and all that. Me and Chris both use two amps on stage. We have them on the side of the stage facing in, as opposed to behind us. Getting our live sound down has been really important, and now it’s been a matter of transferring that to a studio setting.”
While 1960s and ‘70s giants like Pink Floyd and The Beatles will always loom over the psychedelic musical landscape, the band has also taken cues from more modern acts. The likes of My Morning Jacket and Tame Impala are mentioned, among others.
“The Flaming Lips are definitely a big influence, as they are with a lot of psychedelic bands”, explains Chris. “I grew up as a kind’a classic rock kid, then Sharif and Danny showed me some of their stuff eight or nine years ago. I definitely have Wayne Coyne to thank for opening new doors for me, especially with vocals and stuff.”
Despite the acknowledged influences, ‘The Daily Absurd’ manages to sound completely fresh and original. Songs like the synth-laced funk of Ferrari Gosling are juxtaposed with the thundering of The Aviator and Be Kind Rewind, while album closer Rainbow Maker has a beautifully wistful outro.
With the album released independently, the band is keen to get in their faithful Toyota Hiace and play these songs as much as possible.
“We just want to tour, tour, tour,” says Chris. “Whether we can do that ourselves or with the backing of someone else, we just want to get out on the road.”
Sharif shares the sentiment, saying Makeshift Parachutes have picked up a good live following from playing house parties and festivals in the last four years.
“I guess when we first arrived on the scene in Auckland there was a few mixed feelings from people, with us having American accents and fancy gear! We’ve made friends with other bands all around the country though, which is amazing. There’s a really vibrant scene here, and we’re happy to be a part of it!”
‘The Daily Absurd’ is still fresh off the press, but Makeshift Parachutes are keen to continue exploring the sounds in their heads, and new songs are in the works. Chris says there may even be several releases next year.
“We definitely have seven or eight ideas floating around. We really want to play different styles and talked about maybe releasing a three-song pod of one particular sound, then another three-song pod of something completely different. Everything’s on the table at this point.”