February/March 2016

by Amanda Mills

Music Sucks: Beyond Von Klap

by Amanda Mills

Music Sucks: Beyond Von Klap

Music sucks according to Sam Wilkinson, or rather Music Sucks is Sam Wilkinson, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, probably best known as the drummer in Christchurch’s defunct pseudo-sleazy rock merchants Von Klap. Dunedin music fans will perhaps cite his role alongside Chris Hazlewood and Deidre Newall in their band S.C.U.D., however the start of 2016 sees him release two albums under the his own pseudonym – ‘Periscope Straws’ and ‘Road Cone City’ – two albums with similar-but-different approaches as Amanda Mills reveals.

Sam Wilkinson’s musical career kicked off in 2007, with Von Klap, Christchurch’s notorious funeral-carnival-pop party band. He and bandmate Tim Moore (NZM February/March 2016) have the same story of meeting through a mutual friend, sparking a friendship and enduring collaborative working relationship.

Von Klap already had a reputation for being a party band up for fun.

“We just enjoyed playing… everyone loved it… it was a really good time,” Wilkinson explains

“We started off a bit carny with banjo and accordion. And that kind of polka feel, but then it was quite dark underneath it all.”

Wilkinson concurs that the tagline given to the band, ‘playing drinking music for the drunks’ was correct for their aesthetic, and the live shows were all about spectacle, and confetti canons.

“Me and Tim would go to party accessory stores and buy up all their massive party poppers… and let them off at various stages during the shows. It was a bit juvenile, but we’re a bit like that! We’d often play in drag, so we’d put a lot of effort into looking as beautiful as we could,” he laughs.

After recording two EPs and an album, ‘Dog’, with Von Klap, Wilkinson left in 2011, looking for a change of scenery, and new opportunities further south.

“I wanted to move to Dunedin… I just wanted a new scene. It kind of was fortuitous – I left a week or two before the February earthquake.”

In Dunedin Wilkinson found himself in North East Valley, playing with local musicians. He established S.C.U.D. with Chris Heazlewood and Deidre Newall, while also playing in Newall’s other band Tiny Pieces of Eight. Ultimately, he returned to Christchurch at the end of 2014, mainly for study.

“I wanted to come back here… Dunedin was tough to leave, though.”

Back in Christchurch Wilkinson began compiling what would become ‘Periscope Straws’, one of his two newly released recordings. Written between 2010 and 2015, ‘Periscope Straws’ is very much a solo affair, albeit with some assistance.

“I played most of the instruments… Little Sister and Uplift are recorded with Von Klap, they’re recordings we did when we were still together. Pretty much all the songs I produced with Mikey Summerfield.”

Tim Moore sings on Uplift and the pair’s enduring relationship is invaluable for the bouncing of ideas.

“He’d be my primary songwriting person that I’d show songs to, and he’s helped me with the lyrics on a couple of songs.”

Wilkinson drummed extensively on Moore’s 2015 album release, ‘Rough As Guts’, during this time too.

“We just click together. We just get each other, I guess,” Wilkinson says. “We are into a lot of the same music, and if I could get him to play on all my songs, I would… I trust his judgment.”

The album title came to Wilkinson in Dunedin, an idea of periscope straws on the tops of houses, where people would watch other’s properties – a bizarre (and voyeuristic) concept he rather liked.

‘Periscope Straws’ is charming with a lo-fi and melodic aesthetic, though the full sound on Uplift points to what Von Klap may have developed into.

Wilkinson’s second album ‘Road Cone City’ is more polished, with saxophone prevalent on the songs.

“I just like making creepy, haunting saxophone sounds as much as I can… people seem to like it,” he laughs.

‘Road Cone City’ is indelibly about Christchurch – the road cones inescapable and, as Wilkinson argues, “kind of defining”.

This album has a greater pop sensibility and consistency.

“‘Periscope Straws’ is quite all over the place in terms of the instruments involved,” he explains. “I wanted ‘Road Cone City’ to sound more similar, using similar instruments… I think it definitely has more appeal when you’ve got drums and bass.”

His Music Sucks pseudonym provides an umbrella for the release of his material.

“I chose it ages ago, I just started using that term,” he laughs. “Maybe it’s got something to do with the attitude you sort of get sometimes, where everything sucks… I can’t come up with a better name!”

Both albums are available on Bandcamp, with an arbitrary release date of February 1st.

“I’m not entirely sure how to release them,” he admits. “Quite a few of my friends are involved in the Melted Icecream label… so I might go through them, it might be good to have them involved.”

He is keen to play his albums live in the near future, and hopefully further afield than Christchurch.

For his next move though, he’s continuing to write. “I’ve always got lots of songs on the go that just need finishing. I’ll keep writing as much as I can, and recording. I kind of like recording songs as I go, just while I’m still passionate about them!”

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