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by Ian Cartwright

My Song: The Late Starters – Blistered Hills

by Ian Cartwright

My Song: The Late Starters – Blistered Hills

Christchurch band The Late Starters formed and recorded their first album, ‘Age – A State of Mind’, in 2019, primarily to tick songwriter Ian Cartwright’s bucket list item of releasing an album of original songs for his 50th birthday. With a nod back to the 80s and evident Kiwi influences, their sound has been described as “an enjoyable nostalgic trip into the future.” Over the last two years, the band has continued to play live regularly, including opening for The Jordan Luck Band in October 2020. The Late Starters are currently recording their second album and the first taster from it is a timely release. The single Blistered Hills celebrates Christchurch city’s signature Port Hills and their form during traditional hot summers. With a catchy singalong chorus and soaring guitar solo it grabs your attention right from the biting staccato starting riff. Ian Cartwright tells the story of the new track.

The song’s idea really came from our surroundings. We are all tied up with the Heathcote Cricket Club, nestled in the Port Hills. I had written the line, “There’s a blade of grass on the Bridle Path that wavers in the wind,” while walking up the Bridle Path in mid-2019. In summer the Port Hills dry off with volcanic rocks looking like blisters – hence the title. The verses came first, about the Port Hills and surrounds, with the chorus and chords following a couple of months later. 

It took us about 12 months to get the song where we wanted it before recording. The first demo came together pretty quickly in October 2019 over about three takes in our Linwood practice room. At that point we thought it had some promise. It’s a pretty simple song and we first played it live in Nov 2019 but realised it needed a bit more work. It really started to gel once our lead guitarist Lowell Mallon and drummer Scotty Lucas nailed the start. The intro riff is based on the verse chords, which Lowell plays with a pedalled bass note A. We wanted a real signal or flag to start the song and I think we got it. 

Lowell also crafted the song’s solo and that’s the stand out in Blistered Hills for me. I think that and the busier fills Scotty introduced into the chorus and solo make the song musically. We wanted an upbeat, energetic, singalong song with a rocky edge to this song. The energy our vocalist Dave Stack, injects it with in the recording is what we were after and that grew as he got more comfortable with the lyrics. So, in the end, we are pretty happy. For us it’s all about having fun and putting this together was certainly that.

As I mentioned, it’s a pretty simple song but we did have a couple of challenges, one being that initially the bridge wasn’t really working as we wanted it to. We wanted a natural change in tempo after the chorus before launching into the solo. The chords worked but it needed something else, so we had one guitar arpeggiate the chords with a reverb effect, before then introducing the solo. We think it works pretty well now.

Now the song is finished, the very first line still sets up the song for me. The line in the chorus, “Mystically lying there lounging,” is another I’m pretty happy with, especially how Stacky sings it. The solo is the highlight of the song for me, it really soars and Lowell has done a fantastic job with it. He just kept polishing it over time it through practice and in the studio. He recorded it on his black Fender Stratocaster, using his Fender Hotrod amp with Boss DS-1, full tone fat boost, and Bellcat delay pedals.  

We are influenced by the ’80s and ’90s Kiwi bands, so there’s probably some subliminal, obvious nods. Lowell’s a big David Gilmour & Brian May fan so his guitar work may pay tribute to them too. Comparing it, the first demo actually isn’t too bad, it has a kinda cool, underground sound to it, but lacks the polish and solo of course. The final version is much tighter and structured, which came from playing it through live and tweaking it in practice.

Blistered Hills is a great step forward for us. Our first album, ‘Age – A State of Mind’, was recorded live on a shoestring budget with each track played twice. Then the best take was used for the album. It was great for what we were doing then but we listen back now and hear so much we would do differently now. Blistered Hills was studio-recorded and is far more professional, and more satisfying.

Making this reinforced the benefit of being patient and not rushing to record until we are happy with the song. We are working on the material for our second album and will take the same approach. We worked with Pete Rattray who is well known in the Christchurch production scene, and he mastered the song for us. He mastered our first album too so it was great to present him a studio-quality recording to work his magic on this time.

The song’s video was produced by Dave Duckworth at South Island Media and was primarily recorded at The Good Home Ferrymead, a regular venue for us. Our lighting tech Sammie-Lee Moffat did the lights on the night.