Oscar Dowling is staring into a long black, trying to stay awake, while Durham Fenwick tries politely to focus on what I’m saying. They’ve both just had a full night’s sleep, but it’s not enough to make up for two weeks of New Gum Sarn touring up and down the country.
“My brain hasn’t really stopped driving,” Oscar tells me.
“A couple of nights ago, I had a dream that Oscar and I were driving along this real windy road and it was snowing inside the car,” adds Durham.
The two guitarists are hours from the final leg of a national tour, and along with Sophia Lawler-Dormer and Dave Weir, have just dropped their self-titled (sort of) debut album via Australia’s Spunk Records label.
As their legend has it, more than 200 years ago, fortune-seeking Chinese goldminers landing in our dear Aotearoa dubbed it ‘new ‘gum sarn’ –– the ‘new gold mountain’. Alternatively, New Gum Sarn is the slightly-campy-yet-oddly-convenient Asian supermarket tucked just behind Auckland’s K Rd. The first option is a lot more compelling. Through a rigorous tour schedule and incessant live performances, supported by a handful of slick videos, the band has cultivated a strong following and a curious anticipation for their first release.
“The funny thing about it is that had we mixed it a lot quicker and released it really quickly, it would’ve gone entirely unnoticed,” says Oscar. “It was only because we had a year to play some more shows and make some new friends, that when it came out, there were a few people who wanted to listen to it.”
The album’s eight tracks were recorded live over two days in Oscar’s childhood home in Puhoi, the band pooling together recording gear from everyone they knew. It then spent a year in the hands of his older brother, musician Sam Hamilton, who mixed it while travelling between Auckland and Portland.
‘New Gold Mountain’ is an amalgamation of ideas and moods, from Blue Flag‘s nautical rage to Panic In The Treasure Trove‘s surprising upbeatness, and the breathless persistence of Anxiety Nap. But behind the careless gloss of the band’s drowsy sound are well-articulated chord progressions, carefully married guitar solos and melody-driven bass, atop cleverly restrained drumlines. Songs that stay intimate, while blossoming on stage through the band’s electric live performances.
They both grew up north of Auckland, with neither being exposed to the city’s music scene until recently.
“Being in the countryside, you just end up listening to your dad’s CD collection,” Oscar laughs.
They reckon this is why their album sounds so American. Except whether they realise it or not, the sleepy vocals, the squeaky clean riffs, the heavy bass, it’s all very much Auckland. They don’t seem too bothered with labels though, or with trying to explain what their sound is.
“We’ve had that question a few times, and every time we’ve tried, I can’t, so I just won’t,” says Oscar. “I listen to where we’re fucking the song up, and where we’re doing something we shouldn’t, and that’s what I like.”
While they have already got a host of new material that’s snuck its way into their live sets, they’re in no rush to head back to recording.
“This first album happened really quickly and naturally, and we just smashed it out, but I really wanna think about this [next] one, and have more artistic intent,” says Oscar. “You wanna be in the band that you wanna listen to, that’s the goal.”