NewTracks New Artist: Rat Café

NewTracks New Artist: Rat Café

With some of the vocals recorded on the side of SH1 it’s remarkable how Waikato indie rock six-piece Rat Café have been able to achieve such an overall clean sound on their latest single Kino Club, drawn from the band’s insider joke-laden ‘Claudelandia’ EP. NZ On Air Music added the energetic song to their NewTracks compilation this August.

What are your names, where are you all from and what instruments do you play?

  • Louis Le Bon Helleur Porter – Te Awamutu, Waikato – Lead vocals/guitar
  • Tama Mascelle – Kirikiriroa (Hamilton), Waikato – Guitar/backing vocals
  • Caleb Aish – Kemureti (Cambridge), Waikato – Piano/synth
  • Rory McGill – Tutara Wananga (Greerton), Tauranga – Guitar/stylophone/glockenspiel
  • Thomas Charles William Fairbrother III – Leicestershire, England – Bass guitar
  • Jonty Bullick – Kemureti (Cambridge), Waikato – Drums/backing vocals

Was any high school or other music training especially important?

For most of us, high school music class provided a good foundation and a place to meet like-minded people, but none of us took much else away from it. Having good buddies to jam and experiment with is probably the best education we could ask for. If any of us do have any intricate music theory questions, they are sent straight to Caleb who knows what an aeolian mode is – thanks to his piano teacher Nana.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

Tama was in a band called Crows, who have a couple of wicked post punk EPs on Bandcamp named ‘Crows’ and ‘Stay Peachy’. Jonty has his own little solo thing going under Kit / Savine as well as playing the bass guitar in the rock’n’roll powerhouse trio called Undercover Statues, who have recently released an album under the name ‘The Blue Period’. Caleb is currently working on his new project Jazz Album In The World’s Smallest Room.

What’s the background story of how Rat Cafe came to be? Is anyone else involved?

In 2017 Caleb, Rory and Louis were playing covers in Louis’ parents’ Te Awamutu Spanish villa, which is considered Rat Café version 1. In late 2020, around Christmas time, in true Nick Fury fashion, Jonty assembled a team consisting of himself, Tom and Caleb, who would continue the Rat Café legacy of playing covers. A week or two later, Caleb sent Tama a Facebook message that simply said, “We’re getting the band back together,” to which Tama humbly accepted as an invitation. 
Two thirds of the new band jammed as an instrumental four-piece for a few months as singers came and went. During this time Rory had heard the news of this new band through Caleb’s indecipherable Facebook messenger spelling mistakes! So, on a cool morning in May 2021 Rory walked across Jonty’s parent’s backyard with his guitar, a wave at arm’s length and an Ushanka on his dome. This recruitment had transformed the band into an instrumental five-piece. The band kept jamming and writing while consistently heckling Louis to move back to the Waikato from his current residence in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, to be our frontman. After a few months worth of gaslighting, he did. Converting the band into the fully functioning 6-piece ensemble that currently stands as Rat Café version 2!

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

For the first year of writing, we didn’t really have much of a direction or sound we wanted to achieve. We would jam for hours and see what we could come up with (which we still do). But once Louis moved back up to the Waikato to complete us (in more ways than one), we started refining our process and craft.

How and when did you come up with the name for the band?

The name Rat Café has its origins steeped in mystery. Some say the name was gifted to Caleb, Rory and Louis in identical dreams by an Eldritch horror… beyond the mind’s comprehension.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

So far, opening for The Grogans at The Yard in Whāingaroa (Raglan) was pretty special. Their music is great and you couldn’t meet a nicer trio of gentlemen, they let us drink their green room beers <3 Thanks, guys, we owe you some beers.

What makes Kino Club stand out for you as a single?

It’s quirky, it’s upbeat, and the chorus is just one of those catchy choruses of the world.

What’s the story behind Kino Club?

We’ve all got our own interpretations of it, just as all of the listeners out there should. But it runs along the border of a man giving up his dreams of a career in cinema to chase a woman, who may or may not be interested in him, around the planet.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

The first lyrics of the track, “I wasn’t in my right mind. I wanted to escape. So I took my bottle to the edge of the pier. I couldn’t stand that the ferry was late,” really set the mental scene for our protagonist. The bridge is also a cool synthy spacious section with a creepy undertone that reloads the track well.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where? 

This song was a real collective effort between all six of us. Jonty laid down the rhythm section ideas. Tom put his own spin on the bass part. Caleb, Tama and Rory fiddled their way around to the pads, chords and riffs that feature throughout the song. And the lyrics were thrown in by Tama, Louis, Jonty & Rory. Then it was recorded and mixed by Scott Newth, along with a few structure suggestions made.

Neat facts alert:

  • All guitar tracks were recorded after hours in Kirikiriroa’s world-famous bar Last Place.
  • Some say Caleb recorded the synth in the world’s smallest room.
  • Backing vocals were recorded on the side of SH1 between Cambridge and Tirau.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Pursue a career in cinema before you go travelling.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

We don’t really know the answer to this question in terms of our music’s finer details. Usually, just one that we all feel good about. But in this case, we sought out professional advice from Scott Newth and ran with that.

Who else is in your team?

Aside from having Scott Newth work with us on our new EP ‘Claudelandia’, our immediate team is just the six of us. Jonty takes care of management, admin & marketing while all of our creative decisions are decided through group discussions. However, a huge part of our extended team are all our friends and whānau who have supported this far and continue to support us through our journey <3

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

We are constantly working on music and video content for Rat Café, which everyone should keep an eye out for. New music from the other past, current and future projects mentioned earlier should be monitored too.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song. 

There are plenty of great tunes from the Waikato that we’d love to see next to ours on a playlist but if we were to choose three, they would be:

  • System Corporation: Dismal Universal Hiss
  • Undercover Statues: My Heart Is Blue (And She Said)
  • Gotye, Kimbra: Somebody That I Used To Know

Kimbra went to Hillcrest High School, there’s a music room named after her there so if you stretch it far enough, it counts.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

This would be our third or fourth time submitting an NZOA application, but only the first successful one. Our advice for others would be to keep making the music you enjoy making and keep applying. Stay consistent and persistent.
The only part of the NewTracks application that can be difficult is translating the artistic hows and whys of music writing into a palatable paragraph for the description. Otherwise, we haven’t had any issues apart from not meeting the required number of streams, listeners and/or followers to be eligible for NZOA’s music funding schemes.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

We don’t get super into music blogs etc., just due to us all working or studying full time as well as trying to work on our own craft. Tama would say he’s partial to ‘theneedledrop’ but the world’s busiest music nerd only rated Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Emotion’ (the greatest pop record ever produced) a strong 7/10. So he can get bent.

Any last words?

Are you having trouble policing your streets?
Local demographic disrupting your sleep?
Take a deep breath.

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