With their flaming, high energy cocktail of sing-a-long punk, pop, ska, reggae and hip hop, Night Gaunts might just be Auckland’s best-kept secret. The five-piece have just self-released a gloriously pink-sleeved album called ‘Conversations With Creation’. Sammy Jay Dawson caught up with frontman/producer/chief dreamer Paul Jonassen.
No doubt with energy to burn themselves, fans of Night Gaunts will have been hanging out for an album follow up to the band’s statement 2012 EP, ‘Love, Life & The Devil’. Three years in the making, ‘Conversations With Creation’ does come after a split EP with Texan folk punk band Days N’ Daze, with whom Night Gaunts completed a gruelling eight week, 42-date, second tour of the United States late last year.
“It was overwhelming man!” admits frontman Paul Jonassen of their U.S. tour.
“We sold out pretty much every venue we played. I think the biggest venue we played was 800 people, and to see half the crowd singing along to our songs was just incredible. Every show was just packed rooms. We were incredibly lucky to be able to do it – it’s been our dream since we first formed this band.”
Originally taking shape as a side project to Jonassen and bassist Hayden Pye’s band Timesplitters, the first Night Gaunts’ recording ‘Full Body Tourettes [Pt 1]’ started its life as a demo he recorded for kicks on his home computer. After being championed by various bloggers the two track recording, released June 2010, found a wide audience – most surprisingly to Jonassen and Pye themselves.
“At that point we weren’t even a band,” Jonassen laughs. “We were just two dudes and a laptop. We just programmed some drums and recorded it. I guess it was an attempt to combine the kind of ska, reggae, rap and skate punk that we grew up with as teenagers.”
After watching a live performance DVD of Florida ska punk act Less Than Jake the decision was made to form a live band – with the dream to some day tour the world. Jonassen’s brother Simon Jonassen was bought in on drums, while he moved to guitar and vocals. The Night Gaunts’ line up would be completed with John Faulding on keys and Jacob O’Brien on sax. A year and a half after their first installment, the band’s first album, ‘Full Body Tourettes [Pt II]’ was released.
“The sounds just hugely developed once we started playing live, I wish that we could re-do the album as we play it now. It’s so much more fun to have the songs and tempos developed more by our live energy. When you’re writing alone in your room you might have the tempo a bit slower, or a bit faster than it should be, but won’t realise it until you’re in the practice space. Jamming with the band changed the songs massively, even the instrumentation of having a horn section and a lead guitar player and having different lines on different instruments really changes things.
On a trip to Italy to chase a foreign love, Jonassen instead ended up discovering and falling for the music of experimental hip hop group, Mad Conductor. Their fusion of reggae beats and rap vocals proved to be one of the main inspirations for the group.
“From the ride to the airport to her place it changed my life and it kind of cemented all these genres that I loved, and showed me they could co-exist. I don’t rate myself as a very good singer, so I decided to embrace the more rap kind of vocal as my style. Mad Conductor then led me on to Beastie Boys and a lot of other great artists that I previously hadn’t given the time of day.”
A year and a half after their first official album, Night Gaunts released ‘Love, Life And The Devil’, a six-track EP produced, mixed and mastered by Jonassen. A definite step up terms of audio production, the band had begun to write with their live presence in mind. Tracks like Crowned By The Devil and Mosquitoes, became live favourites cementing their reputation as one of Auckland’s most promising young bands. After solidly touring to promote the EP, their attention was once again drawn across the Pacific.
“We decided to just go and do a self-funded tour of the states, and it really was the best time ever. We arrived July-August 2015 and ended up staying for eight weeks. It’s a nightmare of preparation and band breakdowns, a lot of stress! We played on the road for seven weeks, playing 42 show, flew into LA then to Houston.
“Our first show was in Houston with Days N’ Daze. Whitney the lead singer booked and organised the entire tour so we met up with them in Houston and played an amazing show. We kind of just didn’t stop for eight weeks!”
Their circuit took the bands west from Texas towards California, through Arizona, New Mexico and up California to Seattle. Down through Utah to Colorado, across Nebraska up into Minnesota, then Detroit, Chicago and New York before heading back down to Florida then all the way back up to New Orleans and Tennessee.
“Eventually we finished back in Houston, so we pretty much did the entire American circuit. It really shows you though, the country is so big we didn’t even hit half the spots we could have. We could have easily doubled the dates. Even some of the cities we played at had dozens more spots we didn’t get to play.”
The idea/dream had developed from watching that DVD.
“We thought, ‘We can actually do this’, so Hayden and I sent hundreds of emails out and Whitney from Days N’ Daze replied saying she was keen to book a tour with us. We just thought it was the greatest thing ever.
“To afford to go over we all worked day jobs for a year or two. The band covered our visas and everything most of the expenses like petrol, so essentially the band funded the tour. We did need to invest the money ourselves to get it back however. We got proper musician visas for the States, but it took like six months of full on work to get them. We didn’t get our visas until 24 hours before flying out of the country…
“We had invested almost $20,000 and we didn’t even know if we could go. It was horrifying. I was up for like a week, all night calling the embassy, calling the consulate, calling the embassy – it was really, really intense. But in the end everything worked out. Getting our visas in so late, it doubles the price, and makes it harder to get them, yada, yada, yada. It was a nightmare, but you’ve got to do it. From now on we know the process, so we’ll be able to get it done easier next time.”
After completing their US tour the band continued work on their new album ‘Conversations With Creation’. Three years in the making, the band had decided once again to write and record everything themselves, with Jonassen again taking on the bulk of the production duties.
“It nearly killed me making it,” he admits. “I’d be so down some days thinking, ‘I just can’t get this chorus right’. If my girlfriend wasn’t here to help me through I would have abandoned it a long time ago – you can be so hard on yourself when you’re doing this kind of thing.”
With essentially an unlimited amount of time and the resources to record at any time, he says he put pressure on himself to make things prefect. On the Night Gaunts’ website he admits the three years it took to make was filled with wild ups and downs, self doubt and ‘…the always fun total loss of perspective every few months’ making it difficult to stay positive.
“It ended up being a really good lesson in being able to say, ‘You know what? That’s actually sweet, move on.’ To me the songs were done in the demo stage two years before they were finished, it was just about capturing that sound I heard in my head. In the end though, I’m really happy with the record.”
“People ask us all the time, ‘How do you do this, how do you do that? Oh man you guys are so lucky.’ Maybe there’s a little bit of luck, but really it’s just hard work. Nothing happens just because it happens, you’ve got to really try. If any other bands want to do it, they can, you’ve just got to go and do it!”