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by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Courtnay & The Unholy Reverie

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Courtnay & The Unholy Reverie

With a background in musical theatre on full display New Plymouth songwriter, guitarist and singer Courtnay Low has assembled a devilishly good band of players to back her, together delivering a swamp-drenched dark country vibe. Mercy is their mean-as first single and attracted the attention of NZ On Air Music, who featured the song on their NewTracks compilation this May.

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

  • Courtnay Low – lead vocals and rhythm guitar
  • Tim Lloyd – lead guitar, backing vocal
  • Keith Parker – bass, backing vocal
  • Chad Williams – drums, backing vocals
  • Anna Brooks – backing vocal

Was high school or other music training especially important to any of you?

Courtnay: High school provided a really rich tapestry of person to person learning and exploring that I don’t think I’ve experienced anywhere else. The calibre of young musicians these days is so far beyond anything I saw anyone my age doing back then. I think that boils down to resources being readily available now and perhaps a more openness to new genres, and genre bending. Things like Rockquest and Pasifika Beats was a huge outlet and still just as important today.

Chad: I’ve got to give credit to Stan Bicknell’s Masterclass series and the impact that it has had on me both on and off the kit.

Anna: I dabbled in multiple disciplines growing up, classical piano, choral singing, and finally really honed in on musical theatre. I had an amazing music teacher and choir master-ess at my high school and she had a really lasting impact on me.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

Courtnay: I currently play guitar, keys and backing vocals in The Mons Whaler. Other than that, Chad and I had a two-piece called The Ego‘s that focused on a White Stripes/Wolfmother kind of vibe.

What’s the background story of how Courtnay & The Unholy Reverie came together? 

Courtnay: I actually got asked to do some bv’s and guitar leads for The Mons Whaler before I joined them. It was going back into the studio with Sam Johnson at Rhythm Ace that really sparked a fire inside of me to actually make some music and have a crack at it properly.

I’ve always written and recorded home demos with the intention of finally doing it, but it wasn’t until that studio session that it really sunk in for me. Sam just really creates an incredibly warm and inviting space to just create what you want to create. From there, first port of call was to get Chad on drums. I’d worked with Anna in NPOS latest season of We Will Rock You where I played lead guitar and she was cast as Killer Queen. After hearing her range I knew we had to have her!

Keith is an incredible bassist, I’d seen him perform a few times so that was an obvious choice and he was keen. And then finally there was no other lead guitarist I could imagine other than Timmy Two Bar Lloyd. He’s just so incredibly skilled, and a perfect fit for the delta blues/modern rock/soul blend I was trying to create. So that was us!

Has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

Courtnay: I think it definitely has, our first single Mercy is definitely that super swampy southern vibe. Other songs on our release plan differ hugely, but they all have that dark country/swamp vibe, fused with a modern rock take. I think it’s important as a musician to not corner yourself into one specific type of writing or emotion. What you’re actually trying to do I think, is create a space for people to come in and relate whatever they have going on in their lives to your outlet, so it becomes their outlet also. It’s all about the human experience, for me anyway.

When did you come up with the name for the new band?

Courtnay: Initially it was going to be ‘Courtnay and the Somethings’, with the intention of going solo and having a session band. That dynamic really changed once we started working together and it’s definitely a collaborative effort now. I think with the tone of what our first song was it had to be something along the lines of the crossroads, selling your soul to the devil type thing.

Chad: We tried out a few different ‘and the’s’ and finally landed on Unholy Reverie.

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

Courtnay: To be honest we’ve been trying to not oversaturate our small town scene too much, but we’ve had two sellout local shows so far. No easy task getting people to leave their homes for live music these days! We have our sights set on a few big ticket things. Opening for Tami Neilson would be an absolute dream of ours, and Idles and Larkin Poe. Also getting amongst a few blues festivals locally and internationally is on our plan!

What makes Mercy stand out for you as a single?

Courtnay: I think it’s a perfect tapestry of old and new, not just in sound. It’s driving, it’s full of tension, I think it’s openly interpretable for the listener to apply it to whatever they have going on too.

What is the story behind Mercy?

Courtnay: I was sitting in town having a coffee and overheard the next table talking about the current state of the world. It inspired the though to write the tune. It’s intended to make people think, and to be a bit of an anthem for the down trodden. Everyone has the choice at any given time to make a good choice, or a bad choice. It’s essentially the little devil and angel on the shoulder situation in a song.

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

Courtnay: “Give me my redemption” It’s simple, it’s to the point. I don’t think there is a single person out there not worried about something that’s going on in the world. I think we’d all love a do-over of some aspect of current affairs, or even just in general. Give me my redemption simply states; let’s go again.

Chad: I have a few favourite parts, the fatness of the snare that comes in during the second verse, the solo and going into the half time part. The huge choir of na na’s, the big open spaces. I really like how you don’t need the music video to still feel like you’re immersed in the narrative.

Who did you record/produce the single with? 

Chad: Courtnay wrote the song, recorded a demo and brought it to us, we reworked it a little bit and then hit the studio.

Courtnay: We recorded with Sam Johnson at Rhythm Ace in Oakura, New Plymouth. We attacked it in chunks, Drums and bass in the same take for room ambiance. Then about a week later I went in and tracked guitar and the lead vocal. Then another week or so later we hit the bv’s, claps, stomps and percussion. There’s 120 tracks in that song, it turned into a bit of a beast!

The whole thing was fun, but I think one of the highlights was setting up a mic in Sam’s stairwell and Chad, Keith and I recording the stomps. Normally you’d just snag a sample for something like that but we were very set on doing that organically!

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

Courtnay: That it’s absolutely okay to not be okay with the way things are going. I think I’d like to encourage people to sit in the discomfort, lean in to it and learn about yourself and how you respond to things, or what you could change about how you respond to things.

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

Courtnay: For me, it’s getting a song past Chad. He has an incredible ear, and a lot of really great ideas. Everyone in the band does, but he’s definitely the toughest critic. After that, we play it a few times and if the vibe is there, we go for it. If it’s not it goes in the doom pile!

Is there anyone else in your team? 

Courtnay: We have as mentioned, Sam Johnson as our engineer and we worked with Chris Chetland from Kog Studios for mastering. We worked with the Fused boys for our video; that’s Andy Jackson, Sam Scannell, Simon O’Connor and Mark Dickie. Andy Bedford is our live sound man. We use DRM for distribution and Nancy and Barry Blackler from Blackout for publicity.

We are really lucky to have such great people in our corner. Creatives, just general good folk.

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

Courtnay: We’re constantly in and out of the studio working on tracks that we can drip feed. We’re still in talks if we go singles, or EPs. But there’s about 12 songs that we’ve got that will be rolling out. And another bunch that we’ve started on. Same for The Mons Whaler, we’re about to go back into the studio to record our second album.

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

Courtnay:

  • The Mons Whaler: Long Gone
  • Greenbathing: Fire in the Southern Wind
  • The Slacks: Tomorrow Comes.

There’s a huge wealth of artists coming out of Taranaki, I’d like to also mention Frau Knotz, Infinity Ritual, Trip Change, Betsy and The Reckless, Fin Rah Zel, Banana Mundo and The Mara. It’s a really rich and supportive culture down here. But to play alongside our song in a playlist those would have to be my picks.

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

Courtnay: NewTracks was the first thing we applied for actually, we’re waiting to hear about funding for a video/song release in May so we’ll keep you posted!

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

Courtnay: I think having more than 100 public attending any one headlining show. It’s hard to get people out in a small town, especially with only a few decent venues to host your shows at. But we got it over the line. We also didn’t have any music out at that time so we’re hoping it’ll be a little easier going forwards!

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

Anna: Tiny Desk Concerts

Courtnay: Anything Jacob Collier touches is gold. So if there’s something he posts to watch I’m all over it, and Tiny Desk of course.

Any last words?

Thank you to everyone who has supported us thus far, our families for letting us slink away from responsibility to chase our dreams. Come catch a show sometime!