Before embarking on their about-to-be released sophomore album, Opposite Sex had to kill off an album that had been all-but completed under the watch of Dunedin’s international-focused Fishrider Records. One new track, Supermarket, appeared on the label’s heralded ‘Temporary’ compilation in 2014, bringing the band more local attention than any of their previous singles. Given the phantasmal title of ‘Hamlet’, the self-released new album features a new version of that song, a new guitarist, and a new, darker sound the trio are very happy with, as NZM’s regular Dunedin correspondent Amanda Mills discovers.
In late 2011, Dunedin trio Opposite Sex released their self-titled debut album, a potent mix of off-kilter songwriting, and what their Bandcamp page describes as ‘an absurdist-logico mix of Euro pop, Beat poetry, and subterranean lo-fi adventuring’.
Three and a half-years later, they are on the verge of releasing their second album, ‘Hamlet‘, which turns the band’s sound on its ear, becoming darker and eerie. Suitably named then, but the question hanging in the air remains – does the band still make an absurdist-logico mix of Euro pop, and Beat poetry? New guitarist Reg Norris thinks about it.
“Tim told me that he wrote out a big band bio thing, and… that one line… became the character of Opposite Sex.”
When I last talked to the band in early 2012, drummer/vocalist Tim Player, vocalist/bassist Lucy Hunter, and (then) guitarist Fergus Taylor had made an album that proved a critical darling. Gatekeeper Euro music publications Les Inrockuptibles, Uncut and BBC’’s Marc Reilly adored it, putting the trio on the northern hemisphere music map. Since then, significant changes have occurred, and the band killed the sound of their critic’s’ darling.
“We got a new guitarist, Reggie,” Hunter enthuses, clearly happy with their choice. “Our old guitarist lived in Hamilton, and… the long distance relationship wasn’t working. Tim and I were playing as a two-piece for ages, and then we found Reg.”
Norris, who relocated to Dunedin from Tasmania in 2013, laughs and counters: “I found you, actually… tracked you down!”
He reveals that he discovered Opposite Sex through his love of George Henderson, via Ian Henderson’s Fishrider Records label.
“I sat at home listening to the record quite a bit, and then just one night at Queens… I said, ‘That’s a nice little album’.
He started talking to Tim Player and asked if he could jam with them – the rest is, as they say, history. The rejigged trio have played a few NZ shows, but their main focus has been the new self-released album ‘Hamlet’, which is sonically a major departure from their debut.
“I guess I was 22 when I wrote the songs on the first album… I just got more cynical and annoyed with stuff,” Hunter explains of the change. “Also, my brother died… I guess it [influenced my songs]. But, then Reggie’s changed it heaps too.”
Much of the first Opposite Sex album is no longer played live as the songs don’t fit the new sound, though a vastly different Master/Slave is their encore, and Mary Lu and A Year On Your Own occasionally appear. Speaking about gigs, Norris has to ponder the question of their place in Dunedin’s live music scene for a minute.
“We’re different to everything else. I don’t know whether that is a good thing, or just a sonic observation. We’ve played music for ages… We’re just…”
“… going to seed,” Hunter chimes in.
Opposite Sex have left Fishrider to go it alone, but before they departed, a new track, Supermarket, appeared on the label’s 2014 ‘Temporary’ compilation, recorded during early sessions for their original (since aborted) second album.
“We recorded that [album] in 2011,” Hunter says. “It was awful, and we ditched it. We really liked Supermarket, but of course we wanted to do it with Reggie, and do it differently.”
Some may be challenged by the ‘Hamlet’ version, which to my ears has an eerie depth – a darker atmosphere that pervades the entire album.
The biting lyrics to Supermarket have a feminist slant, and Hunter attributes this to reading an article about female docility, which comes through in the line, ‘Do you like my face? It’s called docile by L’Oreal’. Supermarket caught Norris’ attention when he saw Player and Hunter performing at Chicks Hotel, soon after he arrived in Dunedin.
“When you were a two-piece, everything was all drums and bass,” he tells Hunter. “The quiet songs [had] more space, and I think that song has heaps of space.”
‘Hamlet’ is certainly an arresting album title.
“I thought it was funny to name our album after the most important play in the English language,” laughs Hunter. “We didn’t set out to write a themed album, but the themes fit… madness, murder, regicide… ghosts too, lots of ghosts!”
The band write and develop the music together, Hunter primarily writing lyrics to five of the eight tracks, with Player writing and providing vocals to Tasman’’s Puke, and the garage-y She Said, and Norris on the noise-punk Regicide. One of the highlights is Oh Ivy, with vocals that develop dramatically, and desperately, as the song continues. Who is Ivy?
“Oh Ivy is an apology song for someone I did something really awful to,” Hunter admits. “I had this idea of an apology song where you’re offering all these things that no one would ever want, that you’d have to be insane to offer. And, then it got a bit seedy and gross… and then Reg came and put the dirtiest guitar in the whole world on it, and now it’s one of my favourites to play live.”
‘Hamlet’ was recorded by Nick Graham, at Chicks Hotel in Port Chalmers in the 2013/’14 summer, and the length of time between tracking and release is a source of disbelief to the band.
“We’re been pretty desperate to get it out,” Hunter laughs.
While the recording was mostly live and took only a couple of days, mixing, adding strings (courtesy of Motoko Kikkawa and Sam Vennell), and mastering by Forbes Williams all took time. The band knew they had something special on their hands, so wanted to get it just right – all they have to do now is decide on a cover.
“It just took us a while to decide that we need to do this now,”… Norris clarifies. “We knew it was a pretty good album.”
‘Hamlet’ is structured around the core of guitar/bass/drums, but with additional elements creating a sound unlike what they have done before. Discordant (and slightly creepy) strings appear on She Said, and the balladic Complicity and Long Dead Night.
“I can’t remember why we wanted to use strings,” admits Hunter.
Norris thinks it was about vision.
“It was, ‘We can do whatever we want, so why not just experiment’?’ Get a few people in, see if they can bring something to the songs.”
Opposite Sex also incorporated the rickety, slightly out-of-tune piano at Chicks for Complicity, Supermarket and Long Dead Night, enhancing the album’’s gothic air.
“The Chicks’ piano is just a bit of a mess, and… we wanted a real piano sound,” Hunter muses. “Sam is a really good double bass player and we’d decided to do one of the piano songs, Complicity, solo… Then, I thought it would sound cool with some gothic bass underneath.”
‘Gothic’ is only one way to describe Opposite Sex’’s new sound. The music seems more free form. Hunter and Norris describe both their approach and the songs as relaxed, though Norris considers they have a weird urgency in them. There is tension there too, between melody and noise music.
“I think we’re kind of tapping into something, where it’s at that harmonious point… you can still dance to it,” Norris assures me. “It’s still pop music… but there’s that level of chaos… it’s perfect.”
Likely released in July, ‘Hamlet’ will initially be released digitally, and on CD before the band hopefully tours it around NZ. They are also looking at performing in Australia, and there’ve been offers to play in America – something for further investigation. After the very positive early international press that ‘Opposite Sex’ received, did they feel pressure over recording a second album?
“We did,” Hunter confirms. “That’s why we didn’t record anything for ages… We’re going to use the publicity to try and promote our second album, and see if anyone likes it. We don’t care, we don’t,” she sighs. “We’re happy with the second album, we’re really happy with it.”