Opposite Sex may hail from up north, but mostly made their way towards the deep south in 2011, adopting Dunedin as home. Establishing themselves as part of the city’s fertile music scene, they signed to local label Fishrider Records and recorded an eclectically appealing self-titled debut album in 2011. Amanda Mills, herself a recent Dunedin immigrant, talked with Tim Player and Lucy Hunter, two of the Opposite Sex threesome.
The Opposite Sex story began in Gisborne in 2010, when bassist/vocalist Lucy Hunter returned to her hometown from the UK.
“I started going out with Tim, who’d just got a drum kit and learnt to play drums… then we just started writing funny little songs together. Fergus, who’s an old friend of mine, saw us play and liked it, and joined in too.”
Why the move to Dunedin? Not the weather surely?
“I really don’t like the heat,” Lucy explains. “We found the Gisborne sun a bit intense. Tim’s always really loved Dunedin, and I’ve been down once and liked it too. We wanted to study, we wanted to move; it’s cheaper than Auckland and Wellington. Then we had Ian Henderson who wanted to record us down here.
The trio (Lucy, drummer/vocalist Tim Player and Hamilton-based guitarist Fergus Taylor) have created an intriguing album full of dark, layered pop songs that avoid sticking to any defining genre. The name Opposite Sex “…doesn’t lead anywhere”, according to Tim, but reflects their interest in no-wave music and artists.
Opposite Sex’s sound is individual, part avant-pop, part avant-garde experimentalism. However, their influences don’t translate obviously, as Tim tells me.
“We’re influenced by attitudes of musicians, more than their take on what it is to write songs.”
“I don’t think we really sit down and try and write a certain type of song influenced by anyone in particular,” Lucy agrees, although Master/Slave lyrically references The Beatles, one of her favourite bands. Where they stand out is vocally – and both sing on the album.
“Because of that, when we play as a three-piece, there’s no fixed centre,” Tim explains. “A song might have a blistering guitar solo, where Fergus shines and then the next song might be more Lucy… or more my thing, so you don’t have this one person that it’s from.”
“We’re all got quite different taste in music too, so maybe because we’re all… compromising to come up with something everyone likes, it ends up a bit different,” agrees Lucy.
The musical compromises make it coherent – the danceable rhythms, the waltz-times, and the (post) punk attitude are consistent strands to music that doesn’t stay long with one style. The tags of lo-fi and DIY placed on them are agreed with – to a point.
“I’d say they’re dead on correct,” says Tim. “At least at this stage. Who knows what we might evolve into, [maybe] something slightly different?”
The alt-pop label which has also been applied to the trio, seems a too-simple definition of their sound.
“We’re happy with alt-pop, I think… maybe no-wave,” Lucy says, before laughing. “It’s better than ‘indie’, I really don’t like indie! It’s just for skinny guys with guitars.”
Their two-sided (available on vinyl and CD) 13-track album ‘Opposite Sex’ was recorded in late 2011. The instruments were recorded in one eight hour session, with vocals and Lucy’s piano and trumpet added afterwards. The pop on the album is often sweet, though not twee, a relief to all.
“Oh yeah, we really didn’t want to it to be twee. It’s my voice, I’m really conscious of that because I don’t really like my voice!” Lucy laughs.
Her natural vocal sweetness is tempered by a tonal darkness, something Lucy especially is happy with.
“I’ve always liked things with a sinister side to them, or creepy kind of undertone, so it’s cool that’s come through.”
Occasionally similarity to ’60s French pop, especially on opener La Rat (which also has a touch of ‘Dunedin Sound’ about it), isn’t lost on the musicians either. Tim muses that “… enough people have seemed to make that comparison.” And the build up of sound – was this intentional?
“Yeah, I think so,” answers Lucy. “That’s why we added the piano, partly to make it more cacophonous in certain songs, [it] just felt like there wasn’t enough going on. Fergus is really good at working out something. It doesn’t seem like it should really fit, but it seems to work.
‘Opposite Sex’ has hit a strong international chord, with the BBC’s Marc Reilly terming it, “absolutely brilliant”, while gatekeeper music press including Uncut and Les Inrockuptibles have also given them unexpected rave reviews.
“We were definitely very surprised!” admits Lucy. “We think it’s mostly due to our incredibly amazing producer/manager/record label/everything guy Ian Henderson, who’s tirelessly posted CDs all over the world. It’s definitely surprising, as we haven’t really played anywhere except for Dunedin and Gisborne, and Wellington once.”
Regardless of the outcomes of any international attention, Opposite Sex are continuing with Fishrider Records.
“It’s pretty special to be signed to a label who’s working very hard just because they like our band, not for any profits,” Lucy adds. “I think it’s been called the most ethical record label in the world.”
Despite any such international press acclaim, Opposite Sex aren’t widely known outside of Gisborne and Dunedin, and while this is likely to change, “…the notion of doing a 20-date tour around NZ has zero appeal”, according to Tim.
The attention may get more intense, as ‘Opposite Sex’ is getting a UK vinyl release late April, in conjunction with UK label Occulation. A UK and European tour to support the release is not on the cards either, though “… if an opportunity came up, we’d do it for sure, but it would have to be a good opportunity”, as Lucy notes.
“We’ve just moved to Dunedin… we’ve just started this new thing down here, and we really like it. We’re happy to just carry on.”
And, Dunedin is happy to keep them.