by Erica McQueen

Q&A: Model Train Wreck

by Erica McQueen

Q&A: Model Train Wreck

Elusive Auckland band Model Train Wreck has recently released, ‘I Want That Back’, an ingenious EP with a unique indie-pop meets rock’n’roll sound. Chris Howard (guitar, vocals), Hamish Peart (saxophone, organ), Tom Healy on bass and drummer Carl Letcher are the carriages of Model Train Wreck. Erica McQueen quizzed frontman Chris on the band’s inception, their captivating artwork and some other mysteries surrounding the band.

Model Train Wreck has been around since late 2010. How did you come together and who does what in the band?

I met Hamish [Peart – sax, keys] in Dunedin, while we are playing cricket together. We ended up in Wellington at the same time and formed a TV themes covers band called The Credits. It was great. We played everything from The Munsters to MacGyver to Magnum PI. We still talk about getting The Credits back together, even though we only ever played three shows. When we moved to Auckland we talked about forming a new band. I’d recently met Tom [Healy] while we were both playing in a NZ tour together. I was amazed by Tom’s guitar playing, so asked him if he would play bass. Hamish had known Carl [Letcher] for many years in jazz circles and knew he would be the perfect Model Train Wreck drummer, which he is.

What’s behind the band name?

We wanted something that was dangerous, but whimsical and ambiguous, like our music. I always think of Gomez from the Addams Family orchestrating a head-on collision with his model train set.

What was the vision for the type of music you wanted to create? 

Initially, we wanted to make indie-rockabilly – unassuming indie-pop songs with a swing beat, that people can dance to. The first batch of songs was in this style. Since then we’ve branched out a bit. The new EP is more indie, and not so much rockabilly, although ‘I Want That Back’, swings in its own peculiar way. There will always be a reference to the 1950s and 1960s. Hopefully, the songs can mean something, to someone.

‘I Want That Back’ is your second release and it’s been four years since your debut, self-titled album. What’s been keeping you busy since then?

The EP took a little longer than expected, mainly due to other things in our lives that happened over the last few years. Sometimes the music has to take a back seat. We have been working on new material, and we do have another batch of songs which we already play live, and which no doubt we will record in the near future. There are some real goodies in there too.

The EP sounds very polished. Can you tell me about the recording process? 

Tom Healy produced and engineered the recordings at his studio in Mt Eden (part of The Lab). He is really on the rise as a producer. I think of him as this country’s Steve Albini. I would like to say that each song was recorded in one magical take, but it’s probably more accurate to say there were hundreds of magical takes, most of which sucked. It was painstaking at times but worth it.

The CD packaging and album artwork, by Christian Nicolson, is striking, and so are your music videos. Any advice for other musicians about creating visuals to sit alongside their music?

Christian is an amazing artist, and we are so grateful we could use his art for the EP. His art really adds to the imagery of the music. I think that album artwork should always engage the imagination somehow. It should complement the music, but never be literal. If we put model train sets on our album covers it would be lame. Working with people outside of the band can help to give a different and fresh angle on what you are trying to say.

You’ve played only a handful live shows over the years – how come?

That might be an underestimate, but yeah, yeah, I take the point! We try to play every two or three months. We would love to play more, but equally, we like to write, and to record, and to do other things altogether. And (if I am being honest) we often have band “planning” sessions, which involve drinking beer and theorising forms of democracy which better reflect the views of the people, and then forgetting to organise a gig.

What’s next for Model Train Wreck?

We want to give the EP a good push. Then we have lots of new songs to record. I suspect we will have another single out before the end of the year.