December/January 2023

by Colette Morrison

Ringlets: Signature Stylings

by Colette Morrison

Ringlets: Signature Stylings

Alternative four-piece Ringlets are bringing blistering energy and artistic edge to the stages of Tāmaki Makaurau. After releasing debut single Feeling Of The Body in April, Ringlets have spent the year playing gigs to an ever-expanding audience, including opening for Dick Move and Earth Tongue‘s August tour. Guitarist László Reynolds chatted with Colette Morrison about the band’s sound and inception.

With László Reynolds on guitar, Leith Towers on vocals, Arabella Poulsen on bass and Arlo Grey on drums, Auckland act Ringlets have a combination of experienced musicianship and inventive style that’s fast carving them a niche. Ringlets’ story began the way any good alternative band’s story should – with a game of tennis.

“I met Leith on the tennis courts of the North Harbour Sports & Country Club,” says Reynolds whose christian name belies Hungarian heritage. “I had a bit of a reputation for my right arm lob – they called me the lobster – and Leith ended up being a very formidable opponent! So there was right from the beginning a bit of healthy competition there. And then we started talking about music.

“I met the other two socially at gigs, and we just kind of ended up having an ease of communication and a lot of shared excitement about the same things in music.”

Hailing from bands such as Marlin’s Dreaming, Dirty Pixels, and the University of Auckland jazz school, the four are hardly newbies to the local music scene.

Alongside those various group ventures, they bring a breadth of experience through solo work, ranging from the alt-folk of Towers’ ‘No Farm, No Fowl’ to Grey’s meditative instrumental ‘Elephants, Birds’, together situating Ringlets as a collaboration of skilled, innovative musicians at the cutting edge of their medium.

In fact, it was Reynolds’ 2021 self-titled solo album that prompted the band’s initial formation.

“I got the three of them – Leith, Arlo and Arabella – together to help me perform some of my solo music,” he explains. “The chemistry was there and it was just flowing really easily, so we all decided to stick together and start writing music collaboratively and that’s when we became Ringlets.”

Once agreed, the band faced the all-important challenge of choosing a name.

“I took a vow of noble silence,” Reynolds reveals, “went into the bush in the Kaipara for 10 days and meditated. During the meditation, one of the things I was asking for was a band name.

“I’ve been through this process many times,” he continues. “Starting a band and trying to decide on a name that everyone is happy with, and a couple of times it’s just been really really boring. But when I was in the bush, ‘Ringlets’ just popped into my head. The delightful thing is that when I came back into the city, I searched around and no one else was using the name for a musical project, so I was like, ‘Great.’ It’s easy to say, it’s easy to remember, and it was free, so it was actually really simple in the end. So yeah, that’s the origin of Ringlets!”

With a name acquired, the group began writing and testing out new material, with Reynolds initially taking the lead.

“I think because when we were getting together in 2021, we just had to start somewhere. So I was like, ‘Okay, well, I have this song, it goes verse-chorus-whatever,’ and just sort of directed them. We were in that mode for maybe five or six songs, and after that point, I think the flavours started to cook together a bit more.”

The original line-up saw Reynolds and Towers both on guitars, and Reynolds taking the mic. This changed towards the end of 2021, motivated by a brief foray into unusual modes of bodily expression.

“After the lockdown last year, Leith said that he entered – I don’t know if it was a charity thing or like some other thing – it was some competition about nail growing!” Reynolds laughs. “He was growing his nails, he was like, ‘Gotta get to 10cm by February!’ And then at that point, he was like, ‘I can’t play the guitar,’ because his nails were so long. I think he just got bored of playing guitar.”

However, unconventionally brought about, this reshuffle within the band resulted in new kinds of creativity.

“With the early batches of the songs, when I was singing I was writing the lyrics, but as our sound has recently been developing, Leith has been writing all of them,” says Reynolds. “Now Arabella’s brought a song to this recent batch that we’re playing at the moment, and all of our different voices on our instruments are slotting in more. Actually, the last maybe two or three songs we’ve written I never would have been able to come up with myself. It’s definitely got a mind of its own now! So I think we’ve now kind of built a Ringlets’ signature.”

He describes that signature as being based on aggressive guitar riffing and driving rhythms, drawing from the intensity of The Jesus Lizard and Minutemen, as well as the defining power of the alternative ’80s.

“Pretty much all I heard growing up was The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Smiths, as well as a few Aussie and NZ alternative bands like The Church and The Chills and The Clean, so I sort of can’t escape that music, it’s so embedded in me – as much as I might try to!

“We want to have attitude in our delivery, and energy, but we also love pop,” he continues. “We want to be poppy and immediate, and immediately recognisable. We don’t want to be too serious, and we don’t want to be too silly, but we want to give ourselves the space to move around, and be more serious here and then be more silly over here. It’s about just giving ourselves creative freedom to explore different moods and different modes.”

Another key element of Ringlets’ sound is their evocative lyrics.

“For me, personally, I think there I’m being taken away into a story – almost like a novel, you know? You begin to form a picture of the characters in your head, and then descend into the scenery and the situation. I just find that whole experience really valuable and rewarding, so yeah, I just wanted the lyrics to be vivid. Like when you hear it you can’t help but build a picture in your mind.”

This awareness of the visual elements of music-making extends to the cover art of their single Feeling Of The Body. Created by contemporary NZ sculptor Iann An, the cover, which features an abjected, fleshy form posed strikingly against a grey-toned background, acts as an extension of the song itself.

“We approached [An] and gave her a few guidelines about how the song is quite visceral and bodily, and we wanted there to be an element of maybe violence or slapstick. The form that she made is kind of like a human body, but a very twisted one, it kind’a looks like it’s fallen over and smashed and melted. When we saw what she made we were just blown away!”

The track itself was recorded at Roundhead Studios with engineer Stephen Marr, and released with its accompanying artwork as a stand-alone single, giving audiences a taste of what the band can do on stage.

“I personally love performing,” Reynolds grins. “I think that’s kind of the main thing. We recorded and released our single earlier in the year for the pure goal of being able to play more gigs, and for people being able to book us comfortably knowing that, you know, we can play – there’s recorded evidence of it!”

Alongside this enthusiasm, Reynolds also brings a mediating sense of discipline and discernment to his performances.

“If the song isn’t good then we’re not going to get out there and play it, and if we’re not well practised then we’re not going to accept a gig. Having high standards in the practice room, that’s how we’d like to begin.

“We’re currently mixing some recordings we did at The Lab in winter this year,” he reveals. “I guess we’re trying to keep that as our special little secret, but it’s hard not to talk about it!

“When you enter a recording environment and you’re setting songs into concrete basically, I think that a huge part of it is just – you have to let go of the songs. You have to let go of your vision to an extent, and remain open to what it can turn into, because a lot of songs don’t really make sense until you play them live in front of people. And then other songs don’t fully make sense until you go into the recording studio and you hear everything completely clearly through the monitors.

“I’ve been through the recording process enough times that I’m quite comfortable with just letting my idea of the song die, and sort of allowing it to emerge into a crystallised version. And sometimes that can be just a completely frustrating experience, and other times it can just be absolutely magical.” It’s onwards and upwards for Ringlets, as Reynolds concludes.

“Next year it’s just keep playing, and keep getting tighter, and louder and more in your face!